Shopping for what you need (and want?) in Panama!

Blog by Manzar Lari

Our guests at Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast often ask us whether or not we can purchase everything here in Panama that we used to purchase in the U.S. One would think that it would be an easy question to answer but it isn’t for us. Our story is probably no different than most of the expats who move here. We have been in Panama for almost 4 years. We are used to a different way of living now. Unless it is something we absolutely need, we have learned to do without. We typically shop at the stores in David for household goods and some hard-to-find items. Sometimes we never find those items! We have a Mailboxes Etc account. We can generally buy something on Amazon.com and then have it sent to the Mailboxes Etc address in Miami and then they forward our package to the Boquete location of Mailboxes, Etc. It takes an extra week, but we do receive the package safe and sound at their downtown Boquete store. Oftentimes, we have friends pick up small things for us while they are on vacation in the U.S. We do the same for our friends when we are on vacation. I guess after living here for a while, either you learn to make do without certain products or you figure out a way to get them through other sources (for a higher price).

It is always interesting to see the settling-in process new residents of Boquete go through while they learn the rhythm and norms of their new culture and surroundings. The stories and experiences of our new Boquete residents Joyce and Scott continue:

So, I’m not a big shopper. Clothing stores are meant to be gone through fairly quickly, in my mind. I’m much faster than my daughter Amy and slower than my husband Scott. However, I am a bit crazy about garden and hardware stores. I find them very fascinating.

So, imagine the heaven of finding yourself in a country that does a lot of repair work. Lots of repairs are done for a variety of reasons—the weather is hard on things, people have less money to buy new things so repair the old, and some contractors are terrible and you have to fix things that were just built/installed. I’m sure there are more reasons, but all of this has resulted in hardware stores that sell absolutely everything you could ever imagine to repair anything you could have ever thought about.

Our closest hardware store is a large maze of aisles just filled with every screw, nail, and piece of plastic and little doo dad you could possibly imagine. Since the store is absolutely jam packed, all the way to the 20 foot ceilings, with stuff everywhere, new items can be placed absolutely anywhere you could imagine—and places you can’t.

For the hardware enthusiast, such as myself, this means that you can spend hours in the store, looking at each item and always find some new little gadget that will be useful for something or other. Oh man, it’s like a child let loose in a candy store for me.

Amy thinks I’m weird, of course….

The shopping adventures of Joyce and Scott continue from Boquete/David to Panama City:

Today we took a taxi to David for an early morning bus ride to Panama City. The taxi went well, but it was the most expensive part of our day. It wasn’t bad though. For a 30 mile drive to David, it was only $35. In David, we paid a little over $15 each for a 6-1/2 hour bus drive to Panama City and Albrook mall, which is right on the canal on the northern side of the City. It was a very smooth and easy drive for us. It didn’t seem as long as it might have, since as I’ve not been feeling well for several days, I slept most of the drive.

When we arrived in Panama City at the mall, we took a taxi to our hotel, which is on the old military base. It was such a short drive (only about three miles), that we decided to walk back to the mall after checking in.

The Albrook mall is the largest mall in Latin America, from what we have been told, and it is immense. I estimate that it is about a mile long and 2-3 stories. There are numerous large department stores, plus any number of other stores, including about every shoe store known to human kind. You could spend days in that mall.

We went into a three story HUGE department store that seems to emphasize inexpensive items. After our three months in the small town of Boquete with occasional trips to the mall in David, it was really a bit overwhelming to see so many items and so many people in one store! There were tons of things that looked interesting, but we were mostly able to restrain ourselves—fortunately for our pocketbooks!

So, apparently there are many more items of interest available in the malls of Panama City! Joyce has written above about Albrook Mall but there all sorts of other malls like Multiplaza Mall and Multi Centro Mall, for example. Many of the Boquete/David residents also make regular trips to Panama City for their shopping and dining needs. We do the same periodically. Plus it is great for a change of scenery as well. After the hustle and bustle of Panama City, it is always great to be back home in the cooler and quieter Boquete environment and familiar surroundings.

There is a new mall in David that is under construction and promises to be similar to the Albrook mall, only smaller. The main David bus terminal will be relocated from its current location to the new mall. From the looks of it, it is about halfway done. Maybe in a year or two we will be able to do most of our shopping there? Rumor has it that the best grocery chain (in our opinion!) in Panama, Riba Smith, will have a store there! We can’t wait. Look at the architect’s rendering of the David mall below:

Hope to see you down in Boquete soon. We have a lot more information available for you! Make sure you ask us about life in Panama when you come and stay with us at Casa de Montaña Bed & Breakfast.

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