Panama -- Another Take
Just back from Panama.
Excellent trip, and I was very impressed by Boquete and other parts of the
Chiriqui Highlands about 300 miles west of Panama City. I also enjoyed Panama
City, El Valle about an hour and a half west of Panama City, and the Pacific
coast of Cocle. I didn't care for Colon and while Panama City is impressive,
with a big-city skyline, great and inexpensive restaurants, cabs that rarely
cost more than US$2 or $3 and overall very affordable -- living costs are
probably one-third of those in a U.S. large city and less than in Belize City --
I don't think I'd want to live there.
The country around Boquete is beautiful, with mountains up to about 11,000 feet,
an "eternal spring" climate, coffee plantations and organic farms
everywhere, and cheap prices.
Grocery store prices all over Panama are lower than in the U.S. and usually half
of what you'd pay in Belize, gas about the same as the U.S. and about half that
in Belize (I drove a Nissan Patrol diesel 4WD and paid about US$2.15 a gallon).
Panama has the best roads in Central America, and even in the mountains most of
the roads are excellent.
Booze and beer about one-third to one-half less than in the U.S. (even in small
towns a liter of Stoli goes for US$13 and local beers are US$2.40 a six-pack),
compared to US$6 in Belize, a big hamberguesa con queso and a mango smoothie is
US$1.75, a steak dinner at the best restaurant in Boquete is US$12, beer is 75
cents to a dollar in restaurants, and home building costs are around US$40 to
$55 a square foot.
Panama offers good medical care, friendly people, most of the country is clean
and well-kept, and you can drink the water almost everywhere. Panama's
pensionado program is one of the best in the world, requiring only US$500 to
$750 a month income and providing some real discounts and benefits for retirees.
The big difference in Panama is that the government actively is seeking retirees
rather than driving them away, as the Belize government seems to be doing with
its 15% property surcharge and other taxes and restrictions.
On the flip side, you absolutely need decent Spanish to get by and land costs in
the Chiriqui Highlands are a little higher than I expected (though elsewhere in
Panama prices are low, certainly far lower than in Costa Rica or most of
Of course there are two sides to every story, but overall I was much more
favorably impressed with what Panama offers than I expected to be.
--Lan SluderTHE BELIZE FORUMS Just Back from Panama