Kiddie rides. . . hot dogs on a stick. . . ice cream and cotton candy. . . cows and horses. . . farm equipment. . . furniture. . . experimental agricultural techniques. . . this fair in Los Santos, Panama has them all.
It reminded me of the county fairs of my youth, with the 4-H barns and plant exhibits, the latest in combines, and lots of greasy, sugary, yummy food to settle (or unsettle) your stomach after whirling around on one scream-inducing ride after another.
The Feria Internacional de Azuero — more commonly referred to here as just “la feria” or “the fair” — is an annual event in Panama. It happens every spring in Los Santos.
It’s been going strong for 47 years, an annual effort to promote both the agriculture and industry of Panama’s Herrera and Los Santos provinces. It’s been accredited as an International Fair since 1995. Covering 18 hectares (about 45-1/2 acres) in area, there are permanent buildings and roads, as well as livestock barns, exhibition halls, meeting rooms and more.
A few days ago my husband and I visited the fair for the first time, with two expat friends. We went in the morning — before it got crowded — to see what there was to see. I wanted to go for the first time when it wasn’t crowded.
Admission was $2.50 each, or $1.25 for pensionados. Just inside the gate was a cage where you could deposit your ticket receipt, with your name and address on it, for a chance to win a new Toyota Yaris.
In addition to dozens of vendors selling live plants of all sorts — mostly flowers but some vegetables and fruits — there were plantings of all sorts to admire. Of course there were tomatoes and peppers which are ubiquitous here. I also saw rice, sorghum, corn, cabbage, several types of lettuce, eggplant, cucumber, watermelon, cantaloupe, squash, pumpkin, soy, yucca, plantain, and more.
There were hordes of school kids in uniform taking pictures of and making notes about the plants. I don’t know who they were, exactly, but in my mind they’re the 4-H kids.
Then there was the equipment. All sorts of farm machinery, from 4-wheel drive carts to enormous tractors, pumps of all sorts, milking machines, hay balers, and on and on.
And let’s not forget the cattle, horses, ponies, and other livestock!
Furniture making is a respected craft here, and it was well represented at the fair. From hammocks and sling chairs to ornate wooden and leather chairs, tables and sofas, if you’re in the market for traditional Panamanian style furniture, you can find it at the fair.
Hats and Leather Goods
The Azuero Peninsula is cattle country, and horseback is a common means of transportation here. Naturally, if you’re looking for the latest in hats, saddles, boots or shoes you can find it at the fair.
Clothing and Accessories
There were stalls selling clothing and accessories, mostly for children and women. Stalls selling shoes and sandals were also popular.
Most of the food stalls look like any other Fonda or outdoor bar you’ll see anywhere in the country. Their menus were about the same too, with the addition of some fair-specific treats like hot dogs on a stick.
One big difference from the county fairs I remember was the presence of car dealers. All the big brands were represented — I saw Nissan, Toyota, and Mitsubishi and there were others we didn’t get around to.
We did find the motorcycle dealer, though!
The two weeks of the fair are crammed with contests and events — horse shows, bull and cow judging, a dog show, a bicycle race, and lots more.
People come to the fair from all over Panama. Two of our close neighbors had housefuls of guests throughout the two weeks, and there were noisy parties down the street throughout the last weekend of the fair.
We resisted the urge to buy anything other than some much-needed bottled water. All I came away with was a whopping sunburn. I had a long-sleeved shirt with me, which I intended to wear as sun protection. It was so hot, though, I couldn’t bear the tought of putting it on. I think next year I’ll brave the evening crowds after the sun goes down.