Visiting Panama City‘s markets is one of the best ways to get to know the culture of the country. From tropical vegetables you’ve never seen before, to the special fabrics woven by the Guna Yala indigenous people, you’ll be staggered by the heritage of a land that is still widely undiscovered. Here’s our guide to the best.
The fish market
Panama City’s fish market is open every day from 6am-5pm. Sitting outside at any number of the little restaurants that serve cheap and delicious ceviche, you can spot the fishermen’s boats as they reach the harbour of Panama and prepare to unload the catch of the day. The mercado de mariscos is a place full of character that brings together people from all walks of life, and it is one of the most authentic experiences you can have in Panama City.
The mercado de abastos is the wholesale fruit and vegetable market of Panama City. Toiling under a relentless sun, farmers and customers elbow each other as they unload boxes, exchange money, fill bags and bargain over the price of avocados and yucca. The market is a muddy, lively and colourful place that smells of soil mixed with pineapple and that pulsates like the heart of the tropical city.
The Mercado Nacional de Artesanías (The National Handicraft Market) is located next to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Panama Viejo and is a great place for buying souvenirs. Besides Panama hats, local sellers also present typical Panamanian pre-Columbian and pre-Hispanic artefacts. Some of them are copies of the masks and jewellery that were made by the indigenous people who lived in Panama before the Spanish conquest, while others are woven Embera bowls or masks.
The market on the central and popular street Avenida 5 de Mayo is the best place in town for buying molas,the traditional handmade fabrics woven by the Guna Yalas. Natives of San Blas, the Gunas stand out for their unusual, flashy style, that mixes square pieces of fabrics with embroideries inspired by body painting, birds, butterflies, leaves, and nature.
This pop-up market was created to provide an alternative artisanal and flea market in a city that seems to have lost itself in the concept of the ‘mall’, and is frequented by everyone, from young people through to families and the elderly, who come here to buy and sell, to explore, to eat, or simply to take a walk. This market, which takes place in the City of Knowledge, hopes to promote the sale of handmade products, local and alternative foods, antiquities, second-hand items and arts.
Located on Ancon Hill, Mi Pueblito is a crafts market that sells replicas of items typically produced in the Panamanian interior by Caribbean communities and in indigenous villages. Setup like a mini village, with little plazas, churches, fountains, and colourful folklore shows, it opens everyday from 9am-5pm.
Balboa’s Handcrafts Market was created by the city of Panama in 1998 to meet the needs of a group of artisans who lacked a space to sell their products. Located in the neighbourhood of Balboa, nearby the Canal Zone, the market features artisanal crafts that are representative of the entire country, with paper masks, woven handmade dolls and baskets made out of natural fibres and dyes by the Emberá people, Guana Yala’s fabrics (the molas) as well as stuffed dolls, Panama hats and jewellry.