One of the things folks love about Boquete is there’s always something to do. It may be an art display, live musical performance, photography exhibit, or live stage production. Since expats and retirees began moving to this rural town they have transformed it into the cultural Mecca of western Panama.
With a vibrant cultural scene, Panama’s capital is a wellspring that’s well worth exploring. In Panama City, you have so much to choose from that whether you’re into art, architecture, gourmet cuisine—or anything else—you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied. Best of all, this surprising city is filled with contrasts. Small colonial gems and skyscrapers with cutting-edge designs…hidden galleries and state-of-the-art museums…centuries-old ruins and more modern wonders, too.
It feels likes standing in a virgin wilderness. In front of you are some of Panama’s finest white-sand beaches. Tropical birds call from the trees behind you. The land is undeveloped and quiet. You won’t meet many people here. Occasionally, you’ll see a kite surfer or someone walking an almost-deserted beach.
You can’t help but feel happy in Panama’s highlands. The views are inspiring, with verdant pines and bougainvillea bursts covering the hillsides. Hidden gems include streams, waterfalls and even hot springs. Not to mention some of Panama’s best flora and fauna…including hundreds of species of colorful birds, orchids, and more. To be sure, Panama is known for its stunning Caribbean islands and popular Pacific beaches.
I first came to scout Panama City 11 years ago. Back then, the city was on the cusp of a massive growth spurt. It was primed for big things—set to transform into one of the commercial hubs of the Americas. That growth played out just as I expected. Since then, I’ve watched the city change almost beyond recognition.
The mountain town of Boquete is undoubtedly familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in living or buying a home in Panama.
During the second Chinese Opium War, in the 1850s, a penniless teen named Cheong Fatt Tze fled from China to Southeast Asia. There he would make his fortune as a merchant. He became so wealthy that he earned the moniker of “Rockefeller of the East.” Tze owned many fine houses throughout Southeast Asia, but none was as extravagant as the Blue Mansion, on the tropical island of Penang off the coast of Malaysia. It’s a colossal beacon of 19th-century Chinese extravagance
As the savage North American winter begins to bite and the snow and ice pile up, many of us ﬁnd ourselves yearning for warmer climates elsewhere. Imagine a place that’s never too hot or too cold—just perfect. Outside, the birds are chirping, while gardens and wildﬂowers bloom in multicolored glory. You can walk around in a light tee-shirt at any time of year. Throw out your coat and boots. Forget about heating and air-conditioning bills and suffering through sweltering heat and humidity.
Not that long ago, you could buy a CD in a U.S. bank and get a decent rate of return…4% or 5% annually was typical. Sure, you wouldn’t get rich this way. But it was a safe and affordable way to build a nest egg. Today of course, times are very different. For nearly a decade, the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates at zero. And instead of paying 4% to 5% annually on CDs, now you’re lucky to get 1%.
The island destination in Panama I’m asked about the most is Bocas del Toro—and with good reason. A trickle of adventurous visitors and a tight-knit expat community have transformed insular Bocas del Toro from a sleepy archipelago to a bustling outpost. But if you’re considering island life, you’ll be interested to know that Bocas is not the only exciting option available.
I retired to Panama in 2007 and I’ve seen big improvements in that short time. Getting around the country has become much easier in the time we’ve lived here. For example, the Panamanian government is expanding the Pan American Highway from Santiago to David.
Boquete is the premier expat and retiree destination in the highlands of Panama. The name applies to both the small hamlet resting in an ancient volcanic formation and to the larger surrounding district, home to about 25,000 residents. It’s located in Chiriquí Province in western Panama, not far from the border with Costa Rica, on the eastern-facing side of Volcan Baru, Panama’s highest peak (11,400 feet) and only volcano.
Since my husband Clyde and I retired to Panama four years ago, a typical day is anything but that. We awaken each day to the sound of birds singing, roosters crowing, and geckos’ chirping as our peaceful little neighborhood comes to life…wondering what the new day will bring
One almost sure-fire way to succeed in business is to find a gap that needs filling, or a niche that is unoccupied. And right now there’s a great big gap in the Chiriquí Province of western Panama for home maintenance, lawn care, and handyman services. Of course, there are locals who carry out yard work, but that laidback outlook that expats find so appealing in some ways can leave them waiting to have work done. And when it comes to home repairs, it’s hard to find qualified tradesmen with the right tools. With an expat population of around 20,000, Chiriquí Province has a market.
“Buenas,” he says, nodding his head as he rides past. Leathery tan on a face framed by a worn cowboy hat, he’s the very picture of a Marlboro Man. Except he’s Panamanian. I’m sitting in an ancient Lada Niva—a Russian 4×4 made for rugged terrain. We’ve stopped so our cowboy (and his herd of cows) can pass safely. It’s a chance to take in the view… In the distance I can see the national park, where hiking trails crisscross hills lush with rainforest. In the treetops above me, I’ve seen monkeys and toucans and several species of birds I can’t name. This is Santa Fe de Veraguas, Panama—a tiny mountain hideaway about 200 miles west of Panama City.
Since I moved to Panama 10 years ago, the islands of Bocas del Toro have become one of my favorite vacation spots of all time. It’s just an hour-long flight from Panama City…though I’ve also driven the scenic seven hours or so to the launch point of Almirante, where you can get a 30-minute water taxi to the main island. I’ve traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean…St. Thomas, Grand Cayman, Martinique…you name it, I’ve probably been there. But for me, none of them can hold a candle to Bocas del Toro.
When I decided to get away from the cold winters of Colorado, Panama attracted me with its warmer climate, low cost of living, and first-rate infrastructure. That alone was worth moving for…but as a retiree here, it gets even better. One of the national laws of Panama can make the already low cost of living even lower. Law #6 entitles any resident of the country who is a female over 55 or male over 60 to receive a discount on specific services.
When my husband Clyde was working as a firefighter and paramedic in Corpus Christi, Texas he had top-notch health insurance. While he was still working, the city paid a portion of our premium but after he decided to call it quits we’d be responsible for the full amount. With a monthly premium of over $1,200 how could we afford to retire, let alone retire early?
As night begins to fall, strings of lights twinkle above my head. The temperature drops 10 degrees to about 78 F…absolutely perfect. The open rooftop terrace of Panama City’s Tantalo Hotel is a fantastic place to enjoy the cool evening breeze. Not to mention the colonial architecture of Casco Viejo, one of Panama’s oldest (and most romantic) quarters.
From our porch we can see down to the river, where we have our own little private beach and swimming hole,” says Albuquerque native Bob Caragol of his and his wife Irma’s new home. “We just fell in love with the area. There’s no crime and no pollution, and my asthma symptoms improved immediately.” Their story is typical of expats living in the scenic mountain town of Santa Fe, located in Veraguas province in west-central Panama.
With the coming of fall, my family and friends in the States find themselves thinking of the long, cold winter approaching. It’s not just the ice and snow they have to cope with, but the enormous heating bills, and not being able to enjoy the outdoors. But not me…living in Panama I don’t ever have a heating bill and I haven’t seen snow in years. The great outdoors is my playground all year round here in the Chiriqui province of western Panama. And that includes being able to go to the beach anytime I want.
Morning is my favorite part of the day…it’s cool and the day is new. My wife, Luz, and I sit on our patio, coffee in hand, and watch birds splashing about in the birdbath I made from stained glass shards. When I first moved to Panama five years ago, I lived in the city of David. But after exploring the country I decided to make Las Tablas, on the Azuero peninsula, home. It’s a charming town with a tranquil public park and the locals are a friendly bunch.
Weekends, Rita Sosa tends to spend at her beach house, just over an hour’s drive from Panama City. “Our house is literally on the beach,” says Rita. “When I go up there, I just go to relax and swim. I’m very happy to sit and read a book outside and not do a whole lot of anything. It’s so great to have beach weather 12 months a year, and I love the tropical greenery.
From our new home town of Pedasi every beach seems to offer its own playground. From a launching point for Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge, to waves fit for championship surfers and beginners alike. Located on the Azuero peninsula on Panama’s Pacific coast, Pedasi is an ocean-lovers dream. Driving out of town towards the popular beach of Playa Venao offers picturesque views of rolling hills on one side and stunning Pacific views on the other.
Moving to Panama was “a bit of an adventure” for expat James Bloomfield. “When I first moved to the capital, I was out exploring nearly every weekend,” he says. He fell for the coastal area of Pedasi, just 200 miles west of Panama City. It’s a region of pristine, uncrowded beaches and abundant waters just teeming in tuna, wahoo, dorado, and more.
We knew we wanted to open a B&B, and now we have this beautiful place and a great lifestyle,” says Manzar Lari, 55. In 2013, Manzar and his partner, Terry Richmeier, 48, left jobs in corporate healthcare in Minneapolis to create a new life in the highland town of Boquete, Panama…and a new livelihood in the hospitality business.
Bill Brown wanted a beachfront property. When he decided he needed a change from his teaching job in St. Louis…a home on the beach was his dream. But where could he find beachfront property that would be affordable? He conducted internet searches on the best countries to live in before he settled on Panama. He was intrigued by the culture.
My wife, Liz, and I moved from Tennessee to Las Tablas on Panama’s Azuero Peninsula in 2010. It’s a small town in one of the most traditional parts of the country and it’s perfectly located between the mountains and the beach so we have the best of both worlds on our doorstep. But we like to explore so we’ve also taken day trips and short vacations to other parts of Panama, too.
For any intrepid traveler, finding great deals on airfares is one of the best ways to save money as you travel. And fortunately, there’s an app on the market that can help you do just that. Hopper is a smartphone app (available in the Apple app store) that can tell you the cheapest time to fly to locations all around the world and find you the cheapest deals on airfare. Knowing the right time to book can save you up to 40% on airfare alone.
The sun peeks out from behind a ﬂuffy white cloud as I hop out of the motorboat and wade to shore. The bright rays alter the scenery. The water goes from a soft baby blue to an almost ﬂuorescent turquoise, and the sand is a dazzling white. I didn’t have to ﬂy halfway across the world or empty my pocketbook to get to paradise. My round-trip ticket from Panama City to Contadora Island was only $90. Meals are between $6 and $20 a person. Sipping tropical drinks and watching yachts drift by, I ﬁnd it hard to believe I’m just a 20-minute ﬂight from a bustling metropolis.
Though Panama is tropical, there are some drier areas along the Paciﬁc coast. The Coronado region, an hour west of Panama City, is known as the Dry Arc or Arco Seco. This dry swath stretches all the way to Pedasí on the Azuero Peninsula. The region gets 40 to 60 inches of rain a year, whereas Panama’s Caribbean coast usually gets over 120.
I was in my favorite grocery store the other day buying fresh chicken at the butcher counter, and it made me think about a recent food scare in the U.S. One of the mega-conglomerate producers had recalled thousands of pounds of chicken, due to possible contamination. Then over coffee the next morning I read a story online about health insurance companies raising their “affordable” premiums by 20% to 40% next year. And I realized how relieved I am that those things don’t concern me here in Chiriquí Province, Panama.
Craig and April Lewis have an idyllic life in the Panamanian beach town of Pedasi. Having first visited the town as dive instructors in 2010, they now run their own B&B there. Pedasi kept beckoning them with its activity-rich waters and many colorful festivals. You’ll hear it said there are 700 fiestas a year in this part of Panama, and this is the region where you’ll feel the country’s colonial heritage most keenly.
You keep hearing advice about establishing an online business and creating your own income source by “thinking outside the box.” Jennifer Daniels, 58, took that advice and transformed her traditional medical practice into a work-from-home, online business in David, Panama. She explored Europe, the Caribbean, and Central America before settling on Panama.
Lush, tropical jungle rings the Panamanian island where Laura Kay has lived for nine years. She has dozens upon dozens of white-sand beaches to choose from. Laura lives the simple life of a yoga instructor…in spectacular surroundings in Bocas del Toro, Panama. The Caribbean province is best known for the hundreds of islands that dot the waters just off the mainland.
When I think of country living in Panama, I think of Volcan in Chiriqui Province. To me, it offers the ideal blend of rural lifestyle in a small-town setting.
Fun and Sun in Panama’s Most Convenient Beach Community
Most folks looking for their dream home have a good idea what they want…a mountain estate with panoramic vistas, or perhaps a country cottage with a colorful garden.
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“I have always wanted to live abroad. In my family of four I’m the most adventurous one, yet I was the only one who had not made an international move,” Karen Walter says. “David in Panama’s Chiriqui Province is exactly what I was looking for.” “After 10 years I had grown tired of Arizona, and the time was right to end my career in social work and fostering challenged children,” she says. “I was fed up with the bureaucracy of the child welfare system, and I didn’t expect that to improve.