Erica and Kevin Moore didn’t want much…a quiet setting where they’d be able to run a business and be a part of a welcoming community. In Panama, they found dozens of towns with potential…but the tiny village of Santa Fe de Veraguas called to them.
Today, they enjoy expansive mountain views from their home—most of which consists of a wide, wrap-around terrace with comfortable chairs for lounging, an outdoor dining area, and a beckoning pool. On any given day here, you’ll see dozens of brightly colored birds and butterflies, lured by the greenery and blossoms that make up the landscape.
The day I visited, we had drinks on the terrace, all of us facing the mountains and the Santa Fe National Park. The gentle plop plop of the late afternoon rain was the only sound, and the colors deepened in the wetness. The rain never lasts long here, they said, and they were right. An hour later, the skies were clear, the setting sun casting a deep golden glow over the hills.
Erica and Kevin fell in love with the views and the local people—they knew instantly that they could be happy here. That was the most important thing to them. But they also wanted to make money in a way that would be helpful, not hurtful to the locals.
They realized a boutique hotel operation wouldn’t require much capital. They could run it while living onsite, hire locals in need of good wages, and recommend local tour guides, restaurants, and more to their guests.
Erica says they decided to take it one step further by finding a way to help the local wildlife. They established a sanctuary where they care for toucans injured or otherwise unable to function in the wild. The village atmosphere was perfect, providing the peace and quiet needed for a sanctuary.
Another small town perk: ease of doing business. “Permits of any kind…such as building permits or our licensing as a sanctuary…are very easy to get,” says Kevin. The local council—eager to attract eco-tourists—prefers to facilitate rather than litigate.
“And land is extremely inexpensive,” says Kevin. He and Erica built a dream home for about $80,000 and a small cluster of guest cabins for just over $16,000 each…including tiles, finishes, and custom-made French windows and doors.
They put up a website, Casa Mariposa Boutique Hotel, and the inquiries and reservations immediately began trickling in. The view and the spring-like climate are a big part of the draw, but so are Erica and Kevin, who go out of their way to be a part of the local community and make visitors feel welcome.
Anywhere else in the world, an inn may sound like a high-capital venture…but in the Panamanian countryside, you could make do with less than half what you might spend back home, just on a place to live. Erica and Kevin have a new U.S.-style home and a business, and have spent a mere fraction of what they paid for living quarters in Ontario.
“And the cost of living is amazingly low,” they say. Though they hope the tourism industry in Santa Fe grows a bit more, they want to see that happen slowly and sustainably. In the meantime, they find that just a little income goes a long, long way.
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