Panama shopping is certainly something that can be enjoyed during a Panama vacation. Whether you are looking to pick up some fresh vegetables at a local market, or are interested in stocking up on duty free items, shopping in Panama can fill more than its fair share of hours. Panama shopping is well-complimented by the handicraft items that some of the country's native populations are known for. Panama shops are most abundant in Panama City, and more and more upscale offerings are opening up every year here. Before you head to the Panama shops or markets, you'll want to learn a little bit about the currency of Panama.
The official Panama currency is the Panamanian Balboa, which is tied to the U.S. dollar. The U.S. dollar is the actual currency of Panama, and the Balboa more or less serves no more purpose than being a monetary symbol of sorts. The Balboa Panama currency comes in the form of coins that are offered in denominations similar to those of U.S. coins. Their values are easy to recognize, especially by U.S. citizens, as these Panama currency coins are even sized the same as U.S. coins. While North Americans will not have to worry about changing money in Panama, Europeans and others foreigners can change Euros and such at the Banco Nacional branches. There is a Banco Nacional branch at the Panama City Tocumen International Airport, so you might stop there once you arrive. Changing money before you leave on your Panama trip is always a good idea. There are ATM machines in the larger Panama cities, which can come in handy, and credit cards can also serve you well. If you want to withdraw some currency in Panama with your credit card, you'll generally get pretty good exchange rates.
Once you've armed yourself with some Panama currency, you're ready to hit the Panama shops and markets. As mentioned, you'll find Panama City to have the largest selection of Panama shops. There are a few malls around town here, and the Amador Causeway has a shopping center where you can spend a good part of the day. Vía España is one of Panama City's main avenues, and here you'll find a nice array of stores, both high and low end. Avenida Central is a fun street to do some Panama shopping on. It's quite a lively atmosphere, and you'll find plenty of cheap stores here, not to mention all kinds of interesting street vendors. If you are staying at one of the Panama City hotels or vacation rentals that have units with kitchens, you might head to the Mercado de Mariscos on Avenida Balboa. You can find all kinds of fresh seafood here. Next to the seafood market is the Public Market (Mercado Publico). It's a wonderful farmer's market offering up all sorts of spices, meats, fruits and vegetables. Indigenous handicrafts are among the most popular Panama shopping items. Though buying them at traditional villages is always more authentic, you can find handicraft markets in Panama City should you be limited on time. The Mercado Nacional de Artesanías in Panama City's Panama Viejo district offers handmade crafts from around the country. The Kuna and Embera cultures sell their goods at markets in nearby Balboa.
Kuna Indians, who control an autonomous region on Panama's northeast coast, make and sell one of the most coveted Panama products. The Kuna women are known to weave what are known as "Molas". These colorful garments feature ornate designs, sometimes of sea creatures and other animals. Taking a few Molas home is sure to add some neat flare to your wardrobe, and they certainly make for excellent and unique gifts. When visiting the San Blas Islands, you'll have the chance to tour native Kuna villages and do some firsthand shopping. The Kuna women also make intriguing and equally colorful leg wrappings. These beaded fashion items are sure to make quite a statement back home. If you make it over Panama's western Chiriqui Highlands, you won't want to leave without picking up some locally grown coffee. Various cafes and grocery stores in the towns of Boquete and Volcan sell coffee products, and you can always take a coffee plantation tour to learn more about Panama coffee production. At Boquete's main plaza, you'll find a handicraft market where you can get items made by the Kuna, Embera, and Ngobe-Bugle cultures.
If you have taken an interest in Panama shopping, you probably have heard of the country's duty free shops. In Colon, Panama, which is about a 45-minute drive from Panama City, you'll find the famous Free Trade Zone. This conglomeration of shops features products from companies found around the world. Many guests of Panama cruises hit the Free Trade Zone to peruse the goods, and you can easily arrange a visit from either Colon or Panama City. For those who plan on doing a lot of Panama shopping, you might bring an extra suitcase. You won't need to pack a bunch of bulky, cold-weather clothes after all. Perhaps you might fill a suitcase with gifts of all kinds for Panamanian children, and then use it to put your Panama goods in for the trip home.