Published on August 17th, 2013 | by Mark Chesnut
My Panama: Travel Tips from David Gold, Casco Antiguo Spanish School
Originally from Westport, Connecticut, David Gold has lived abroad for almost 11 years, going to college in Montreal and serving in the Peace Corps in Bolivia before moving to Panama in 2010. Now, from his home base in Panama City’s historic Casco Antiguo district, he operates a language school, appropriately named the Casco Antiguo Spanish School. In this exclusive interview with LatinFlyer.com, Gold shares his insider Panama travel tips — including the best places to sightsee, dine and enjoy the nightlife in Panama City.
What made you want to live in Panama City? How did you get the idea to start the language school?
After an almost three-year adventure working in Bolivia and traveling South America, I returned to New York City to join the “real world.” I started to apply for jobs and looked into law school, when I realized I wanted to do something else, something different. I went on vacation to visit a friend living in the old quarter of Panama City, Casco Antiguo, and decided to stay. I fell in love with the neighborhood and saw so much potential for tourism and growth. The Casco Antiguo Spanish School struck me as the perfect business for the nieghborhood, and after a couple months I realized there was a real need for a language course for travelers and expats.
What do you like the best about the Casco Antiguo?
My favorite thing about Casco is the feeling of community. It’s a real neighborhood. When I walk down the street it’s hard to go more than a block or two without saying hi to neighbor, a friend, or even a parking attendant — the infamous bien cuidados. When I get home from the grocery store, my local bien cuidado helps me carry my bags up the stairs.
What do you like the least?
My least favorite thing about Casco might be the congestion on weekends or at night. The renovation of the streets means traffic patterns can change overnight; add the tourists to the mix means it can be slow driving around the neighborhood at peak hours. The good thing is you can walk from one end of the neighborhood to the other in less than 10 minutes. So exploring by foot once you get here is definitely your best option.
How do you feel about the renovations, roadwork and changes taking place in the Casco Antiguo?
The reconstruction and roadwork can be chaotic at times, but the finished product is incredible. There are tons of new bars, restaurants, art galleries, etc., and new places open every couple weeks. It’s exciting to see the neighborhood grow and mature. I think Casco Antiguo is really coming into its own.
You’ve traveled quite a bit. How does Panama compare to other parts of Latin America?
I think what strikes me most about Panama [compared to] most Latin American Cities is the growth. When you drive into the city from the airport, it looks like Tokyo — very modern and new, though it looks bigger than it actually is. There is a ton of new development, and many buildings downtown are less than 10 years old, which gives it a Dubai-like quality — bigger, better, flashier. It’s also a very sexy city. Panama has an incredible nightlife — from underground bars and salsa clubs, to rooftop lounges, it has something for everyone.
What are your must-see, must-do recommendations for friends who visit Panama City?
An ideal day in Panama starts with a walk around Casco Antiguo in the morning. Grab breakfast at the Super Gourmet (Avenue A y Calle 6) or a fresh roasted cup of Panamanian Coffee at Bajareque (Avenue A y Calle 1). Check out the views of the Bridge of the Americas and the city skyline from Plaza Francia. Pop into the Teatro Nacional on Plaza Bolivar, home to ballet, opera, and national symphony, to see the frescos on the ceiling and ornate gold moldings.
Grab a taxi to the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal; don’t miss the rooftop observation deck. After, drive up Cerro Ancón to visit the rainforest right in the middle of the city. If you’re lucky, you will spot titi monkeys, or a toucan, though you can always enjoy the views of the entire city from above.
If you want some glitz, head downtown to Punta Pacifica to have lunch by the pool at the Trump Ocean Club hotel (take the elevator to the hotel lobby, then down to the 13th floor) or to the new Westin Hotel in new luxury development of Costa del Este. At around 5pm take a taxi to the Amador Causeway, where you can rents bikes and bike along the bay and the entrance of the Panama Canal at sunset. Pre-dinner drinks on the rooftop of the Tantalo Hotel in Casco Viejo (Ave. B y Calle 9) and dinner downstairs at the restuarant or at Manolo Caracol 8 to 10 course prix-fixe ($35/pp worth every penny). If you’re still up for drinks, try Finca del Mar (Calle 2) or Bar lo Vento (Ave. Central y Calle 10).
What else do you recommend in the newer part of town?
Calle Uruguay is the center of downtown nightlife. It has a lot of nightclubs and a somewhat younger crowd. I recommend grabbing dinner at Le Meridien on Avenue Balboa right at the start of Calle Uruguay and then heading to the pool bar at the Manrey Hotel for drinks. If you’re still up for dancing, try Pure or Prive, or just follow the beautiful people. If you’re looking for something more low-key, try The Apartment, a bar on Federico Boyd Street a few blocks away or the Londoner Pub (Calle Uruguay).
Why should someone consider studying Spanish in Panama instead of somewhere else in Latin America?
As a traveler, the old quarter, or Casco Antiguo, is the best place to spend time and Learn Spanish. Casco Antiguo Spanish School offers a half-day basic Spanish for Travelers course (from $39/pp), or you can form your own group and study with a friend. Private classes start at just two hours (from $13/hr). Our most popular offering is the Small-Group Intensive Course which meets 4hrs/day, Monday to Friday and is the best way to improve your Spanish in shortest time possible (from $195/week). Panama City is very safe compared to other places in Latin America, and offers all the benefits of the city with easy access to incredible nature from beaches and islands, to mountains and rainforest. Learning Spanish in Panama City offers you the best of both worlds, amazing teachers, fun and safe experience, nightlife, and the incredible natural beauty of Central America.
David Gold is the founder and director of Casco Antiguo Spanish School in Panama City. When he’s not giving advice to travelers in Panama, he can be found laying in a hammock in the San Blas Islands, climbing mountains, and jumping off of waterfalls. Contact David via his Website (www.cascospanish.com), his U.S. telephone ((203) 820 2234) or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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