Neither of the ports are really "shopper" ports.
Across from the pier at the harbor in Colon there is a shooping area built for tourists. It is safe and there are some shops. Do not under any circumstances strike off into the city of Colon on your own. It isn't remotrly safe. If you take an excursion such as one that goes across by bus to Panama City you may be taken to some craft areas in the Old Canal District. That is where good "local" shopping can be found.
Limon is not much at all. It is an industrial port. There is a craft area set up at the entrance to the pier. The first block or so across the street from the pier has some shops. The area is somewhat seedy . Don't stray away from the active areas filled with cruise passengers. If you take a tour like Torteguero Canals there will more than likely be a local craft set up at either the beginning or ending point of the boat ride.
I did the flea market right next to where the ship docks in Costa Rica, they have nice carved wooden boxes, I brought a nice wooden chess set very intricate painted with all sorts of designs. I bargained down the price to $23 I think, it folds in half and is round very different item. The carved boxes and animals are very nice, and in expensive make good gifts. In Panama I went to a jewelry store the cruise ship reccomended I brought a lovely small but very clear Columbian Emerald ring I paid $240 for it it's 18k gold also. I also brought some cheap costume jewelry at the Umbria Indian village in Panama, because the money helps to support these people and their native way of life.
We are also going to these ports and will only do the ship's excursions but the Panama tour is 7 hours for $175 which seems like a lot! Do you know of any independent tours or does that seem like a fair price.
Teresa and Larry
#36-Carnival Splendor 9/16/12
7 night Mexican Riviera
#37-Allure of the Seas 11/11/12
7 night Eastern Caribbean
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, is not really a shopper's mecca, but you can find some intrigueing items in the tent adjacent to the ship area. The area around the pier is a slum --it was so bad I was embarrassed to take photos of it from our returning tour bus-- the poverty & unkempt nature of it cannot be described..We took the Totoguero Canal trip on rec. of Papa Bill & it was a great choice--you see alot onl and & water--(this trip has great guides) more of a nature port than a shopping port...unless you like little trinket type items.
In Panama, aftre the awesome experience of the canal itself , we took the Gamboa Tram trip with the cruiseline , it was a great tour. Saw alot of Panama in & outside the Canal zone & great views...the tram slowly ascends through the trees in a scenic area & then you can climb the gently slopinging flat surfaced tower for the best view ever. I think they took the Celeb brochure photo from up there! Then there is a nature area (so so) nice butterfly house & orchid house folowqded by cold puch at the modern resort...It was well worth the price...& shorter than some of the other trips. Shopping/browsing in the area adjacent to the pier is failry extensive & fun--something for everyone on the list! But am glad we took the tour. This was the best day of our cruise. We ended with dinner in Brilliance's specialty restaurant Chops...