Live Among Stunning Views in this Rural Panamanian Hamlet

Santa Fe, Panama, sits at an elevation of about 1,500 feet, an hour north of the Pan American Highway at Santiago. I feel right at home in this rural hamlet, set among the high peaks and surrounded by countryside.

The town itself is very small, with a population of about 3,200 and a town center dominated by the Catholic church on the main road. There’s a soccer pitch on one side of the church and a park with shaded benches on the other.

Across the street the children have a playground and the local hero has a statue. I always stop in at the produce and handicrafts market when I visit, where local fruits and vegetables are abundant and woven hats called sombreros pintados are on display. Along the narrow streets that wind up and down the hills, you’ll find modest homes and locally-owned businesses.

It’s a perfect place for nature-lovers. The Santa Fe National Park protects the land on three sides of the town and the entire region is dominated by unspoiled rainforest, mountain ridges, and sweeping valleys. A number of clear, rushing rivers provide natural irrigation and recreation as well as stunning waterfalls along the numerous hiking trails. I’m always amazed by the variety of orchids growing here, the number of bird species flitting about, and the shades of green covering every slope.

The expats who have chosen to settle here are an enterprising bunch. With few amenities, Santa Fe is not your typical easy-living retiree destination, but that’s exactly why folks come here and the way they want it to stay. As long-time expat Mitzi Martain says, “It helps to be a bit of a MacGyver here, because we have to be self-reliant and creative when it comes to problem-solving.” She and her husband Bill live on ten acres south of town, where they grow their own fruits and vegetables, and have chickens and a sheep herd.

Newcomers are drawn to the outskirts of Santa Fe town because tracts of land are available and affordable. One parcel I found on offer consists of 35 hectares (86 acres) just off the main highway with easy access to utilities for $60,000. It may be a good location for an investment, a residential development, or a farming endeavor.

There are a number of properties on offer that would make great home sites. For $27,000 you can buy a large building lot of just under one acre, close to town, with plenty of shade trees. Many other listings are available, both riverfront and mountain sites, and in varying sizes to suit your needs, including 6.8 hectares (almost 17 acres) up in the mountains listed for $24,000.

Finished, ready-to-move-in homes are harder to find in this area, but I came across a couple of nice deals. One is a new, recently built two-bedroom, two-bathroom home with quality finishes south of town on the main highway. It’s in a nicely laid-out development and overlooks the Santa Maria River, listed for $165,000. The other is a one-bedroom, one-bathroom home on 1.4 acres close to town with stunning views that you could buy for $160,000.

Because Santa Fe is such a rural community, residents rely on the city of Santiago for their shopping, business, and medical needs. Fortunately, this provincial capital is less than a 60-minute drive on a good two-lane road. Santiago has seen quite a bit of development in the last few years, including a brand-new mall and hospital. These improvements make Santa Fe and its highland surroundings more feasible as an expat and retiree destination.

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