Wildlife, Fresh Fruit, and a Low Cost of Living in Panama

Bright beams of sunshine stream in the window… The sounds of a gurgling creek can be heard coming from just over the hill… Woodpeckers drum rhythmically, and the air is full of birdsong… This is what I wake up to every morning.

A few years ago, my husband, Gary, and I retired to the farmlands of Chiriqui, also known as the “bread basket” of Panama. In this fertile valley, we’re surrounded by lush, tropical greenery, dazzling flowers, and an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. Thirty minutes to the north is the cool-weather mountain retreat of Boquete, with its thriving and active expat community. To the south is the city of David, with all the modern conveniences of a large city, but with a distinctly small-town vibe.

We bought a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with a small patch of land in a quiet Panamanian neighborhood. We paid $90,000 for the house, which included a vehicle and some furnishings. My favorite part of our home is the 1,000-square-foot covered terrace, where we spend most of our time.

There’s nothing better than pouring an ice cold drink, kicking back and reading a book, or simply watching the wildlife in our yard. Iguanas slink across the grass, stopping for a munch now and then, before climbing lazily up a tree. Birds and butterflies of every color, dance among the flowers. From here I write articles about Panama and our life here. Imagine my surprise when I realized editors actually wanted to buy them and I could earn a supplementary income from my new hobby.

Thanks to Chiriqui’s climate, fresh fruit grows with ease. On our property alone we have orange, lime, guava, coconut, cashew, breadfruit, and avocado trees. I use the oranges for fresh juice in the morning, the limes to add flavor to all sorts of dishes—not to mention my husband’s favorite drink; a cola, lime, and rum cocktail known as a Cuba Libre—and the avocado in salads and guacamole.

If we haven’t got it growing in our back garden, we can pick it up for cheap at the local market. It’s common for us to come out of a market stall with at least three bulging plastic grocery bags, filled to bursting with the finest, juiciest, freshest pineapples, mangos, bananas, and papayas, as well as two weeks’ worth of vegetables—all for the total of $8 to $11.

When we feel like dining out, both Boquete and David provide a lot of affordable food choices. One of our favorites is the restaurant at the Puerto del Sol hotel in David. Here, you can get one drink (beer, wine, or a soft drink), homemade soup, a well-stocked salad bar, a choice of three entrees, and dessert for just $8.

At one of the local Panamanian fondas (small eateries usually attached to the local people’s homes), a plate of deliciously prepared beef, chicken, or pork and vegetable rice can be enjoyed for under $5 per plate. Ice-cold local beer is served for thirty cents and a glass of excellent wine is not much more.

While the cost of living is astonishingly low in Panama, we have the added bonus of Panama’s world-class pensionado program. This program provides discounts—anywhere between $10 and $50—for jubilados (seniors and pensioners). We get big discounts on tons of everyday products and services like medications, restaurant meals, domestic flights, hotels, recreational activities, insurance, and even optometric and dental fees.

When we begin to feel restless, we head to the nearby rodeo grounds to watch the neighboring ranch hands compete with their calf roping skills (both of us were raised on a farm). Panamanian caballeros (cowboys) are very proud of their horses and they are some of the most beautiful and well trained in the world. Or we go to the nearby beach resort of Las Olas where we can swim in their pools, play cards, walk on the beach, and use the entire facility for $15 each per day.

I have to say, we’ve found the good life here in Panama…and I don’t think I’ll run out of things to write about any time soon.

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