I’m having dinner at Mosto Bistro. The name sounds a bit fancy but the place has the kind of laid-back charm I’ve come to expect of this growing town.
An elegant display of wine and books sits in front of our table; behind that, there’s a small bar where two people sit, having drinks. At $11.50 for a Thai curry and a dessert of flan, this is the most expensive meal I’ve had in the past two days. At breakfast earlier today, my coffee was $0.35 and a plate of scrambled eggs $0.50 (I added an order of hojaldre, fried doughy flatbreads, for $0.15).
I’m in the town of David, the capital of the province of Chiriqui in Panama. Located just 45 minutes away from Panama’s highlands, this small colonial town seems to have it all. I call it a small town, but it’s actually one of Panama’s three major cities.
It’s close to beaches and mountains and even idyllic islands. There’s a busy domestic airport with regular flights to Panama City and even San Jose, in neighboring Costa Rica. The airport is being expanded to accommodate larger craft. Right now, the question on everyone’s lips isn’t will it become an international airport. Rather, locals say it is just a question of when. Officials won’t confirm yet…but the expansion is progressing quickly and there may be more news soon.
There are a couple of malls where you’ll find large grocery stores and pharmacies and chain restaurants like TGI Friday’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. But head farther away from the Pan-American highway and into the town center, and life is 100% Panamanian. There are beauty salons and cafes and dollar shops and more…all offering a truly local flavor that residents here enjoy.
All the basics I would need to live comfortably are available; from hi-tech needs like reliable high-speed Internet to low-tech needs like clean water, David offers it all. But perhaps the best thing is the price of real estate.
In Dolega, just 10 minutes outside David’s town center, a two-bedroom, one-bath home of about 1,150 square feet is on offer for $47,000. Smaller homes in and around David range from $30,000 to $40,000 in price. Of course, these are simple, Panamanian style homes that an expat would likely want to spend some money remodeling. But nicer homes aren’t that much more expensive, with pretty little cottages, ready to occupy, starting as low $75,000.
Don’t move to David just for the cost of living, though. As one expat there puts it, if you move for cost alone, “you might not be happy. It’s tropical and humid–many foreigners prefer the nearby mountain towns.” However, expats in David see a world of potential. Even though all the basics are there, they say there is a lot of money in David, and locals are itching to spend on just about anything.
That means there is a real need for upscale bars, restaurants and cafes…boutiques and specialty shops…and even services, from catering to tailoring. And it’s not just the locals that are raring to spend their hard-earned cash.
Expats living in places like Boquete and Volcan come to David regularly to shop, and would love to see more options for a night on the town or specialty food items. If you’d like to save money while you make money, David may be the perfect place for you.