About half the people who come on a Panama Relocation Tour want to live near a beach. The other half prefer the cooler mountain weather which we visit also. During a Panama Relocation Tour, we visit several beach communities which offer a variety of different prices.
We focus on the beach communities which offer the most amenities without driving more than 10-20 minutes to buy groceries, see a doctor, banks, hospitals with emergency rooms, restaurants and shopping opportunities like clothes or hardware stores. Of course, reliable electricity, water and internet are top priorities too. A good road to get to the communities and houses is important too.
There are plenty of other beach communities in Panama, but unfortunately, they do not have very many amenities close by, so we don’t usually visit those areas. Most people, especially retirees, do not want to drive an 30-60 minutes to go to a nice grocery store, restaurant, doctor or a hospital.
When selecting a place to live in Panama, it’s important to think 5 or 15 years ahead and whether you will still be comfortable making a one-hour drive to see a doctor or buy groceries. If you have pre-existing medical conditions it is especially important to select an area that is close to doctors and a hospital.
Most people who come on a Panama Relocation Tours are also looking for ways they can reduce their living expenses. What’s affordable for one person may be cost prohibitive for others. Driving an hour to buy groceries adds to your living expenses not to mention the hassles involved.
The three most affordable beach communities on the Pacific side of Panama, which also have plenty of amenities, are (1) near the Coronado area, (2) the Azuero Peninsula near Chitre and Las Tablas and (3) in far western Panama in Puerto Armuelles.
Coronado has every amenity you could possibly want or need but it is also one of the most expensive areas to live outside of Panama City. However, if you drive just a few miles east or west of Coronado there are more affordable options like:
Gorgona is more affordable than Coronado yet you are only a few miles away from all the amenities in Coronado. In Gorgona, there are a few small grocery stores, some restaurants and bars plus a nice beach where you can swim and buy fresh fish every day. In addition to houses to rent, there are several ocean front condo complexes in Gorgona.
Chame is a little further east of Gorgona (closer to Panama City) and is an up and coming area for expats to move to. Interestingly, Chame is the only area in Panama where I have seen really white sand. Surfing is great in Chame. There is even a surf school there. We sometimes visit Chame and see some $700 per month two-bedroom ocean view rental houses and condos when they are available.
San Carlos, west of Coronado, is a funky little beach community which has a 24-hour hospital, restaurants, bars, grocery stores and more. You’re only 10 miles away from Coronado but you won’t need to go to Coronado often because everything you need is available in San Carlos. We sometimes visit some rentals in San Carlos during a Panama Relocation Tour.
Playa Blanca is a little further west of San Carlos. There is a new shopping center near Playa Blanca which has a 24-hour grocery store, hardware store and a pharmacy but not much else. If you lived in these communities, you’d need to drive in to Coronado on a regular basis (which could get old after awhile). Playa Blanca is much more affordable than Coronado but it is a bit isolated. Playa Blanca is about 10 minutes from the San Carlos hospital.
Estimates are that there are 2,000 or more foreigners living in the Coronado area. Some are snowbirds and some are full time.
In the Azuero Peninsula between Chitre and Las Tablas, there are 10 beaches. Some beaches are better than others. The towns are not on the beach, they are about 10-15km (6 miles) away from the beach. There are excellent roads connecting the towns and to get from either town to the beach areas.
Chitre is the larger town with a population of about 80,000 in the metro area. It has four 24-hour North American style grocery stores, a movie theater, some excellent restaurants, banks, hardware stores and clothes shops. Chitre has a small mall and an airport with flights to Panama City. There is a hospital in Chitre with a much larger and more modern hospital under construction.
Las Tablas is about 30 minutes South of Chitre. It is home to many Panamanian traditional festivals like Carnaval. The population of the town is about 8,000 and the entire metro area of Las Tablas is about 24,000. Las Tablas has restaurants, grocery stores, banks, clothes & shoe stores, hardware stores and a hospital. They just got a McDonalds too (not sure that is a good thing).
Playa Uverito is a funky beach community about 6 miles from Las Tablas. Playa Uverito has good paved roads all the way to Las Tablas. There are rentals for as little as $600 per month for a 1 bedroom right on the beach. Playa Overito is a nice safe beach for swimming. There are several restaurants and bars at the beach. There are about 200 expats in the Las Tablas and Playa Uverito area. They have weekly get-togethers and they are very involved in the community too.
Further South down the Azuero Peninsula is Pedasi and Playa Venao. Unfortunately, they do not fall in to our amenities requirements yet but things are getting better every year. Hopefully, we can add Pedasi to our itinerary in 2020.
Pedasi is a really cute little town about 35 minutes North of Playa Venao which is at the southern tip of the Azuero Peninsula. Playa Venao has great beaches. As you can see on a map, Pedasi is not close to the coast but you are less than 15 minutes to a beach if you live in Pedasi.
Pedasi does have a nice town square with a few restaurants and a few small grocery stores. They also have a new, modern hospital, Minsa-Capsi which is a public hospital so you may or may not have a doctors available who speaks English. For any major shopping, you’ll need to drive 45 minutes to Las Tablas, or you’d need to drive to Chitre which is 1 hour and 17 minutes away (per Google Maps).
Playa Venao is I hour and 52 minute drive to Chitre which is the town with the most amenities. This area is popular with surfers because the surf is great at Playa Venao
The people who live in Pedasi or Playa Venao love it, but most of the people who come on our tours would not want to make that long of a drive to get to amenities. Poco a poco (little by little) both of these communities are getting more amenities.
Out of all the beach communities we visit, Puerto Armuelles is the most affordable. That’s why it is attracting retirees and expats from all over the world. Puerto Armuelles has 25,000 residents in the town and 60,000 in the metro area. It has several grocery stores, banks, hardware stores, restaurants and a small hospital now with a new large state-of the art hospital under construction. Unlike other beach communities, the town of Puerto is right next to the beach.
The down side of Puerto Armuelles is that is it not that easy to get to. You will need to fly in to David then take a bus or rent a car to get to Puerto. It’s a 1 ½ hour drive to Puerto from David. The other down side to Puerto is that it has been economically depressed for the last 20 years since Chiquita Banana pulled out of the community and left most of the town unemployed. The depression definitely shows in some parts of Puerto Armuelles. But now that Del Monte has come in growing bananas in the area again, and thousands of people are employed again, things are slowly starting to change for the better. I think Puerto Armuelles has a huge upside potential.
OTHER BEACH COMMUNITIES
There are plenty of other beach communities on the Pacific side of Panama, but they do not have our amenities requirements, so we do not visit them during a Panama Relocation Tour. In another article I will write about beach communities on the Caribbean side of Panama.
The only exception is Las Lajas, in Chiriqui province, which we usually go to for lunch. It is a short 15-minute drive from the PanAmerican Highway to Las Lajas beach. The town of Las Lajas is about 5 miles away from the beach. There are two grocery stores in town and a small clinic. At the beach, you’ll find several restaurants, hotels and B&Bs. It’s a rustic but relaxing beach community. People who live in Boquete like to go to Las Lajas for a day trip because it is a short 1 hour 30-minute drive.
Someone from a previous tour is renting a small 1 bedroom ocean front house in Las Lajas for $200 per month there. There is a small housing development and some new condos in Las Lajas but the road to get to those properties is a dirt road filled with pot holes. You can still buy a ocean front land for under $50,000 in Las Lajas.
If you live in the Las Lajas area, you’d need to make frequent trips to David to buy groceries, go shopping for clothes or shoes, pick up Amazon orders, see a doctor, go to the airport, go to a hospital etc. It is 1 hour 15 minute drive from Las Lajas to David.
Las Olas is another popular beach community but it is a 35 minute drive to David for any amenities. Las Olas has a hotel and restaurant, single family houses and condos facing the beach. Their prices are similar to Coronado without the amenities available in Coronado.
Another thing to check out at any beach community are the rip tides. Some areas have very bad rip tides and some areas do not have rip tides. If you do not plan to get in the Ocean, the rip tides are not a problem but you also need to warn any guests, especially children, who come to visit to stay out of the Ocean because of the possibility of rip tides.
A tour client rented a house at Las Olas. Out of the 64 houses only 4 where occupied by full timers so she felt lonely. How many people live in a beach community full time is something important to check out before you rent or certainly before you buy.
Caribbean Side – Bocas Del Toro
Most of the Caribbean side of Panama is not developed. The most populated and popular area is Bocas Del Toro (aka Bocas) which consists of a chain of islands. The archipelago has 9 main islands, 52 cays. The main island, Isla Colon, certainly qualifies as a funky beach community which is popular with tourists and back packers. There are some amazing restaurants in Bocas, good surf and diving too.
Bocas is popular with boaters and people who live on boats. There are several marinas.
To get to Bocas, you’ll need to either fly in from Panama City or take a bus or shuttle to Almirante, then a water taxi to Isla Colon. A water taxi is the only way to get from one island to another… unless you own a boat.
Bocas town was built by the United Fruit Company (Chiquita Banana) and has a lot of traditional very colorful plantation style houses. The whole town has a very Caribbean vibe which is completely different from other parts of Panama.
There are trade-offs everywhere in Panama.
Only you can determine which area is best for you. Some people are willing to put up with a 1-hour drive to amenities and some are not. Some people are ok with rough dirt roads to their property and some are not. Sometimes the area you like best is out of your comfortable price range so you will need to look elsewhere. It is certainly something that you need to take in to consideration when you select your place to rent or buy in Panama.
The other thing to investigate, especially if you are a social butterfly, is how many expats are in the area and are there a variety of social activities you would enjoy getting involved in. The last thing you want to do when you move to Panama is just sit at home because there is nothing to do.
Of course, you want to get involved with Panamanian festivals and activities too. Your transition to relocating to Panama will be much easier if there are plenty of other expats around and there are plenty of social activities you will enjoy.
At each stop during a Panama Relocation Tour, we invite expats who live in the area to join us so they can talk about their first hand experiences about living in that area. This is a good time to ask them how many expats live in the area and what social activities are available. Because no one is trying to sell you anything during a Panama Relocation Tour, you’ll get the honest facts without sugar-coating!