How to Live the Tropical Castaway Life

My friend Ben lives in Panama City and wouldn’t live anywhere else. He thrives on the metropolitan vibe, the non-stop activity and being in a major commercial and business center. If you love city life, Panama’s capital has it all, with skyscrapers, huge shopping malls, live theater and music, and cuisine from all over the world. On a much smaller scale, the city of David, where I live, has the commercial and cultural advantages of a city, but in the countryside of western Panama.

Maybe you prefer the quiet life of a rural town. In the highlands, El Valle de Anton and Volcan are small towns with cool weather and spectacular scenery. Along the Pacific coast, towns such as Las Tablas and Pedasi are an affordable option for those who want to be part of a local community. I had lunch recently with Tom and Sandy, who settled in Las Tablas from the U.S. She works at home via computer, and he stays busy with a recycling project and bicycle club, involving other expats and Panamanians. Daily activities move at a slower pace in the small towns, and it’s easier to get to know your neighbors and make a contribution.

If you want to live on the water, you can choose from two coastlines. Just an hour west of Panama City, the Pacific shoreline is dotted with condominium towers and first-class residential developments. In Coronado, the first and still-favorite beach resort area, my friend Kate is a transplanted California girl with a condo on the beach and a busy social life.

On the Caribbean coast, the islands of Bocas del Toro are a marine wonderland. Less developed and more rustic, this area appeals to adventurers who are up to a challenge. For instance, long-time sailors Carla and Mark have created a tropical getaway outside of town, accessible only by boat and completely off the grid.

Still undecided? Many retirees and expats choose Boquete as the perfect combination of cool climate, rainforest scenery, and active lifestyle. Located on the slopes of Baru Volcano, this mountain town retains its local charm with its central park and family-owned businesses. The large expat community offers a variety of activities, cultural events, volunteer groups and learning opportunities, with something going on every day!

Everybody there knows Pam and Lucy, who are dedicated to numerous non-profit groups and fund-raising efforts…and who know everybody! Aside from community involvement, the surrounding rainforest offers awesome outdoor adventures, such as hiking, bird-watching, river rafting, zip-lining and cycling. No wonder Boquete is the first choice of so many expats!

I chose to settle in Panama over four years ago because I feel welcome, safe and unfettered by official intrusions. I think there is a sense of optimism that characterizes Panama, a feeling that, while all is not perfect (and never can be), the country is moving in the right direction in a very positive way. Whatever you’re looking for…a mountain rainforest, a bustling metropolis, a rural coastal town, or a tropical waterfront…you are free to choose the lifestyle you want in Panama.

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