Discover One of Panama’s Most Affordable Highland Towns

Whenever my husband and I have guests who visit us, we make sure to take them to the highland town of Volcan, in the Chiriqui Province in western Panama.

Named for Baru Volcano, the only volcano and the highest peak in Panama—reaching 11,480 feet—Volcan is a pleasure to travel to. The drive from our home in the city of David involves driving past some stunning scenery. To get to Volcan, you start from the Pan American Highway that bisects Panama from east to west, and turn north at Concepcion. The two-lane road then winds gently upwards past dairy farms and horse stables, neatly kept houses and little communities, to Volcan.

For a day trip or short vacation, there is a lot to do there. Barriles, one of Panama’s most important archeological sites—a collection of ancient statues and corn-grinding platforms—and a couple of lovely B&Bs are located just outside of town. There’s also a scenic coffee finca (farm) where you can take tours and a renowned woodcarver, José de la Cruz, who has a studio on the way into town.

But Volcan is not just a great destination for day-trippers. Increasingly, Volcan is becoming popular with those who seek the spring-like climate of the highlands, but with a laid-back feel. It’s not as hot as David; year-round, daytime temperatures reach up to the mid-80s F and rarely drop below the mid-50s at night in Volcan. It’s also nowhere near as hectic as David or Boquete (an 80-minute drive away).

And, while the climate in Volcan is similar to that of popular expat destination Boquete, the cost of living in Volcan is lower. True, there are fewer activities in Volcan than in Boquete…but Volcan’s environs are more open and sprawling than Boquete’s with equally awe-inspiring views of the volcano and the countryside.

This is a rural area, where farming is the main occupation. Further up the slope in Cerro Punta, the hillsides are covered with rows of vegetable crops, planted at impossible angles—making a crazy-quilt patchwork of greens and browns.

While far from being a big city (its population is approximately 12,000), Volcan has all you need close by. There are several grocery stores and hardware stores, a few bakeries and pharmacies, a couple of feed and agricultural supply vendors, and shops that sell clothing, toys, and gift items. You’ll find a few nice hotels or B&Bs and a range of cuisines at locally owned restaurants.

Real estate in and around Volcan is still affordable. Recent listings include a three-bedroom home on a large lot, with a separate rentable cottage, and an adjacent vacant lot, all for just $175,000. Another two-bedroom house with a lovely garden lot is offered for $135,000. Outside of town an owner is selling his mountain estate—replete with 3 acres of land, a large three-bedroom home, and separate guest cottage—for $250,000.

Of course, it’s wise to rent before you buy, and you’ll find some great rentals in Volcan to suit even a low budget. Houses can be found to rent from $300 to $600 per month. For example, a three-bedroom condo is currently available for $440 per month. Another place—a three-bedroom apartment in town—is listed for $375 per month. Just north of town a deluxe vacation rental development has been completed, with five top quality homes in a gorgeous setting, renting from $495 to $1,350 per month.

The expat community is less developed in Volcan than in more popular expat destinations—there are an estimated 250 expats currently living in town and the surrounding environs—so you won’t find the same support systems as you’d find in Boquete or David. There are not as many English speakers here so knowing some Spanish will go a long way to easing the transition when you move.

Still, there’s no question this area is growing and gaining popularity. The government is also investing in the town. A new medical clinic and a small, 32-bed hospital has just been built by the Panamanian government here. (Previously residents had to drive about an hour to David for the closest medical care.) And for the farmers, new cold storage facilities have been built to help them preserve their harvests until they get to market.

If you’re interested in countryside living in a temperate, comfortable climate, where life moves at a slower pace and is affordable…and you’re willing and eager to adapt to a different culture…make sure to put Volcan, Panama, on your shortlist…

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