There are seven native cultures in Panama. The best known are the Kunas of the San Blas Islands, famous for their colorful and intricate molas, reverse-appliquéd fabric panels. The Emberá live in small villages, maintaining their traditional lifestyle. Other groups are the Waounan, Ngobe, Bugle, Nassau, and Terribe people.
Spanish is the main language spoken throughout Panama, however English is often heard in the major cities and tourist areas.
Roman Catholicism is the largest religion in Panama. Other worldwide religions are also represented in smaller numbers.
The culture of Panama is a vibrant mixture of American and Spanish lifestyles. Panamanians tend to be formal when meeting strangers. Public greetings are polite and formal.
Carnival is the most important festival of the year. The capital closes down for the five days before Ash Wednesday, and the people celebrate with dances, fancy costumes, parades, confetti, floats and lots of music in the streets and clubs.
Panama's folklore, arts and crafts reflect her diverse ethnic mix. The rich heritage of folklore is expressed in dance and the national costume of embroidered, long-sleeved shirts, calf-high pants, and a straw Montuno hat for the men and tembleques or hair ornaments for women. Traditional arts and crafts include appliqué, woodcarving, weaving, ceramics and mask-making.
Panama's cuisine is a fusion of Spanish, Native Indian, European and African. Typically, dishes are mildly flavored, not as spicy as some of Panama's neighbors. Popular ingredients include corn, rice, plantains, beef, pork and seafood.
To sample some Panamanian favorites, look for these on the menu: bollos, corn dough wrapped in corn husks and boiled; torrejitas de maíz, corn fritters; empanadas, dough stuffed with meat and cheese; patacones, fried green plantains; arroz con guandú, rice with pigeon peas; guacho, a stew with rice, beans, and meat (often pork tail); arroz con tities y coco, rice with shrimp and coconut milk; bistec picado, chopped beefsteak; pernil de pueco al horno, roasted pork leg; ceviche; and plátano en tentacion, plantains cooked in sweet syrup. For dessert, try bocado de la reina, huevitos de leché or tres leches.