Tropical Treats are the Norm for Retirees in Panama

One of the best things about living in Chiriqui Province is the ease with which I can change my environment to suit my mood. I live on the north side of the provincial capital of David, and from my home many of the best places to see and things to do are only about an hour away.

Boca Chica, for instance, is a bit more than an hour’s drive east of David right on the Pacific coast. I went there with my husband recently for a brief birthday holiday, a little R&R.

Boca Chica, which means “Little Mouth” in Spanish, is a fishing village at the end of a road that runs right into the water. The shoreline is rocky and uneven in places, smooth and sandy in others, or thick with mangrove roots in others. From the shore, you’ll see boat docks lined with fishing boats and water taxis on the mainland and on nearby islands.

Because this is a water-based community, with countless islands of all sizes in the offshore waters, fishing is the main event in Boca Chica, with local residents heading out in fiberglass pangas, and larger power boats for hire. A few businesses offer half-day or full-day fishing trips with a guide, bait and tackle, and food and drink included.

I’m not much of a fisherman, but I know it’s hard to beat a day on the water—warm sun on your face, cool breeze in your hair, sparkling blue water all around, and not a care in the world.

On shore Boca Chica is becoming a favored getaway destination. Before the road reaches the shoreline there are a number of high-end resorts built on land overlooking a cove of the mainland and several large islands. Sailboats anchored below sway in the breeze, ready for the next passage.

One American-owned resort has five bungalows arranged on the hillside below the main building that houses reception and the restaurant. I spent the afternoon in the shaded swimming pool that offers respite from the midday heat, then followed a winding staircase that leads down to the beach. A long boardwalk takes you to an adorable Tiki hut and dock, where the owners host parties every Saturday evening. For about $20 we had a filling lunch of fresh fish sandwiches, crunchy fries, and ice cold beers.

Right next door there’s a fishing lodge that offers cabanas, hotel rooms, and a pool overlooking the cove. They have a fleet of fishing boats and provide a variety of package stays as well as daytime excursions. The area is known for its world-class fishing grounds where anglers bring in tuna, mahi-mahi, snapper, grouper, marlin, and more.

Another option is a larger resort owned by a Belgian family on a point of land that stretches out over the cove. The 20 rooms are arranged in levels up the hillside, with two swimming pools and an open-air restaurant and bar. I was warmly welcomed by the manager when I went to have a look around.

Accommodation rates at these resorts range from $140 to $190 per night for a couple, depending on the time of year (December through April is typically high season). This includes breakfast and use of their internet, pool, and kayaks. Some also include transport to and from David airport in their rates.

It’s undoubtedly a splurge but, for budget-conscious retirees like me and my husband, Al, it’s a treat that’s affordable, thanks to the low cost of living we enjoy in Panama. Because we save money on the day-to-day things—a couple can live well for $1,500 to $2,000 including rent here—we can afford to treat ourselves when we want to.

Regardless of where you stay there’s plenty to do on the water and on land. Choose from kayaking, horseback riding, bird watching, and hiking nearby. You can explore the Gulf of Chiriqui National Marine Park by boat and find an unspoiled sandy beach perfect for a picnic and day in the sun, or sign up for a sunset cruise. You may spot dolphins along the way, or even a humpback whale. Scuba diving and snorkeling trips to an offshore reef or Isla Coiba are available as well.
Back home, a full day out with such fun activities could run a couple of hundred dollars. Here you’d be hard pressed to spend a quarter of that for a fun vacation day.

Boca Chica is a bit out of the way, and there’s not much in the village itself. For a relaxed break, an exciting fishing excursion, or some waterfront fun it’s worth the effort to get there.

And it illustrates one of my favorite facts about Panama—it’s so small, diverse, and affordable, that even retirees on a Social Security income can go where their mood takes them in a way they couldn’t at home.

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