Panama City is building travel buzz as a must-see hotspot, poised between North and South America. With a beautifully restored historic district and award-winning modern architecture, plus oceanfront beaches and lush rainforest, it’s like visiting several destinations in one. And it’s home to the new Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo. Here are 10 reasons to visit both our legendary hotel and city.
Though Spanish settlers first founded Panama in 1519, the settlement’s location moved in 1673 to the historic area now known as Casco Viejo. The sea walled old quarter blends Spanish, French and American influences. There are many must-see historic sites within walking distance of Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo. The mother-of-pearl inlaid bell towers of the Metropolitan Cathedral on Plaza Mayor, and the ornately carved Golden Altar at Church of San José, are just two near the hotel.
Celebrity Hall of Fame
The historic building housing Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo was once the exclusive, members-only Club Union, designed more than a century ago by architect James C. Wright. It might look familiar to James Bond fans: it stood in for a Bolivian location in Quantum of Solace. As a private club, it played host to numerous dignitaries, including Charles Lindbergh, Albert Einstein and Queen Elizabeth II.
Museums and Muses
From ancient to contemporary, Panama City is home to institutions that suit every interest and artistic taste. Modernists flock to the Biomuseo, the primary-colored natural history museum designed by architect Frank Gehry. The award-winning F&F Tower office building spirals above the modern part of Panama City’s skyline. For more contemporary art, drop by the gallery DiabloRosso.
Fans of more historic and theatrical design attending a performance at the gilded and chandeliered National Theatre, can gaze up to see elegant ceiling frescoes by Panamanian artist Robert Lewis. To appreciate the ancient textile arts of Panama’s Indigenous people, visit the old quarter’s Museo de la Mola.
A Man-Made Wonder
Considered one of the modern wonders of the world, the Panama Canal offers a fascinating view as ships small and large navigate its locks. The Miraflores Visitor Centre has viewing decks and a café for watching ships pass by, plus tours and exhibitions. To learn about the canal without leaving Casco Viejo, visit the Panama Canal Museum, located in the ornate former business headquarters of the canal’s original builders. Finally, celebrate Atlantic-meets-Pacific cuisine by dining at Caleta restaurant, where Michelin-starred executive chef Lorenzo de Glavio melds seafood with tropical flavors.
A Real Urban Jungle
Fans of flora and fauna shouldn’t miss a stroll through the 573-acre Metropolitan Natural Park, a lush rainforest preserve in the city. During a visit, you can see hundreds of plant and animal species, towering 100-plus-foot trees, a butterfly house and much more.
The Cinta Costera is an urban park and recreation route that makes running, walking and biking for miles along the waterfront irresistible, tracing between Casco Viejo and the modern part of Panama City.
The city’s old ramparts offer gorgeous photo ops: Paseo Esteban Huertas is a pretty promenade built atop the old city’s outer wall. Climb up from Casco Viejo’s southern edge, and you’ll be able to see the glittering modern skyline and Bridge of the Americas stretching across the Panama Canal. (The bougainvillea-covered trellis section is a wonderfully romantic selfie spot, too.)
Take a taxi or cycle to the hiking trail up to Panama City’s highest point, Cerro Ancón, for a bird’s-eye view of the city. Or follow the Mono Titi Road in Metropolitan Natural Park to the top of Cerro Cedro for equally heady views.
Shopping: Hats and More
Though it originated in Ecuador, you’ll see versions of the famous Panama hat for sale from street stalls to boutiques, at every price. Victor’s Panama Hats in Casco Viejo is one of the most charming places to shop for the black-banded, shady-rim classic. For other local and handmade items, including molas (elaborately embroidered textile panels) by Indigenous artists, stop at artisan and craft stalls and markets located along the waterfront and throughout Casco Viejo.
Joie de Vivre
The French were the first to attempt to build the Panama Canal, and the culture’s influence can be seen everywhere from buildings to your Sofitel suite. As you stroll our neighborhood, take time to notice the small architectural flourishes of ornate balconies and the grand monuments. The rooster-topped obelisk in Plaza de Francia, commemorates French canal workers. To celebrate Panama’s French influence in the most delightful way, enjoy Le Gouter afternoon tea at Mayda, the chic bar within Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo.
A Spirited Adventure
You may know Captain Morgan as a brand of flavorful rum, but the real Henry Morgan was a pirate. In 1671, Captain Morgan sailed up the Chagres and sacked the original settlement, prompting it to move to its current Casco Viejo location. To sample a unique rum made by Panama’s first craft producer, distilled from raspadura (sugar made from fresh cane juice) instead of molasses, visit the Casco Viejo location of Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar. If craft beer is more to your taste, La Rana Dorado craft brewery has several Panama City locations. Rooftop bars might just be the most stylish way to savor Panamanian vibes. Ammi, at Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo, features private terraces, latin music, bespoke cocktails and an unrivaled view.
No visit to Panama City is complete without tasting some of the world’s finest coffee grown in the country. Did you know Panama is part of the Coffee Belt? It’s where most of the coffee is grown thanks to perfect growing and soil conditions for arabica coffee beans. Stop by the hotel’s gourmet Vera Café for a cup of our own coffee blend (Caturra Catuai and Pacamara) grown in the Panamanian highlands. This intoxicating coffee is grown, blended and roasted by the fifth-generation of growers from Finca Santos Café.
Panama also excels at “bean to bar” chocolate. If you fancy a sweet treat, try an artisan brand like Oro Moreno. And a delicious cup of ceviche from the city’s Mercado de Mariscos fish market is one of Panama City’s simplest and finest of culinary pleasures.
Make this year the one in which you discover the warmth of French hospitality by booking a stay at Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo. Become part of the legend!