Since the country’s founding, Panamanians have been escaping the city crowds and the sweltering lowlands to relax in the scenic highlands.
There are plenty of valid reasons to rent a home before you buy when you relocate overseas. For those who choose to live in Panama’s Western-most province, Chiriquí, one major reason is to check out the weather in various locations to find what suits you best. Despite being a small country in the middle of the tropics, you’ll find Panama has a variety of climate zones and even within the province there are variations in temperature, rainfall, wind, and cloud cover.
Santa Catalina is one of those out-of-the-way beach towns with its own quiet charm. As you walk through town along one of the two narrow streets you pass young men with their surfboards under their arms, headed for the break. Kids on bicycles roll past, avoiding a dog or two. The bus from Santiago arrives and a few backpackers get off, hoisting their loads as they're passed down from the top of the bus.
As the sun gently rises in the gaps between the peaks the birds welcome the day. You hear them through the open windows, singing and chirping, like nature’s most melodious alarm clock. Looking out you see lush green plants all around, with a spot of bright pink, purple or yellow here and there. A faint mist lingers in the valleys at the base of the hills and mountains that reach up to the bluest sky. Waking up like this each day in the highlands of Panama is a delight for many retirees who are living their dream.
As a young man, Bill was in the Navy and afterward went to work for the airline industry. “Eventually I became a supervisor and thought I had it made—good job, great benefits, nice pension, the works.” But that all changed when the economy went bad, the airline downsized, Bill lost his job…and all his benefits and pension. “We had expected to live on Bill’s pension when we retired, and when that was gone, everything changed,” says Mitzi. “We had to find an affordable place to live.”
Santa Catalina is not one of those cute little towns you’re likely to stumble across as you explore Panama. That’s because it’s literally at the end of the road where the pavement meets the sand of the Pacific shoreline. From Santiago, the capital of Veraguas Province, it’s about a two-hour drive to get to the town of Santa Catalina. But why would you want to go? I visited there myself recently to answer that question.
Pedasi is a sleepy kind of town. It consists of a main road, a central park, and several blocks of residences and businesses…I toured the town on foot in a couple of hours. It’s primarily a fishing village but has seen an upsurge in outside interest in recent years, resulting in a small but growing expat community.
“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.”
Many expats and retirees are attracted to the mountainous areas of Panama, known as the highlands. From west to east, these are the towns of Volcán, Boquete, Santa Fe, Sorá, El Valle, and Cerro Azul. While each has its own distinctive features, they all share common traits that benefit those who live there. Here’s a look at the top five advantages of life in Panama’s highlands:
When I think of country living in Panama, I think of Volcán in Chiriquí Province. It’s one of my favorite places in Panama and offers the ideal blend of rural lifestyle in a small-town setting. Barú Volcano, which gives the town its name, looms to the east and Cerro Punta, where most of Panama’s produce is grown, rises to the north. The town rests at about 4,600 feet in a sloping valley facing toward the Costa Rica border. The open sky is clear blue this time of year. Blooming bougainvillea bushes of bright magenta and deep purple add a splash of color amid the pine trees.