By Richard Detrich, Author of Escape to Paradise
After breakfast at Sheraton Bijao overlooking the pools and ocean, the group boarded our bus to get on the Pan American Highway and head west. Remember, the Isthmus of Panama runs east – west connecting Colombia with Costa Rica. As we passed the new Rio Hato airport and under the main runway we talked about some of the beach developments on the Pacific side, like Bijao that attract expats to both high rise beach-side living and condos, and some exclusive projects like Ventura that have large, individual beach side properties.
We headed out the Azuero Peninsula toward Chitre, another Panama town that is booming. Along the way we stopped at the little, historic Spanish colonial town of Parita and were able to get in the beautiful old Spanish colonial church there with a ceiling of hand hewn pegged timber and amazing altar pieces and sculptures from the Spanish period.
With no bathroom facilities in Chitre we made do with what was available. A kind gentleman who was cleaning the local cantina let us use the restrooms. Like I’ve said before, this is a boots-on-the-ground tour with a chance to see the real Panama!
Now on an “authentic” roll, we had lunch at a “fonda” restaurant where everything is fresh and cooked outside over wood fire. In the outdoor kitchen chickens are being plucked, corn is being husked and soup simmers in giant pots over open wood fires. The result is amazing taste and a great culinary experience!
The area around Chitre and Las Tablas, the center of Carnival celebrations in Panama, has been increasingly attractive to expats because of the availability of stores and services. We drove by the giant new hospital under construction, and then on to one of the many beaches near Las Tablas. Although it was a weekend, we had the beach virtually to ourselves.
This is a great group and our “Girl Power” group manages to keep things lively! From the Azuero we drove back to the Pan American Highway and on to Santiago, another rapidly expanding area of Panama. We stayed at a funky, Mexican-themed Panamanian hotel and casino where we enjoyed relaxing in the pool and having dinner together.
If you are thinking of maybe moving to Panama, there are “tours” which consist mainly of “conferences” where you sit in the ballroom of a giant hotel in Panama City and here various presenters, some who pay to participate, presenting various “opportunities” for you to invest. There are other real estate tours where real estate sales people and developments, again some of whom have paid to participate, try to sell you properties. Panama Relocation Tour is neither: it is an opportunity to see and visit some of the places expats call home, to meet and get the straight scoop from real expats, and to get an overall feel for Panama. It’s a busy, boots-on-the-ground tour, but in my humble opinion it is a better way to decide if Panama is for you, or if it remains on the list of countries you may be considering.