Shopping in Panama City
Americana is all the rage in Panama, which manifests itself in a number of air-conditioned shopping malls scattered throughout the city. Unlike other Latin American capitals, traditional outdoor markets are hard to come by in Panama City, though you should have no problem finding brand-name luxury goods from the USA and Europe at discounted prices.
There’s food, toys and a crazy, bustling atmosphere at the Plaza Cinco de Mayo, which can be found by following Avenida Central, itself a six-block extravaganza of cheap shopping.
Dig for souvenirs and crafts in the slightly Disney-esque Mi Pueblito (My Little Village), a mock-Panamanian village that is closer to an outdoor shopping mall.
Via Estronga, in the financial district, is the place for electronics; designer stores are in Marbella; and a mix of everything, low and high end, is to be found on Via Espana.
A relatively low-key shopping spot is the Mercado Nacional de Artesanías (The National Artesan Market), adjacent to the ruins of Panamá Viejo. Prices are lower here than most places and you can get some great deals if you're good at haggling. What's more, many of the handicrafts on sale are of the highest quality.
The biggest shopping centre is the Albrook Mall, on Albrook, which is around 15 minutes from the city by taxi or a little longer (and far cheaper) on a city bus. It’s situated by the Central Bus Terminal and is the locals' favourite thanks to its relatively cheap chain shops and a big food court. In the city centre, there's Multiplaza Mall, along Vía Israel, which features exclusive designer shops such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Victoria's Secret as well as a large cinema.
For a real Panamanian shopping experience, look no further that El Machetazo on Central Avenue, a megastore that's been a local institution since 1966. There's a wide range of products on offer, from sports items and homeware to fruit and vegetables.
Shopping hours are generally Monday to Saturday 0930-2000, though it's normal for proprietors to take a one- to two-hour lunch break.
Artisans can be found in Casco Viejo selling their wares, particularly in Plaza Catedral. The traditional mola tapestries, produced by the indigenous Kuna, are a must-have souvenir and can be found in various shops in the old quarter. Another essential keepsake is the tagua nut – an indigenous art form whereby the so-called vegetable ivory (which comes from a species of forest palm) is sculpted with animal forms and other designs. These can be found in abundance in the old town.
The rate of value-added tax on most goods and purchases is a relatively low 7%.