The proprietors of Fortaleza Tours have a fragile truce within the “red zone” of Casco Viejo, and have found a novel way to escape gang life. These former gang members are taking tourists on tours of their old stomping grounds.

“Before, tourists wouldn’t be able to walk next to us. We’d grab them and stick them up. Now, they walk beside us.”

Not long ago, they may have been the ones to rob you if you were brazen enough to enter in search of an exotic selfie. But now, all financial transactions with the tourists are voluntary. Gang violence is waning, the hospitality sector is moving in, and out-of-towners are returning to a relatively new feeling of safety in the historic center of Panama City.

In the eyes of Panamanian law, once you make it to a gang list, there’s no way off. But Fortaleza wants to change that. In search of a better, safer life for them and their families, Jaffet and Antonio are printing postcards and pamphlets of the territory formally known for drug trafficking and murder — and will gladly give you a behind the scenes look at their former gangland life. If you’re anything like us, you may get an odd feeling from creating a fishbowl of other people’s lives, but if you find yourself in Panama City, we recommend this tour. If for nothing else than to support positive change.

There’s more than one way to shakedown an adventurous tourist.”

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