I'm not sure if this tour is something that happens all the time, or if it was just for this weekend, but I found out about it online and thought it would be a great opportunity for us to check out Casco Viejo. My aunt and sister were arriving in Panama that weekend, and my boyfriend and I hadn't spent much time in the city, so it would be an opportunity for all of us to get familiar with that area.
As it turned out, we spent most of the early part of the day walking around Casco Viejo, anyway, so we had already seen quite a bit of it by the time we met up with the tour at 5:00pm at Tantalo.
The tickets were $25 each, and I had bought them online the day before. I knew about the tour nearly a month in advance, but you know how those things go -- I ended up not getting around to buying the tickets until it was almost too late. But I looked at them a few times, and the prices changed: they started at $30 each. Then at one point they were doing a buy one, get one half-price. Then suddenly all tickets were half-price, but the full price was $50. At any rate, I paid $100 for four tickets, under the impression that it was a mini-pub crawl, as well: the first advertisement I had read about the tour said that the price included a drink at each of three bars. When I finally bought the tickets, it said "one complimentary drink."
As people filed in for the tour, we felt in over our heads: they were coming in with big cameras and cases, and we had three cameras between the four of us, none of them bigger than a deck of cards. The group organizer, Alberto, made us feel right at ease about it, though, and even accommodated my aunt and sister by speaking in English. Guess what? Tour's in Spanish! We were the only native English speakers there. I had started to suspect that when all the information on the ticket-buying website was in Spanish, but I remained hopeful for the sake of my non-Spanish-speaking family members. I had warned them of the possibility, though, and they still wanted to go through with it.
We started on the Tantalo roof for a brief welcome and a few photography tips from a professional photographer. He made himself available throughout the tour to look at the photos you were taking and offer advice, and he occasionally would say, "look here, watch this" and take a photo and show it to us to illustrate one photography point or another.
We also had a tour guide, so when we stopped at various points she would share some history with us -- in Spanish and English. We also got to go inside the ruins of the Santo Domingo church and convent, which we were then told is usually not allowed for the public. Indeed, the gates were all closed up earlier in the day when we had passed by.
As it got dark, we made our way back to Tantalo for that complimentary drink -- either a beer or a rum punch. We enjoyed that, then made our way toward Ego y Narciso, the restaurant Alberto recommended to us.
It wasn't quite what I had expected: I was thinking more pub crawl and more photography advice. But it was still awesome. I took pictures of things I never would have thought to photograph -- it's like it gave me permission to take pictures of doorways and people and strange things, to look at all of that from an artistic standpoint rather than just a recording-of-my-trip standpoint. Falling-down buildings or piles of rubbish don't always record the trip that well, but they are beautiful and artsy and it was fun to see things in that way.
I do think that even at $25 it was a little overpriced, but they are offering prizes to the best photographs!