In recent years, a Panama City building boom has invited the inevitable comparison to Dubai. Miami might be more accurate in terms of the skyline, but either way a mighty impressive transformation has taken place in a city that was once known primarily for one thing, the canal. And the forward trend continues with the 2014 opening of a metro line and major new green spaces. With English widely spoken and a U.S. dollar-based economy, Panama is an easy place to visit, which helps account for the enormous number of American citizens now living there.
Dating to 1519, Panama City holds the distinction of being the Spanish Crown’s first city on the Pacific. Gold, silver and treasures plundered from all the Americas were transported across the isthmus and sent back to the Old World. Panama City prospered big time for centuries, so today’s boom is really a sequel. The great news for preservation-minded travelers is that, despite the rapid urban change, the city is actively improving the Casco Viejo, its historic colonial heart. After the pirate Henry Morgan plundered the original settlement, this walled seafront area grew to be filled with mansions and churches of great distinction. It’s all still there.