photo%20dec%2014%202022%2012%2057%2026%20pm-550?v=1

Cost, Crime and Climate

Panama Earns High Marks When It Comes to the 3 Cs for Retirees and Expats

Who doesn’t love a good Top 10 list? We sure do at our house, especially when it comes to Top 10 lists involving travel. Whether ranking national parks, European destinations, or hard-to-get-to but worth-the-trip places, I always check them out and make notes.

As editor of the nationally syndicated newspaper column The Savvy Senior, forever boyfriend Jim Miller reads Top 10 lists involving retirement, particularly those that focus on relocating abroad. One country that has been regularly popping up in the top spot is Panama. What makes this small Central American country so popular? Last December we decided to head south and find out.

Here’s the short answer: it’s the three C’s of retiring abroad: cost, crime and climate. Panama is cheap, safe and warm. An added plus is some incredible incentives the government offers to attract expats and retirees. These range from a one-time duty exemption on the import of household goods to discounts on everything from cultural events to medical expenses, and utility bills.

The U.S. dollar is also the Panamanian currency, eliminating monetary exchange rates for Americans. Direct flights from Canada mean a large number of warmth-seeking Canadians make Panama their home as well.

Furthermore, there is a choice of environments—sunny beaches, misty mountains and urban cities. During a pre-Christmas, eight-day excursion, we got a little taste of each. While we only had time to visit the Panama and Cocle provinces, it was enough to show us why this small country has big advantages for adventure-seeking retirees.

Getting to Panama from Oklahoma City is easy. We left on a Friday morning, and by happy hour were perched on stools in the Tántalo rooftop bar in Casco Viejo, or Old Town. It’s one of many outdoor lounges in this colorful area of Panama City designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So balmy and breezy, it was the perfect vantage point to sip wine and watch the sunset on the water with a view of the gleaming new part of the city.

Our hotel, Las Clementinas, is a converted apartment building with plenty of space and is perfectly situated near the four main plazas that make up Casco Viejo. This historic area is paved with cobblestone streets and city blocks mixing elegance and decay. Since we are in some of the oldest parts of the oldest city on the Pacific Coast of Central America, the state of some of the buildings is understandable.

Two delightful young women took us on an early-morning bike tour with stops at notable churches, ruins, murals and a grand municipal building that had been transformed into the casino set featured in the James Bond movie, Casino Royale. We always aim to get oriented upon arrival and this is a good way to do that.

After our tour, we head over to the central pier where a string of restaurants lines the bustling bay front. Fishermen unload the morning’s catch so we know lunch will be fresh. On the way, a police officer stops us. He asks where we are going, then tells us not to go up the street we were heading but to go around. “Too dangerous,” was the reason. “Stay on the red brick streets.” We learn this is the distinction for the safe part of the area, advice we followed during our stay.

The semi-finals of the World Cup were in full swing as we wound our way through tables of beer-drinking cheering fans watching on giant televisions at Mercado de Mariscos. After mistakenly ordering two whole, fried fish and four orders of fries, we managed to eat most of it. Delicious! We must have made an impression on our waitress because she spotted us two days later and invited us to eat again.

One of the coolest things we did was visit the Panama Canal, a mind-boggling marvel of engineering. The link between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans took decades to complete and cost some 25,000 people their lives before it was completed in 1914. Dozens of ships of all sizes pass through daily and according to our guide Logan, pay millions to do it. A grandstand allows visitors to watch as ships approach, lock gates close and water rises, lifting massive ships up and through the passage in a matter of minutes. A public address system explains in real time what is happening. It’s a wondrous spectacle and a highlight of our trip.

From there we take a winding road past former U.S. Army barracks—the canal is still one of the most fortified places on the planet—to a dock, where we climb into a small boat and head to Monkey Island. Located 30 minutes outside of Panama City, it’s a nature preserve in the manmade Gatun Lake. Several types of monkeys live here, including howler, titi, marmoset, capuchin, tamarin and owl. Trees hang low over the water as our captain angles the canopied boat into little lagoons while our guide coaxes monkeys down to feed. Jim holds peanuts in his hand to entice them.

A small capuchin monkey swings down from the trees to investigate what we have, and I am surprised at how delicately it takes treats. Jim didn’t flinch as it plucked all of the peanuts out of his hand. After a delicious lunch in the lush garden restaurant attached to our hotel, we stroll over to the Panama Canal Museum, which expertly tells the harrowing and comprehensive construction history of what is called “the world’s greatest shortcut.”

Our third day’s plans to tour the new part of Panama City went awry when we discovered the main road in and out of the old town was closed for a Christmas parade. So, we spend the afternoon meandering around our neighborhood and the evening at a rooftop bar sipping cosmos, watching the moon rise and the sun set. Perfection.

The next day, we navigate pot-holed-filled highways to Coronado, a beautiful, gated beach community on the Pacific Coast. The delightful owner of El Litoral, our B&B for the night, is a middle-aged, yoga-teaching French Canadian. After a quick pizza lunch and a stop at the black sand beach, we spend the afternoon floating around in the pool and chatting with her about the many years she has lived here. A true definition of Panamanian living, everything is outdoors, open and breezy.

The mountains are our next stop, and we negotiate more pothole-filled, winding roads to the Anton Valley. The drive is not far, but with the road conditions, it was hard to go more than 30 mph. Thankfully, Panamanian drivers are not aggressive, and we have plenty of time since we are not keeping a schedule.

Our destination, El Valle, is a small town in the crater of an extinct volcano, a popular weekend getaway for residents of Panama City. Located deep in the jungle, El Valle de Anton is warm, humid and damp. Our hotel, the Golden Frog Inn, is a quirky, 11-room lodge surrounded by mountains and hiking trails with rooms that look over the jungle canopy and mountains.

We spend two days roaming, hiking and eating delicious food—excellent pasta at Casa Florencia and fresh fish at Casa de Lourde. A stop at The Butterfly Haven is well worth it. Visitors are immersed in hundreds of jewel-colored butterflies that flit all around as you walk through the enclosed sanctuary. Panama has a diverse population of species, including the impressively large blue morpho.

Hiking in El Valle we learned can be a challenge. The tree canopy is dense, making the trails slick due to humidity and lack of sun. We chose La India Dormida (The Sleeping Indian) Trail, as it is the most popular and offers incredible sights from the summit. With no clear markings, we eventually emerged out of the jungle to 360 views of the lush, brilliant green valley below. Our timing was perfect. An hour after we got down, the mountains were shrouded in fog.

There’s not enough time to visit Boquete in western Panama, another popular spot for expats and retirees. Yet, we had plenty of time to enjoy the warm climate, friendly people, and good food. Combined with access to excellent health care, and a low cost of living, it’s easy to see why this Central American country is tops when it comes to relocating aboard.

Panama is cheap, safe and warm. An added plus is some incredible incentives the government offers to attract expats and retirees. These range from a one-time duty exemption on the import of household goods to discounts on everything from cultural events to medical expenses, and utility bills.

Combined with access to excellent health care, and a low cost of living, it’s easy to see why this Central American country is tops when it comes to relocating aboard.

Related Businesses

Union Station

Adventure

Union Station

Kansas City, MO

Architectural Masterpiece. A place for great adventure. Where Kansas City Connects. These phrases—and more—are regularly used...

Grand Explorations

Adventure

Grand Explorations

Westport, CT

I’m Rene, founder of Grand Explorations, the boutique travel agency designing personalized luxury vacations. Your...

Opal and Finch

Adventure

Opal and Finch

Dallas, TX

Opal&Finch exists to inspire connections through travel. Whether you are looking for an exotic far-flung destination, a...

See More

Related Articles

See More