Everything there is to buy in Panama is directly related to its rich blend of cultures. Panamanian handicrafts are extremely varied, which will make it easy for you to find more than one souvenir to take home with you.
This Central American country is home to the most diverse mix of ethnic groups in the world. Panamanians are descendants of indigenous people, black slaves, Spaniards, North Americans, Arabs, Italians, French, and a very long etcetera. There are also populations of Chinese, Colombians, Hindus, Mexicans, Jews, Greeks and Venezuelans, among others.
It is calculated that 70% of the population is mixed race, which creates a rich cultural variety resulting in some very unusual traditional products. In this sense, handicrafts are one of the things to buy in Panama in order to understand its ethnic diversity. Let’s see which the most famous traditional products are.
These creations are famous throughout the world, and you will see them in most of the country’s markets. A mola is a square piece of material which has been embroidered by hand, representing geometric figures, animals or other traditional indigenous symbols. Its success is not just due to the colourful patterns but also to their use, as they can be turned into rugs, tapestries, cushion covers, tablecloths, etc.
There is no doubt that the molas are one of the most representative traditional products to buy in Panama. The quality and variety of their designs vary from one place to another, but if you want to find the best molas, visit the region of Kuna Yala.
Panamanian hats are another of the most sought-after souvenirs by travellers, both for use during their visit and for taking home as a souvenir. You will find hat stalls practically throughout the country, and because of this, their price and quality will vary from one place to another.
Coclé, Acuero and the region of Ngöbe are the main nuclei for hat makers. If you want to find a true Panama hat, visit one of these places and pop in to see how they are made in a completely traditional way.
Panamanian artisans make fine bags of vegetable fibres known as chácaras or cebaderas. The fibres they use to make them are mostly agave leaves which they decorate with natural dyes.
These little bags have drawings of vibrant colours with vertical or horizontal designs, making simple but very attractive patterns. If you want to give a traditional Panamanian product as a gift, you may have found the perfect one. To get the most authentic hand-made ones, visit the ethnic region of Ngöbe Buglé.
Handicrafts made from fruits and seeds
The different indigenous ethnic cultures in the country have been making handicrafts with palm and pumpkin seeds for centuries. The fine and intricate works with palm seeds have become true works of art, so much so, that you will find them in many jewellery shops adorned with precious stones.
For its part, the fruit of the pumpkin is used to make decorated pots which are one of the most original products to buy in Panama. The province of Colón is the place to buy this kind of handicraft, as well as the figures sculpted from coconut fibre.
Another product used by craftsmen to create bags, belts, shoes and other accessories is leather. Ciudad de Panamá is where the production of these handicrafts is concentrated, and these could become the perfect souvenirs to buy in Panama.
The leather used is mainly cow hide, although more recently they are incorporating snake and lizard skin. The latter are grown in vivariums and most skins are exported.
Belmont or soap stone, comes from the province of Coclé, where the artisan sculptors create all kinds of figures that you will find in many of the markets throughout the country. With the soft rock, they create beautiful statuettes of animals which will be the perfect souvenir to buy in Panama.
Visit the town of Membrillo, where apart from discovering the town and its marvelous people, you will be able to watch from close up how the artisans work this unique stone.
Gold and silver work and jewellery
Gold and silver are materials used to make elegant jewellery with intricate designs. One of the main uses for this material is the making of jewellery that accompanies the Pollera Panameña (Panamanian skirt). The gold is embossed or worked into filigree or Arabesque and forms part of this traditional feminine attire.
Working precious stones is another element used to make the polleras. Los Santos and Herrera are the places where you can find the best gold and silversmiths and jewellers in the whole country.
Other handicrafts to buy in Panama which you will find in any market are hammocks, bead bracelets and necklaces, wicker or naguas (geometric designs) lampshades.