One of the best ways to remember an amazing vacation is to bring a little piece of paradise home with you.
Once you’re back to the chaos of everyday life, a well-chosen authentic souvenir makes for a pleasant reminder of the tranquility and peace attained during time away. Although “authentic souvenir” can seem an oxymoron, given the tawdry gift shop items that sometimes come to mind when you hear the word “souvenir,” I know of at least one option that is as culturally-authentic as it is beautiful: the handcrafted jewelry of Panama’s indigenous people.
Locally-crafted jewelry makes for an excellent memento from a Panama trip, as well as a colorful accessory you can be sure no one else will be wearing!
Many of the indigenous tribes in Panama have their own style and recognizable patterns. Whether you’re headed to the Guna Yala comarca of San Blas or to the Chiriqui highlands, home of the Ngobe-Bugle, you’ll see the locals hard at work crafting, displaying, and selling their colorful treasures. Many Ngobe tribespeople set up shops along the Interamericana highway, easily accessible to car travelers. Entire families often work together to operate these humble little shops. From woven chacara bags and patterned clothing to jewelry and belts, there is something to please every souvenir-seeker.
One of my favorite Panama purchases is a beaded necklace I found on a trip to Isla Palenque. Every time I wear my Ngobe-Bugle handmade necklace, I get constant compliments and inquiries as to where I found it – I love telling the story of how I stumbled upon the family of craftspeople who had been creating necklaces for generations, and had the chance to hear about their life in the mountainous highlands.
Here are some suggestions for bringing home your own special artisanal remembrance from Panama:
Get to know the artist
If stopping by a stand or shop, ask the craftsperson to share how they make their wares. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, exchanging a few words will make the experience infinitely more meaningful.
Save your new piece for a special occasion
Because of the exotic look and feel of indigenous jewelry, it’s the perfect accessory to a special occasion or event outfit. Steer clear of wearing it daily so that it remains an exceptional piece in your collection.
Pair jewelry with muted outfits
Jewelry found throughout Panama is alive with color. It can be quite the stand-out addition to an outfit, so it’s important to avoid mixing bold prints and clashing colors in your outfit. Keep it simple and you’ll allow your jewelry to make a statement.
Don’t forget your fashion-forward friends and family
Authentic handmade jewelry makes a great gift, so think ahead and buy a few extra pieces for upcoming holidays and birthdays. You’ll have a blast selecting unique pieces for all your loved ones at home who have oohed and aahed over your travel stories and photo albums. It’s a piece of Panama they can call their own, sure to please even the most scrupulous of fashionistas.