I just came back from Panama and wanted to share with you my notes of hunting for authentic jewelry experiences.
No Gold In The Museums. Where Is It All...?
Unlike Mexico or Costa Rica or other major South American countries, you will find nearly no gold in the museums of Panama. We went to Panama-city and across the country and, aside from a couple of pieces there is nearly no gold.
In Panama. Really!? I could not believe that because Precolumbian Panama is famous for its gold artifacts and impressive craftsmanship. And what about the Golden Chiefs of Panama, powerful warriors fully adorned in gold?
Finally, a guide at one of the museums told us that the rich collection of the Panamanian gold is simply not available for visitors. Indeed, later I found out that it is stored out of sight in the bank vault.
Except the collection managed by the Panamanian government, there are some impressive collections at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia, Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and National Museum of Natural History. The one from the Penn Museum traveled across the USA under the name of "River of Gold: Precolumbian Treasures from Sitio Conte". Another significant one, "Beneath The Surface: Life, Death, Gold and Ceramics in Ancient Panama" with over 100 gold pieces is currently available at the museum.
Photo: Penn Museum
Like me, you can also order their catalog online.
Another source to enjoy the fantastic photos and stories is this lavishly illustrated book. "To Capture the Sun. Gold of Ancient Panama".
Panning For Gold
Panama has veins of precious metals running through the earth. There are active mining operations in the country. Aside from the commercial mines, there are still indigenous people panning for gold with the old good way. You can go to the village of Embera and talk to them about it.
There are also some tours to go and pan for gold yourself but they looked too shady, and the potential image of getting arrested in Panama for illegal gold panning was too striking.
Jewelry For Pope
In 2019 Pope Francis visited Panama. The President of the republic granted the honor of designing and creating a rosary for him to the jewelry company Reprosa. To make it really Panamanian, the jewellers added into design the orchid, national flower of Panama, and red jasper, a stone found here. Now it's called El Rosario de Panama.
At their store you can get a tour to watch the lost wax technique, basically, the same technique that was used in the ancient times to create gold jewelry.
Emerald Museum That Does Not Exist
And, just a cherry on the cake - a phantom Emerald Museum.
You'll find it in the travel guides, even with the reviews of how much people enjoyed wonderful emeralds there. But you know what? It does not exist! It is and has always been a wall in a building with a bar.