Mountain Village Panamanian Life

A man with his own private zoo…a Dutch transplant with a penchant for black and white movies…and a former builder who just wanted to make the region’s best burger.

They all have one thing in common: The tiny mountain hideaway in Panama they now call home.

Veraguas is a massive tract of land—the only province in Panama to touch both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Much of it consists of national parks and pristine rainforest. But Veraguas is also a great place to live.

Its highland region boasts a quiet, almost rural village called Santa Fe de Veraguas (or Santa Fe, for short). It’s the kind of place where mild sunny days melt into cool, star-filled evenings. And where the lush, moist environment keeps everything carpeted in plush, velvety green.

About 200 miles west of Panama City, this is the kind of place where you’re as likely to see a man on a horse as behind the wheel of a car. Where $5 will get you a sack of fruit and vegetables…and $20 a month gets you reliable wireless Internet. Monthly water bills rarely exceed $3…and you’ll never need to pay to heat or air condition your home.

Many of the expats who have discovered the delights of Santa Fe would like to keep this place a secret…

But word has trickled out about the tiny community. Visitors often find themselves making plans to stay long-term.

Originally from Texas, Edwin Ray Walston came here to help a client build a house. He liked it so much, he moved his whole family here. Now all four of them run Blue Iguana, a fun restaurant with a great vibe. (According to many locals, it also boasts the best hand-made burgers, fried chicken and pizza in Santa Fe.)

Expat residents Erica and Kevin Moore have never run a hotel before. But they took one look at Santa Fe’s expansive mountain views and knew what to do. They built a boutique inn called Casa Mariposa.

They hope to attract tourists to their small, quiet cabins…but in small numbers that will be sustainable for the tiny town. They’d like small groups to enjoy the local culture, nearby organic farms, national park, swimming holes, and modern-day coffee plantation.

The Moores have had excellent experiences in Santa Fe. They’re enthusiastic about everything from the low cost of building and buying land, to the friendly locals and safe environment, to the excellent shopping and health care in the neighboring city of Santiago—about an hour south of Santa Fe.

The city is a little “regional hub.” It allows Santa Fe’s residents to lead quiet lives, yet be close to all the conveniences and amenities one could want. It’s a place to go a few times a month for fun and movies…to go to a big grocery store or shop for hard-to-find items…or even for a dental checkup…

Kevin had gone to various dentists in the U.S. for a problem he was told would cost up to $1,000 to treat. When he moved to Santa Fe, he approached a Panamanian dentist. He was expecting to hear more of the same. Instead, the dentist discussed the modern technology he would use to fix the problem…at a cost of around $180. That’s about 80% less than Kevin might have spent back home.

Editor’s note: Jessica Ramesch discussed a litany of low-cost locales that offer high-value lifestyles for less at International Living’s recent Fast-Track Panama Conference 2012. Whether you’re into city life, mountain climes, or the sexy, sultry beaches of the south, Panama offers something for everyone. And with the complete recordings of everything that was discussed at this conference, you can get the inside track from the comfort of your armchair.


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