Part 1 by George Rajna and Panama Jack in Exile in Costa Rica
Over the last 10 years, countless periodicals, blogs and websites have claimed that Panama is an ideal retirement destination for a variety of reasons. The cost of living is low. Quality health care and government sponsored retiree benefits can save expats money and provide solid investment opportunities to either start up an entrepreneurial business or purchase real estate.
by George Rajna and Panama Jack in Exile in Costa Rica
There is no doubt that Panama has serious pluses for potential retires who desire to relocate abroad to a country with a cheaper standard of living than the United States and Europe. The country of Panama is blessed with beautiful islands, ample coastline beaches, mountain retreats, and colonial towns. The people are friendly and outside of Panama City, the atmosphere is generally quite laid back and easy going. With a population of only three million, the country does not feel overly crowded.
We Said Go Travel (WSGT) delved into the county of Panama and investigated various locales that have been written about and praised in the media to determine if we agree that abundant fantastic retirement options exist in Panama for those considering the possibility of living abroad. In part one of this five section series, we will inspect the first stop that travelers will likely make when arriving to Panama, the metropolis of the country, Panama City.
With an eclectic mixture of modern high-rise buildings and Casco Antiguo’s refurbished old town, Panama City has aspects that are appealing. Accruing substantial daily revenue from the fascinating Panama Canal, the government has pumped major dollars into the city infrastructure, constructing a respectable skyline and a rejuvenated old town. The best healthcare in the country can be had here and there is no shortage of nightclubs for those who desire an active nightlife. A variety of budget to quality international restaurants are available.
Despite these positives, Panama City has some serious drawbacks. First of all, crime can be a serious issue in many of the barrios that are meshed within the city. The so-called red zones are notorious for robbing tourists; even in the daytime, one should exercise precaution. Another drawback is the heinous traffic that is especially noticeable from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m..
During these hours, the streets of vast portions of Panama City become filled with idle vehicles pumping pollutants into the air. Even though the city is near the water and pretty views can be had from locations such as the Causeway de Amadores, there are no beaches per se located within the city that would be recommended for swimming. Outlying beaches such as Punta Chame are within striking distance but at least an hour outside of the city depending upon traffic conditions.
All in all, WSGT deems Panama City a nice place to spend a few days enjoying the city skyline, the old colonial Casco Antiguo and, of course, the amazing Panama Canal. However, after a few days, we were ready to move on to more secure and less congested locales laden across the country. As for Panama City, we enjoyed what the city has to offer, but would not recommended it as a potential retirement destination in itself.
Part 2 by George Rajna and Panama Jack in Exile in Costa Rica
Our next stop in Panama took us to the mountain highlands of El Valle de Anton. Highlights include a small town vibe with ample hiking trails to waterfalls and a hot springs within walking distance of the town’s small central area. El Valle’s energetic marching band rehearsed in the evenings, adding a touch of culture and pep to the sleepy town ambiance.
In the morning we hiked toward La India Dormida, passing a few cascading waterfalls amidst a tranquil natural setting. The trail was well-marked but slippery in steeper sections. The day hike was pleasant, but nothing exceptional. At the hot springs we applied a mud mask exfoliate that dried as our feet dangled in a thermal heated tub. Once the mud hardened, we rinsed off in a shower and submerged ourselves in the warm springs. Later that evening, I strolled to the base of the mountains where the square-trunked trees are situated; unfortunately, I did not find them as night fell upon the area.
Our stay in El Valle was pleasant. We enjoyed tasty Panamanian food at Don Penas and watched the marching band practice for the upcoming festivals in November. Even though El Valle was a decent stop outside of Panama City, we found the small town noisy, as substantial traffic passed through the main street during all hours, making it unpleasant to walk along the road. Our conclusion is that El Valle is not a must-see destination and definitely not a place to retire abroad. We continued our search as we traveled onward within the Peninsula de Azuero toward a small colonial town situated near the coast called Pedasi.
Our first impression of Pedasi was that of disappointment; after noticing that for the most part, Panamanians maintain their country free of rubbish, we noticed that the central petite colonial square was trash-laden. I left Lisa in the square as dusk turned to night. I located higher and lower end accommodations in our guidebook and entered the latter. The room was small and musty but after the proprietor dropped the price I was lured into staying there. After settling in we roamed the small town, enjoying the laid back ambience and the colonial architecture as well as the amiable locals. We ate dinner at an Italian pizzeria just on the square and consumed $1.00 tacos. After dinner we roamed around, but had already exhausted the town’s central area.
The following morning, we noticed that the streets of the main square were cleaner. Evidently, a recent festival had been held. We headed straight out of town towards Playa Toro, the nearest beach to Pedasi proper. Once out of the town, the paved highway curved amidst green fields and lush farmlands. After a few kilometers, we reached the end of the road where Playa Toro was situated. The tan sand burned hot with little to shade beach-goers except a manmade tarp that was strewn over erect poles. Entering the sea, modest waves pummeled large stones over and onto my feet, leading me to exit the waters. Despite the evident drawbacks, the beach was attractive, especially the far end with greenery penetrating the coastline.
Returning towards town, we attempted to reach another local beach that was regrettably out of reach on foot. A moped would be a more appropriate means to get around Pedasi and the surrounding beaches. Once back in town, we were not sure what to do, having already strolled around town. The heat was punishing with little in the way of breeze, as Pedasi is located far enough inland to escape the ocean winds. We departed that afternoon toward Chitre and then onward to Santiago.
Pedasi was pleasant enough with a small colonial core and outlining wild rocky beaches strewn with driftwood. However, as we were uninterested after a brief visit, we wondered what retirees would do with their spare time. We certainly feel that Pedasi has merit but we were not yet prepared to unload our Los Angeles condo to relocate to Pedasi.
Is Panama Truly A Retirement Haven? Read Part 1 about Panama City Look for Part 3-5 coming soon from George Rajna.
Part 3 George Rajna. and Panama Jack in exile in Costa Rica
Part 3: Santa Fe
Having arrived in Santiago, we realized that we were an hour and one half bus ride to the up and coming retirement hillside retreat, Santa Fe. We purchased bus tickets and entered rural Panama, penetrating fertile land where farmers toil the land and life goes on as it has for many years excluding technological upgrades. As we reached the spread out town “center,” the driver pointed downhill when I inquired about the whereabouts of Hotel Santa Fe, a budget option that sounded more appealing than the bare bones accommodation alternatives. We hauled our luggage and fatigued bones downhill, passing sparsely populated rural farmland with mountains such as Cerro Tute evident in the background. Hotel Santa Fe was basic but pleasant, clean and comfortable.
While we relaxed before dinner, an unexpected knock rapped our door. When I answered, two friendly faces greeted us, stating that they heard English spoken, and came by to invite us to dinner. Climbing the steep hill toward central Santa Fe, we arrived to the basic but affordable and tasty restaurant Popular; local Panamanian food such as stewed chicken served with a side of rice, beans and salad cost $3.25usd per person. Full and satisfied, we returned to our hotel armed with rum and mixers. I broke out my deck of cards and taught our new friends Alex and Behr how to play a card game. Enjoying each other’s company, we agreed to go hiking together in the morning to Bermejo Waterfall, a four hour hike round trip.
We ascended and descended steep paved road, passing a few inns, orchid gardens and organic farms until we reached an inner tube rental place situated on the river. The setting was beautiful with lush dense forests and jungle surrounding us. Immersing ourselves in the cool fresh water felt pleasant after the hot hike. We agreed to continue onward to the waterfall and then return to the tube rental place to literally float back to our hotel; the plan was foiled when we got lost amongst the rural hills, relying on the friendly locals to assist us in our return to Santa Fe.
That evening at our hotel was spent relaxing, reading, and writing. I spoke with one of the managers who informed me that we could rent a house for only $100.00 per month. I calculated how cheap one could survive in this town and had placed it at the top of my recommendation list for foreign retirees. The town was attractive with friendly locals and the restaurants served up tasty and cheap food. Affordable accommodation would not be an issue and the attractive surrounding mountains dotted with waterfalls amidst the green fertile forests and jungle seemed a no brainer.
Paradise Fishing Lodge Panama PH. 855-244-8862
However, something occurred that night that led to cross Santa Fe off my list. What could it have been? Chitras! I am referring to a sand fly that cannot be seen but they left all of us with marks across our entire arms, legs, and portions of our torsos. The bites were dreadfully itchy and uncomfortable. I figured we were attacked being new in town but noticed some locals also had notable bite-marks across their arms. Unfortunately, the bugs make Santa Fe an unpleasant place to retire even though it has benefits and merit for those interested in quiet countryside living. To avoid more bug attacks, we packed our bags early the following morning and departed to determine if Boquete, an extremely popular locale for expatriates to retire, would suit us as well.
Is Panama Truly A Retirement Haven? Is Panama A Retirement Haven? Read Part 1: Panama City, and Part 2: El Valle and Pedasi.
Look for Part 4-5 coming soon from George Rajna.