“Where Should I Live in Panama?”

“Should I choose the city or the country?” It’s a question I get from nearly everyone who considers a move to Panama. The truth is, you’ve probably already decided. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re over 25. And you know what you like. Save time and acknowledge your expectations.

Recently I got an email saying that Panama City would be great if it weren’t for the traffic. But rapid growth is one of the things that makes Panama City so exciting (especially for me…that’s why I live here). There’s always something new, and there’s always something different. I can pay a place no higher compliment than that.

This city was known for its excellent roads, but with major infrastructure projects underway, they’re taking a pounding. (And I mean major—the Panama Canal is being expanded for the first time since 1914, and the city is getting its first ever metro line). I get frustrated, along with everyone else, every time I see yet another detour sign. Yes, some days, the traffic here bites the big one.

But I understand that these are temporary growing pains. And, more than anything, I am jazzed to see the results. If things weren’t constantly racing forward, it just wouldn’t be Panama City…Central America’s premier city and the Hub of the Americas.

In the country (or as we call it, the interior), El Valle is one of the world’s largest inhabited crater valleys and one of the most fertile places in Panama (and it has a famous weekend market to prove it). Plus, it’s only about two hours from Panama City by car. Spend time talking to Panamanians and someone will convince you to visit.

North Americans always say: “It’s so pretty and green…”

Sometimes they follow up with “but there’s no nightlife…” or “it’s so quiet…” or “the restaurants and shops are so Mom and Pop…

But that’s what makes El Valle what it is. It may well be the un-fussiest place in Panama. If you want finery and nightlife, I wouldn’t recommend it. But if you’re looking to live a quieter, more natural life, then you may find yourself going for a visit and staying for good.

This is a place where people focus on their outdoor lives and overall wellbeing. There are a couple spas, thermal baths, hiking trails and waterfalls, an organic farm and an organic dairy farm, a zoo and serpentarium (and a golden frog nursery)…and much more.

Every time I visit, I find myself saying: “If I lived in El Valle I could ride my bike everywhere like the locals do.” But the truth is, I am the kind of person who’d be wishing for more theater…opera and jazz…and a never-ending array of gourmet cuisine.

I’ve made my list of pros and cons and I’m much better suited to the city, where there’s a new restaurant every day and I cannot keep up with all the different activities, clubs, organizations and learning opportunities. (I am taking Japanese at the Technological University of Panama for fun; classes are only $100 every two months for five hours a week). And I can always visit El Valle on the weekends.

So…city or country? Beach or mountain? Island or mainland? Start making a list of what makes you happy (and what doesn’t) and the decision will practically make itself.

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