In Panama’s Veraguas Province, Santa Fe looks exactly as a Central American village should. After the modern skyline of Panama City—a shock if you were expecting to encounter the Third World—Santa Fe is a relief. The “real” Panama. Ah, yes, here it is.
And here, it exists in its most exemplary form. The prettiest mountain views and the most welcoming people. The “best-of-both-worlds” climate…tropical, but cooled by spring-like breezes year-round. And the best-value real estate you’ll find in any mountain community in Panama.
One large house is for sale about 10 minutes from the village center (as the village consists of one main strip, most everything is outside the center). It’s a large house but in need of renovation…a diamond in the rough. The construction is almost complete, with four bedrooms, living room, and kitchen laid out… but needs finishing. At an asking price of just $45,000, an additional $10,000 or $20,000 to make the changes you want still makes for a great deal. The lot is over 11,000 square feet and enjoys spectacular mountain views.
More property in Santa Fe, Panama available now
Santa Fe used to be the kind of place where building or undertaking major renovations were the only options for expat homeowners. Panamanian-style homes here typically consist of tiny bedrooms (room for a twin bed and little else), a single bathroom, and closed kitchens.
Many of them are A-frames that could almost be made of gingerbread. Little matchbox cabins completely obscured by fuchsia bougainvillea. Some sport sections made of what I thought was bamboo, but turns out to be a type of white cane. There may be chinks in the cane sections…with the humidity and natural setting, a bit of extra air flow is considered desirable here.
Over the past 10 years, Santa Fe has grown just enough that the real estate landscape has started to change. Now, a handful of resale homes are available for sale and most are move-in ready.
A fully-remodeled house on a nearly 1.5-acre lot in the El Alto neighborhood is one example. This area is mostly locals and well-to-do Panamanians who live in “the city” (Santiago, about 90 minutes away). The 1,200-square-foot home is very private and has 360-degree views of the mountains. It has two bedrooms, two baths, and a large terrace. Price: $95,000.
At a tiny development, just on the Santa María River, I saw a nearly completed home. Its “backyard” is the river and its banks…one of the most soothing wooded settings one could possibly have. The two bedrooms and two bathrooms are spacious (the whole house is about 1,400 square feet). The lot is about 2,600 square feet. Asking price: $175,000.
The most expensive property in Santa Fe, Panama
The most expensive property I saw was listed for $297,000. Known as Los Muros de Las Trancas, the property boasts 2,300 square feet of construction on a lot of over half an acre. The price sounds exorbitant for this area. But once you see how much it has to offer, you may think again. The property is terraced, with benches providing spots for meditation. Ginger, heliconia, and passion-fruit vines drip from the fencing. During my tour, the owner plucked an orange the size of two fists from a tree in the backyard.
The main house features one large bath and two bedrooms, of which one connects to a two-level private patio. A great room just off the kitchen features 16-foot ceilings, a rarity here. The laundry room, storage room, and shop add value. A separate cottage with dining/bar area, full kitchen, and full bathroom boasts a view of the Las Trancas stream that borders the property. I can imagine looking out at the fruit trees and glistening green foliage, hearing the stream ripple past, as I tuck into a warm breakfast with rich, dark, Panamanian coffee.
The rentals available in Santa Fe these days are also of better quality. A fully-furnished house (featuring the caña blanca or white cane) in the heart of the village of Santa Fe rents for $650 a month. It’s on the “expensive” side because it has artistic mosaic work on the floors, three large bedrooms (one has a balcony) and two baths, and flower gardens with terrace and fountain. It’s also walking distance from…well, nearly everything in the village.
Just across from Hostal Tierra Libre (where you can enjoy authentic Asian cuisine while you use the newly-installed WiFi), a two-bedroom, one-bath, A-frame home rents for $300 a month.
There is plenty of land available for anyone with an interest in buying. Land in town can run you as little as $1 or $2 per square foot. The farther you are from town, the lower the prices. You can save 60% or more if you’re willing to be 10 to 30 minutes from the town center. The town’s only real-estate outfit is Tute Real Estate.
Always ask whether or not the property you’re viewing is titled, and have a reputable local attorney confirm that. More and more titled property is available in Santa Fe every year, but there is a lot of untitled or Right of Possession (ROP) property that may have liens or multiple claims on it. Steer clear.
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