Since being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the old Panama city of Casco Viejo has undergone significant infrastructure renovations, making the city more accessible. With its French and Spanish colonial architecture, famous Flat Arch and now easier access through metro lines and the expansion of the Coastal Belt Highway, Casco Viejo is an attractive destination for ex pats seeking old city charm with urban infrastructure. See the following article from International Living for more on this.
I’m standing in a plaza in one of the oldest colonial quarters in the Americas.
To my left is the road to the Flat Arch and the Church of Saint Dominic. In 1913 the arch convinced a committee that Panama was more geologically stable than Nicaragua…and thus the best place to build the Panama Canal. The arch’s flatness baffled architects worldwide for 325 years, until it finally collapsed in 2003.
In front of me, massive glittering objects litter the sidewalk outside a run-down workshop. Used to the sight, I sidle past. The foam sculptures were destined for the far-out floats that, well, floated out here this weekend. It’s Carnival season and the Casco Viejo, or old city, is a busy beehive of activity. And not just because local and expat residents are getting ready for los carnavales…
Work recently commenced on a new phase of the Coastal Belt Highway. The Panama City highway was completed last year—or so we thought. Now the government is extending it from the west end of Balboa Avenue (near the colonial city’s famous fish market) to the area dock known as the Muelle Fiscal. The project is slated for completion in 14 months. It will make it much easier to get in and out of the old city, which is now only accessible via a notorious bottleneck entrance.
This is possibly the biggest news for Casco Viejo since it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. But there’s even bigger news for the old city (and the new city, too). Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli has pledged to build the nation’s first metro starting in July of 2010. The project will cost close to $1 billion and take three years to complete. With such an ambitious project in the works, locals say the current administration will bring Panama City its biggest makeover ever.
The metro line will include a stop at the Plaza Cinco de Mayo, just outside Casco Viejo. A Swiss-Mexican consortium is already working on the design, which will allow the system to move up to 40,000 people an hour. New buses and routes are also in the works, to create an integrated metro-bus system.
Most of the expats living here today will tell you the Casco’s appeal lies in a blend of different factors. The old cobblestone and brick roads, the French- and Spanish-colonial architecture, the local flavor…all these add to the area’s allure. But mostly, it’s the air of excitement that draws people here. Those lucky enough to live or own property in Casco Viejo feel something special is happening here, and they’re happy to be a part of it. And most agree 2010 will be the area’s most exciting year yet…
This article has been republished from International Living.