Caribbean Travel Special: Panama and Casco Viejo Phrase Book

Panama, Casco Viejo – Casco Antiguo, San Felipe


Ke Sopa? Priti!  …. No, you are not in some weird and lost island in the Pacific, you are in Panama, where Caribbean culture meets… well… everybody.  Like chameleons, we love copying words and accents, especially English, since it sounds cool. Translation for those words: what’s up? Pretty (meaning nice).  So here is the basic phrases you need to take with you while traveling to Panama, especially in the city and in Casco Viejo, where you’ll probably use them the most as some of the local “bien cuidaos” are Afroantillian descendants and still speak English.


Note: in Spanish, the letter “e” is pronounced “ai”.  The normal English sound for “e”, in Spanish is “ i “.


Ke lokee? = Local for : Qué es lo que es? In Spanish, another way to say What´s up.


On tu tabas? = Local for : Dónde tú estabas? Which is anyways bad Spanish as it should have been Donde Estabas?, Where were you?.


No ta Ki:  in Spanish: No Está Aquí. In English: He / She is not here. Probably to save even more words (or effort), they´ll simply say: no- ta.


Keeeee????? = With a long sound. Usually this means What??? , meaning they didn´t understand you.


Pa- ya:  In Spanish: “Para Allá”. In English: in that direction.


Pa -ca: In Spanish: “Para Acá”. In English:  something brought here.


Pa-ca Pa- Ya:  Meaning: they have the person running here and there for stuff.


So´Pa: What´s up


Laope : Local for “young guy”.


Priti:  Local for “I like it, its cool”.


Ta Priti: Its beautiful, its good.


Chilin: Cool.


Refinar: in Spanish: comer. To eat. Nothing to do with the Spanish word Refinar, which means refinement. I´m still thinking how it got there.


Voy pa´l chantin: Local for: Voy a mi casa. I´m going home.


Cha´la peste jo! : in Spanish: Ayala peste, jo!  In English: Shi#$% but on the nice side.


Chuchhh : in Spanish: well… it is almost like the English F word. Just add “a” after the last ch and you get the Spanish word.


Wichiguaiper: in Spanish: Limpia brisas.  In English: Windchill wiper.


Toy Limpio (Limpia):  Spanish for “I’m clean”, meaning “I have no money”.  Variations are: “Soy un limpio” (I never have money, I’m poor).  Me dejaste limpio: You left me without money.


Rial: from “Real” it means a 5 cents coin. 


Quara: I know there is an Argentinian wine called Quara, but it actually refers to the 25 cents coin (quarter).


Peso: 50 cents.


Tinaco: this is my favorite. I actually never noticed it, I really thought this was the word for trash can in Spanish. But it happens that the word doesn’t exist at all. In Spanish, the right word is “basurero”. But at some point, during the construction of the Canal, all trash cans where from a company called “ Tin & Co”!  A “Panama True Story”…



  1. Great article, and so true. The language of Panama is also full of English surprises due to the years of influence from the Americans in the Canal Zone. Cynthia,;

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