Overview of Panama Relocation Tour by Richard Detrich, author of Escape to Paradise and blog author at www.RichardDetrich.com
Panama Relocation Tour…Day 1
I’m off on the Panama Relocation Tour. This is an extended tour, a full week vs. the usual 5 day tour. Many of the participants flew into Panama City two days earlier so they had time to explore Panama City. Many of them took advantage of the Hop On Hop Off bus as a convenient and relatively inexpensive way to explore Panama City. The red Hop On Hop Off buses are available in many world tourist cities. The cost is usually around $30 and includes recorded commentary in most languages. You can get off where you wish, explore, and then hop on the next bus.
Welcome breakfast at Toscana Inn Panama City
We met for breakfast first thing yesterday and then met with a Panama attorney who explained options for permanent residency, how to get a Pensionado (retiree) visa, how to get a Panamanian passport, and answered questions.
After our breakfast and meeting with the attorney we all piled on the bus to explore some of the main downtown areas of Panama City. We had lunch at Mi Ranchito, an outdoor restaurant on the Amador Causeway with a fantastic view across the Bay of Panama of the skyline of Panama City. Bob Adams who writes a blog Retirement Wave and lives in Panama City joined us for lunch.
Lunch on Amador causeway at Mi Ranchito – just order off the menu all included
Then we were off, across the Panama Canal and the Bridge of the Americas, to visit El Valle. El Valle is a mountain town, sometimes compared to Boquete, but within a less than 2 hour drive to Panama City. El Valle has been popular with Panamanians who live in the city and want a weekend escape. It’s a small town with a small expat community. Most of the Panamanians come on weekends, so during the week, except for tourists, it is pretty quiet. It is a gorgeous setting, but for shopping or services you have a long trip down a narrow two lane curving road to Coronado.
Coronado is one of the prime beach areas in Panama. Although hot, and mobbed by Panamanians on holidays, it has a shopping center and lots of services. It is where many expats who want a beach-style retirement choose to live.
We arrived at the Sheraton Bijoa late afternoon to spend the night. Bijao is an all-inclusive beach resort with a nice beach and pool complex.
The new Bridge of LIfe Museum in Panama City nearing completion. The museum, designed by Frank Gehry, is scheduled to open in July 2012
This trip is an extended tour because we are also going – today! – out the Azuero Peninsula to visit Chitre, Las Tablas, and one of my favorite towns in Panama, Pedasi. When we were looking for beach property we fell in love with Pedasi. Unfortunately for us it was a good 4 to 5 hour trip from Boquete, which is why we settled on a beach property in Boca Chica, only 1.5 hours from Boquete.
This evening we’ll stay in Santiago the midway point on the Pan American Highway between David and Panama City. Then tomorrow we are off to Bocas del Toro, a collection of islands in the Caribbean. We’ll overnight in Bocas then return back to the mainland and drive across the mountains to Boquete. The group will spend two days in and around Boquete, and then go to visit the other side of the mountain, the communities surrounding Volcan.
The Panama Relocation Tour, unlike many of the tours and seminars about moving to Panama, does not sell anything. You are not going to have to listen to a string of lectures from folks who’ve paid to be on the program to give you a sales talk. The tour is designed to give you an overview of places expats call home in Panama. You meet with real expats who give you the straight scoop on expat living in Panama without hidden agendas.
On this tour we have an interesting group of folks, one couple all the way from Fairbanks, Alaska. One couple is back for their second tour and actively preparing to make the move. Others are here to decide if Panama stays on their short list or not. Some are just beginning to think of an expat life and others have spent much of their work careers living in various countries around the world. In addition to couples there are a number of single folks with us.
My book ESCAPE TO PARADISE: LIVING & RETIRING IN PANAMA is asst home.” [Of course we grow the sweetest and best-tasting fresh tomatoes, but I’d check Deli Baru in Boquete or Baru supermarket in David. Maybe not the same brand, but I know they have imported Italian canned tomatoes.]
“I was surprised at the prices. The price for a huge plasma TV at Price Smart was LESS than the same TV at home. I know, because I priced them before we came.”
The day finished with a non-memorable meal at the Peruvian restaurant near Isla Verde. Three hours!! And the final entre was being served 2.5 hours after it had been ordered. Of course everyone was served at different times, so by the time the last entre arrived most of the group was dozing off or . . . the reality! . . . engaged in lively conversation. But at least these folks know from their boots on the ground how restaurants work in Panama, something you’d never experience at a 3-day seminar in a big fancy hotel in Panama City where they are used to catering to large events. Just for the record – not that I am or want to be Boquete’s food critic – but . . . Friendly, but incredibly slow. My pisco sour was OK, but the ones at Hotel Ladera are far better. Nikki had “fresh” fish and shrimp and noted that the fish was “mushy” and overcooked. I had the beef tenderloin, a thin slice of smothered with a heavy, think, supposedly mushroom cream sauce which seemed to me to be a homemade imitation of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup (although not as good) and white rice. No vegetables. Presentation was “slopped on the plate.” Any flavor the beef may have ended up lost in the sea of forgettable sauce.
Restaurants come and go in Boquete with breakneck speed. There have been three previous restaurants at this location and I doubt that this one will have a very long life.
Tomorrow is the last day of the tour. The group will go over to Volcan and the areas around Volcan before returning to Boquete. Several are flying to Panama City in the afternoon, and others are remaining in Boquete to explore and or look for real estate.
Some of the folks are sold on relocating to Panama and some have made the decision that Panama is definitely not for them and that really is the aim of the tour. But the tour is just an introduction. My recommendation is after you’ve decided that Panama is for you, come down several times and stay for several months each time before you make the final move. We did not do it that way. We came down, fell in love with Panama, bought a house and moved. It worked for us! Our only regret was that we didn’t make the move sooner. Eight years and we’re still here and love it. But for most people . . . it’s better to take it slow and as Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett used to say, “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.”