The holidays are upon us, and for most of us that means it’s time to do some shopping. As an obliging mother of 2, I’ve spent many Christmas’ in Panama scouring the country, credit card and crayon-sprawled wish list in hand, looking for the best places to play Santa Claus.
Luckily, Panama offers the best shopping experience in the region. In fact, it’s customary for Latin Americans to fly into Panama simply for a shopping spree. Here, you’ll find everything from high-end brands to hand-woven treasures- and these are the places you’ll find them.
With 4 levels of shops, a food court, casino, and movie theater- Multicentro carries almost everything you would want to buy. Brands range from budget-minded to well-known, but for the most part you won’t find extremely high-end names here. Multicentro is best for when you’re not worried about finding the crem de la crem- plus it’s manageable in size and easy to navigate.
MultiPlaza is the place to go for high-end brand. While you’ll find many of the same general shops you’d see at Multicentro, this mall stands out most for its selection of top-shelf brands (and prices.) Multiplaza also offers fancier dining options, with fine restaurants to choose from as well as an outdoor gourmet “food court.” There is also a movie theater with VIP seating.
Albrook is great if you’re bringing the kids. There are a loads of family-fun features such as a food court merry-go-round, rock climbing wall, and massive animal statues scattered throughout the mall (great for photos!) It’s a bit more difficult to get to in comparison to the other malls, though it does offer greater variety of shops. That also means that it’s massive, usually too big for me to handle. But if you’re up for the walking marathon and/or you have kiddies, Albrook is the way to go!
To me, the El Dorado mall is somewhat strange- though occasionally useful. The mall is a giant hodgepodge of random shops carrying even more random things. However, its mysterious stretch of electronic stores is priceless. These stores carry primarily cell phones and tablets and (since there’s so many of them) they are forced to price competitively. You can look at literally hundreds of devices within minutes and bargain for the best deal (hint: Offer to pay in cash and you’ll get a better price.)
The Westland Mall is located in Arraijan, a little more than halfway between the Gold Coast and Panama City. It’s ideal for us beach-dwellers who might not feel like driving into the capital. The full-scale mall features a general range of shops as well as a movie theater. The mall often puts on fun events for the surrounding community, such as these traditional Panama dancers.
If you’re on the hunt for something a tad more unusual this holiday, you’ll love Panama’s authentic Indian handicrafts.
Besides being beautiful works of art in their own right, these items carry the intriguing backstory having been crafted by Panama’s indigenous cultures. These authentic handicrafts, including handwoven baskets, intricately carved tagua nuts and hardwood, and famously colorful molas, make beautifully unique gifts, and serve to support the cultures making them.
The Spanish colonial quarters of Panama City offer countless indigenous treasures. Take a walk through any of the popular plazas and you’ll see tents with heaps of brightly colored goodies underneath. There are also several indoor stores with high quality clothes and jewelry.
This beautiful stretch of boardwalk features an “indoor flea market” of artisan handicrafts, many of which are run by the artists themselves. In the stores, you can find other (non-authentic, but still fun) souvenirs.
Located about 2 ½ hours outside of Panama City, El Valle is a charming mountain town with a strong indigenous presence on the weekends. Saturdays in El Valle feature a well-stocked artisans market, where you’ll find rows and row of intricate hardwood carvings, beautiful tropical art, jewelry, and more.
Reposa is famous for its large collection of high quality handcrafted jewelry and indigenous art. Their factory tour and showroom in Costa del Este is popular amongst tourists, though you can also find Reprosa stores throughout the city.
(Don’t Bother: Colon Free Trade Zone)
My clients often ask me about Colon’s duty-free zone, which is the largest free zone in the Americas and the second largest in the world. With bragging rights like that, you would think it’d be a must-visit- but I rarely recommend it. The Colon Free Trade Zone is really meant for those seeking wholesale goods for export. You won’t find many consumer products sold individually, and purchases are sent directly to the airport for pick-up upon landing. Great for business owners, not so much for holiday shopping!
That about wraps it up! Good luck with all your holiday shopping, and remember- the massive crowds, long lines,and incessant Christmas jingles (usually dubbed into Spanish) are all part of the fun ;).