I wake up to the sound of birds, the sun shining through the windows that line my bedroom. It has become my habit to get up and throw open the front door before doing anything else. All day long that door stays open, the terrace outside seamlessly flowing into the interior of my wood cabin.
I brew some coffee and head out to the hammock, to sit and swing—and to see what birds and butterflies come and visit. From the grass-green banana tree and bright red ginger flowers to busy little leaf-cutter ants and furry caterpillars, it is all beautiful and fascinating. The air is cool, without a hint of smog. And it’s so very quiet.
Boy, is this different.
I’ve been living in and writing about Panama City for over 10 years…it’s a bustling, cosmopolitan capital filled with luxury cars, and museums, and just about anything else you could want or imagine.
But a part of me hankers for the countryside. I am constantly traveling…a few days spent on Contadora Island visiting a friend, a road trip to see houses in the cool-weather haven of Cerro Azul, a just-for-me weekend in a mountain cabin in Sora…you get the picture.
But it’s never enough time. So I booked myself a whole month in the lush crater town of El Valle. There are hot springs, hiking trails, and waterfalls to explore. I enjoy visiting the butterfly farm and orchid center every time I come. It’s a place to appreciate the exquisite beauty of the rainforest—and it’s just a couple of hours by car from the city.
The hub town of Coronado (and it’s quiet, clean beach) is just 45 minutes away. And yet in El Valle you’re 2,000 feet up…the climate and the views are hard to beat.
Convenient, close to the capital, and cool—this is a place I could see myself living full-time. So what better way to test that theory than with a long-term stay? I called it my slow-living experience, though the small expat community was very active. Nearly every day I had invitations to go on walks or hikes…to meet for lunch or come over for dinner…or to join in the general fun of open-to-all trivia nights and happy hours.
The thing about El Valle…I don’t think I’d ever buy property here. Prices are higher than in comparable towns in Panama. This is because some of Panama’s wealthiest families have weekend homes here. Conventional wisdom is that they lobby to keep lot sizes large. To maintain the area’s exclusivity, some say. But it also serves to preserve the serene, small-town feel.
These days, however, there are some great houses available to rent long-term. Some of them are new or have been remodeled. And if you’re willing to put just a little effort into house-hunting, you could find the perfect bargain rental. Looking to snow-bird in “slow town?” Or to truly live like a local in rural Panama? This just may be the perfect place…you can walk to the village market to buy fruit and veggies…get $3.50 sea bass lunches at El Camino del Inca…breathe, relax, repeat.
Tell you what…how about I show you?
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