Shopping in Panama

People not familiar with Panama have expressed concern that we wouldn’t have everything we need here. So, I decided to take some pictures in a few of the stores near us. We have some very nice shopping options near us.

We live in David, the second largest city in Panama. There is a large expat community in Boquete and many of those people come down here to shop. We are also close to the Costa Rica border so many people from there come here to take advantage of lower prices. David itself is a fast growing city with construction and growth everywhere you look.

We live on the north side of the city not far from the Pan-American Highway and the El Terronal shopping area where these photos were taken. Stores don’t usually allow photos (not sure why) so I couldn’t pull out my camera everywhere I wanted to but at least you can get a little idea.

First, lets go visit Arrocha. The main floor has a good pharmacy, personal care items, lots of makeup and beauty items, and kitchen and housewares. The second floor has office and craft supplies, tons of toys and baby related things, some more housewares and bath related things, phone and electronic accessories, some luggage, DVD’s, and a place to get photos printed and get passport and other ID photos taken.

 

After Arrocha, we headed to another big store in the complex – Conway. The first floor has a lot of women’s clothes and accessories. The second floor has men’s and children’s clothes. The third floor has furniture, housewares, and a whole lot of kitchen things. There is also a little restaurant with a beautiful view of the hills beyond.

There are three large supermarkets within a block of each other in this shopping area. I visited two of them with my camera. The first one is Super 99. There is an older Super 99 on the south side of town, but this one here is very new and very large. We don’t go there very often because there is limited parking unless you go up to the parking garage above the store, and it’s a bit congested in the street you need to use to get there. We also established a bit of a routine before it was opened and rarely need to go there for something we can’t find elsewhere.

Next, we paid a visit to Super Baru. This is a smaller store with narrower aisles and no high ceilings, but it is one of our favorites. They tend to offer more unusual items and imported things that you can’t find in other stores. We generally don’t buy produce in supermarkets, preferring the road side vegetable stands, but if we do Baru has the best selection and price.

 

The third supermarket is El Rey (no photos, maybe next time). This is where we do most of our shopping since it’s on our side of the highway, has plenty of parking, and we know our way around it the best.

I suppose it’s like anywhere you live. You know this store has the best deals on chicken, but that one has that particular spice you need. You develop your favorite stores and pick one of them depending on what is on your list. You may not be able to find exactly the same item or brand here that you got used to in the US, but chances are you can find something similar or something new to suit your needs.

If there is something you really want to have on hand and you see it, buy a whole lot of it because it may not be there next time. We thought this was a joke but it is really true! Sometimes random things just disappear not to be seen again for a week, a few months, or ever and no one can explain why this is. We like Morton’s Nature’s Seasons seasoning blend. It disappeared  for well over a year. As soon as I brought a few bottles back from the US, it reappeared. Pricesmart was out of Joel’s favorite bacon for quite a while (it is back now and we have a lot in the freezer).

But, in general, I can’t say we lack for a thing. There is a lot of your familiar US brand food available here, and you can find whatever you need for your household. Maybe everything isn’t exactly like you are used to, but the Panamanians have been getting by for many generations so I figure we can too.

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About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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19 Responses to Shopping in Panama

  1. Robert & Helen says:

    I fully agree. No problem. We buy fruits,vegetables at the central market at Boquete. The rest at Romero, Mandarin or Baru. We have an excellent pork butcher in Boquete, he has a shop in David. Excellent. As the cattle here are a different breed, fillet steaks are tougher. BUT one can solve that problem easily. Rub a lot of sea salt on both sides, leave it outside the fridge for 4-5 hours. Then clean it with water. Season it the way you like, without adding any salt. DONE! I did the same when I lived in Nigeria. I do not like tenderisers, poison.

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  2. LIANE MARQUES & CAMILO QUELQUEJEU says:

    I notice that the Merchandise & Selections are Great; but I see very few Customers at the Stores ?
    Could it be that there is an excessive amount of offers available ? Too much competition, just like in the USA, where many retail shops are closing, mostly because of Internet Sales by the likes of Amazon & eBay, but also because of excessive supply & diminishing demand.
    Did you know there are at least ten firms. offering to bring all of your USA purchases to Panama, for a reasonable fee. Of course again, Amazon is King !

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    • We were there on a weekday morning, and I was avoiding photographing other customers as much as possible. At times the stores can get quite busy and before important holidays, you can’t even find parking. Yes, there are a number of business that will ship stuff into the country. It’s not cheap but if you really want something from the US it can be done.

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  3. Great Post Kris! I’ll have to save this one for once we get there … we just bought some land in the Boca Chica area … gonna brave the heat, for a view of the sea … ❤

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    • I love that area! It’s so beautiful, and with enough trees and breeze hopefully you can stay comfortable. You’ll probably be shopping in David most of the time so you’ll be in the stores I just photographed.

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  4. jim and nena says:

    Hola Kris,
    Nena shops the same way here in Fort Worth as when we are in Panama. Krogers, Aldi, Walmart, and Fiesta Mart are all within 5 miles of us. Aldi’s has fewer selections but the quality and prices are better on many items. When shopping at Krogers or Walmart, Nena will quote Aldi prices and Walmart will often match them.
    Fiesta Mart is much more like Panama’s non-chain grocers in that they carry brands favored by traditional Spanish recipes so when we are doing Panamanian dishes, that is where we shop.
    The biggest difference from here to Panama is that the same items are always there and in abundance. I think transportation plays a big part in the variations of what one finds on the shelves in Panama. In Panama City, the store stock is more stable.
    Electronics and especially tools (my favorite!) are of limited choice in Panama. I finally killed my 6 year old printer last week, surfed for a replacement and Amazon delivered it the next day at a lower cost than driving the 2 miles to Walmart!
    jim

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    • I have heard others say it is harder to find high quality tools here. The stores seem well stocked but I’m not a tool expert so I’m not the one to ask.
      Abundance? Oh my yes, I’m always surprised now when I go back to the US at the amount of stuff that is available to buy. David is working on catching up though. See how many types of apples are for sale in Super 99 now?
      Amazon and on line shopping is one thing that gets a lot more complicated and expensive here. I forget that too, and then I’m visiting kids who get on their smart phones and in a few hours their purchases show up at the door! I hear Amazon is even looking into drones for faster delivery. That would be very cool.

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    • jim and nena says:

      As soon as the FAA approves drone delivery, I’m ordering one of those! No more getting up from the sofa to walk those 15 steps for a bowl of pecan ice cream!
      🙂

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  5. natjtan says:

    The ‘If there is something you really want to have on hand and you see it, buy a whole lot of it because it may not be there next time.’ is true in Spain! Sometimes they have a rolling stock, then it just runs out. Sometimes they get items back in stock quickly, other times you wait weeks or months and like you buy it elsewhere (internet) and then they it’s back in stock. Sometimes if it’s not a best seller it never graces the shelves again.

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  6. jim and nena says:

    Hola Kris,
    Ferreterias. In spite of the “DO-IT” center stores, Panama is not a great DIY population. I have worked on many (all) of Nena’s relatives’ houses during visits; finding home fixtures, and such, is a time-consuming part of any job. Jobs like fixing leaky toilets or faucets (every house in Panama) takes an entire day with traveling to find the parts that fit.
    Nena has had to educate the sales staff sometimes to get what we need. She can handle most repair jobs and knows as much as they do.

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    • We haven’t done much fixing or remodeling here but it seems we haven’t had trouble finding what we need here. Sometimes though we have to visit a few stores in the process. I agree though that the sales people only sell the stuff and probably don’t know how to do the repair.

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