Panama, like much of the rest of Latin America, is socially conservative, with a vast majority of the population reported to be Roman Catholic. Thanks to the country’s history, more religions are present than in other parts of the region, but the combination of a largely Catholic cultural identity, marked economic stratification and other ingrained colonial legacies has produced a country and people who appreciate rules and accept established social castes. This is not to say, however, that Panamanian society is stagnant. The history of a US presence, widespread access to global media and entertainment, and relatively diverse demographics as well as recent economic expansion, have all contributed to making Panama a country familiar with change.
Macho attitudes, however, do prevail. For women travelling in Panama, unsolicited attention in the form of whistles and catcalls is almost inevitable, though easily ignored. Overall, the Caribbean and indigenous areas of Panama hold less macho and more relaxed attitudes, though revealing clothing is not tolerated (except on the beach). Though attitudes toward homosexuality are gradually softening – it was decriminalized in 2008 – by and large same-sex relationships are kept under wraps.
Tipping is only expected in more expensive places, where a tip is sometimes included in the final bill, or where service has been particularly good. It’s not usual to haggle in shops, but prices are more negotiable in markets, especially if you’re buying a lot, and you’ll often need to bargain when organizing transport by boat or pick-up truck.