It’s not difficult to see why so many expats are drawn to El Valle, Panama, a mountain town built in the crater of an extinct volcano. They come here for the slower pace of life…the comfortable, temperate climate…and the fresh mountain air.
And though this town is small, there’s plenty to keep its residents entertained: a variety of restaurants serving Italian, Panamanian and American cuisines at reasonable prices…natural hot springs…and a thriving market stocked full of fresh produce and handmade crafts…
Two expats who are making the most of everything El Valle has to offer are Judy Eaton, 67, and her husband, Jim.
It’s been five years since the couple made the move here. But there was a time when, if you’d told Nebraska native Judy that she’d be living in Panama someday, she probably wouldn’t have believed you.
“We weren’t great world travelers or anything,” she says. That meant that when they started to plan their retirement, they weren’t even considering moving overseas. But once they began to visit Panama in 2003, they realized that this was their chance to make a big change…to a simpler, healthier, more relaxed lifestyle.
Now, Judy says, “We can’t imagine moving back to the States.”
Cutting out stress was a big factor in the couple’s decision to retire to El Valle. Having worked for 40 years as a registered nurse, Judy found it was becoming harder to shake off the worries of her working day.
“I’d always enjoyed my work but the politics and the hassle and the stress started to get to me. The mental stuff will do that—you can’t go home and shut your eyes and forget about it.”
So in 2008, with just two suitcases each—leaving behind decades of possessions—they made the move.
“I felt like I was owned by all that stuff,” Judy says. “We decided we didn’t want retirement to be a ‘fading away.’ We wanted it to be something new, so we left nearly everything behind.”
Besides leaving stress behind, the couple also said goodbye to high costs of living. Under a government scheme, their 3,000-square-foot house ($145,000 for the lot, construction and all furnishings) is exempt from property taxes for 20 years, saving them $10,000 a year on what they would be paying back in Nebraska.
And their month-to-month costs are extremely low.
“We probably spend $500 a month on utilities and groceries and eating out.”
But though their cost of living is low, that’s just the icing on the cake for Judy.
“We like the temperature and the climate up here in our little volcano. We love that it’s flat so we can walk or ride our bicycles 12 months a year—we hardly ever use the car in town. And we really like the people.”
The unique geography of El Valle is also another big plus. Besides regulating the climate—ensuring the weather is warm and sunny during the day and cool and easy to sleep in without air conditioning at night—Judy explains that there’s no danger of urban sprawl.
“Because it’s a small village, it won’t get over-developed,” she says. “It can only get so big. We’re in a crater so when it’s full, that’s it!”
And when they fancy a change of scene, it’s right on their doorstep. The culture and bustle of Panama City is just two hours away…and they have their choice of six beaches within 30 minutes—some of which aren’t signposted so they’re empty any time the couple visits.
“If we decide to go down to the beach for lunch, we can just go,” Judy says. “I don’t have to follow any schedules anymore.”
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