Embark on a journey through time as you stroll amidst the captivating ruins of Panama Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997. The site effortlessly transports you to the early 16th century when it stood as the inaugural European settlement on the Pacific coast of the Americas. Nestled within the bustling heart of modern Panama City, the juxtaposition of ancient remnants against the backdrop of contemporary skyscrapers creates a mesmerizing blend of old and new.
For a panoramic perspective, ascend the Cathedral Tower and be rewarded with breathtaking views that span from the historic ruins to the sleek downtown skyline. The contrast is nothing short of spectacular.
Panama Viejo burgeoned into a pivotal hub for trade and commerce, facilitating the flow of precious metals from South America to Spain. However, its golden era met a dramatic end in 1671 when the notorious Welsh privateer Henry Morgan pillaged the city, prompting its eventual relocation to the current site of Casco Viejo.
Today, the ruins serve as a tangible testament to the early colonial history of the Americas. Explore the archaeological site, meandering through the remnants of the cathedral, convents, and other significant structures. The Cathedral Tower, standing tall amidst the ruins, emerges as an iconic symbol of Panama’s historical legacy.
While the allure of history is undeniable, the charismatic presence of iguanas basking in the sun adds a unique charm to the experience. It is one of our favorite aspects of going to the site. Witness these fascinating creatures, ranging in size from small to impressively large, leisurely basking in the sun on the rocks and rubble or running up the impressive trees that line the path from the visitor center to the Cathedral ruin.
The journey through the ruins can be both immersive and leisurely. A stroll from the visitor center offers a closer look at the historical tapestry, or opt for a convenient shuttle ride to the Cathedral Tower for a more relaxed exploration. The ruins also serve as a cultural hotspot, attracting locals adorned in traditional attire for photoshoots and occasional performances of local dance and song. On a recent visit with family we were treated to just such a performance and it was a beautiful cultural experience.
What makes Panama Viejo a flexible destination is the freedom to tailor your visit. Whether you have just an hour to spare or an entire day, the site accommodates all. Grab a quick glimpse of history or linger longer, indulging in a picnic or savoring lunch at the on-site café. Whichever way you choose to experience it, a visit to Panama Viejo is undoubtedly a journey worth taking.
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