A new tour provides a colorful look at Panama City’s storied past.

Old colonial buildings line the city streets
Credit: Getty Images

Ten years ago, gangs and stray dogs ruled the streets of Panama City's Casco Viejo, a neighborhood that dates back to the 17th century. Now, thanks to Esperanza Social Venture Club, a rehabilitation program that's helped reduce crime, visitors can learn about the Old City's history from former members of the Ciudad de Dios gang—one of three that once dominated this area. Fortaleza Tours (from $15) leads an 80-minute walk starting at the American Trade Hotel, where the gang's graffiti has been preserved as wallpaper in the stairwell, then to their back-alley hangouts and mothers' homes—bullet holes and all.

Guides tell their stories with touching depth, and there's no sense that visitors are being steered toward vendors along the way. Instead, each tour ends with a street party in an alley strung with lights. Guests can stay for dinner ($10) and try traditional fried fish and a Panamanian mojito.