As one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Panama is also a popular shopping haven. The nation is home to many shopping malls, department stores, and local markets that can accommodate all types of shoppers from big spenders to budget-conscious shoppers and the others in between.
Because of the diversity of things that you can buy in Panama, it is important for a tourist to know the different shopping opportunities in and around the city so for best finds and best value for you to achieve the best shopping experience in Panama. Here is a complete guide when shopping in Panama as a tourist.
Is Panama Good for Shopping?
First things first, before you proceed reading this ultimate shopping guide in Panama; let us first establish why Panama is good for shopping. Yes, Panama is a great place for shopping because you can practically find anything you need to buy in Panama. Because of the country’s strategic position between North and South America and its central role as an international trade transit, you can find almost all of the best products from all ends of the world – from Japanese electronics, French perfumes to American brands. The country has American-style large shopping malls and department stores as well as local boutiques and markets where you sure to find something you would like. Many tourists go to Panama for shopping reasons.
Is Shopping Popular in Panama?
Shopping is popular in Panama not only among tourists but among locals as well. Panamanians like to go shopping. The fondness of the locals to go shopping is in part attributed to their penchant for fashion and their culture. Panamanians value appearance and hygiene. Despite the tropical weather, people wear nice suits and dresses to look good. People want to look presentable to make a good impression, to boost confidence and get motivated and to gain the respect of people in as much as you look good to respect others. Because of these, Panamanians regularly go shopping and take time in shopping for clothes and other things that will make them look nice.
How Much Budget Would I Need to Shop in Panama?
It depends. The budget that you will prepare ultimately depends on what you plan to buy and do. If you are only planning to buy a few souvenirs and other local Panamanian products just so you can experience the unique culture and people of Panama, even a $100 would suffice. After all, getting into the country is already a priceless experience. However, if you plan of buying 200 units of cameras or other electronics or several souvenirs for your 50 friends and colleagues back home, then you obviously need more money.
What Currency Should I Use When Shopping in Panama?
You can only use the US dollar when shopping in Panama. Panama is the first Latin American nation that adopted the US dollar as legal tender. All paper bills in Panama are in US dollars. The official currency of Panama, however, is the Balboa. However, the Balboa is limited to coin currency. This makes shopping very convenient in Panama.
For other tourists using a different currency other than the US dollar, you can have your currency exchanged in the US dollar in many money changers in Panama City. Although it is convenient to have your money exchanged in money changers inside the airport, money changers in the city usually offer higher rates.
What Is the Exchange Rate Between the US Dollar and Panama Balboa?
Since adopting the US dollar as an official currency since 1904, the Panama Balboa has been tied to the US dollar. That means the exchange rate is 1 is to 1. 1 USD is equal to 1 PAB. 10 USD is equal to 10 PAB. In short, you don’t have to concern yourself of converting the USD to PAB every now and then, which makes shopping in Panama more relaxed, less confusing and easy to budget.
Can I Use a Credit / Debit Card When I Shop in Panama?
The major shopping malls and department stores, as well as upscale commercial stores in Panama, accept credit/ debit cards. Among the most widely accepted cards includes Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. Depending on your credit card provider, charges may also vary. Some credit cards do not make international charges.
It is important however to have cash when shopping in Panama especially if you plan to go to local markets and boutiques which may not have facilities for accepting credit cards. Cash is also needed especially when spending money in small towns and remote areas in Panama such as the San Blas Islands, paying for taxi/ bus fares, tipping and others.
What Are the Top Shopping Malls in Panama?
Now that you are all set in shopping in Panama, the next obvious step is to know where to go shopping. Here are the top malls in Panama in no specific order.
Multiplaza Pacific Mall. This mall is the first on the list if you want to go to a standard American-style shopping mall. This is also recommended because it is a favorite spot for ex-pats for its central location at the heart of Panama City. You can choose from among over 50 resto-bars, fine dining restaurants, and outdoor lounges. If you are into high-end brands, this is also the best place to be because it has a large selection of top-notch brands from all over the world.
Albrook. Albrook Mall is also in the list of the top malls because it is actually the biggest mall in the entire continent of Central America with 400 plus stores and restaurants. This mall can be considered a blend of outlet stores and cheap bargains ala-Wal-Mart. Because of this, you can find inexpensive items of all kinds. It is also popular for its location adjacent to public transportation and domestic airport, where you can book cheap trips to nearby countries like Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and other Caribbean countries. This mall is also great when shopping with kids because it is packed with family-fun activities such as bowling, rock climbing, animal statues, merry-go-round, and other family services.
El Dorado. In Tumba Muerto lies the first mall in Panama, El Dorado. This mall, which had undergone extensive renovation, is popular among locals and ex-pats because it is a hotchpotch of numerous small stores that offer affordable random items especially electronics, clothing, and food. Because of the sheer number of shops, you can bargain to get the best deals. Some shops even offer special discount rates to tourists who simply need to show their passports.
Metro-Mall. Owned and operated by the same management behind Multi-Plaza, Metro Mall is a popular mall for tourists because of its proximity to the airport. The mall has more than 300 shops that offer different brands and products. The mall offers free shuttle bus service to and from the airport regularly to make it easy for tourists to reach the mall.
AltaPlaza Mall. AltaPlaza is a modern shopping mall that houses many international brands such as Addidas, Bergs, Calvin Klein, Victoria’s Secret and Under Armour among others. The mall regularly holds different events such as mini-concerts, programs, local celebrations, Sumba and others. It also offers many entertainment opportunities for families such as food court, multiplex cinema, sandbox, and Crazy Park, among others.
Multicentro. Multicentro is a shopping center located in Patilla that has 4 levels of various shops. The mall is more popular for electronic items, appliances, home and bedroom furnishing, kitchenware, personal care, sports equipment, and children items, among others. The malls also have a casino, food court, and movie house to cater for your other needs. This mall is a great place to find quality clothing that is less popular than international brands.
Westland Mall. Located at Nuevo Arraijan, Westland Mall is a large mall that offers many low-end clothing stores. This is the best place to look for bargains and local brands. For tourists staying on the beach, this mall is the most convenient place to go for their regular needs without going to the city. Aside from shopping and grocery, the mall also offers entertainment features including fun events, local programs, and performances from the nearby community.
Los Andes Commercial Center. Located in San Miguelito district, this is the biggest commercial shopping district in the north of Panama City. It houses department stores and other specialty shops of national and international brands. The extensive assortment of shops in the commercial center makes it a go-to place for shoppers, window shoppers as well as people who want to hang out in a comfortable place.
Soho Mall. For a high-end shopping spree, the Soho Mall is the place to be. Aptly located in Calle 5, the central financial district of Panama City, Soho Mall is regarded as the most exclusive mall in Panama that features over 100 stores of international high-end brands such as Chanel, Coach, Dior, Prada, and Valentino, among others. The mall is ideal for people looking for luxurious and lavish clothing, accessories and other items.
What Are the Top Department Stores in Panama?
El Costo. If you are looking for quality local brands, the place to go is El Costo. El Costo is the leading chain of department stores in Panama that have branches in Albrook Mall, Metro mall, Westland Mall, La Correa, Los Andes, and Los Pueblos, among others. It offers a great range of clothing for men and women, cosmetics, toys, home furniture, and other accessories.
Conway. Conway is another popular chain of a department store in Panama that primarily offers locally branded fashionable clothing items for men and women as well as home furniture. You can find branches of Conway in Albrook Mall, The villages, Multicentro Westland Mall, Terronal Square, and Plaza El Terronal.
El Titan. This large chain of department stores is popular for residential and personal things. The store is famous for trendy clothing and shoes, fashionable items, household items, accessories as well as children’s toys, where you can get big discounts. The store emphasizes on providing fashionable and comfortable items. Titan has branches in Airbrook Mall, Metro Mall, Los Andes, Calidonia, Colon 4 altos, and Los Pueblos.
What Are the Best Places to Shop for Food?
When it comes to food shopping, here are the most popular supermarkets in Panama:
Riba Smith. This is the most luxurious supermarket in Panama that is frequented by ex-pats and affluent Panamanians. It has a great selection of food from brands from all over the world. You can find exotic fruits, different vegetables, and other delicacies. It has branches in Muti-Plaza, Bella Vista, Costa del Este and Transistmica among others.
El Rey. A US-style supermarket chain similar to Riba Smith, this grocery offers an equally wide range of food selection and brands. It also has a healthy food section for specialty diets. It has branches located in Albrook, El Dorado, El Cangrejo and David.
Super 99. Along with Riba Smith and El Rey, Super 99 completes the largest supermarket chain in Panama. While its stores a little smaller than the two, it has the largest network of grocery branches across Panama. While its selections are fewer, they are more modest compared to the other two.
PriceSmart. For shopping food in bulks, PriceSmart is the best place to go. If you are planning of holding a large party and would need gallons of mayonnaise, bags of strawberries or 50 kilos of select cold cuts, this supermarket offers the best deals. You can get discounted rates when buying in large volumes or quantities.
Is Shopping in Panama Cheaper Than the US?
It depends. Food and medicine are generally cheaper in Panama. Local products, as well as products from other South American countries, are also cheaper in Panama. You can also find bargain items including shoes, clothes and other things in department stores.
Shopping in Panama is generally cheaper in the US if you buy in bulks that are if you buy wholesale in duty-free shops. Whether you are buying electronic products like cameras or digital gadgets, liquors, or clothes, you will always find it cheaper to buy in wholesale. However, if you are only buying in retail, the prices of the products are not cheaper than in the US. The prices of most branded products bought in retail are just the same as in the US.
If you want to look for cheap quality products to shop, you need to go to local cheap stores, which are plenty in Panama. However, most of the clothes are local and are designed for locals in terms of size.
Can I Bargain When Shopping in Panama?
You are free to bargain especially in the local markets, but obviously not in shopping malls where prices are fixed. Note however that bargaining is not commonly practiced so don’t expect to get large discounts especially if you are simply purchasing a single item. The best way to bargain is to buy many items before asking for a discount.
Where to Go for Cheap Shopping in Panama?
La Central. Located in San Miguel district, La Central is the world’s longest walking street that offers a galore of bargain stores for cheap shopping. Most shops offer local brands. The prices can be 30% cheaper than regular prices found in department stores. The shopping district opens at 10 in the morning and tourists are advised to shop during the day, when there is a strong police presence in the area.
Los Pueblos. Los Pueblos is an outdoor shopping mall located in Juan Diaz. It is a low-end mall that offers low-end but high-quality clothing and other items. This mall is very popular among the locals hence many shoppers swarm the area, especially during weekends. If you are a bargain hunter, you can find the best deals in Los Pueblos. However, you need to be ready to be toe to toe when getting through the stores because of the throngs of shoppers that visit the mall.
Avenida Central. This pedestrian shopping center is a stretch of various clothing shops, cafes and other random stores that sell dirt-cheap items including imported designer imitations. This is the place to go to find the best replica designer clothing and counterfeits. Avenida is a dynamic shopping place among Panamanian locals. The best time to shop is during the day because the place becomes a bit woolly at night.
What Must You Buy in Panama?
Panama is a place where you can buy practically everything. However, when visiting Panama, there are certain items that you should include as part of the must-buy list. You can opt to buy locally-branded shoes and shirts from Panama, here are items that you should buy that are truly Panamanian.
Panama Hats. Although Panama hats are originally from Ecuador, these items have become a cultural identity of Panama across the world. These hats popularly worn by aristocrats in Panama became popular during the construction of the Panama Canal. Although you buy Panama hats in practically every popular shopping center in Panama, Victor’s Panama Hats in Casco Viejo has become a popular must-go place to buy the hat.
Molas. These gorgeous and exquisite textile fabrics from the Kuna people in the San Blas Islands of Panama come in different clothing items. It features intricately woven clothes that make multi-colored and vivid depictions of different designs like animals, butterflies, and birds.
Seco. Dubbed as the national drink of Panama, this liquor made from extracts of sugarcane is used usually mixed with cow’s milk and other fruits to make different types of cold cocktails.
Diablico Sucio Mask. These masks which are used as wall decors are usually used in the celebration of the Corpus Christi Festival.
Embera Bowls. These handmade bowls by Embera Indians are made of natural fibers and dyes and can be used as containers and decorations.
Gourmet Coffee. Panama Coffee is known to be among the best in the world. Buying a Panama coffee is one of the best souvenirs you can bring for your friends and relatives back home to get a taste of Panama.
Goods from South America. Serving as the doorway to South America, you can buy the best products from South America in Panama. This includes authentic leather bags, shoes, and belts from Colombia and Argentina, genuine cigars from Cuba and other popular products from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico or Jamaica without necessarily going to these South American countries.
Where to Shop for Souvenirs and Other Panamanian Products?
While traditional and cultural products and items such as handicrafts, molas, and Panama hats are available in most leading malls and department stores, here are the best places to buy these souvenir items at more reasonable prices and with more design selections.
Mercado Artesano Cinco de Mayo. The Artisan Market is the best place to buy souvenirs and other traditional items associated with Panama. What makes this place great is that artisans and vendors from across the country, converge here to sell their products. In this way, you can buy various items that represent the diverse ethnicity, culture, and regions of Panama in a single location. When shopping here, you should get inside the market to get the best deals instead of simply focusing on the exterior shops or its crowded entrance.
Mercado Artesano El Valle de Anton. If you plan to buy Panamanian handicrafts, El Valle is the place to go. This market offers the largest collection of handicrafts, clothing, figurines and other artworks from different indigenous tribes in Panama. One popular handiwork that is bought by tourists is the batea, a carved tray from the Ngöbe-Buglé traditionally used for tossing rice. This market is also a great place to buy fresh produce like vegetables.
Mercado de Artesanías de Balboa. Founded in 1998 near the Panama Canal Zone, this market offers artisanal goods that exemplify the different culture and indigenous tribes in Panama such as paper masks, handmade figurines and bags, Guana molas, and accessories.
Mercado de Artesania Panama Vieja. The National Handicraft Market in Panama Vieja is another great place to shop for Panamanian souvenirs including items from the indigenous people in Panama like Embera bowls and masks and molas.
Amador Causeway. This beautiful stretch of the boardwalk which is home to some of Panama’s top activities and attractions also features a covered flea market that sells artisan handicrafts. Most of the crafts sold and made by the vendors themselves so you can bargain to get the best deal.
Reprosa. With a mission to preserve and promote Panama’s history, cultural traditions, ecological beauty, and ethnic diversity, Reprosa is the most popular handicraft store in the country which has been operating for over 30 years. It is famous for its broad collection of high quality handcrafted jewelry and native art inspired by Panama’s flora and fauna, traditional culture, and heritage. Reposa has many stores such as Costa del Este, Casco Antiguo, and Mutliplaza.
SuperMini Diablo Rosso. If you are staying in Sortis Hotel and have no more time to go and explore the aforementioned local artisan markets, then you can visit the mini boutique inside the hotel to get a select and limited number of handicrafts, glassware, t-shirts and other artistic pieces from local artists and artisans in Panama.
Can You Shop and Take a Culture Trip to Panama at the Same Time?
You can do your shopping and simultaneously take a culture trip to Panama by visiting the local markets or visiting stores in heritage sites in Panama. This will not only save you time by hitting two birds in one stone but also allows you to immerse yourself in the beautiful and unique culture of the people.
Where can you shop and take a culture trip to Panama?
Casco Viejo. You can take a nostalgic trip to the Spanish colonial quarters of Panama City while browsing through countless indigenous treasures in its many stores and stalls along the way. Along the popular plazas in the oldest district of Panama are some indoor stores where you can buy high-quality clothes, souvenirs as well as traditional jewelry and accessories.
Mi Pueblito. Set up like a small settlement with tiny plazas, fountains, and multi-colored folktale performances, Mi Pueblito in Ancon Hill is a crafts market that offers replicas of Panamanian indigenous products.
Mercado de Mariscos. Located in Calle 15 Este, this fish market is one great way to learn the culture of Panama. Aside from cultural and indigenous products, you can also find fishes and other seafood in the market as well as small canteens serving ceviche and other local cuisines. You can see local fisherfolks in Panama harbor and witness residents from all walks of life. Visiting this place is one of the most genuine ways to experience Panama City.
Mercado de Abastos. This market is known for selling fruits and vegetables sold at wholesale prices. Here, you can witness the farmers delivering and unloading their fresh produce. The market is murky, animated and vibrant. The place smells like a blend of dirt with avocado, yucca pineapple.
El Mercado pop-up market. The pop-up market in the City of Knowledge is created to provide an alternative flea market that is visited by many locals to buy, eat, and hang around. It is also a great place for tourists because you can find many locally made products, crafts, foods, and even second-hand goods.
Other Panama Markets. Other local markets where you can find food, handicrafts, and other indigenous items to shop include the markets in Bocas Town’s Central Park, the Bocas Farmers, Cultural Market, and the local market in Boquete.
Is Panama Duty-Free?
No, Panama is not duty-free. However, the country has duty free zones where you can buy duty-free products.
What Are Duty-Free Zones in Panama?
Colon Free Zone. This is the largest free trade zone in Central America that occupies more than 800 acres and houses more than 2000 companies. The Colon Free Zone is designed for wholesale business people who buy 200 television sets to 1000 refrigerators. It is not for tourists who only want to buy in retail. So don’t bother going there if you are only planning to purchase a single item.
Other duty-free shops. There are many duty-free shops in Panama where tourists can buy duty-free goods like liquor, perfume, cosmetics, tobacco products, and electronic items among others. This includes the Duty-free shopping at Tocumen International Airport, duty-free shop in Fuerte Amador Mall, Attenza Duty-Free, Amphora Duty-free, and DFA Duty-Free Americas, among others. These shops are primarily for international travelers. You cannot normally bring the items that you buy in these duty-free shops inside Panama. Instead, these items will be delivered to you before boarding your flight home or upon landing in your home country per customs regulations, where you may be subjected to taxes.
Shopping in Panama can be a purely leisure activity, a necessity for buying essential items to survive or a part of your travel experience. As the center of the Americas and conduit for international trade, Panama posts itself as a shopping haven for tourists where you can practically buy everything you need.
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