Panama’s David is the second largest city in the country and the “go-to” place for expats living in Boquete to buy home furnishings, furniture, large quantities of items, and have some entertainment.
David is located in the western part of Panama and is the capital of the Chiriqui province. The city is extremely hot, humid, bustling with people, and has a surprisingly low unemployment rate. The streets are congested due to the increased number of cars now driven in the country. David is laid out in a grid with streets numbered numerically so it is somewhat easy to navigate, even if you do not know Spanish; however, heed caution as the drivers in David are more than scary. They fail to stop at stop signs and speed on pedestrian lined streets so there are many accidents.
When we go to David for supplies our first stop is always PriceSmart, Panama’s version of the United State’s Sams Club or CostCo. We also stop by their grocery stores since they offer a better selection of foods and meats than we have in Boquete. Grocery stores include Super 99, Rey, and Super Baru. There are some delicious bakeries in David as well a nice liquor and wine store, Felipe Motta. It was here that I found Stonewall Kitchens items, a popular upscale brand in the United States, for about half the price that we pay in the states. Go figure.
Restaurants are scattered throughout David, serving typical Panamanian foods in a buffet or cafeteria style setting, and some specializing in Chinese, Mexican, and other ethinic varieties. In the past, we have dined with friends at the Hotel Ciudad David for brunch, which is a very popular weekend dining spot. The restaurant was beautiful and the buffet was organized in a smart fashion. For us, the buffet was disappointing as there was not much of a variety of “brunch” style foods, but they did offer tasty empanadas, Panamanian bread (which is mouthwatering drizzled with honey and butter), a variety of sliced meats & cheeses, and a wide array of fruits. Coffee, tea, and fresh fruit juices were served as well. The host and servers were very friendly but not attentive once the drinks were delivered; typical for service in Panama. Slow service is something you have to get used to being in Central America as the service industry does not focus on the expectations of Americans and Europeans.
A place that has good food and reasonable prices is Mar Caribe. My friends and I ate there and tried the fried fish (it is a whole fish so if this grosses you out, do not order) and pollo con arroz. The lunch portion of “chicken & rice” was enough to bring home for dinner and serve as a side for a party of 4. The price was around $6. Typical tipping rate is 10% for good service. Of course a real treat while in David is stopping at one of the two McDonald’s and having their delicious burgers, must juicier and healthier than the ones served in the United States.
David has a lot of shops to stroll through, some in shopping malls, but most just located on the streets of town. You can find anything you would need here such as home furnishings, appliances, auto dealers, and electronics. There are three main department stores in David. Our favorite is Conway, which contains anything you could think of. Men love the “Do-It” Center Hardware store. Prices are very expensive in Panama on items imported from the states. For example, a Barbie doll that might be $14.99 in the states would cost $35.99 in David. Cellular telephones are all the rage and the Samsung we purchased in Florida for $289 costs $860 in David, and is even greater in more remote areas. David’s Chiriqui Mall has many stores to choose from as well as a multi-screen movie theater. David is becoming very modernized as they move rapidly to keep up with the demands of the growing population, now right at 200,000.
For those traveling to David via the airport and renting a car, please note they will try to force you to have additional insurance which really is not necessary. Try to secure a quote on the car before arriving and bring the documentation with you as they always try to double the rate and if you have nothing to base your argument on, you will lose. Keep in mind, any extras they sell you for the duration of your car rental, garmins or satellite radio, etc, will be very excessively overpriced and this fee is PER day. Depending on your location, you may or may not the service that is capable of using these gadgets. Also, if you need to get a phone for use in Panama or buy a prepaid car, do so at Movistar. You can add to your minutes/data as necessary.
One last thing, mondongo is a customary dish in Panama. It looks a bit like chicken teriyaki and if you visit any of the Panamanian cafe’s in David, they will offer it. Mondongo is tripe (the stomach lining of a cow) and chewy like leather so try to familiarize yourself with the food items sold in Panama before wasting money on something you may never eat (spoken by a true non-adventurous American eater). Other than a few “odd” things, Panamanian food is very cheap and tasty. I recommend you try their culture’s offerings before paying triple the price for things you can get anytime anywhere. Keep in mind the Panamanian dishes have little spice and are rather bland for those who crave spicy dishes, but it is cooked fresh and will not upset your stomach either.
A visit to David is a cultural experience. Make sure you are using the correct pronunciation of the city, which is “Dah-VEED”, not David as in the name. The city is growing by leaps and bounds and they are doing a great job on trying to keep up with the infrastructure. People are friendly and there is alot going on all the time but the heat is truly exhausting. Wear sunscreen.
Tip: If you enjoy gambling, stop by one of the casinos but remember to keep a close eye on your wallet and purses.