(US News) Panama is one of the world’s top retirement destinations. In this country, you have three dramatically different retirement lifestyle options to choose among: cosmopolitan cities, beautiful beachfront towns and cooler mountain climes. There are appealing retirement spots for retirees on strict budgets as well as upscale amenities for those whose retirement resources stretch a little further. Consider these 10 great places to retire in Panama:
Boquete literally stands above the rest of Panama at an elevation of about 3,900 feet. The area has eternally spring-like weather with an average temperature of around 65 degrees year-round, which is a welcome relief from Panama at sea level. Boquete has nutrient-rich soil and frequent rain showers, which keep the region lush, green and overflowing with wildflowers and coffee plantations. Boquete has one of the biggest communities of foreign retirees in the world, which makes this a good overseas retirement option for someone who doesn’t speak fluent Spanish or isn’t ready to fully immerse in a foreign culture. Boquete boasts a lively music and arts scene plus internationally recognized coffee and flower festivals.
The oblong landmass that dangles from Panama’s southern coast is the Azuero Peninsula. Its shores qualify as one of the country’s finest stretches of sand and sea, making the Azuero a great choice for ocean lovers. In the peninsula’s southeastern corner is Pedasí, a charming beach town where life is simple and traditional. This coast attracts divers, snorkelers, surfers and fishermen. Panama’s “tuna coast” is home to record-setting yellow fin. Wildlife refuges, national parks and countless beaches are also within easy reach. As Pedasí’s profile rises, more tourists are making their way here, meaning less privacy but more expat-friendly amenities and services. Life in Pedasí remains authentic, but it is more comfortable and convenient all the time.
In western Panama, La Concepción is about 30 minutes east of the Costa Rican border. This is Panama’s breadbasket and the country’s most important agricultural center. La Concepción is a rural region within easy traveling distance of David, Panama’s third-largest and fastest-growing city, meaning you can enjoy easy country living with access to shopping and other cosmopolitan conveniences. Expats are just beginning to make their way to La Concepción to take advantage of the relaxing, affordable lifestyle. The cost of living in La Concepción is far lower than in Panama City or even David.
The west coast of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula remains a frontier. Miles of undeveloped shoreline are sandwiched between crashing Pacific surf on one side and raw jungle on the other. One potholed road travels this coastline, connecting the towns and villages that dot this side of the Azuero, including Torio. Torio has a growing community of expats and foreign retirees, and as that population expands, so do the amenities and services to support them. The handful of restaurants, bars and guesthouses in Torio make it the de-facto social center for some 300 foreign retirees. The main attractions are the beaches, natural beauty and sunsets. This is the only western-facing coast in the country.
Santa Fe’s mountain setting means cooler temperatures and less humidity. This mountain town is less well known than Boquete, which means less development and a lower price tag. You could live here comfortably on less than $1,000 per month. In Santa Fe, you will need to embrace an authentic Panamanian lifestyle, including shopping where the locals shop, eating the local cuisine and learning to speak Spanish. Life centers around the river. Tourists drift down it in inner tubes, children splash around on sunny afternoons and locals socialize and wash their clothes on the shores. The river is also the source of Santa Fe’s main claim to fame: six waterfalls, whose surrounding slopes are covered with wild orchids, bougainvillea, hibiscus and jasmine.
Bocas del Toro
A long stretch of mainland Caribbean coast plus a smattering of islands make up Bocas del Toro Province, Panama’s top tourist destination. The turquoise water, white sand beaches, tropical jungle and laid-back vibe make the region unique in this country. No other section of the Caribbean has been developed to the same level. The center of activity is Bocas Town on Isla Colón, where colorful mom-and-pop shops offer snorkeling excursions, souvenir trinkets and hibiscus tea. The tourists come for the sun, surf and cheap, fruity cocktails, while foreign retirees embrace the affordable Caribbean lifestyle and the eclectic culture. Visited by Christopher Columbus in 1502 and a center for banana plantations, the area has a cultural mosaic that is distinct from the rest of the country.
The Las Perlas archipelago is comprised of over 200 islands, including Isla Contadora. This is one of the few tropical islands where you can live without fear of hurricanes. In the 1970s and ‘80s Contadora was a hangout for the rich and famous, and before that it was a buccaneer hideout where pirates came to count their treasure before shipping it back to Europe. “Contadora” means “accountant.” Today, the island is home to a handful of full-time foreign residents and retirees from around the world who appreciate the island lifestyle and the international flavor. Residents get around using golf carts or utility vehicles. Travel to other islands in the archipelago takes place on a traditional panga, a narrow boat long used to transport people and goods from shore to shore.
Casco Viejo, Panama City
Casco Viejo, laid out on a grid in the classic European style, is a historical treasure, from its cobblestoned and brick-paved streets and centuries-old buildings to its shady plazas, parks and churches. Casco combines an Old World atmosphere with funky modern amenities. Tucked away among the old buildings are hip cafés, rooftop nightclubs, five-star restaurants and ceviche street stalls. On the other hand, Casco Viejo sits on a tiny finger of land that juts out into the Bay of Panama with one way in and out, narrow streets that date to when the Spanish originally laid out the area and almost no parking. Life in Casco Viejo can be both romantic and maddening. The best way to take it all in is on two feet, wearing a Panama hat and sipping a rum cocktail.
Every Friday afternoon, Panama City experiences an exodus as residents cross the Bridge of the Americas to their chosen seaside escapes. An hour outside of Panama City is a string of gated communities and resorts collectively referred to as the City Beaches. This stretch of Pacific coast is home to thousands of expats from around the world, including many people who speak English. The primary attractions are the accessibility from Panama City and the infrastructure. Over the past dozen years, this coast has developed to include high-end grocery stores, shopping malls, big-box stores, restaurants, wine shops and delicatessens. The social network is well-established here, and there are many options to participate in yoga, golf, art classes, karaoke and game nights with other expats. The City Beaches area isn’t a budget destination, but the luxury standard of living is a global bargain.
On the east coast of the Azuero Peninsula, Chitré’s culture dates back thousands of years, and life here remains very traditional. This is a small town with all the conveniences of a major metropolitan area, including banks, grocery and hardware stores and even casinos. It’s a fast-growing area of the country, and construction and infrastructure projects are constant. You can reach Chitré by plane from Panama City, with two flights operating daily, or drive about 3 1/2 hours on the well-maintained Pan-American Highway. You’ll know you’re getting close when the vegetation becomes sparser and the landscape drier. This is Panama’s Dry Arch, with significantly less rainfall than anywhere else in the country.