The capital of Panama is a trove of activity in all its modernity. Panama City, with its strong cultural and historical influences, is a grand city filled with many landmarks and stories to explore. From the cobblestoned historic center of Casco Viejo to the neoclassical Palacio Presidencial with its elegant flair of cafes and bars, a trip to Panama City is one that gifts insights into the people’s lives amid its beauty. Visit the Panama Canal, Monkey Island and Amador Causeway, there’s an array of attractions waiting to be explored, and before you know it, you’ll be caving to every temptation there is. Here’s a list of what to buy in Panama City, Panama.
1. Traditional Guna Yala attire
Panama is home to seven indigenous cultures, including the Guna people who mainly live in the San Blas Archipelago within Guna Yala. With vibrant colors, a familiar fashion palette in their traditional dressings, understand the culture and appreciate its piece by purchasing one to take back home. A Guna woman’s attire typically includes the mola – an elaborately designed and hand-sewn shirt, muswe – a headscarf, nose piercing, and leg wrap. The mola is especially interesting with its geometric and animal designs made through a reverse applique method and sewn together by up to seven different layers of cloth.
2. Panama jersey
If you’re a football fan, this recommendation might be especially of interest to you. It is well known that the Panama national team has made a name for themselves as a well-established regional contender in CONCACAF for the last 10 years, peaking at their qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup last year, marking their first appearance in the tournament. The jerseys come in blazing red and are produced by New Balance. The beloved jersey draws inspiration from the Panama national bird, the Harpy Eagle, the national anthem and the skyline of Panama City.
3. Ron Abuelo
Loved as the grandfather rum of Panama, whether you have a taste for alcohol or not, this definitely makes for a must purchase and a delightful souvenir. The Panamanian rum is made from both distilled sugar cane juice and distilled molasses which are then blended together before going into barrels. If you have an eye for detail, pick those that come from Abuelo, as they are one of the very few distilleries that grow their sugar cane. It’s also very reasonably priced and doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket even with good aged rum.
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4. Local gourmet coffee
Panama is growing increasingly popular for its export of coffee. Recently, travelers are especially interested in the detailed production from plant to harvest to cup, that Panama’s coffee embodies, making the nation’s coffee plantations places of interests themselves. The “fincas” and “haciendas” (farms and ranches) in Chiriquí province are growing popular for these tours and tastings, so be sure to make the best out of your experience and bring back the local coffee; your friends back home will be sure to delight in coffee made and brought back from Panama’s tropical mountain coffee plantations.
Mola is beautiful hand-made textiles that form part of the traditional Panama women’s clothing of the Guna people and they make for a thoughtful gift to bring back home and look upon fondly. They typically stand for “shirt” or “clothing” and are recognizable by their vibrant colors and geometric designs. If you are keen on purchasing one, look out for traditional Molas which have been made for the personal use of the Guna women instead of those mass made for the tourist market.
6. Diablico Sucio mask
Easily found in artisan markets as well as many gift shops and galleries especially that of Casco Viejo, the diablico sucio translates to “dirty devils” and are used as masks in the dance typically showcased during the Corpus Christi festival in Chitré, Panama. The dance represents the battle between the angel and the devils for the control of the soul of a mortal. The fearful devil’s masks with its colors and expressions make for an interesting gift but also a thoughtful gift to remind one of their travels in Panama, with its part in the nation’s culture and tradition.
7. Woven Embera basket
An Embera basket makes for a great gift, especially recognizing its roots in the Panama community, being typically woven by the Embera women themselves. These beautifully woven baskets are transformed with the help of the Embera women’s traditional basketry skills to become some of the finest contemporary baskets in the world from their original states as household items. In addition, these goods are sustainable as they are made from natural materials and natural dyes from the Darien, the second largest rain forest in the American continent.
8. Woven handmade dolls by the Embera indigenous people
Photo is only for illustrative purposes
Apart from the aforementioned baskets, the Embera people also make other handicraft including woven handmade dolls that would make for the perfect gift for a young girl back home, be it your daughter, youngest sister or a child you’d like to gift this sentimental gift to. Some of these dolls are also traditionally attired, and they are reminiscent of the deep culture, traditions, and sentiments of the Panama nation. The Embera group is one of the indigenous groups that was once referred to as the “Choco” tribe because they shared a similar riverside rain forest culture with the Wounaan people.
9. Latin American handcrafts from Casco Viejo
To commemorate your travels in Panama, it becomes natural that one is drawn to the handicraft of the place. Huge shopping centers and grand jewelry stores are unable to compare to the delightful humble handicraft markets that pride in the works of the locals and allure with their intricate details and vibrant colors. Casco Viejo is a popular site to get such souvenirs, playfully nicknamed as “The Soho of Latin America” because it is itself a buzzing haven of fashion, art and culture; one does not need to dig deep to be able to find handicraft treasures.
10. Panama hat
While these traditional brimmed straw hats are of Ecuadorian origin, the Panama hat is frequently donned by locals themselves and sure tempts locals alike. These fashionable and wearable accessories are definitely worth its popularity, recognizing the cultural sentiment behind the product and its ease into summer wear. It’s not hard to spot these hats along the streets, typically hanging out on hat stands to lure customers in, but if you need a recommendation, Casco Viejo sells these Panama Hats at reasonable prices and good qualities.
Panama City, a beautiful place to be
It’s great when gifts have meaning, and with this list, from the handicrafts in Casco Viejo to Panama’s rum, you’ll be heading back from your trip with more than some. Consider our recommendations above and leave Panama City with awesome mementos of your trip.
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