What to Wear and What to Eat in Panama

Panamanians are very image oriented. Dressing down in an attempt to not appear ostentatious among poorer locals will not be taken as a sign of solidarity, but as disrespect. They enjoy dressing nicely, and the ones who aren’t wearing nice clothes would do so if they had the money. The same goes for hygiene. Locals will look down upon tourists who are dirty.

That being said, there is no need to wear a suit everywhere, either. Just dress conservatively and nice. For men, a clean pair of jeans and ironed collared shirt will do nicely for most excursions, you could dress more casually or more formally depending on the situation. Shorts are considered extremely casual wear suitable only for the beach, although this attitude has begun to change in some areas.

Think nice, neat, and clean, and you will already be showing a great deal of respect for locals.

Eat
If Panamanian food has to be summed up in one word, that word would be culantro, which is a local plant that tastes like cilantro, except that it has a much stronger flavor. But there are a variety of restaurants to choose from. If you are looking for spicy, there is indian, or restaurants that serve picante de la casa, which will probably blow smoke through your ears. There are Arabic restaurants, Italian, Chinese, Mexican… whatever you’re in the mood for.

If you get tired of eating beans or gallo pinto in the rest of Central America, you might want to head towards Panama. Since Panama has a little more Caribbean influence than other Central American countries, you’ll see a lot more plaintain than beans here.

If you like your food picante, Panama may not be the place for you. They definitely have several hot sauces, but most brands range from weak to really weak. Instead, look for homemade ones which are for the most part as hot as any Mexican or Caribbean sauce. You will really impress Panamanians when you down their fieriest stuff without flinching.

As with other parts of Central America, the favorite meat seems to be chicken, although it doesn’t seem quite as ubiquitous as it does in Costa Rica.

The food of Bocas del Toro is even more Caribbean than the rest of Panama. Many of the dishes contain coconut, unlike in the more Latin parts of Panama.

You can get excellent food really cheap if you look around. The equivalent of a 5-star meal with drinks can run you from $8 to $30 in some places.

Drink
National beers are produced (Balboa, Atlas, Soberana, Goldbest, Panamá), but don’t measure up to a good import. Balboa is the best of the domestic brands. Beer can cost as low as 35 cents a 12 oz. can.

Carta Vieja is the main domestically produced rum. Seco, a very raw white rum, is the national liquor. Seco con leche (with milk) is a common drink in the countryside

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