A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the real cost of living in Panama and the real supermarket prices. After I published these articles, I got several emails and noticed several Facebook posts talking about how, after reading my articles, people were beginning to think that Panama isn’t any less expensive than their hometowns. That was kind of the point of the article. It wasn’t my intention to scare anyone, but I think it’s important that people realize that Panama, just like anyplace else, is going to take a little bit of work. It’s not as cheap as you might have heard. But if you look closely at the supermarket prices I laid out and read the cost of living report, you’ll notice that I showed you not only local Panama brand prices, but also prices on things such as Oreos and Corona beer. Because you need to see what you’ll spend if you buy imported goods.
How you shop and how you create your budget is completely your business. You might not care about living on a low budget. You might have a seemingly unlimited funds purse. But that’s not the case for everyone. A good portion of people planning to escape to Panama, will have limited funds, a monthly allowance, that, if they go over, they’ll be in trouble. So, as I’ve mentioned many times, it’s important to abandon your current idea of shopping. You can’t buy the brands you’re used to if you want to save money here. And you can’t simply clip coupons to keep buying what you’re used to. You need to adopt a new shopping mentality and learn to shop like the locals.
That’s why, in this article, I’m going to introduce you to 3 bargain shopping playgrounds in and around Panama City. Sure, you could go to one of the malls. Multiplaza, the most upscale mall here, has great shopping. You’ll see stores like Tiffany & Company, Cartier, Forever 21, Kenneth Cole, Zara, and Victoria’s Secret. At Albrook Mall you’ll find Gap, Gymboree, Banana Republic, etc. And even at Metro Mall you’ll find Nautica, Claire’s, Moose, Izod, and a handful of other stores you’re familiar with. But that’s not budget shopping. Sure, you might find incredible deals at random times in these stores, but I’m talking about your regular day-to-day shopping.
Los Andes (Centro Comercial Los Andes) – This is one of my favorite shopping centers, and if you live in Las Cumbres or Villa Zaita, you’re probably familiar with this area. It’s a hodgepodge of faded colors and busy walkways as you’ll find an eclectic mix of shops here.
Los Andes is located on Via Transistmica on the way to Las Cumbres. Getting there, especially if you’re not familiar with Panama City streets, can be a bit tricky. Luckily, a Metro train station is being built right at the shopping center entrance, which should make getting there much easier.
My favorite store in Los Andes is Dorian’s, which to me, is probably Panama’s closest thing to a Marshalls or TJ Maxx. In this store you’ll find some amazing deals, but be careful. Like Marshalls, you need to check your clothes before buying them. You’ll find American brand names you’ll recognize, but just check each item carefully. I’ve found several T-shirts I was interested in, only to have to put them back when I noticed a stain or a rip.
Marlene loves this place. If there’s a Dorian’s in the shopping center, she’s there. You’ll also find one in the Albrook mall, close to the movie theater. At stores like this, it’s common to see prices as low as $1.99, $2.99, and $3.99, especially on T-shirts. Just make sure you try everything on first, as some clothes are built weird and fit super tight in the oddest of places. I think I’ve told you my experience with the jeans that gave me an instant wedgie.
Dorian’s is also great for picking up the small things. If I’m going to the beach for the weekend and don’t have flip flops, I’ll go buy cheap ones from there, or if I need a new belt and don’t want to spend a lot (I rarely dress up), I’ll get one from Dorian’s for somewhere between $5 and $10.
Three other large, bargain department stores you’ll find in Los Andes are El Titan (one of the best places to buy school supplies), El Costo, and El Campeón. In all of these places, you’ll find clothing, shoes, makeup, office supplies, purses, hats, and even some home goods. You’ll find fans, dishes, blankets, and other things of that nature.
If you have kids, you’re sure to find great deals on children’s clothes. I have to keep it real though. Oftentimes, the fabric is not the strongest. You get what you pay for, so the material will not be as good as what you’d get at Gymboree. Still, sometimes, especially with something like pajamas, it’s nice to pick up a $5.99 pair rather than a $29.99 pair. Or a pair of $.49 underwear like you see in the photo below.
And if you’re artistic and like to sew your own clothes, you’ll find a fabric store in Los Andes selling items at super low prices.
This place sells fabric that’s great for clothes, uniforms, curtains, tablecloths, etc., and look at the prices: $1.49? $2.99? $1.99? You won’t find prices like that at Multiplaza.
If you find yourself getting hungry at Los Andes, don’t worry, as there’s plenty of little restaurants and even a Wendy’s on site. Plus, if you head up the stairs that are right next to Wendy’s, there’s even a little food court. You have to try one of the smoothies from the kiosk you see at the center of the food court. They’re like $1.50 or $2.00. The prices vary depending on the flavor you choose, but you’ll see banana, chocolate, strawberry, mango, cornflakes, the list goes on and on.
Los Pueblos –
One of my favorite places to shop, when I’m in a super-chill mood and don’t mind the swarms of people and concentrated traffic I’ll find when going there, is Los Pueblos. I mention this outdoor shopping mall often. Located in the Juan Diaz area, at the far end of Via España (opposite end of downtown Panama City), you’ll know you arrived when you see the TGIF on the left hand side (you can also get there by traveling Ave. Domingo Diaz, it’s right across the street from Metro Mall).
You need to understand Los Pueblos for what it is, before you head out there. It’s not a high-end mall where people are going to cater to your every need. It’s not that at all. In fact, it’s a hectic mess at times, especially on the weekends, as hordes of people descend upon the shops, all looking for the best deals. So be ready to rub elbows, shove your way through crowds, and stand in lines to get to the real bargains.
If you’re ready for this, you’ll find a ton of stores at Los Pueblos, stores like Saks (no relation to the 5th Avenue store), which is a lot like Dorian’s. The Saks in Los Pueblos is another of my favorite stores. I buy Silver Jack brand blue jeans for about $15 a pair (sometimes on sale for $10). Again, just check the clothes before purchasing them, as my wife recently bought a pair of pants that was missing the zipper.
The Felix Outlet at Los Pueblos is one of the best toy stores in Panama. One side of the store is devoted to only toys, while the other has clothes. You’ll also find an Estampa, La Onda, Oca Loca, which is the store I always associate with great Halloween shopping, Gran Morrison, Conway, El Campeón. You definitely have your pick of bargain shops.
You’ll find clothing stores, household good stores, a Do It Center (do it yourself store), lighting stores, electronics stores, shoe stores, and even a couple of casinos. Los Pueblos is home to a Payless Shoes, a DDP outlet store, Adams, and lots of places to eat lunch.
Los Pueblos is where I go whenever I need to pick up a cheap charger for my cell phone or to buy covers or any other phone accessories. And it’s a great place to get fresh coco water or pipa. This guy in the photo below will grab a coconut from his stash, slam it down onto a spike, then pour the fresh juice into an instant refrigeration machine and out into a brand new bottle. It’s delicious.
If you walk the shops of Los Pueblos, you’re sure to find a deal. Again, always try on clothes before buying them. I piled up maybe 20 shirts the first time I visited here, all right around $1.99. I went nuts and since they were all XL size, I was fairly sure they’d fit. At the last second, I decided to go ahead and try some on. Out of the 20 shirts, only 3 fit. The rest hugged my body a little too snugly for comfort. When things are on sale at Los Pueblos, it’s almost like being on a shopping spree. A hundred dollars seems like it’ll last forever in some stores.
Lastly, on the subject of Los Pueblos, I have to mention that this is one of the best places to go to buy party supplies and piñatas. Even for bachelor and bachelorette parties. Watch out though. I’ve written about this before, long ago, in a blog post.
I went with my daughter once to get a piñata and had no idea what was in store. There, hanging from the ceiling, right next to the Disney princess castle piñata, was a group of butt naked piñatas, very well endowed dude piñatas too. These bachelor/bachelorette party piñatas are hung (pun intended) right next to the other kiddie kind of piñatas.
I was half expecting my daughter to yell out, “Daddy, I want the princess with the black bikini.”
“Umm, that’s not a bikini babe.”
El Dorado –
On Tumba Muerto, near Bethania, is the area called El Dorado. You’ll know you’re there when you see the big circular cake and smoothie shop at the corner of he parking lot and a casino on the other end. Farther back in the lot is the shopping center itself, and next to it is a KFC and Taco Bell.
El Dorado seems to be most famous for its electronics shops. No matter where you go to get your phone fixed or your Blu-ray player fixed, or your Playstation fixed, if the technician can’t handle the job, he or she will tell you to take it to El Dorado. They can fix just about anything there.
It’s also a great place to shop. El Dorado is still on the lower end of the shopping scale, but it’s rapidly improving. The mall management team is cleaning the mall up nicely and it’s actually starting to look like the other malls in Panama City. At El Dorado you’ll find a Conway furniture store, which is one of the best furniture stores in Panama. You’ll also find a Saks, a Gran Morrison, a Rey supermarket, and many other small shops.
I set out one day to find a suit for a wedding. I used to wear a suit every day back in the U.S., but I never wear one here. Who wants to wear a suit in Panama? Well, I’ve lost a lot of weight since moving here and none of my suits fit me. I looked ridiculous trying them on. I tried to find a fancy getup in Los Andes, but it’s not the best place for that. I tried a few places actually, and I didn’t want to spend much, because I knew I’d probably wear the suit once and never put it on again. I decided to check out the mall at El Dorado, and I’m glad I did. I found a suit for only $49.99 at the RM.
Plus, they had great prices on accessories. Shoes were inexpensive, belts, shirts…I got everything I needed in one store, after driving around all over the place. Now, I know this sounds like a commercial for them, lol, but it’s not. The quality of the suit I bought was okay. I’m not sure it would’ve lasted through the long walks and varying temperatures I encountered in Chicago, but it definitely worked well for the wedding.
If you want to find real bargains, don’t just stick to the enclosed mall though. Make sure you check out the shops that surround the mall. You’ll find tons of little electronic stores and other cool places. El Dorado even has a bowling alley. Plus, if you’re into the kinky stuff, you’ll find a couple of sex toy/video stores in El Dorado too. You can see one on the left in the following photo.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you’ll realize there are some real finds out there, if you just get out and immerse yourself in real Panama living. Don’t be afraid to go out and shop like locals because you’re not going to save money shopping in the higher-end malls.
If you’re wondering about Avenida Central (down by Casco Viejo), yes, that’s a bargain shopping destination, but I was trying to put shops on this list where you’re not likely to have to finagle your way into a good deal. These aren’t tourist shops, not really. Avenida Central kind of is. In Los Andes, Los Pueblos, and El Dorado, the price is right there on the object. You don’t have to ask what the price is and try to figure out whether you’re getting the real deal or the gringo inflated price.
If you live in any of the small towns in Panama’s interior, you might not have a choice but to bargain shop, as it’s rare to find the bigger chains outside of Panama City (except maybe in Chitre, Santiago, and David). That’s a major factor in why it’s much cheaper to live outside of Panama City. Sometimes you’re forced to shop and live like the local townsfolk (unless you’re out there cheating and ordering everything online…come on…we all do it from time to time).
Oh one more thing. I’m sure some people are going to write to tell me that you have to be careful in the areas I mentioned. That is true. Just like anywhere else, if you shop in Los Andes, Los Pueblos, or El Dorado, don’t flash your money around. Know how much cash you have before you set out so you don’t have to pull out a wad of bills on the sidewalk.
Police are everywhere, especially in Los Pueblos and Los Andes, so I wouldn’t say these areas are unsafe. But you have to know that if you’re shopping where there are true bargains, you’re shopping with other people who are shopping on a limited budget. So don’t be flashy, and it’s probably better to shop during the day than at night in these outdoor shopping centers.
Thanks so much for reading,
This post was originally written on 1/30/14, so some things may have changed between then and the time you read this.
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