A Highland Hideaway For Under $1,000 a Month

The road leading to the town of Santa Fe de Veraguas climbs gently and steadily up the slopes of the Continental Divide, winding past cattle farms, jungled hillsides and gurgling rivers. As you arrive into the town centre, the bright blue roof of a church is one of the first sights you see. Around it you’ll find a football pitch, a shaded plaza with benches and a gazebo, and small stores and businesses along the main street.

Horses are common, orchids grow in the wild, rows of coffee plants dot the hillsides, children splash in the rocky streams…life moves at a relaxed pace.

Santa Fe is a small town in the highlands of Veraguas Province in west-central Panama. It sits at an elevation of over 450 metres—providing a cool climate—and is surrounded by forested hills and rocky peaks. The weather here is just about perfect.

Daytime temperatures range from 23 C to 29 C and at night you can expect temperatures in the mid-teens to low 20s C, so it’s never sweltering hot nor too chilly. A good fan keeps you comfortable during the day and you may need a light blanket at night. Because it’s in the highlands, Santa Fe is cooled by occasional cloud cover and a soft misty rain keeps the area vibrantly green and lush all year round.

This mountain hamlet is off the beaten path. But that’s exactly the attraction for the retirees and expats who are making their home here. This is healthy rural living with warm weather, a low cost of living and unspoiled natural surroundings.

Outdoor activities top the list of things to do, including walking along the many trails, visiting the spectacular waterfalls, bird watching and night-time hikes.

For a big-city fix, the provincial capital, Santiago, is less than an hour’s drive on good roads. It’s a busy commercial centre ideal for shopping, dining out and taking care of business. A large health centre and a new medical facility just east of town provide medical care. Most expats own a vehicle for convenience, with transportation expenses averaging $100 a month.

All of these things drew Bob and Irma Caragol to Santa Fe when they were looking for a retirement home. “We were especially attracted to the nice climate and low cost of living,” says Bob.

They bought a riverside plot, designed a home, hired a local contractor to build it, and took up full-time residence in 2014. Since the move Bob has found his chronic asthma is significantly relieved. “The environment is unspoiled, with clean rivers and no pollution,” he says.

Irma enjoys cooking with all the local ingredients, saying, “The food is fresh and healthy, we eat very well. For a few dollars I can buy two full bags of fruits and vegetables.”

The low cost of living also attracted fellow expat Carl Conway. “A couple can manage on under $1,000 a month here, if they own their home. Utilities are very low, at around $130 a month for electricity, water, rubbish collection and internet. Keep in mind you don’t need heating or air conditioning up here, that makes a big difference. Even if you rent, a monthly budget of $2,000 is plenty,” he says.

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