The bargain-beautiful Panama International Living has known about for years is alive and well…especially in Las Tablas. A small, colonial town, Las Tablas differs from hot retirement destinations like Panama City or Boquete. It’s in an area surrounded by farms and ranches, and that makes the climate, the landscapes, and the people unique.
The tableños—that is, the townfolk in Las Tablas—are proud of their work ethic and keep their town neat and clean. The climate is hot—it is the tropics, after all—but more ranches and less rainforest mean that Las Tablas is less humid than Panama City. As most visitors will tell you, the humidity influences the “feel” of a place more than the climate. Panama’s average year-round temperature is 88° F, but when the capital is at 80% humidity it can feel 10 degrees hotter.
Another plus: Las Tablas is not on the coast, and that fact keeps property prices low. But what the “prospectors” often overlook is that it’s close to a good selection of beaches—Uverito beach is a mere 10-minute drive from the Las Tablas central plaza. The tiny beach town of Pedasi is only 45 minutes away…and known for its long, “undiscovered” stretches of coastline. With a low cost of living and easy access to the water, Las Tablas is truly a place where one can have it all…even if you’re living in Panama on a budget.
Lay of the Land in Las Tablas, Panama
Driving to this small town on the Azuero peninsula around noon on an ordinary weekday, I was struck by how quiet it was. On the outskirts, I passed the Panamanian version of the Marlboro man…he was on a horse, his hat providing scant protection to his leathery neck.
Entering the town center, Las Tablas greeted me with the last vestiges of Spanish-colonial Panama—houses with red-tile roofs and ornate grillwork. The unpretentious town square is dominated by the simple façade of the Santa Librada church, the golden altar within it the only visible symbol of wealth.
Property prices in Las Tablas
Sure, there are other places in Panama where you can buy a home and lot for $50,000…but I would not want to live in most of them. And, I’m willing to bet, neither would you. Savvy property buyers know, being a four-hour drive from the capital (the nation’s only major city) can be a liability. The trade-offs have to be good. In Las Tablas, they are.
The many festivals, genuine people, and overall authentic Panamanian feel of Las Tablas make it a place that I could truly call home…a home where your nest-egg stretches far.
One property for sale in Las Tablas is a three-bedroom, single-bath home. It’s a simple box construction, like most modest Panamanian homes, but it sits on a lot of nearly 2,000 square feet, so there’s room to expand. Price: $48,000.
Another house is on offer for $67,000. It’s in a quiet part of town, a three-minute drive from the main plaza. The home has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a large terrace. It’s a gated property of about 3,900 square feet.
You’re unlikely to find anything that qualifies as luxury property in Las Tablas (particularly from a “First World” point of view). Still, there are many homes in the $80,000 to $125,000 range that are excellent quality. While cheaper homes are solidly built, they often feature small, closed kitchens and small bedrooms. That’s because for typical Panamanians, life is lived out on the (usually ample) terrace. You know, where you can catch a breeze.
Larger or more expensive homes are what locals call “American style” and may feature larger or open kitchens and better laid-out indoor space overall.
One such home was listed days ago. It is over 3,500 square feet in size and features three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a studio, large terrace, open kitchen, storage area, and laundry area. Price: $87,000.
There are rental properties in this area…not a lot, but certainly enough to meet the small demand. One three-bedroom, one-bathroom home in the center of town rents for $275 a month. I found another house for rent that has three bedrooms and two bathrooms with a small yard and gated parking space for $325 a month. In these parts, $500 a month gets you an “American style” house, already wired for high-speed Internet or Wi-Fi (a common luxury in Las Tablas).
Las Tablas, Panama: Live Like a Local
For foreign residents, this is virtually uncharted territory. In better-known locales like Bocas del Toro, the expat influence is apparent…signs in English, “gourmet” restaurants and delis, North American-style housing, and expat clubs have begun to pop up. Not so in Las Tablas.
Here, two local pizzerias on the plaza are the most exotic places to eat. For a birthday celebration or special outing, the restaurant/bar Rincon del Faro on Uverito Beach is a must. If you feel like a night of drinking with the locals, head back into town and stop by Royal Gin, an open-air bar, or Cash Casino, quite possibly the smallest casino I’ve ever seen—just a few slot machines and a bar.
No matter where you go, you’re unlikely to spend more than $20 on dinner and a couple drinks, even if you try. At some bars, a heady mixture of rum and cola is still only $1.75 (and breakfast can still be had for $2).
There is a supermarket and various “mini-supers,” Internet cafés, good roads, banks, shops, and clinics…all the basic amenities and comforts…but none of these is geared toward expats. That means that you’ll encounter fewer English speakers, including doctors or dentists, than in, say, Panama City. And you won’t find the range of U.S. products available in Panama City, or lively nightlife.
That’s another reason most things in Las Tablas are still so inexpensive.
This is truly a place where you come to live like a local and enjoy the slow, easy pace of life. When I visit, I feel the city stress ebbing away just moments after arriving.
In the main square, people of all ages sit on benches, greeting each other, eating ice cream…even the ones in business suits looked unhurried.
A word of caution…Las Tablas isn’t “sleepy” all the time. I’m talking about Carnival, when this town bursts into color. There are glittering parade floats, Carnival queens in outfits that put peacocks to shame, and ear-splitting murgas or typical bands. For anyone who likes to party, it’s the best time to be in Las Tablas. For those who prefer to make a buck, it’s the best time to rent out the house and head to Panama City for a weekend of theater, shopping, shows, and more.