Local traditions and culture in Panama

  • Pollera de Baila
    Pollera de Baila
    by bilgeez
  • Carnaval float in Las Tablas 2007
    Carnaval float in Las Tablas 2007
    by bilgeez
  • Kids sitting under the molas waiting for photos
    Kids sitting under the molas waiting for...
    by grandmaR

Most Viewed Local Customs in Panama

  • DAO's Profile Photo


    by DAO Updated Oct 1, 2011

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    The flag of Panama was designed by the first President of a fully independent Panama, Manuel Amador Guerrero. It was adopted in 1903 and has not changed since. The flag itself is a rectangle divided into 2 white rectangles with a red and a blue rectangle. There is a blue star in the upper white rectangle in the hoist position. There is also a red star in the other white rectangle.

    The white spaces are there to symbolise peace. The red and blue colours represent the 2 political parties - the Liberals (red) and the Conservatives (blue).

    There are alternative meanings for the colours. This has the red symbolising the blood shed by patriots during independence. The blue representing the 2 oceans connected by the canal – the Pacific and the Caribbean.

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    • Arts and Culture

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  • gabbs's Profile Photo

    local food

    by gabbs Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    Try the following local dishes:
    "ceviche", raw fish on lemon juice, onion, and other spices.
    "arroz con pollo", rice mixed with chicken and usually, some chopped vegetables.
    "arroz con piña", a beverage made of rice and pineapple (sounds very strange, I know, but tastes great).
    "chicheme", a drink made of corn, tastes like oatmeal.
    "patacones", my favorites, are fried plantain.
    "tortillas", usually made of corn.
    "hojaldra" are like fried breads...

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  • elsadran's Profile Photo

    Traditional dresses

    by elsadran Updated Sep 5, 2008

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    Pollera is the traditional dress of Panamanians. The origin of Pollera is not certain but it has probably developed from the Spanish dresses of the 17th century. It is not only a rich full skirt with the flower designs and many gathers. It is accompanied by complicated hair styles, gold combs and elaborate ornamental pins. It was possibly a countryside dress originally but nowadays it is worn with pride and it is undeniably beautiful!

    Indigenous people are about 12%. It is almost certain that they lived on the land much before the conquistadors came. Although they have been greatly influenced by the modern way of living and dressing they are trying hard to maintain and revive their culture, language and traditional customs.
    Embera and Waounan share the same lands and have a lot of cultural similarities. Traditionally Waounan were artists whereas Emberas were warriors. The majority live in Darien , Panama and in Choco in Colombia. Men wear a loincloth which is very practical when walking in the jungle. They call it 'guayuco' in waounan and 'taparabo' in Spanish or 'anelia' in Embera. Although nowadays they have changed it into shorts and pants, they still wear it when they are in the village or in the jungle. They walk barefoot or wear sandals. On their chest they wear necklaces made of beads but the most typical of them is body painting with the juice of jagua fruit. Women wear only a skirt they call 'paloma' and they are bare-chested. Palomas were initially made of palm fibers but nowadays it is made of cotton cloth dyed in bright colours. They also wear many necklaces of beads and ornamental collars with a lot of coins. They used to add red colour on their lips and faces taken from the fruit 'achiote'. Nowadays they use modern cosmetics, of course... Silver and gold bracelets and arm and ankle bands are used, too.
    Kuna also live in Darien and San Blas islands. They are famous for their 'molas' and they use the same designs in their traditional dresses. They are called 'mola' because this means 'clothes' in their language. A blouse is a 'dulemola'. Their trademark is their ornamental bracelets with typical geometrical designs and mostly in orange, red and yellow colours. They wear them around their wrists and their lower legs and ankles. They are called 'Winnis', or 'Chaquiras' in Spanish. Their nose and ears are usually pierced with gold rings.
    Ngobe Bugle live in Bocas del Toro, Chiriqui and Veraguas. Women wear colourful long gowns with geometrical designs, called 'nahua'. During ceremonies the men wear outfits consitsting of exotic bird feathers and paint their faces with black, white and red geometrical designs.
    Nassau and Terribe also wear 'chaquiras', necklaces with colourful beads. Their famous 'Chacara' bags are woven with the fibers of a tree called 'pita'.

    Click on photo

    Pollera - postcard Achiote - for red lips and cheeks!! Embera -postcard Ngobe Bugle Kuna
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  • Tropicsol's Profile Photo

    Pants in 90 degree weather

    by Tropicsol Updated Dec 22, 2007

    One of the only things I didn't care for in Panama was that men are expected to wear pants, at least all the locals do. You will stand out as a tourist for sure with shorts on anywhere besides the beach. The steamy climate cries for as little clothing as possible, so who cares how they look at you! I go for comfort and style.

    Local women wear stylish clothing, lots of tight fitting jeans! They are very feminine in appearance and dress. So for traveling women as long as you dress nicely you won't be looked upon unfavorably.

    Clothing stores are abundant in Panama and David, great prices and service.

    Related to:
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    • Romantic Travel and Honeymoons

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  • alza's Profile Photo

    Kuna lifestyle part 2

    by alza Written Mar 23, 2006

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    Kuna men have adopted the Western way of dressing, although I noticed that they are conservative and cover up more than the majority of men in the Caribbean. Their demeanor reflects this: they are quiet to the point of effacement. I forgot to mention that the Kunas are a matriarchal society. This may have to do with that...

    I only spent 2 days on a Kuna island but it was immediately clear that the mothers, aunts and daughters are the leading members and the progressive ones. The men are in charge of the fishing, hacking up the coconuts, cleaning out the debris (I just invented this because it would make sense but no one ever picked up a coconut hull (husk?) when we were there), cutting wood for the cabanas, etc. I think they also weave baskets and fire up the barbeque.

    Big islands have a chief who acts like a mayor. Our island was small and I don't think there was a chief there. One lil guy invited me to his cabana to meet the family and his mother came out with a newborn in her arms, cute as a button and all prepped up for war or some rain dance. He had black lines all over his face.

    When you approach an island on a sailboat, all the Kunas jump in their dug-out canoes with piles of molas and row over, waving and smiling broadly. The kids yell out to you in Spanish and translate everything in Kuna for the benefit of their parents. It's just like Mutiny on The Bounty, except they don't pull their hair out and smash their heads, thank god!

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  • alza's Profile Photo

    Kuna life today

    by alza Written Mar 23, 2006

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    The Kuna Indians living on the many islands of the Archipelago de San Blas are thought to be descendants of the Carib Indians. I'd read that in a book I found at the hostel in Granada, Nicaragua, where I spent many hours trying to locate the best-sounding islands on a barely readable map of Panama and the Archipelago. There were so many to choose from, so many to avoid (insalubrious, overrun by tourists, etc.) that I was almost resigned to the idea that I'd never be able to arrange my visit there.
    Well anyway, I arrived in Panama City directly from Costa Rica and spent a few days there before leaving for Portobelo and the crossing to Colombia. To my surprise, I saw many Kuna women in the city, easily identifiable by their highly-colourful dress and black drawings on their bodies. The Kunas I saw all looked like the Caribs I'd seen in old drawings! They must have been strong and resilient to have fled from their ancient territories when the invasions began and survived over centuries in such a precarious environment as the San Blas!
    The women still wear traditional dress and always walk in groups of 2 and 3, laughing and kind of oblivious to the Western crowds (unless you make eye-contact after looking at their baskets full of molas.) They always look like they're late for a meeting or something. But if you want to buy a mola from them, don't worry, they are very patient in showing you everything they have and quite wise in fixing a price. I can't explain the mola too well, but to give you an idea, it's a large piece of tissue made of squares that have drawings of Kuna traditions on them. The squares are sown together like a quilt and the finished product is usually worn as a wrap-around skirt. Some molas are very intricate and exuberant in design and colours, plus finely sown, while others look like clothes that have been ripped apart. They don't all go for the same price. You can even buy just a square, as a souvenir.

    Kuna lifestyle

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  • epicult's Profile Photo

    Pringles and Beer

    by epicult Updated May 26, 2003

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    Buy a cylinder of Pringles, get a free beer.

    If this is not a local custom, it should be!!! The marketing is pure brilliance. When I'm in the mood for Pringles, I'm in the mood for beer! Boy,.. did I have my share of this common combo. hahaha...

    A perfect marriage!
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  • Don't pack short-shorts

    by Primate Written Feb 15, 2003

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    Given the heat and humidity of Panama, you'd probably expect the people to dress in a casual, bare legs sort of way. They don't. Even at the hottest times of day in the hottest seasons, the men and women of Panama dress in suits and dresses. That's not to say that tourists are expected to dress that way as well, but it would be insulting to wear halter tops or bikini tops and short skirts for example. Dress comfortably but be sensitive to their standards of propriety.

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  • snoopy9109's Profile Photo

    Greeting in Panama

    by snoopy9109 Written Jan 11, 2003

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    In Panama, people tend to use the single word " Buenas" for greeting. Rather then "Buenos Dias" or "Buenos Tarde" etc. People tend to greet when they walk into a store, waiting room or just passing, this means greeting to total strangers.

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  • kathycollins's Profile Photo

    The friendly people of San...

    by kathycollins Written Sep 12, 2002

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    The friendly people of San Blas are born salesmen, and quietly encourage you to buy their wares without aggressively mobbing you like they do on the streets of Cartegena Columbia! They will willingly pose for pictures if you give them a dollar! But they cover their faces as you are taking a shot of the rows of merchandise displayed!

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  • snoopy9109's Profile Photo

    People tend to shake hands...

    by snoopy9109 Written Aug 26, 2002

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    People tend to shake hands with strangers.
    Tipping is 10% in restaurant.
    No batering in shops or stores.
    Tipping is not expected in Taxi.
    Don't get rip off by drivers from international airport it is $20 to $25. Some people i know paid $50 to $70. Thoses are sharks.

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  • El_Pirata's Profile Photo

    For the most part the people...

    by El_Pirata Written Aug 26, 2002

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    For the most part the people speak Spanish, but there are many places that speak English and a few that speak other languages as well. The locals prefer someone that is trying to speak their language than the type that simply point at what they want. The locals do have a great love for everyone so don't skip a trip simply because you don't speak the native tongue.

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  • pedrini's Profile Photo

    * Take attention with the...

    by pedrini Written Aug 26, 2002

    * Take attention with the spech of spanish and english, I handle the two languages, but I had really a lot of problems, with the guides, because they handle a mix of words with local expresions that requires very good attention when you want to understand something.

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  • tiirrep's Profile Photo

    Below are photos of the Molas...

    by tiirrep Written Aug 24, 2002

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    Below are photos of the Molas on display in front and alongside almost all the huts. The Native Kuna women and girls make these and sell them on the island. The last picture in this group is my favorite from San Blas. The little girl pictured is so precious.

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  • Turco's Profile Photo

    Panama it truly diverse. Here...

    by Turco Updated Aug 24, 2002

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    Panama it truly diverse. Here there are all kinds of ethnic groups, Spanish descendants, Natives, Black people from the West Indies, Arabs, Chinese, and all of the above mixed together. In the city of Colon there are many descendants of workers brought from the West Indies and Jamaica to work in the construction of the canal, many of them speak English at home and they have brought their music and their traditions to this colorful country.

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