When I first discovered Sora, I had been looking for someplace quiet to spend a weekend away from Panama City. I wanted a place that was an easy drive from the capital. Somewhere with a cool climate and little noise or light pollution. I wanted to be able to look up and see the stars, maybe wear a light jacket, and have a relaxing weekend.
Just 60 miles from Panama City, Sora delivered on all fronts. Pronounced so-RAH, the tiny mountain town boasts altitudes ranging from 1,400 to 3,600 feet. While much of coastal Panama averages 88 F during the day, Sora can be 10 to 15 degrees cooler. A few degrees make all the difference in the world—when I'm in Sora, I feel a thousand miles away from the city heat and hustle.
The views have a lot to do with it. Drive up at daybreak and you can take it all in through the dissipating mist. The velvety green mountains provide the perfect backdrop for sweet Swiss-style cottages and an effusion of bright bougainvillea.
Pine trees line the winding mountain road that snakes into Altos del Maria, the gated community that occupies most of Sora (where the finest views and homes are to be found).
There are perhaps 1,000 houses in Sora, owned predominantly by Panamanians who drive up on weekends. But expats have found it a great place to stay full-time, and some 80 couples have made their homes here. The invigorating climate and the expansive views are only half of the appeal. Sora is also conveniently located—and not just because it's so close to Panama City.
Just 40 minutes down the mountain from Sora, Coronado has become a little hub town, offering much more than its pristine beach. Here there are shopping plazas, big name supermarkets, cafes, delis, shops and more. There's even a small hospital staffed with English-speaking doctors.
If you're partial to soy milk or Tostitos chips, you can find them in Coronado. The large El Rey and the new Riba Smith supermarket stock fresh fruit and produce and other local items, but they also boast hundreds of imported goods. Spend like a local or splurge on familiar brands from back home (you'll pay a little extra, but it's nice to have the option).
So these days, residents of Sora find they have fewer reasons to go "all the way" into Panama City. And since the Coronado expat community is large and active, Sora residents often participate in activities there.
But back in Sora you won't find any fast-food restaurants, big box stores, or night clubs. It still looks the way it might have 50 years ago. There is a church, a community center where expats teach yoga and other classes, and a couple restaurants: Mary's Café and the slightly larger Luky Aja. And that's about it for the amenities.
Don't get me wrong...there's cell service and Internet...and the infrastructure is rock solid. But here it's all about the natural appeal—the rivers, waterfalls, and dozens of walking trails that dot the landscape.
The homes here tend to be spacious and the understated, elegant architecture in tune with the surroundings. Home/lot packages from Altos del Maria start at about $200,000. Resale homes tend to be in the $250,000 and up range, with homes rarely put up for rent.
(If you do find one for rent, expect to pay anywhere from $700 a month for a one-bedroom cabin to $2,000 a month for a four-bedroom home).
That $200,000-$250,000 price range relates to some of the most upscale homes in this entire region, by the way, and with million-dollar views to boot. In fact, the Altos del Maria home models are the nicest I've seen in the whole Panama West area—well built, airy/open homes with lots of space and great architecture (stylish, not showy).
Or, you could build your own home and potentially spend less—if you go for simpler architecture and use less expensive materials and finishes.
At the highest lookout point of Sora, you can see both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans when the day is clear. The rich volcanic soil is perfect for just about anything you'd like to grow, and the large tracts of designated green areas are home to deer, monkeys, sloths, birds, butterflies and more.
An hour and a half from the region's only First-World capital, 40 minutes from a growing beach town (and wonderful restaurants), and yet high enough in the hills to boast a near-perfect climate, Sora doesn't need any gimmicks or attractions.
Put it this way...if I were to build a spa, I would want to put it someplace like Sora. The mountain air makes you feel healthier almost instantly. The deep green vistas are soothing and the quiet is almost palpable.
Locals will often tell you there's nothing in Sora...nothing at all. And that's precisely what's to like about it.