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Written by: Byron Edgington
Date: November 20, 2015

Boquete, Chiriqui Province

Boquete, Chiriqui Province

Last month Mariah and I traveled to Panama to explore and research the country as a possible retirement spot. We flew into Tocumen International in Panama City, then immediately via COPA, the national airline of Panama on to the western city of David (Dah-Veed).

David is the capitol of Chiriqui Province, and the second largest city in Panama with a population of 200,000. Prior to our trip we’d read guidebooks, perused the internet, asked returning travelers and gone back and forth on several blogs. We thought we knew enough about Panama, specifically David and Chiriqui to make some reasonable assumptions.

We’re looking to move sometime in the next few years, so we’ve researched several places, and Panama comes out on top every time. Mariah’s favorite expression in Spanish is “No mas nieve para mi.” So snow is out, no matter where we go.

Because our purpose is to escape cold weather we looked at David with its tropical environment and almost laughably low costs as a likely candidate for a homestead. Expats we checked with in David claim rents in the $350/450 per month range for three bedroom homes, with living expenses totaling $1000 a month, which includes rent/trash/water/internet/electric/yardwork and a maid if one desires. Our research before and during the trip bears this out.

But David is much too hot. Nearly sea level, it swelters under daytime temps north of 90 degrees most days, with matching humidity. Though cold weather is what’s chasing us out of Ohio, the heat of David would simply be too great. Air conditioning is a possibility, but like other things we learned, A/C is a gringo concept that depends on consistent, reliable, (read cheap and plentiful) electricity.

One thing that proved to be true in Panama based on what we’d heard is that gringos like us can’t expect to transport our lifestyle lock, stock and air conditioner to Panama and expect it to work out. Expats in David mentioned daily electricity outages, often lasting hours. Plus, the stifling heat… We learned to beware of ‘suicide showers’ as well. It seems that some folks wire their showerheads with small (electric) heating elements, bypassing the expensive water heater. The results can be shocking, as you might imagine.

After David we traveled uphill about 40 kilometers to the little town of Boquete. (Boh-Kay-Tay means gap, or opening in Espanol) This little jewel of a town nestles in the valley of the Rio Caldera. It’s a quiet, mile-long—thus walking friendly—very welcoming little place that has a burgeoning expat community.

The population of Boquete is 20,000, fully 10 percent of whom are from somewhere else either the U.S., Canada, Asia, Western Europe or various South American countries. The owners of our B&B, Los naranjos barriada las flores, Katerina & Pedro Moss are a perfect example. The Mosses operate Casa Los Naranjos (House of oranges). She hales from Czechoslovakia; he’s a native Panamanian. Very engaging, interesting folks, they lavished a wonderful breakfast on us each morning, as we sat around their dinner table discussing all manner of topics from Panamanian history to the coffee farm they operate to local festivities to Manuel Noriega.

Pedro filled me in on several aspects of life in Panama, including the best sites now available if we chose to build, the best micro-climate of the eleven or so surrounding Boquete and the myriad attractions/interests/restaurants/parks and outlets for acquiring everything from a temporary cell phone to a course in Spanish via Habla Ya. If we move to Boquete, Pedro will become my BFF.

From Boquete we moved on to Panama City. We’re big city people, folks who love having access to cultural events, festivals, good public transportation, great restaurants and the vibrancy of a large, dynamic city. So we expected PC to be the place we’d settle. But here again the heat stifled that expectation. Panama City is 9 degrees north of the equator, at sea level, and it suffers the same oven-like heat that David does. It may be worse, because the surface area is, of course, paved throughout and ecological adaptations in the form of green roofs and heat-dissipating technology are not a priority there. Panama City does have all the cultural, dynamic aspects of great city, plus a pretty big canal that attracts a few ships here and there, but it’s not for us.

So if I had to speculate, I’d say that within a year, perhaps less time, we’ll be packing up and moving to western Panama. The expat community in Boquete offers several interesting group activities, the town has great restaurants and public parks, a terrific new library and so many kinds of local coffees it will take us several months to sample them all, darn it. Plus, the temperature is perfect. Boquete sits at 1,300 meters, with year round temps that swing between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Driving through and around town we both remarked at how much Boquete and environs reminds us of Hawaii. In other words, just what we’re looking for.