Business Opportunities in Panama’s Cool Crater Valleys

I thought maybe I had imagined the rainforest greens, so deep and lush they were almost blue. My memories of the misty mornings seemed surreal, perhaps exaggerated. The flowers couldn’t possibly be as plentiful as I remembered them, spilling over pretty fences or walls of stone.

Yet here I am, after a long hiatus…and the beauty of the place is surprising me all over again.

I’m sitting under a little gazebo in the cool crater-town of El Valle de Anton in Panama. The name means “The Anton Valley,” after the district of Anton, where the valley is located.

El Valle is the only place in the world where you can see square-trunked trees and ancient petroglyphs…and Panama’s famous (and endangered) golden frog. Hot springs and waterfalls and even a lovely little zoo are close to the town center.

The climate is always five to ten degrees cooler than in Panama City. In fact, Panama’s elite has long been vacationing here, taking advantage of the cool weather during the hot summer months of December through April.

I’m here for the weekend with three friends. We spent the night in a cozy cottage—part of the hugely successful Park Eden Bed & Breakfast.

The gazebo is the perfect place for a Sunday brunch of fried corn patties, scrambled eggs and bowls heaped high with tropical fruit. You wouldn’t believe the number of colorful birds, flitting in and out of the flower bushes behind us. Every so often we stop sipping the rich coffee to fumble for our cameras (alas, my favorites are the hummingbirds, and they are too fast for me). Full and content, I linger, enjoying the grassy smell and soft morning sunlight. I find myself loath to leave, and imagining what it would be like to start a new life in El Valle…

The plainest little coffee shop is a sweet, romantic café thanks to the cool leafy setting and homey feel of the place. The most mundane errands, like buying groceries, seem magical when the scenery is all wild and green and framed by hazy hilltops. And I’m not the only person who thinks so…more and more international tourists are starting to discover the delights of El Valle. As this humble crater town has become more and more popular, entrepreneurs have started to trickle in, too…and the word is: business is good.

German transplant Sven Schiffer and his Panamanian wife Vivi opened their restaurant, Cumana Bistro, in late 2008. Since then, they have become well known for their upscale menu (showcasing fresh local products) and soothing décor…and though a few new restaurants have opened in El Valle, new transplants tell me there’s plenty of room for more. An ethnic restaurant—perhaps Thai or Asian Fusion—would be most welcome, for example.

“When we moved to El Valle, there were three or four English-speaking families living here. Now there are more than 100,” says Becky Thormahlen, a fun-loving expat from Washington State. Becky moved to El Valle with her husband Larry in 2005 to open the Golden Frog Inn, one of the area’s finest Bed & Breakfasts. In fact, business has been so good, Becky and Larry are having a hard time enjoying the “peaceful retirement” they envisioned. Now they’re looking to sell the award-winning inn…but they have no plans to leave El Valle.

“We’re ready to relax,” says Becky, “but this is a great time to start a B&B or any new venture. Business has really picked up compared to last year, and we’re always full. Some 80% of our clientele consists of expats looking to move here,” she adds. No doubt, as the international community grows, so will the potential consumer base.

If Panama has your attention now, either for a business venture or a second home, then join us April 13-16 for the Live and Invest in Panama Seminar. You’ll discover everything you need to know about this country. Full details about the Seminar (and the big discount that expires Monday) available here.