Buffered by the Panama Canal and the protected forests of its watershed, Panama City has evolved on a narrow lateral trajectory, skirting the bays and promontories of the Pacific coast in its perpetual search for new ground. The best part of the capital is framed by two wave-swept points. In the west, the historic district of San Felipe, also known as Casco Viejo, is the opulent symbol of Old Panama, boasting a mix of newly restored colonial mansions and elegant public squares, chic new guesthouses and upmarket eateries. In the east, the burgeoning Area Bancaria is the dynamic reality of New Panama, home to luxury condos and high-rise office blocks, frenetic urban boulevards and rapidly evolving horizons. Beyond and between these two points lies an intriguing patchwork of disparate and self-contained neighbourhoods.
The working-class districts of Santa Ana and Calidonia are places to glimpse the barter and hustle of authentic Panamanian street life. The planned community of Balboa – unique to the capital’s development as a crossroads destination – is home to a slew of functional canal-zone architecture. Although Panama City is the most urban destination in the country, the exuberance of tropical nature is never far off. Breezy Ancon Hill and thickly forested Metropolitan Park are places to escape the city’s relentless noise and movement and soak up some restful natural ambience. The ruins of the original city (Panama Viejo) can also be visited six and a half kilometres to the east of the city.