panamanian slang

Key Panamanian Slang Words

You’re headed to Panama? ¡Qué emoción! (How exciting!)

Whether you’re planning to see, the Panama Canal, hoping to catch a glimpse of Panama’s amazing birds, or backpacking off the beaten path, Panama is great place to learn some Spanish while on vacation.

Learning some Panamanian slang will enhance your experience. So when getting ready for your trip, don’t forget to pack your guidebook, some warm-weather clothes and these Panamanian slang phrases!


1. Offi

This is one to learn quickly—you’ll use it often and hear it non-stop.

It’s an informal way of saying está bien (it’s good) and can also stand in for “okay” and “sure.” It’s just one of those all-purpose words that says you’re fine with something.

¿Quieres ir al cine? (Do you want to go to the movies?) 

Offi. (Sure.)

2. ¿Qué sopá?

“What is it?” is the literal translation, but this expression is basic slang for “What’s up?”

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This is another one to grasp from the get-go, if only to lighten the mood when you go into tiendas (shops). It’s an easy greeting that will show you’re attempting to communicate in an informal manner.

So walk through the door, smile and say, “¿Qué sopá?”

3. Chupata

If you’re invited to a chupata, be advised there will be mucha cerveza y vino (lots of beer and wine) as well as stronger alcohol.

Chupata is slang for a party where the music is loud and the alcohol is plentiful.

Hay una chupata en la calle. ¿Quieres ir? (There’s a party up the street. Want to go?)

4. Tener goma

The expression literally means “to have glue,” but it’s the slang term for having a hangover.

¿Te quedaste demasiado tiempo en la chupata? (Did you stay too long at the alcohol-heavy party?)

¡Sí, tengo goma! (Yeah, I have a hangover!)

5. Plena

Expect to hear this one a lot, as it refers to something else you will hear a lot— Panamanian reggaeton music.

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Panamanians love their reggaeton music, so you are sure to hear it in the restaurants, in the clubs, on the beach, really anywhere. 

If you ask a waitress what’s coming through the speakers, it’s pretty safe to say this will be her answer:

Oye. Es plena. (Listen. It’s Panamanian music.)

6. Pelao

It seems as if every country has a slang term for “dude”—pelao is Panama’s.

It probably derives from or is at least related to pelado, a word that means “boy” in several South American countries.

¿Conoces a ese pelao? (Do you know that dude?)

7. ¡Chuleta!

Doubly useful, ¡Chuleta! means “Damn!” but it also can mean “Wow!” It just depends on how and when you use it.

The funny thing about this is that it can also refer to a pork chop—“chop” being chuleta.

I asked a Panamanian friend if he knows how this expression started but he had no idea. It’s just something they say, kind of like coño, which is yet another way of saying “damn” in Spanish.

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Apparently kids also use ¡Chuleta! when they’re excited about something, so there’s the “wow” side of it.

¡Chuleta! Olvidé mi cartera. (Damn! I forgot my wallet.)

8. Trambilla

This is the term for the brightly-painted “chicken bus” you’re likely to ride to get from one place to the next.

These buses are the backbone of the transportation sector in so many Central and South American countries, as they transport anything and everything.

They’re typically very crowded and noisy, but riding la trambilla (the chicken bus) is a must-do if you’re looking for an authentic experience!

Tomo la trambilla al trabajo todos los días. (I take a chicken bus to work every day.)

9. Pavo

Literally meaning “turkey,” this is the term for the bus-driver’s assistant, a guy who often hangs out the open door on a trambilla while the bus is moving.

It’s the pavo’s job to collect money at the door, decide if there’s room for more people to come aboard and figure out seating arrangements.

Many times people are de pie en el pasillo (standing in the aisle) but el pavo (the assistant) will still say “hay espacio” (there’s room).

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Dile al pavo que necesitas para ir a la ciudad de Panamá. (Tell the assistant that you need to go to Panama City.)

10. Plata

Literally meaning “silver,” this is a slang term for money. This word is used not only in Panama but in some other Central American countries.

No puedo comprar un coche porque no tengo plata. (I can’t buy a car because I don’t have money.)

Why It Helps to Add Slang to Your Vocabulary

The Spanish-speaking world is huge, but slang can help differentiate between different cultures and regions.

From las calles (the streets), to las tiendas (the shops), to las playas (the beaches) to los clubes (the clubs), you’ll hear locals using slang expressions and popular idioms, so it’s useful to know what they mean.

If you’re able to incorporate Panamanian slang correctly, you’ll quickly find yourself making more friends and being welcomed into the community.

Demonstrating that you know how Panamanians actually communicate shows a dedication to learning more about the culture and region. This is sure to build good relationships and help you form more connections.

Practicing Panamanian Slang

Try to get as much exposure to native speakers as possible, so you can see how they incorporate slang.

Find a Panamanian language exchange partner and practice using slang with them. Even if you are not able to speak with a native Panamanian directly, you can try and find Panamanian media to help you. FluentU is a great option, as it provides plenty of Spanish video clips with learning tools.

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Why You Should Go to Panama

In addition to beautiful nature and a cosmopolitan capital city, Panama has a lot to offer visitors, especially those who are learning Spanish.

Panama is at the southeastern end of Central America, on the isthmus that connects Central and South America.

The country is literally sliced through the middle by and most known for the Panama Canal. The canal is a wonder of human engineering, the source of approximately a third of Panama’s GDP and one of the country’s most popular tourist spots.

While most tourists tend to stick to the canal and the city, places like Boquete and Bocas del Toro are well-worth visiting as they are beautiful and a bit more off the beaten path. 

Don’t forget to eat your fill of patacones, a fried green plantain specialty served in nearly all of Panama’s restaurants.


Learning these slang terms will help you really understand the Panamanian people and start to fit in!

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