Two Cool Options in Panama

Friday, November 02, 2012

Dear Reader,

I moved to Panama six years ago. It was easy for me to choose my home base. You see, I’m a city girl. I love the convenience of everything on my doorstep, the huge variety of dining options, the shopping malls and the city buzz.

I even love the city’s tropical heat and humidity. But I know it doesn’t suit everyone. So, if you’re looking for cool mountain living in Panama, here are my two top locations.

#1. Boquete:

Boquete, Panama

Set at 3500 feet above sea level, in the stunning Chiriqui highlands, Boquete is often ranked a top retirement spot by International Living and AARP. It started to become popular 10 years ago. Because of that, it’s got some great amenities and an active expat group.

Boquete is a 6-7 hour drive from Panama City, or you can take a domestic flight to the city of David (the flight takes 45 minutes).

David is a 45-minute drive from Boquete. It’s not a particularly attractive city but it’s very convenient, with hospitals, big supermarkets and hardware stores and a movie theater.

Boquete’s landscape is a mix of bright green hills, fragrant pine forests and rich rolling pastures. The pine forests, chilly mountain streams and chalet-style homes remind many of Switzerland. The lush meadows reminded early settlers of parts of California.

This area isn’t just pretty. It’s very productive, too. Most of the milk, coffee and produce consumed in Panama comes from this area. You’ll see lots of farms and ranches. Little roadside stalls sell strawberries and cream, a local specialty.

Small boutique hotels, restaurants and cafes line the main street. Boquete’s population is around 20,000 people. A good chunk of those residents are expats. They meet regularly, organize artistic events and run a performing theater group. 

Boquete hosts a jazz and blues festival, along with coffee and flower festivals.

Boquete makes sense if you want cool mountain living with plenty to do and lots of expat company. The downside?  The travel time back to Panama City and its international airport.

#2. El Valle:

El Valle

El Valle de Anton ticks a lot of boxes. It’s cool, it’s beautiful and it’s got a great location.

It’s a small town of around 10,000 residents just over two hours’ drive from Panama City on a good road. That’s a big plus – the best hospitals are in the city (including the only Johns Hopkins affiliate in the region).

It’s also 45 minutes to the Pacific beaches, big resort hotels and golf courses. For banks, modern supermarkets and larger grocery stores, it’s 30-40 minutes to the towns of Chitre, Penonome and Coronado.

El Valle’s got a lot to offer – starting with beautiful scenery. Set 2000 feet above sea level on the rim of a volcano, the scenery is lush, emerald-green, speckled with streams, forests and waterfalls. It’s popular with wealthy Panamanian families who come here at the weekend to bike, hike, horseback ride, bird watch and to escape the city hustle and bustle.

It’s home to a growing expat community drawn by the natural beauty and tranquility. And it’s a popular tourist spot, hosting a market selling handcrafts and souvenirs. You can also buy fresh produce and bread from a local baker.

Or you can pamper yourself in the spa, take a yoga class or relax over a gourmet meal in one of the upscale restaurants in El Valle.

El Valle will suit if you want a cooler location close to the city and the beach. The downside? You’ll likely need to entertain yourself; the expat group here is smaller than in Boquete.

Property Market Overview

I’ve written recently about the real estate market in Panama. It’s not an investor’s market right now. Don’t buy in Panama if you’re looking for short-term capital appreciation, double-digit rental yields or a quick flip.

But Panama still makes a lot of sense as a lifestyle play. If you’re looking for a vacation or retirement home that you’ll hold long-term, then put Panama on your shortlist.

The slowdown in the Panama property market hit highlands areas first – and hardest. They’re niche locations with many high-end homes aimed at North American buyers. Those buyers dried up with the slowdown in the U.S.

Today, we’re seeing price reductions on homes. Some North American owners need cash to shore up their finances back home. I’ve seen prices slashed below $1000 per square meter – around half of peak pricing levels.

Let’s take a look at two property samples.

A luxury 4-bed 4-bath home is 5 minutes from downtown Boquete. It’s only four years old and comes with a property tax exemption for 16 years. It’s got unique design features and an open plan layout. Community amenities include a swimming pool, tennis courts and clubhouse. Originally priced at $350,000, the seller has just cut the list price to $315,000. That price includes the furniture. Go here to get a full information pack.

A modern home in El Valle boasts more than 4300 square feet of living space, a lot size of 1.25 acres and ocean views. There is a separate guest house, swimming pool and a large covered terrace. It’s got a stylish kitchen with plenty of cabinet space, an open-plan layout and feels very airy. It’s listed for $399,000. Contact Nitzia here to get more details.

Margaret Summerfield

You might also be interested in:

Boomtown: Panama City

Three Panama Property Picks

Panama’s Highlands on Sale

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