By Jim Gault
The town of Pedasi has been discovered by expats and the secret is out. Pedasi is on the tip of the Azuero Peninsula in the province of Los Santos on the Pacific Ocean. It’s a five-hour trip from Panama City—turning off the Pan-American Highway heading south the drive takes you through the city of Chitre down to Las Tablas and it’s a further 45-minute drive to Pedasi.
As a small sleepy village with a full-time population of around 2,500, Pedasi is rural living at its best. The village is surrounded by green pastures and grazing cattle. Village center is only a five-minute drive to the Pacific Ocean and three spectacular unspoiled beaches and little development.
The main source of income here for locals is fishing. Considered the “Tuna Coast” of Panama, the waters are filled with an abundance of fish. Sport fishing has become a pastime here, as you are almost always guaranteed a great day's fishing.
Another attraction that has been gaining in popularity in recent years is surfing. Surfers worldwide have discovered Playa Venao, a surfing beach only 30 minutes away. In 2011 and 2012, Playa Venao hosted the World Surfing Championships putting this great surfing destination firmly on the map.
The National Park, Isla Iguana, is only a 20-minute boat ride from el Arenal beach. There are dozens of boat captains available to take you for a half-day or whole-day adventure. No need to make a reservation. It is a local and tourist favorite for snorkeling, scuba diving, beachcombing, swimming, and relaxing. The beaches are Caribbean white sand. Isla Iguana is also noted for its wildlife refuge with thousands of frigates and various birds, hermit crabs, and colorful iguanas. Upon returning to el Arenal, many people stop at the beach cantina for a cold beverage.
Panama’s first female elected president, Mireya Moscoso, was born in Pedasi. She made many contributions to improving the infrastructure of the town during her time in office. Her efforts have given the locals a sense of pride in their town. The first thing you might notice when you visit Pedasi is how clean the town is, and that the homes are all well kept and painted in bright colors.
While exploring Pedasi be sure to keep an eye out for the many striking murals, hand-painted by area artists. Adding color and culture, they make for great selfie spots!
Home to vibrant Spanish colonial architecture, fabulous flora, and friendly locals, Pedasi weaves a welcoming tapestry where customs, cuisine, culture, and ecology intertwine with amazing activities to create a fun and memorable visit. Pedasi often holds art and crafts fairs for vendors from around the area.
Retire in Pedasi
Pedasi lies in the “Arco Seco,” meaning it is in the driest part of Panama with annual precipitation of only 39 inches. Enjoyable breezes from the Pacific Ocean keep daytime temperatures ranging from 73 F to 93 F. Evenings are cool and pleasant.
The village has all the necessary amenities for day-to-day living. The recently completed Minsa-Capsi hospital, just outside the center of the village, offers most services with a variety of specialists. There are several fine restaurants, a few small grocery stores, three gas stations, two banks, fire and police stations. Las Tablas is the nearest city where you can find anything else you might need and it’s only a 45-minute drive away.
The safety of Pedasi is one reason why many expats move here. In Pedasi, there is little to no petty crime of any kind. Locals and expats all look out for each other, and locals welcome expats and expat businesses.
There are now about 250 expats who live in the Pedasi area. They are a mix of people from around the world, including Americans, Canadians, Israelis, Germans, French, English, Venezuelans, Italians, Columbians, and others.
The charm of Pedasi is alluring and attractive for the growing number of retirees looking for a simpler, slower lifestyle.
Lifestyle in Pedasi
Many expats go to the beach in the morning to watch pristine sunrises. Pedasi is a wonderful place to live for ocean lovers. Activities include Scuba, snorkel, windsurfing, and whale watching from May to November. Excellent deep-sea, backwater, and beach fishing are just some of the things you can find to do here.
Many people choose to live in the village so they walk or ride bicycles everywhere to improve their health and save the expenses of a car.
The lifestyle is laidback, with locals and expats frequently mixing to enjoy holidays and special events. Expats and locals both enjoy horseback riding. Horses and riders can frequently be seen in town, on the beach and on surrounding country roads.
Expats often hire villagers for housekeeping, gardening, roofing, plumbing, and electrical and building projects. The relationship between the expats and locals is special to Pedasi. Expats try to get to know their Panama neighbors.
Pedasi also has a variety of great restaurants and a bakery, which are open year-round. Smiley’s Restaurant (expat managed) is a local hangout where the expats gather to socialize, listen to live music, watch sporting events and enjoy the excellent ribs.
There are also plenty of volunteering opportunities in Pedasi, with several volunteer organizations where you can put your skills to work to help the locals. Pedasi Animal Advocates promotes health for animals.
If you want to get a city fix and enjoy shopping, Las Tablas and Chitre are just an hour away.
So, what does a typical lazy day look like here? The day might start with a cup of great Panama coffee and a pastry at a local bakery, followed by a bike ride to the beach and a long walk, siesta with cool breezes in the afternoon, and lively conversation with friends at one of the local hot spot restaurants in the evening.
Real Estate in Pedasi
There are several affordable areas in and around Pedasi. With an increasing number of expats moving to Pedasi, new construction of homes is on the increase.
Most of the village consists of typical Panamanian homes close to the town square and Catholic church. A classic two-bedroom, two-bathroom home in the village starts at around $110,000. There are also a few upscale developments with homes built to North American standards. Two of these communities (Costa Pedasi shown above and La Jolla) are gated with fantastic ocean views, large lots, pristine beaches, and start at about $350,000 and can go to over $1 million. Real estate taxes are a fraction of North American properties and this is a real plus for homeowners.
Many expats outside the village build their own homes because there are large amounts of land for sale by the farmers. Prices decrease and lot sizes increase as you move further from the village.
Cost of Living in Pedasi
Rents in Pedasi during the high season (December through April) can cost more than $750 a month in the village, increasing as you rent closer to the Pacific Ocean. Location and demand determine the rental prices. Securing a rental for a lower price will often require some boots-on-the-ground investigating with the locals. Pedasi does give you the choice of living on a small budget though.
You can live less expensively by purchasing local fresh produce, shrimp, and fish from delivery trucks or eating out at typical Panama fondas (local cuisine). Many of the local restaurants are now delivering. There is also a butcher from Chitre delivering North American quality meats weekly. There are several local entrepreneurs who started baking, cooking, and delivering from their homes.
Having a car and living closer to the beach will increase your costs by approximately 50%.
Monthly Budget Breakdown for a Couple in Pedasi, Panama:
|Rent (two-bedroom home)||$800|
|Electricity (using AC at night)||$75|
|Cell phone (one smartphone)||$34|
Things to Do in Pedasi
Located on the southern tip of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula, this charming town offers a variety of amenities and fun activities. The Azuero Peninsula enjoys some of the best weather in Panama and provides opportunities to enjoy an abundance of outdoor activities year-round.
Enjoy Some Sun on Your Choice of Beaches
Three beautiful beaches are only a quick 5- to 10-minute drive away, making Pedasi the perfect base for beach exploration. Bring a picnic and plenty of sunscreen and soak up the serenity and sunshine. Don’t be surprised if you have the beach to yourself!
Playa el Arenal, Playa el Toro, and Playa la Garita are all easily accessible by car. The recently paved country roads leading to these three beaches meander through grassy fields and clumps of trees and past brightly painted homes. Keep following the signs, though, and suddenly you will be rewarded with a stunning beach vista.
Playa el Arenal is home to Pedasi’s colorful panga fishing fleet. If you are here in the early morning you will see these local fishing boats pushing off the beach to return later in the day with an abundance of fish.
Have Fun on the Water
The local fishing captains are also found at Playa el Arenal, offering boats for hire. The quick 20-minute boat ride to gorgeous Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge is a fun way to get out on local waters. And the wildlife refuge itself is a truly memorable experience. Home to many types of coral and species of fish, black and green iguanas, quiet, palm-dotted, white-sand beaches, a calm shoreline, and turquoise-blue waters this is an idyllic destination for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. Plan to go early and visit for the day.
From May to November it’s common to see huge humpback whales visiting these warm waters. You can watch them play, breed, and even breach, which is when they jump so high their entire bodies come out of the water. Although you can see them from shore, it is best to take a whale watching tour. Have your camera at the ready!
Fishing charter operators take visitors out and provide all the gear and bait. Pedasi does not have a marina, so fishermen launch off the beach in an open, outboard-powered panga designed to operate in the surf and provide a good ride.
Visit the Sunday Market
For a change of pace in this outdoor playground, visit Jungla’s Sunday Market held just off of Pedasi’s quaint village square. Beginning at 9 a.m., enjoy a bite at Jungla’s Food Truck while stocking up on fresh vegetables and fruits, baked goods and desserts, and handicrafts and jewelry.
Explore the Town Square
After Jungla’s Sunday Market, stroll Pedasi’s tidy square and visit some of the other shops featuring local arts and crafts. Also located in the town square is the Mireya Moscoso Museum. Pedasi is the hometown of Panama’s former president, Mireya Elisa Moscoso Rodriguez (1999 to 2004), the first and the only woman to date to hold the presidency of the country. View photos and memories of the Moscoso family as you delve into a slice of Panamanian history. Entrance is free.
Pedasi is very proud of this heritage and there is a large billboard and small park honoring Mireya Moscoso as you enter Pedasi from the north.
Pedasi and Las Tablas are the heart of traditional parades, festivals, and Carnival. Panama celebrates the National Pollera Festival with colorful clothing and small bands performing around the town square. The expats have had the honor of being invited to participate for the last several years.
Enjoy Some Good Food
After a day of sun, sand, sea, and exploration, feed hungry appetites at a variety of Pedasi restaurants, ranging from casual to upscale. With over 20 restaurants offering everything from fresh sushi to traditional Panamanian sancocho, tasty pizzas to perfect pasta, barbecued chicken and ribs to home-baked breads, a feast of culinary options wait. Many restaurants offer English menus and you can be assured of friendly service wherever you go.
Try Some Water Sports in Playa Venao
No visit to Pedasi is complete without a side trip to Playa Venao, Panama’s premier surfing beach. Surfing enthusiasts of all skill levels travel here from around the globe to catch that perfect curl in the warm waters and partake in the active surf culture found in the beach village. Board rentals and surf lessons are offered at most of the hotels, hostels, and surf shops that dot the beach. However, you don’t have to be a surfer to enjoy this laidback beach gem. Watch the action from one of the palapa-covered restaurants or bars after a long walk along the expansive beach.
Visit Canas Island Wildlife Refuge
Just 15 minutes from Playa Venao and 45 minutes from Pedasi village lies the ecological jewel, the Canas Island Wildlife Refuge. This is Panama’s most important nesting site for sea turtles along the Pacific coast, with July to November being the busiest nesting and hatching periods. Every year, hundreds of sea turtles come to nest on the beach and lay their eggs here. Take a tour to learn about this tropical island and its local community and witness the magic of Mother Nature at work. Other ecotours include mangrove kayaking and paddle boarding adventures.
Video Tour: Picturesque Pedasi, Panama
by Jim Gault
The small, picturesque fishing village of Pedasi is located on the tip of the Azuero Peninsula in the province of Los Santos on the Pacific Ocean. Just a five-hour drive from Panama City, it is best known for its expansive beaches just outside of town, and is regarded by many Panamanians to be among the nation’s most beautiful. Though Pedasí is conveniently close to Las Tablas and Chitré, it has all the benefits of a rural setting—quiet neighborhoods, gorgeous scenery, and friendly people. With a full-time population of around 2,500, there are estimated to be around 250 American, Canadian, and Israeli expats, amongst other nationalities living here.
People tend to come for the beautiful empty beaches, and to enjoy an improved quality of life with a small-town country feel, embracing expat community, and enough conveniences and amenities to meet their daily needs.
Known as the “Tuna Coast,” Pedasí is a fishing paradise. Here the coastal shelf drops off suddenly to provide deep-water fishing a short distance from shore. Yellow fin tuna, sailfish, wahoo, and dorado are among the regular catches, many of them massive by any standards.
Within an hour’s drive there are 11 different beaches, all clean and easily accessible. The sands vary from deep bronze to the sparkling black of volcanic matter. New businesses are springing up to offer fishing, snorkeling, and diving trips. Sport fishing has become a pastime here, as you are almost always guaranteed a great day's fishing.
Other activities on the beach include surfing and swimming. When you want a change from the beach, you can horseback ride in the quiet rolling hills near town, cross pristine streams, and never see a home or another person. Or you can ride a bike on miles of country roads with rolling hills and little traffic.
Activities in the town square include markets, art shows, and concerts, with Pedasi honoring many Panamanian traditions with festivals and parades. The largest festival of all is Carnival, held just before Ash Wednesday. This entails several days of parades with colorful floats, bands playing live music, and people dancing in the street.
Pedasi has several restaurants that serve tasty and inexpensive dishes. One restaurant plays live rock and roll music on Tuesday and Saturday and always draws a crowd. There are also two bakeries in town to satisfy your sweet tooth, three small grocery stores, and several affordable B&Bs. The Free Spirits is a group of expats that get together regularly and, on a recent night at Smiley’s, gathered for a fun "ugly dress contest."
With a few more hotels, restaurants, developments, and shops, growth is becoming more visible and the close-knit expat community is expanding. In Pedasi, you can be as busy or as relaxed as you want to be.
Five Reasons to Move to Pedasi, Panama
Are you crazy? That was what my family and friends were asking my wife, Abbe, and I when we told them we were leaving Florida and moving to Panama six years ago. The short answer we gave them was that “we wanted an improved quality of life which included reducing stress and making our retirement dollars go further.” Today, we can say that we have achieved that goal and will add three additional reasons for you to join us in Pedasi, Panama.
1. Improved Quality of Life
Pedasi is well known for its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, with beautiful empty beaches, great fishing, and a small-town feel only five hours from Panama City. Our expat friends and Panamanian locals have become our family. The lifestyle and family values of Pedasi remind me of my early years growing up. Stress here is greatly reduced from the busy American suburbs we left. People here enjoy life everyday and are grateful for what they have and appreciate family and friends.
We live one block from the Pacific Ocean and can watch the sun rise every morning, take our dogs for walks on the beach, and just relax watching the waves from our hammocks. We travel often within the country and at least once a year on a long cruise or trip to another continent. If we remained in the U.S., we could not have afforded this lifestyle.
2. Beautiful Empty Beaches
Pedasi has several picturesque, white, sandy, empty Pacific Ocean beaches. We often see turtle tracks on our walks on the beach. The district of Pedasi encompasses more than 50 miles of coastline and has some of the best sport fishing in Latin America. Water activities such as fishing, snorkeling, kiting, surfing, bird watching, swimming, and whale watching (July 1 to October 15) are abundant.
Whale watching can be done from the beaches or a captain will take you and your family on a several-hour tour to be up close and among them. In our community of Costa Pedasi, you can watch out your windows or stand in your backyard to spot whales.
3. Lower Cost of Living
We enjoy a lower cost of living. You can rent or buy in the village and walk to the markets, banks, the village square, restaurants, and churches. We built a house to North American standards by the beach. In Pedasi, there is a wide range of homes and rentals available for expats in the village, beachfront communities, and individual lots. Prices range from around $100,000 to over $1,000,000. The price depends on factors such as proximity to the beach, size, or list of amenities. Extremely low, or no, property taxes add to a lower cost of homeownership, and hurricane insurance is not necessary.
Groceries are 25% cheaper than in North America and there are several small stores in the village and big American-type stores are one hour away. Good-quality fresh meats are cut almost daily and prices are (30%) lower than in the U.S. An excellent butcher also offers Friday delivery. We have a small farmers' market for vegetables and fruits. All are fresh, much cheaper than North America, and are not injected with additives or preservatives.
Handymen and domestic help are inexpensive. Air conditioning cleanings and check-ups are $25 per unit. Cleaning your home averages $35 weekly for four hours. A vet visit for your pets is only $20 to $30. All much less than in North America.
There is a small, modern clinic just outside the village for minor healthcare needs. Larger hospitals and English-speaking doctors are one hour away. Lab tests, x-rays, and MRIs are a fraction of U.S. prices. Most doctors communicate via WhatsApp and usually respond to inquiries within an hour.
4. Embracing, Helpful, and Sharing Community
In Pedasi, there is a very good relationship between the 250+ well-established expat community and the locals. In the past few years, the expat community has been included in many local traditions and festivals. They enjoy the local culture, employ local labor, and have a mutual like and respect for their neighbors. Everyone is very friendly and use social media (WhatsApp, Facebook, and Skype) to stay in touch. Couples or groups of women often go shopping or on trips to other parts of Panama and it is very easy to network and make friends.
COVID restrictions brought out the best in people in Pedasi and proved a few good individuals could inspire others to join them to help those less fortunate. The Mayor paid for boat gas so local fishing captains and expats could fish and donate the catch to the food bank. The Waved Foundation raised funds for food and laundry supplies that volunteers delivered weekly to families. Several expats sponsored families through donations to the Super Pedasi grocery store who then packaged and delivered boxes of essentials.
Expats purchased dry pet food and also paid vets to care for injured and sick dogs and cats when their owners needed financial help. Bohemia restaurant organized Pedasi Humanitario.org. Digital donations were made to the bank account and deliveries were coordinated to help many people in the community.
5. Small Town Feel
In a small town, everyone pretty much knows everyone and you are never just a number or alone. We have enough conveniences and enough to do. Pedasi honors many Panamanian traditions. We celebrate Polleras and Carnival, host parades, festivals, mercatos, bull runs, concerts, movie night, and art shows centered on the town square. Young girls start dressing up in traditional attire and hope to be a Carnival queen one day. During dancing at a cart parade festival, the ex-president—Mireya Moscoso—invited one of the expats to dance with her. This was a great honor.
Life here is also the same as life everywhere but at a SLOWER pace and we have MORE time to relax, volunteer, shop, eat healthier, and do errands.
Come for a visit and stay for a lifestyle! Pedasi has definitely been right for us. Remember America growing up years ago? Hopefully, now you know why my wife, Abbe, and many of our friends, choose to live here.
Safety in Pedasi, Panama
The dark days of military dictator Manuel Noriega and the U.S. invasion of December 1989 are long gone. However, I sometimes meet visitors who think he may still be in power. He died in 2017.
I would like to provide you with a little information to make your experiences of traveling and living in Pedasi and Panama a bit more stress-free.
Is it Safe to Live in Pedasi, Panama?
I would say it is definitely safe to live in Panama, especially Pedasi. Abbe and I have lived in the small Pacific-coast village of Pedasi for more than five years. Before moving here, we lived in Panama City for almost one year. In the city, we often walked back to our condo after a great meal and were never afraid. One evening, returning home at about 10 p.m., I stepped into a hole in the sidewalk and fell onto Abbe. Quickly, four total strangers came to our assistance, helped us to our feet, and asked if we needed help. We thanked them and never thought to check our wallets or purse. Having said that, in any city, you have to maintain awareness of your surroundings and avoid certain sections, especially after dark.
In Pedasi, when you are walking home in the evening from your favorite restaurant and see a group of teenagers walking towards you on a darkened street, you do not have to be afraid. Just say “buenos noches” (good evening) and they will quickly respond in kind. Here, we pretty much live the life we want to live without any safety concerns. We usually do not lock our car when we shop. A lot of expats in Pedasi drive a pickup truck. Often, we have hardware supplies or food in the back as we shop from store to store and feel perfectly safe.
Just as in any country, some places are “safer” than others and there is always the risk of something happening just about anywhere.
Living in Panama is safer than in many other countries around the world. As a matter of fact, Panama ranks about the same as the United Kingdom and Ireland for safety, even a few countries ahead of the U.S. according to the 2021 Numbeo Crime Index.
In expat-centric areas like Pedasi, petty crime such as theft of unattended items (cellphones, backpacks, fishing equipment) is rare but can occur. I have only heard of one petty theft of a beach bag while the owner went for a dip in the Pacific Ocean. It occurred two years ago on a Sunday of a busy holiday weekend. Occurrences like this are easily avoidable. Keep an eye on your belongings and do not invite attention by flashing fancy jewelry, wads of cash, or keeping expensive items in view inside your parked car at the beach.
Every city in Panama, as elsewhere, has its good and not-so-good areas. Investigate the area in which you will be traveling and talk to expats who live there to help you determine which areas are safest. Villages in the interior (countryside) such as Pedasi are pretty safe.
Three Great Day Trips from Pedasi, Panama
Pedasi is a small fishing village of 300 expats living among 2,000 people about a five-hour drive from Panama City on the Azuero Peninsula. We retired to the Pacific Ocean community of Costa Pedasi to be near beautiful, pristine, and empty beaches. When not walking on the beach, we have several excellent day trips for our guests and us to enjoy.
Here are three of our favorites:
1. Isla Iguana Wildlife Refuge
Recommendation: four to five hours total
Isla Iguana is a 140-acre wildlife reserve located three miles off or about a 20-minute boat ride from Playa el Arenal. It is accessed only by boat.
Drive around half a mile from town to Playa El Arenal where the road ends. Park in one of the two sandy parking lots and start walking towards the dozens of boats aligned on the beach. No reservation is necessary.
Within a few steps, several captains offering their services for either a day of sport fishing or a round trip ride to Isla Iguana will approach you. Negotiate your best deal and follow the captain to your boat. The local fishing captains launch their pangas (open 24-foot fiberglass boats maneuverable enough to pick up and drop off passengers) from the beach. Sometimes on the short ride to the island, you may see dolphins or a sea turtle. In whale season (July 1 to October 15), you may also see a whale frolicking nearby.
Isla Iguana’s native animals include hundreds of black and emerald green iguanas, crabs (among them hermit crabs), boa constrictors, red throated frigates, five species of sea turtles, many coral species, and more than 350 types of tropical fish.
The island was declared a protected area in 1981 and there is a small admission fee the park ranger will collect when you arrive. No alcohol is allowed on the island and there are no restrooms or facilities. So pack your fruit, snacks, water, and snorkeling gear to spend the day. Bring extra sunblock for the very aggressive sun and trash bags to remove what you have brought. Its beaches are white sand, the product of the erosion of the coral skeleton.
The island offers two stunning white-sand beaches with Caribbean turquoise waters. El Cirial is where your captain will drop you; and El Faro is a smaller and more secluded beach. El Cirial has calm waves and is perfect to sun, relax, swim, and snorkel or scuba right from the beach. It is a short five-minute walk between the beaches. El Faro is very small and nestled between two rock formations. There will probably be only one or two other people there. It can get crowded on weekends so best to go middle of the week. Your captain may either stretch out in a hammock and relax for a few hours or will return at an agreed-upon time. After your captain drops you back at El Arenal, walk over to the beach cantina for some cold beverages and some freshly caught fish. A cold cerveza is currently only $1.
2. Playa Venao and Echo Venao
Recommendation: six to eight hours total
About 21 miles (40 minutes) southwest of Pedasi on a newly paved road is the beautiful two-and-a-half-mile wide crescent-shaped beach of Playa Venao. The protected cove offers some of the best surfing in Panama. In 2011, the World Surfing Games were held here. There are many locations for surf and paddle boarding rentals and lessons. Several restaurants ranging from Mediterranean to pizza to fresh fish are available for your dining needs.
Just across the road from Playa Venao is the Echo Venao resort. It offers spa services, restaurants, yoga, horseback riding, and hiking to a waterfall and a beautiful vista of the bay and Pacific Ocean. The easy one-and-a-half mile hike with moderate steepness runs along Las Escobas stream to La Cascada (waterfall). The trees and foliage are plentiful and you are likely to see howler, whiteface, and spider monkeys. The waterfall may be small, but it is peaceful to let the water flow over you or sit and enjoy the relaxing sounds. If you continue walking upstream, you will reach the vista with a bench. This is a perfect look out to the panoramic view of the entire bay of Playa Venao.
3. Ron Abuelo Rum Factory
Recommendation: six to eight hours total
The factory is located in Pese within the Herrera province, and is about a two-hour drive from Pedasi. Hacienda San Isidro is a major producer of rum, gin, and ‘seco’ from sugarcane. You can start your tour in the quaint town square where you will travel by oxen cart through the sugar cane fields. Or you can begin at the rum factory, as we did. The distillery tour takes you through the process of milling, fermenting, and distillation. You visit the bodegas where the rum ages in hundreds of oak barrels.
The guided tour continues with a tasting of 5-year-old, 7-year-old, 12-year-old, and 30-year-old rums. After the tasting, you will conclude the tour with a traditional Panamanian lunch and an open bar of rum drinks and cocktails. This is a very nice and relaxing day trip. There is always some place and some activity that is fun in or near Pedasi.