Reconnect with Nature in Panama’s Crater Valley

Imagine a life lived outdoors…surrounded by lush green rainforest and breathing brisk mountain air. With sunny mornings, afternoon showers, and clear skies again at sunset. Temperatures never fall below 65 F and rarely climb above 85 F. Five-minute walks to a park-side café that serves some of the best coffee in the world for $1.55 a cup.

For Cathy Hall, there’s no need to imagine…not since September 2016, when she moved to Panama’s crater valley, El Valle de Antón. Lying at about 2,000 feet, El Valle is known for the prize orchids that grow on its mountainsides…hot springs and waterfalls that trickle into cold pools… floating fields of watercress…and trees heavy with mango and avocado.

It’s also known for a mind-boggling variety of birds…which Cathy enjoys during her morning ritual.

“I like to get up early, have a cup of coffee on my terrace, and put out fruit and seeds for the birds,” says Cathy. “I get so many. I spend most of my time outside. The birds eat out of my hand now. They wake me up when they come up to the window and call for breakfast.”

Two mornings a week, Cathy goes for walks with an expat friend. She enjoys the scenery around town…but the many hiking paths also beckon. “I like hiking and looking for birds…or anything interesting, really,” she says. “The birds are probably my first love, but I’m not stuck on them.”

As it rains most afternoons during the May through November wet season, Cathy usually heads home to relax. “I might take a little siesta, and then head to happy hour. I’ve met a lot of really cool people so far. I am working on my Spanish and I practice with my gardener.”

Originally from Southern California, Cathy enjoyed near-perfect weather in Hawaii, where she lived for 26 years with her late husband. After stints in Washington State and Northern California, she made an exploratory trip to Panama in 2013 with stops in Boquete, the San Carlos beach area, and El Valle.

“I had booked in El Valle. I got there and just fell in love,” she says. El Valle’s cool climate and close proximity to the glistening volcanic sands of Coronado beach—just 45 minutes away by car—were major pluses. “I was only there one night, but I thought: I have to find out more about this place.”

Back in California, Cathy continued to think about El Valle…and the more she thought, the better it seemed. The low cost of living was a factor, as was the excellent airport in Panama City, just a two-hour drive away. “I wanted to be close but not too close to the city, where you have the flight hub for all of Central and South America. El Valle just seemed to have the best location.”

With its low cost of living and small but very friendly expat community, El Valle was just what Cathy needed.

“My Social Security is $1,245 a month, and that’s what I try to live on, though I have other funds,” she says. “My rent is $525 a month, and that includes internet, power, and water…everything except the $5 tanks of gas you buy for your stove,” she says. “It’s ideal—a new build offering plenty of privacy.”

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