Preview of Chapter One
Exploring Panama’s Resort Communities
Living and Investing in Tropical Beaches and Cool Highlands
Ahhh… white sand beach, fresh mountain air, “you can have it all in Panama…” or so say the glitzy promotional magazines and glossy sales brochures.
The Internet is full of slogans like “Panama – your perfect paradise”, or “make your dream come true in Panama”.
Alongside these promising phrases, you’ll see a variety of smiling happy people set among artificially rendered construction plans with all the trimmings.
Some of the sales pitches look like they belong in a computer video game, just waiting for you to enter in as the main character.
But what are Panama’s resort communities really like?
It’s one thing to crave the images of paradise. But do you really want to invest years of your life and/or your life savings in a place you’ve hardly researched?
We’ll address these questions in a moment.Our mission here is to shed some light on the subject and help you save time by helping you to narrow your focus.We hope that when you read this you are able to say, “That’s it, that’s the spot!” Actually, your author has read words in other publications that “turn a light on” and have subsequently lead him down his current path of enlightenment.
Let’s get started.
Outside of Panama City, there are two main lifestyle elements to choose from; coastal and highland. Coastal areas tend to be hot and tropical year round (daily highs around 89 F – 92 F), whereas the highlands are generally about 10 degrees cooler. There are a variety of differences among the environment, the culture and the infrastructure.
For our purposes a resort area simply refers to “a place that has begun to attract foreign visitors seeking recreation and tourist-like amenities”.
A resort community is a place where the impact of foreign investment and foreign visitors is clearly visible.
When we say “resort community”, we are talking about coffee shops with espresso machines, supermarkets with imported olives and more than one kind of cheese. We mean high standard hotels in the vicinity, a good dose of international visitors, and a generally beautiful and attractive environment where tourists and expats feel safe and nurtured.
Since Panama is in such an early stage of development, the line between “resort community” and undeveloped agricultural village can get blurry. One of the big attractions about Panama compared to other countries in Central America is that even the most “undeveloped” part of the country will for the most part be very safe, comforting, and offer all basic services (like gas, food, clean drinking water, cold beer, cell phone signal, paved road access, and someone friendly nearby to help you if necessary).
The primary resort areas in Panama today are Coronado – Farallon, Isla Contadora and the Pearl Islands, Boquete, El Valle/Sora, and Bocas Del Toro. All of these areas are within two hours of Panama City either driving or flying. Below is a brief summary of each.
Above: Coronado is home to some of Panama’s largest and most privileged beachfront estates.
Coronado-Farrallon refers to a long stretch of beach starting one hour west of Panama City and continuing down the InterAmerican highway for about 45 minutes. This is by far the most developed beach area in Panama, with three major beach resorts and several new residential projects planned or under construction.
Despite all the new building going on, the beaches don’t feel busy and are rarely crowded. Only the beaches in the immediate vicinity of the big resorts such as Coronado Golf and Country Club, Playa Blanca and Decameron Beach Resort, will you actually see groups of tourists.
Above: Contadora offers gorgeous turquoise waters with excellent snorkeling.
Isla Contadora and the Pearl Islands – If you are looking for a postcard island getaway, this is your place. The island is tiny, however, with a very small population so don’t go expecting a row of shops, restaurants, bars, or services. New resort projects are planned on some of the lesser known islands for those looking for an isolated yet gorgeous island getaway to call home.
Above: Boquete enjoys a temperate highland climate among gently rolling hills.
Boquete is a lush valley surrounded by rolling hills and mountains, including Volcan Baru, Panama’s highest point. The highland climate convinces many expats to immediately start wiring money in an effort to secure their retirement dream home. Flowers, fruit trees and coffee plantations dot the landscape with streams and rivers around every turn.
Boquete has developed somewhat of an expat community and the town is undergoing a serious face lift with new restaurants and shops being added. Not much in the way of nightlife here though and David (the nearest larger city) is only slightly more exciting after dark.
Above: Bocas is a boaters paradise with many homes built over top of the calm Caribbean waters.
Bocas Del Toro is basically the only established tourist destination on the Caribbean side of Panama. Bocas town is located on Isla Colon which connect to Panama City via a one hour flight. Bocas is a great place for boaters, the locals all get around from island to island by boat and sailors can take refuge in one of the nearby marinas.
Bocas town has a funky Caribbean ambiance, primarily frequented by backpackers and eco-minded vacationers. Nightlife can be fun here although selection is limited. For retirement, however, the area lacks a lot of basic infrastructure… grocery selection is poor, health care services are rudimentary, and Internet is slow. Bocas receives more rain than anywhere in Panama, which takes the fun out of most boating adventures, otherwise it is a great place to chill out and relax.
Above: Sweeping countryside and ocean views characterize the area around Sora.
Sora/El Valle are actually two separate villages located in the highlands 75 minutes and 90 minutes west of Panama City respectively. El Valle is the larger of the two, but still has under 5000 inhabitants.
Both areas are naturally beautiful and Sora offers sweeping views to the Pacific Ocean and beaches which are about 25 minutes down a winding mountain road.
Both areas have a very rural feeling without much to offer in terms of shops or services. If you find this drawback to be a common theme among Panama’s resort communities, it is, and the result is that expats and retirees looking for urban infrastructure and amenities gravitate toward Panama City.
In the Panama 101 E-Book, you can read a more complete overview of these areas to get a feel for which one might appeal to you.