Three Spanish settlements were founded in this area in 1602; DAVID was the only one to survive repeated attacks from indigenous groups. It developed slowly as a marginal outpost of the Spanish Empire, but in 1732 it was overrun and destroyed by British-backed Miskito groups raiding from Nicaragua. As settlement of Chiriquí increased in the nineteenth century, David began to thrive once again. Today, despite being a busy commercial city – the second largest in the country after Panama City – it retains a sedate provincial atmosphere. Hot and dusty, its unexceptional modern architecture spreads out on a grid, with recent attempts to restore original colonial structures in the east side. While it is not so much a destination in itself, plenty of travellers stop here en route to or from Panama City, Costa Rica, Boquete or Bocas del Toro, and find they enjoy the visit. At Carnaval, of course, things spice up considerably, and David also has a festival all of its own: the Feria de San José thunders its way through ten raucous days every March.
David centres on Parque Cervantes, a fine, tree-shaded place to people-watch with a cup of freshly squeezed sugar-cane juice (caña) perked up with tropical lemon, or a dose of coconut water (agua de pipa). Three blocks southeast of the park lies the oldest part of the city, where the crumbling colonial mansion that was home to successive generations of the distinguished Obaldía family, and former city museum, has sadly been left to decay. A couple more blocks southeast lies the city’s ancient bell tower, and the cathedral – worth a peek inside to take in the garish modern murals.