Finding Grace at Vista Volcán, Panama

On the 2.5 acres known as Vista Volcán, life is more than pleasant. It’s abundant. It’s safe. It’s both social and serene.

Located in Panama’s Chiriquí province, Vista Volcán is a little idyll just 10 minutes from the bustle of the Boquete village center. And for Peter Kaye, 63, and wife Sarah Syers, 57, it’s as close to perfect as it gets.

They do not struggle to describe what they like about their life in Panama’s most popular mountain region—spoiler alert: it’s pretty much everything.

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Take one look at the setting, and you begin to understand. Terraced gardens flow down a hillside carpeted in a dozen shades of green. On the horizon is the almost blue silhouette of Volcán Barú. Panama’s highest peak, it’s home to a national park covered in lush cloudforest. Thanks to its protected status, it’ll always stay that way.

When Peter and Sarah saw the property—and the view of Barú—they didn’t hesitate. They bought it almost on the spot. “We’ve heard people say ‘rent before you buy’…but if it feels right and ticks all your boxes…well I think you have to be on your toes. If you are slavishly following that maxim, you might miss something. And what if it’s exactly all the things you’re looking for?”

Already seasoned expats, Peter and Sarah left the UK years ago and have lived as far afield as Dubai. The globetrotters knew they probably wanted to retire abroad, but the usual suspects—in Europe and Asia—weren’t a perfect fit. So, the couple continued to research relocation destinations…

One day, on a flight, Peter met a passenger from the U.S. who was doing the same.

“The guy said, ‘Have you ever heard of International Living?’ Well no, I hadn’t. So he told me all about it…and how Panama had ranked in the top 10 of IL’s Retirement Index for a number of years. I wrote the website address on a napkin and took it home to Sarah.”

“I did a lot of research on the metrics that were important to us…climate, property ownership, all those things,” says Sarah. “Panama kept coming out on top, so I said let’s go and have a look. And when we got to Boquete, we were blown away.”

From their home—the aptly named Casa Vista Volcán—Sarah and Peter spend their days enjoying the cool mountain air and spring water…taking walks and socializing with neighbors…and taking care of the guests that come to stay with them through Airbnb.

“Neither of us had ever worked in hospitality,” says Sarah, “but we know how to welcome people from A to Z. It’s been really nice to have so many come and share our home. We end up sharing our stories, too.” I got to know Sarah and Peter because I booked a stay with them myself. I’ll be headed back there soon, to explore and rediscover the magic of the Chiriquí Highlands (I’ll share what I find right here in your Daily Postcards).

But despite Boquete’s reputation for sunshine and rainbows—and I mean that literally—it can’t be all sunshine and rainbows, figuratively speaking. You don’t get rainbows without rain.

“What about the challenges?” I ask. Sure, there have been minor frustrations. But they struggle to think of anything worth mentioning. Times being what they are, they’ve witnessed everything from Covid-era lockdowns to cosmic inflation. And they say they absolutely chose the right place to live through it all.

“You stick anything in the ground and it’ll grow,” says Sarah. “No matter what’s happening, our supermarket is overflowing with fruit and vegetables. They could block all the roads and no one here would have to worry. We have farm fresh eggs literally down the road.”

“One of our avocado trees just yielded its first full harvest, we got 400 delicious avocados from it,” adds Peter. Neighbors swap food and even give it away—from fresh mango to pork, the bounty the couple has enjoyed is impressive.

“Especially the coffee,” says Sarah. “It ruins you. Whenever we travel, we have to take Boquete beans with us. It’s the best in the world. There’s very little we can’t get right here. If you want to be self-sufficient, you couldn’t choose a better place.”

Self-sufficient, but with a big dollop of support… “The Panamanians and Americans here are really warmhearted. Our local communities support each other in whichever ways they can,” she says. “It’s truly remarkable.”

“I find Panamanian people gracious,” says Peter “They are patient, they don’t get irate and angry-faced. They possess grace. We’ve lived in other places where people can get pretty frustrated with you, and here we have really enjoyed that grace.”

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