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Casco Viejo, Panama

Adam Mizrahi

Just across the bay from the hustle and bustle of Panama City, with its towering buildings and cosmopolitan appeal, lies the cultural Panamanian hub of yesteryear…the charmingly historic and refreshingly eclectic Casco Viejo, Panama.

From Defending Against Marauders to Deteriorating into Rubble

It was founded in the 17th century in its strategic location, on a peninsula jutting into the Gulf of Panama, as a defense against pirates (the reason for its massive iconic seawall).  Also of significance was the fact that its location marked the place of shortest distance between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans of anywhere in the Americas, establishing it as an important shipping port.

However, over time Panama’s “Old City” fell into neglect as all the action moved across the bay where the modern capital of Panama City began to develop and skyscrapers began to sprout.  As a result, much of Casco Viejo, Panama, was disintegrating and crumbling into ruins as high-rise condominiums and glistening office towers began to punctuate the opposing skyline.

Casco Viejo, Panama

Magda Wojtyra

Revitalization and Regeneration

The story has a happy ending, thanks to the foresight of its local population as well as the vision and ingenuity of some like-minded expats.  Rather than allow this historic city, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to waste away, a massive revitalization of the area was begun and still continues today.

And, rather than just level ancient buildings and start afresh with new, modern construction, those involved with the renovations are committed to preserving both the history and elegance of Casco Viejo, Panama.  

“Casco Viejo has been steadily being revitalized,” states Patrizia Pinzon of Arco Properties, a real estate professional who specializes in properties in this historic district.  “And note that we like using that word revitalize instead of restore. We like to think of Casco Viejo holistically, not only in terms of buildings and square feet, but also its community component.”

Really Old Meets Refreshingly Current

The result to this preservation approach is a glorious juxtapositioning of ancient and modern.  Sleek new nightclubs pulse with energy next to the historic town square.  Boutique hotels and chic coffeehouses dot the spaces between dilapidated buildings still waiting for their turn to be rediscovered and re-imagined.

It’s an area that is perpetually reinventing itself.  You needn’t spend long in Casco Viejo to realize that this is a place where things are happening. Grand things.

A Mix of People As Eclectic As Their Surroundings

When a place exists in a constant state of evolution, its people tend to reflect the same level of singularity and variation.  Casco Viejo, Panama, is no different.

Its population consists of drifters and wanderers, entrepreneurial expats, overly eager tourists, and everything in between.  Despite their differences, they share one major attribute in common: an innate fascination with the place they call home or are merely passing through.  

“Buyers are those who connect with pedestrian-human scale cities and towns,” says Pinzon. “They come from everywhere. Europe has a big representation, but also the United States, especially people who have lived through the revitalization of a place. They are united by a sense of adventure, of romance.  They all love walking and meeting people in the street. Above all, they place a high value on authenticity.”

And that walking the streets part isn’t necessarily by choice.  The streets of Casco Viejo were laid out before there were cars, so this historic city is as pedestrian as they come.  The town’s close-knit design makes it impossible not to get to know your neighbors, as well as the interesting strangers you’re likely to encounter.

Casco Viejo, Panama

Ana Freitas

The Future of Casco Viejo, Panama, Real Estate

Panama, as a whole, has seen incredible growth in recent years, even surpassing their pre-recession highs in most areas.  The areas around the nation’s capital, including Casco Viejo, are no exception.  In fact, they’ve seen an even greater appreciation than much of the country’s interior, where construction has somewhat slowed.

This is far from being the case in Casco Viejo, where locals and expats alike continue to see potential in the crumbling buildings of the historic district. Pinzon predicts that the area’s growth will continue, slowly but steadily.  She remarks that there is also a substantial business community growing in Casco Viejo, Panama.

“The first big hotel (50 rooms, which is big for Casco Viejo) opened its doors earlier this year, and you can already see beautiful things happening around it. The American Trade Hotel, with its event hall and the Danilo Jazz Club, has started to attract new people and has given the district a stunning showcase on all levels: architecturally, culturally and socially.”

While there are many options for purchasing real estate in Casco Viejo, Panama, Pinzon suggests buying an apartment while it’s still in the pre-construction stages. With a place that’s already entering the development process, you can get the benefits of paying a known price up front and then acquiring the property a year or two later once it’s automatically experienced some appreciation.  

In addition to avoiding the headaches of undertaking your own construction and renovations, you can also enjoy no property tax for 30 years if you qualify. Panama’s laws are extremely pro-business and pro-investor.  There are also numerous perks for those who wish to launch a tourism operation, making Casco Viejo an excellent choice for opening a business that caters to the interesting mix of people who visit Panama’s old city each year.

Even those who live and work in Casco Viejo continue to be amazed by the changes that are constantly taking place around them.  There’s certainly no doubt that big things are happening in Casco Viejo.  The only question is…do you have the vision required to be a part of them?

Map Casco Viejo, Panama

Casco Viejo, Panama Fast Facts

  • Population: 200,000+
  • Typical temperature: From 60 to the mid-80s Fahrenheit
  • Nearest airport with U.S. flights: Tocumen Airport. Domestic flights to Panama City, Panama and international flights to Costa Rica depart from Enrique Malek International Airport in David
  • Nearest U.S. consulate: Panama City, Panama
Facts about Panama

Alex E. Proimos

The nation of Panama has touted itself as “The Way.”  The way to adventure, the way to realizing your dreams, the way to a dream vacation, or the way to whatever it is you may be looking for.

And it’s true.

Every year thousands of expats are finding exactly what they’re seeking in Panama. Whether it’s an opportunity to start their own business, the ability to experience new adventures with their family, or just a quiet place to settle down and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

So, what is the secret to Panama’s appeal?  There are actually too many to name.  But here are just a few facts about Panama and why expats continue to pick it as their destination of choice.

1.  Panama has unmatched natural beauty and biodiversity.

Facts about Panama

Christoffer Undisclosed

Almost half of Panama’s land mass consists of rainforests, mountain cloud forests, and mangrove wetlands.  And they’re all teeming with an abundance of flora and fauna.  Not to mention all the aquatic species in the surrounding seas and coral reefs.

Much of the country’s biodiversity is due to its strategic position as a “biological corridor” connecting the Americas.  Its Darien province, which is almost impenetrable and lacks much infrastructure, is considered by some as one of the most biodiverse areas in the entire world.

It’s home to jaguars, harpy eagles, American crocodiles, giant anteaters, and more. Among the country’s other species are over 10,000 types of plants (including 1,200 varieties of orchids and 1,500 types of trees) and over 250 types of mammals, several of which can be found nowhere else in the world.

2.  Turtles and whales and birds…Oh, my!

Of all the animals to see in Panama, few are as prevalent and as fascinating as these. Five of the eight species of sea turtles in the entire world swim ashore to nest on Panama’s beaches.  Several national parks encompass havens for these turtles that swim in by the thousands to lay their eggs in the sand.

Panama is also home to a whopping 972 species of birds, more than the U.S. and Canada combined.  You can observe them in the mountains or in the mangroves. One of the best places is in Baru Volcano National Park, where you can spot the Resplendent Quetzal along with many other species.

Every year from June to November, humpback and sperm whales migrate to Panama’s Pacific Coast to mate.  The sight of them leaping out of the water in areas like Coiba, the Gulf of Chiriqui, and the Pearl Islands is quite a sight to behold.

3.  Finding the right climate in Panama is almost as easy as adjusting your thermostat.

In general, Panama has a warm, tropical climate with very little seasonal variation. Coastal areas are much more hot and humid, and the mountain towns are more temperate with less rainfall.  The year is essentially divided into a rainy season (roughly April to December, give or take a month or two depending on location) and a much drier rest of the year.

Finding the right climate for you basically involves testing out spots on a sliding scale from Caribbean to Pacific and from lower to higher elevations.  The Pacific coast is a bit cooler and drier, with a nice evening breeze.  The Caribbean side, by contrast, gets significantly more rainfall and is a few degrees warmer.

Likewise, you can also adjust your temperature and humidity by moving further up into the mountains.  It gets cooler and cooler (maybe even too cool for some), with areas like the Cordillera de Talamanca in western Panama even seeing a little bit of frost.

With such great weather year-round, Panama’s residents can enjoy its beauty and opportunities for adventure in every season!  In other great news, while parts of Panama do see the occasional strong thunderstorm, it’s outside the hurricane belt.

4.  Panama is an ocean lover’s paradise.

Facts About Panama

Diesel Demon

Panama is a narrow isthmus that connects Costa Rica in Central America with Colombia in South America.  It’s lined by miles and miles of coastline on both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.  Its coastal ecosystems consist of gorgeous beaches, rocky cliffs, mangrove forests, and coral reefs.

As a result, Panama’s coasts offer opportunities for every water sport and activity imaginable.  Coiba National Park contains the longest reef on Central America’s Pacific coast.  Both it and Chiriqui Gulf National Marine Park are great places to go diving or snorkeling or watch whales and dolphins.

The name “Panama,” in the Indian language, means “abundance of fish.”  It’s a great place for sport fishing, as a number of world record fish were caught of its shores.  Surfing is also popular in Panama, particularly in world-famous Santa Catalina. Other available water sports include paddle boarding, kayaking, and kite surfing.

5.  Panama’s fun doesn’t stop at the shore.

Panama’s interior offers a wealth of other options for adventure.  Many hiking trails wind through the country’s jungles and rainforests, including several that run through Metropolitan Natural Park in Panama City, the only protected forest in Central America that’s located within the city limits.

A hike to the summit of Volcan Baru, the country’s highest point, affords visitors the opportunity to simultaneously take in views of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  The most intrepid adventurers often start this hike at midnight in order to reach the peak by sunrise.

Not far from Volcan Baru, also in the Chiriqui province, is the mountain town of Boquete which offers some of the world’s best zip lining tours through the canopy of the cloud forest.  The area also has some first-rate places for kayaking and whitewater rafting, with rapids ranging from Class III to Class V, depending on the season.

6.  Panama’s capital city is truly cosmopolitan.

Facts About Panama


Much of Panama enjoys great infrastructure for a developing country.  In Panama City, it’s top-notch.  There’s world-class shopping, fine dining, museums, modern medical facilities, and much more.  And recent urban development has attracted even more residents to this thriving hub.

But it’s not all concrete and skyscrapers.  As mentioned, Panama City has a 655-acre rain forest within its limits.  There you can find a variety of birds and mammals, including toucans, parrots, and sloths.

There’s also a coastal strip with lots of green space that leads to the Old Town, Casco Viejo.  This area, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a unique blend of ancient and modern.  With its boutique hotels, located in historic buildings, and open-air cafes it’s an eclectic mix of people and cultures.

7.  Panama is a unique and diverse blend of people and customs.

Speaking of culture, Panama is a great place to go if you want to experience the real, authentic customs and traditions of a nation’s people.  Panama is still home to 7 different indigenous tribes, although they represent only 6% of the country’s total population.  They live in groups called comarcas, which are self-contained sovereignties, with many being very welcoming to visitors who want to observe how they live.

Among the cultural heritage of these ethnic groups are indigenous dances, like the tamborito and congo.  They also produce a variety of handmade arts and crafts.  These include molas (patchwork pictures that can be sewn to garments or used as pillow covers or wall hangings), jute bags, wood carvings, beaded jewelry, and woven baskets. (However, one of the most commonly mistaken facts about Panama is the origin of the Panama hat.  It actually hails from Ecuador.)

Locals also celebrate a number of festivals, most notably Carnival which takes place four days before Ash Wednesday.  Towns elect two queens to represent separate sections of the city.  For five nights, the queens and their troupes entertain the crowds with parades, dancing, and fireworks.

8.  The Panama Canal is an amazing piece of living history.

The largest contributor (directly and indirectly) to the nation’s GDP, the Panama Canal is such an integral part of the story of the country’s progress.  And it’s currently undergoing a massive expansion.

The 90-year old waterway, which is already operating at almost 100% of its ability, will have doubled its capacity by the time its over $5 billion expansion project is completed in 2015.  A new Observation Center gives visitors the opportunity to watch the construction, as well as take in views of Gatun Lake.  Also available are full and partial tours through the canal, where visitors can experience the journey for themselves.

9.  Panama enjoys a pleasantly low cost of living.

While it’s true that the cost of living is low throughout most of Latin America, it’s difficult to find a much better bang for your buck than in Panama.  Costs vary, of course, from one area to the next (with larger cities requiring much more money to live on than more rural areas).

However, it’s within reason that a couple could enjoy a nice standard of living for $1,500 or less, including rent, in most parts of Panama.  And that includes such luxuries as the services of a maid and gardener.

Other services that are quite reasonable in Panama include reliable high-speed internet, public transportation, and excellent health care.

10.  Panama is an excellent place to invest or do business.

Not only is Panama a great place to visit or live, it’s very friendly to investors or those who want to open a business, particularly in the tourism industry.  Its tax laws are favorable, and setting up a Panamanian corporation is relatively simple.

The government has also recently signed into legislation a number of incentives that make it even more attractive to invest in Panama.

Whether you want to start up an outfit that offers ATV jungle tours, or you just want to buy a piece of land and build your own little piece of island paradise, Panama is a great place to make that happen.

Bonus Facts About Panama…#11.  Panama is home to two Adventure Colonies.

I know what you’re thinking.  What’s an Adventure Colony, right?

Adventure Colonies are our one-of-a-kind developments that are specially tailored towards would-be expats like you who share our love for the natural environment and a life lived a bit more simply.  After reading these facts about Panama, I’m sure you can see why we chose it for our first two projects.

Playa Burica is located on Panama’s Pacific coast on a peninsula the country shares with Costa Rica.  Its oceanside lots are covered with untouched jungle, making it great for adventure lovers.  It’s also a savvy investment choice, as several factors make the area prime for a boom in the coming years.

Our newest development, Boca Chica Island, is a 400 acre private island covered in jungle and rainforest. It lies 10 minutes off of Panama’s Pacific coast and is surrounded by about 50 other mostly uninhabited islands. We think Robinson Crusoe would approve.

If your idea of a dream destination abroad involves something more–or in this case, less–than a string of high-rise condos and all-inclusive resorts, then maybe an Adventure Colony could be right for you.

Map of Panama

Panama Fast Facts

  • Population: 3.8 million
  • Typical temperature: Temperature typically varies from 72°F to 91°F
  • Nearest airport with U.S. flights: U.S. Bound flights leave daily from Tocumen International Airport
  • Nearest U.S. consulate: Panama City

Panama Investment Incentives

With the fastest growing economy in the Americas, Panama has often been compared to 1970’s Brazil or present day Singapore. And with ongoing projects such as a $5.3 billion expansion of the Panama Canal and a $13.6 billion government investment in infrastructure, this Central American country is not slowing down. Its sophisticated banks and stable economy attract investors worldwide.

In addition, the Panamanian government has a long history of establishing incentives and atmospheres that make investing in this beautiful landscape even more attractive. The list below highlights some of the more significant benefits:

Panama Incentives for Retirees & Expats

Retiree Tourist Visa

The Turista pensionado affords retirees (who must be a minimum of 18 years of age), who can show proof of income, the following benefits:

  • Import of household goods (up to $10,000) free of taxes
  • Import of a car for personal use every two years
  • Property tax exemption on a home that is your only residence
  • Discounts between 15-50 percent on restaurants, hotels, entertainment, and professional services

Panama Real Estate Laws

Law 54 – Foreign Investor Protection

This law grants foreign investors and their businesses the same rights and freedoms as Panama natives. They are also granted the right to dispose of their investment profits and repatriate their interest, dividends, and profits.

View translation of Law 54

Article 44 – Private Property

This section of Panama’s constitution guarantees that the rights of property owners are protected for both Panamanians and foreigners alike.

Law 24 – Reforestation Investment

This law provides benefits, including a 25-year income tax exemption, to those who purchase property for the purpose of reforestation.

View translation of Law 24

Law 2, 2006 – Island Property and Concessions

This law allows foreigners to purchase island property, for the first time ever, provided that it is used for the purpose of tourism and that certain other conditions are met. Concessions, or lease agreements, for government-owned land can also be granted for use in tourism.

View translation of Law 2

Law 9 – Casco Viejo Development

These tax deductions and exemptions were created to encourage the restoration of this section of Panama City. Renovation costs are 100% tax deductible. Income from the sale or rental of the property is exempt for 10 years, and the property itself is exempt for 30.

Panama Investment Incentives & Protections

Banking & Currency

Panama uses the U.S. dollar as its currency and, as a result, has no exchange controls in place to limit the amount of currency that can be traded.

Law 8, 1944 – Tourism Investment

With as little as a $50,000 investment ($300,000 in metropolitan areas), those who wish to start a tourist-related business can enjoy a multitude of tax exemptions. These include import and property taxes, taxes relating to the use of airports or docks, and in some cases even income tax.

View translation of Law 8

Bill 481 – Hotel Investments

This incentive is aimed mainly at hotel investments over $250,000 and include no tax on the import of building materials and tax exemptions on land and improvements for five years.

Law 58 – Outside Developments

This bill incentivizes the building or renovation of lodging facilities that are outside of the country’s Special Tourism Zones. Investment in areas such as the mountain regions or islands can result in tax-free importation of materials, equipment, and vehicles. A 20-year exemption on property taxes also applies.

Law 18 – Colon Free Zone

The Colon Free Zone is located at the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal. This free port is home to over 2,500 companies, employs over 28,000 people, and ships more than $16 billion each year. Companies operating within the zone, both foreign and domestic, are mostly free of taxes, provided that they meet a certain set of requirements. These include employing a minimum of 5 local workers, exporting a minimum of 60 percent of their merchandise, and maintaining certain reporting criteria.

Law 41, 2004 – Panama Pacifico

This area, formerly Howard Air Force Base, is another tax free zone established to attract certain categories of business. These include call centers, corporate headquarters, distribution and logistics centers, naval and aircraft goods and services, technology manufacturing, and the film industry. The site is also equipped with a One-Stop Shop that houses 12 governmental agencies under one roof for ease of conducting business, obtaining permits, etc.

View translation of Law 41

Law 32, 1927 – Comprehensives and Simplified Regime of Free Zones

Passed in 2011, this act allows for the establishment of tax free zones anywhere in the country, provided that they do not interfere with the local ecosystem. To date, there are 14 free zones registered, nine of which are already operating.

View translation of Law 32

Law 3 – Manufacturing Companies

Under this law, companies involved in the manufacturing and processing industry that export all of their products are exempt from direct taxes including import taxes on machinery and equipment.


Panama is famous for its low taxes across the board. Income tax is only 7 percent after the first $9,000 and maxes out at only 27 percent. However, taxes only even apply to income from Panamanian sources. New home purchases are tax exempt for the first 20 years. Capital gains taxes are a low 10% and no inheritance tax exists.