Panama is known throughout the Americas as a "shopper's paradise" and rightly so. North Americans will be fascinated by high quality,colorful handicrafts made by Panamanian artisans. Only Mexico rivals Panama in the variety and creativeness of native handicrafts.
Large selections of Panamanian handicrafts can be found in two places in Panama City. The closest location are the Gran Morrison stores with branches near most downtown hotels. Just ask your concierge where the nearest Gran Morrison is.
Outside of the business district, go to the Kuna Cages, a stall-style market place where you can bargain with the artisans themselves in more "get-close-to the-natives" setting. It is in the former American Canal Zone on the way to the Causeway and offers a great variety of handicrafts and you'll get to know a different Panama than the commercial district. To get there, just tell one of Panama's trusty taxi drivers to take you to "la antigua YMCA en Balboa" or show himthis article. It's a 15 minute drive from downtown and the taxi ride will be about $3.00.
Multiplaza Mall: An upscale, mall freaturing 30 restaurants and cafes, 155 stores, in addition to 50 brand-name and 7 prestigious department stores as well as Courtyard by Mariott hotel. Items can be found by designers from France, Italy, Spain, Germany, the U.S. and Latin American at the same competitive prices tourist finds in Miami! Fully air-conditioned, Multiplaza Mall also features eight Cinepolis cinemas and ample parking.
Open from 10:00am to 8:00pm from Monday to Saturday and 11:00am to 7:00pm on Sundays.
Multicentro Mall: This stylish, upper-scale mall is fully air-conditioned. Multicentro features 177 brand-name stores, a 26 restaurant food court overlooking the Pacific Bay, 7 outdoor restaurants, game rooms, movie theaters, a night club, the first Hard Rock Cafe in Central America, Majestic Casino, and even a Culture Plaza next to the city lights and the sea breeze. Very client friendly with 20 escalators, ample indoor parking as well as wheelchairs and baby carriages available for your convenience.
Open 10:00am to 8:00pm from Monday to Thursday and 10:00am to 9:00pm from Friday to Sunday.
Albrook Mall: A large mall built around the Albrook Bus Terminal, featuring a food court with a carousel, cinema, and many discount stores sure to delight the serious bargain shopper. You won't have to worry about getting lost as each section is marked by a zoo animal. Open from 10:00am to 9:00pm from Monday to Saturday, from 11:00am to 8:00pm on Sundays and 11:00am to 7:00pm on Holidays
Los Pueblos Shopping Center: Right near the International lAirport, this mall is series of around 150 stores set up in strip-mall fashion where you can get great deals on everything from cothing to electronics.
Metromall: Also close to the airport, only 10 minutes away, it is also the newest mall in Panama. Consisting of more than 260 stores, 40 restaurants, banks, a movie theatre and even a brand new Marriot Hotel. Catering to tourists, you can get there either by taking the free shuttle that goes to and from the Tocumen Airport, or they will even send a shuttle to pick you up from your hotel! Just call 222-8210 or 6613-4694.
Special Jewelry Gifts
For a truly special jewelry gift we recommend Reprosa, located in the business district and in the Amador Shopping Complex- Reprosa has a wide selection of beautiful jewelry inspired by Panama's native culture and natural beauty. They are the only company authorized to make molds from the Pre-Columbian jewelry found in ancient burial sites. Tel: (507) 269-0457.
Another jewelry find and veryspecial gift are Rainforest Designs Cameos- exquisite cameos carved by the Wounaan Indians of the Darien Rainforest.The cameos are available at the Marriott Hotel Gift Shop and the Duty Free Shop on Flamingo Island at Amador.
Types of Panamanian Handicrafts
"Molas" are Panama's most famous handicraft. They are colorful, intricate, multi-leveled appliquÃ© fabric panel designs made by the Kuna Indian women of the San Blas Islands. They made them originally for their blouses. You can buy molas loose, framed or as decorativ part of a shirt, blouse or bag.
Also recommended are the tightly woven baskets of the Embera Indians. Many are exported to Europe and the US, but here you can purchase them starting at $10. The baskets are made of palm materials of the nahuala bush and the chunga tree. All the dyes are natural extracts from tropical fruits and trees. (Similar baskets by the Navajo Indians in the US cost a small fortune.)
You will also find a fascinating selection of horses, dragons, fish and turtles cleverly carved from soapstone and a tropical hardwood called cocbolo. Other tiny figurines are carved from the ivory-colored tagua nut.
If you want to bring home a very special memento, it is possible to purchase high quality "huacas"- jewelry items that are replicas of the golden figures placed in pre-Conquest Indian burial sites. No one knows the exact meaning of these objects, but they surely had some kind of mystical significance. Your hotel jewelry store will have them and you can find a complete selection at Reprosa, a jewelry store specializing in such reproductions adjacent to Plaza Obarrio on Samuel Lewis St
Panama also has several large indoor malls. Multicentro and Multiplaza largest , Multicentro are conveniently located in the business district with stores in a wide range of prices and a great food courts. Another is Albrook Mall, adjacent to the national busterminal with many discount stores and a big food court.
Ten minutes from Panama City's Tocumen International Airport is Los Pueblos, a huge shopping complex with dozens of department and specialty stores. Los Pueblos is popular for Latin Americans who find it a convenient alternative to shopping in Miami.
Gems, Electronics, Luxury and Bargain Clothing
As Panama is near Columbia there are also good bargains in gem stones. A handsome sapphire or emerald ring for example will cost about a third less than in the States. It is important to buy at a reputable jewelry store like Joyeria La Huaca in front of the Continental Hotel.
For a large selection of fine watches and jewelry try Mercurio jewelers on Samuel Lewis Ave. in front of the National Sanctuary.
Electronic and Computer Items
People from all over Latin America come to Panama to buy electronic and computers. By the way, you don't have to make the long trip to the Colon Free Trade Zone to get good prices. The Free Zone is more oriented to the wholesaler. Buying retail you will find Panama City store prices are nearly the same as the Free Zone's.
For electronic items and home appliances Audio Foto, Panafoto and Panasonic are the best. They have several locations and are also located in the Business District and any taxi driver will get you there if this is not within walking distance of your hotel.
For computers and and related items, it is well worth a trip to Multimax on Tumba Muerto Ave or Albrook Mall. This large computer store is about 20 minutes by taxi from the business district, you'll find everything you would find in a large American computer store including similar prices.