Panama City’s 5 best museums (and 6 best art galleries) – Lonely Planet Travel News

Panama City’ s museums explore the country’s natural and social history – worthwhile primers if you intend to get a deeper understanding of the Central American destination.

From honoring the contributions of immigrant labor on the canal to the emergence associated with the isthmus itself, Compact country of panama City’s museums cover a whole host of interesting topics. These are the best.

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Museo de Arte Contemporáneo: best for contemporary art

Panama’s only artwork museum, the particular Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Panamá (popularly known as MAC Panamá), has the largest collection of Panamanian art in the world. Founded as a non-profit NGO in 1962, the museum secured a permanent space in 1983 after purchasing plus renovating the old Masonic Temple in the particular Canal Zone settlement of Ancón.

Today, the art gallery houses some 700 modern works by artists from across Latin America. Media include oil paintings, drawings, lithographs, photographs, sculptures, and ceramics.

In addition to hosting permanent and temporary exhibitions, it welcomes art students to attend workshops and talks (in Spanish). Its graphics laboratory is currently training new plus emerging performers in traditional printmaking, and its library contains exhibit catalogs and volumes on Panamanian art.

Exterior shot of the colorful BioMuseo in Panama. There is a BioMuseo sign on the grass
Bright and playful, the new Frank Gehry-designed BioMuseo within Panama City is a must-see © Mark Pitt Images / Shutterstock

BioMuseo: best for ecological background

The isthmus associated with Panama emerged from the ocean around 15 million years ago. First as a chain of volcanic islands, then as an unbroken, serpentine land bridge that united the American continents and divided the seas.

Designed by master architect Frank Gehry, the pioneering BioMuseo explores the significance associated with these events. Nestled on the canal’s edge on the particular Amador Causeway, the museum took fifteen years to build from concept in order to opening in 2014. The particular Gehry signature rooftop is a haphazard, multi-colored jumble that will symbolizes the natural tour’s diversity and the rainforest’s staggered canopy.

The grounds include landscaped botanical gardens with shade, trails, and ponds where you might glimpse any of153 bird or 291 butterfly species.

The BioMuseo is really a giant art-science project which uses creative media to explore themes such as biodiversity, environmental interconnectedness, evolution, extinction, plus deep time.

Exhibitions are usually divided into eight galleries designed simply by Bruce Mau in consultation with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the University of Panama.

Its gallery is dedicated to the Great Biotic Interchange – the mass migration event that transformed the particular biogeography of North plus South The united states. It includes 97 life-size statues of prehistoric animals stampeding across the isthmus – look out for the mastodon as well as the giant ground sloth.

A brightly decorated block in Panama City captures the energy and charm of the city's art galleries
A slew of art galleries within Panama City often visitors something a little different © Shutterstock / Joe Benning

Weil Art Gallery and Galeria Arteconsult are among the top Panama Town art galleries

Beyond MAC Panamá, a slew of chic galleries and stores represent the city’s burgeoning artwork scene. Some reside in the newly gentrified historic quarter of Casco Viejo ; others are hidden away in the glossy sprawl of the banking district. Plan your own route carefully and always check opening times before setting out.

In the particular Bella Vista district, Zumal Art Gallery will be a buzzing contemporary gallery managed by Brazilian art dealer Carlos Weil. In Punta Paitilla, Galeria Arteconsult has been dealing in contemporary Latin American art with regard to over three decades.

In Casco Viejo, Karavan stocks quality indigenous artwork and crafts. In Marbella, NG Photo gallery hosts several interesting musicians from Cuba , like Jorge Otero and William Acosta. Within El Cangrejo, Tamarindo is a contemporary art house with a stunning selection of pieces through Panamanian artists. The Cruz family owns the Marion Gallery in the San Francisco district. The particular family has deep roots in the Panama artwork world.

Afro-Antillean Museum associated with Panama: perfect for social history

Housed in a clapboard chapel built simply by Barbadian missionaries in 1910, the Afro-Antillean Museum of Panama tells the history of the particular Antillean immigrants who came to Compact country of panama in the 19th plus 20th centuries.

Over a number of decades, tens of thousands of people migrated from your Caribbean to work on the particular railroad, the canal, and the United Fruit banana plantations of Bocas del Toro .

A so-called “Panama Man” was an island boy done good, but the particular reality associated with work on the mainland was harsh plus unforgiving. Thousands of West Indian laborers, mostly Jamaicans, perished within the disastrous French effort to build the channel, resulting within an outbreak of malaria and yellow fever.

Health conditions improved under the particular Americans, but the canal company continued to operate a system of racial segregation. The art gallery honors and preserves the memory associated with the Afro-Antilleans who contributed so much towards the construction and culture in panama.

Exhibits include artifacts, historical photos, and mock-ups of a bedroom and kitchen that depict how migrant canal workers lived.

A model of a dredging boat on display in the Museo del Canal Interoceánico de Panamá
A model of a dredging boat in the particular Museo de Canal Interoceánico de Panamá © Shutterstock / Rainer Lesniewski

Museo del Canal Interoceánico de Panamá: great for channel background

The Museo de Canal Interoceánico de Panamá overlooks the manicured landscapes of Plaza de la Independencia, where Panama declared independence from Colombia in 1903.

The particular Roosevelt administration supported the particular rebellion plus aided its victory with the US Navy gunboat, the USS Nashville, intervening to prevent Colombian forces from reaching Panama City.

A few weeks later, the US acquired the bankrupt French Canal Company and all their works, as well as a five-mile-wide strip of property across the isthmus, the particular Canal Area, an unincorporated US territory and a de facto state within a state.

Located in the former 19th-century Grand Hotel, which served as the particular headquarters regarding both the French plus American Channel Companies, the particular museum charts the historical evolution of Panama like a country associated with transit and transshipment.

Beginning with the transcontinental mule trains of the Spanish Empire, the museum guides site visitors through the occasions that transformed the isthmus into a nexus of world trade.

Visitors learn about the building from the Panama railroad, the particular French attempt to build the canal, and the subsequent United states effort, concluding with the particular canal handover in 1999. Most exhibits are usually in Spanish, but English audio guides are available.

A Panamanian woman holds a handcrafted mola item that she has sewn in Panama City
Musei sobre la Mola is the best place to see authentic Panamanian mola (traditional blouse) within Panama Town © Randy Faris or Getty Pictures

Museo de una Mola: best for Guna art

The small but brilliant Museo de la Mola explores the art plus symbolism of the mola – a reverse appliqué textile made by Guna women. Traditional designs include psychedelic arrays associated with geometric shapes and abstract patterns that the Guna once tattooed on their bodies along with jagua ink, much such as the Emberá and Wounaan still do.

Modern mola designs consist of birds, animals, fish, mythical beings and totems, or even ships and planes. Molas are typically sewn onto the front and back of blouses (mola means “blouse” in the Duleyanga language). They can also be used because cushions or wall artwork.

Tips for buying molas

Molas are lightweight, non-fragile, plus easy to pack – they make excellent souvenirs and personal gifts. Consisting of up to seven stacked layers of cloths, but usually three or even four, each mola is usually cut to expose the design feature underneath it as well as the hem is definitely then folded and sewn.

The mola is gradually built layer by coating. They can be machine-made in minutes or painstakingly rendered by hand over several months. Avoid molas with circles or triangles that have been added to fill space. Avoid molas whose colors have bleached in the particular sun. Always check the cloth quality of all layers.

The mola should not scrunch upward when you run your hand over it. Stitching should be even and close plus invisible through the front. Expect to pay between USD$20-50 for a decent, yet basic mola measuring 30 by 44 cm (11X17 inches). The more layers, the higher the price; the very best cost hundreds of dollars.

Visit the Museo de la Mola before stocking up on molas . There are many places to buy them around the city, including Guna street vendors around the flower-festooned Paseo de las Bóvedas within Casco Viejo.

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