My husband Gary and I spent a long time researching all of our options for living overseas. We considered a range of countries during our search, including Belize, Argentina, and Uruguay… But as we researched, one country emerged more and more as a clear winner: Panama.
We were impressed by the country’s stable government, modern, well-maintained infrastructure, good-quality and affordable health care, the low cost of living, and the variety of expat communities. Our minds were made up—we were moving to Panama.
Though Panama offers the chance to live in the city, by the beach, on a Caribbean island, and more, we chose to put our roots down in the highlands.
We purchased a home between Boquete and David, close to the little village of Dolega, for just $90,000—including a 2003 vehicle and some household furnishings. Our home is a typical Panamanian-style (one story, concrete) house on three quarters of an acre of land.
On our property, we are blessed with orange, lime, guava, coconut, banana, cashew, breadfruit, and cacao trees, not to mention one or two trees that bear fruit and nuts that we have not learned about as yet! And these barely take up the outer edge of our property.
That leaves plenty of room for a vegetable garden, if we were so inclined…but we’re not! Why go to all that work when we can get all the fresh fruits and vegetables dirt cheap right down the road at any number of produce stands? Besides, as you will see below, food searching makes for a lovely drive and a full day’s entertainment…
That’s because we’re living in Panama’s Chiriqui Province—often referred to as “the bread basket of Panama.” It’s an apt description. It is said that the food grown and raised here is enough to feed all of Panama with plenty left for export. Meat, poultry, fruit, and vegetables are all produced right here in our province.
In our vicinity, between David and Boquete, there are cattle ranches, a huge chicken processing plant, (the chicken here actually still tastes like…well, chicken), and fresh seafood from the ocean nearby: camarones (shrimps), langostinos (jumbo shrimps or prawns), and corvina (a local white meat fish), all come directly from the fish boats. (Is your mouth watering yet?) Oh and I forgot to mention—the pork here is fabulous!
You also won’t get a bad cup of coffee in Panama and that’s largely thanks to Boquete, where the soil, climate, elevation, and rainfall blend perfectly to produce the absolute best coffee beans in the world.
Coffee plantations abound, some owned and managed by expats from Canada and the U.S. One of these well-known plantations, Finca Esmeralda, has recently been awarded the “#1 Coffee in the World” distinction for just one of its many boutique coffees. This exceptional coffee sells for $350 per pound—though of course the numerous grades and varieties produced by the many coffee growers sell for a diverse scale of prices, depending on the type of beans used and the processing methods. Some of the coffee finca owners even provide tours so you can see the complete procedure from field to cup.
Back on the Boquete highway, going towards Volcan, there are acres upon acres of orange trees loaded with sweet, juicy oranges. Then, after arriving in Volcan there is a sign pointing towards the turn off to the aptly named Cerro Punta (“Tip of the Hill”). There you’ll see huge fields of strawberries, all covered in netting to discourage the hungry birds from eating their fill and acres and acres of gargantuan greenhouses bursting with tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and more.
As you follow the long, winding road up and up, the huge hills/small mountains are covered by enormous fields of vegetables, all the way to the very top. Potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, zapallos (a large squash similar tasting, but milder than turnips), cabbages, chayotes (a delicious green vegetable almost like a firm cucumber and delicious eaten raw or baked), just to name a few. These fields are all being worked by hand by the indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé people who trudge up and down those huge hills with their hoes over their shoulders every single day.
On your way back down the highway, you’ll notice vendors along the highway—be sure to stop! They sell huge, heavy plastic, 20-pound bags stuffed with fresh picked vegetables.
The bags are filled with cabbages, lettuce, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, beets, carrots, and more. Now get this: A bag sells for $5 to $6! My husband and I eat a lot of fresh vegetables here in Panama because they are so incredibly fresh and delicious—and affordable. (Still, one of these giant bags will last us between two and three weeks, with no interim veggie purchases.)
Healthy, natural food on our doorstep at very low prices: just one more reason why we’re so glad to call Panama “home.”