Panama: Planning for Fourth Stage of Coastal Strip

 

Even with the new highway along Balboa that allows you to speed through town, there is a choke point when you drop off the highway from Tocumen. Now with “Cinta Costera 4″ that will all change. With phase 3 underway and once 4 is complete you soon will be able to leave Tocumen International Airport and take a beltway around Panama City, cross the Bridge of the Americas and head out west to the beaches and Panama’s gold coast.

 

 

 

The first two phases of the coastal strip are complete and the third started in September that will ring Casco Antiguo and continue westward out of the City.

 

 

Now the fourth phase is in process.

 

In these early stages of the project known as ‘Cinta Costera 4’ plans are for only the road infrastructure and related landscaping.

 

According to an article in Elsiglo.com the Director of Special Projects of this entity, Carlos Ho, said: “The costs and the final design are still being drafted and have not yet been defined, however, the authorities from the MOP are counting on this work helping to greatly reduce traffic in Paitilla. He added that options such as a semi tunnel, a marine viaduct or landfills are being analyzed. ”

 

“Although the project is not in the immediate plans of the MOP, engineering studies are already underway”, the official added.

 

Rodrigo Mejia Andrión, a member of the Panamanian Society of Engineers and Architects (SPIA) views ” the Cinta Costera project extension as positive, especially for residents of Punta Pacifica who are suffering from the consequences of the large number of cars driving through the area . ”

 

Source: elsiglo.com

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There are many of you who make the plans to come down to Panama but face the age old question of whether to cab it or rent a car.  Just in case you decide on the later, I am going to provide you with some tips on driving here.

 

Keep one digit on the horn at all times, and use it.


This is important.  A horn honk can mean many things, but people don't generally use their signal lights here.  That means to make a lane change, they just turn toward you to let you know they are pushing in.  If you are not in agreement with their proposed move, or cannot slow down to let them in, your horn will be required, probably a longer honk.  A quick honk can mean anything from hello, go, stop, move, the light is green, or look out, here I come, really fast!

 

Do not drive too fast.


This is important for the reason mentioned above.  With no signal light use, you can be hurtling past the slow moving traffic making great time, when suddenly and without warning, a car pulls out in front of you, or blows an intersection only micro millimeters from you.  Serioulsy, slow down.

 

Stop signs are not stop signs.


Stop signs, like all other rules in Panama, are only suggenstions.  It is important to know that not only are there times that the traffic with the stop sign takes the right of way, and the traffic without is forced to stop, but that you will be forced to take the right of way at the stop sign and the traffic without will unexpicably stop for you.  I have never seen a yield sign here.  Ever.

 

Don't hurry off at the green light.


You will get honked at, but it is important to look both ways at the green light.  Panamanian green lights often last until it has been red for a several seconds.

 

Potholes are more important than pedestrians.


Cars have the right of way here.  Pedestrians are on their own and run around like they are playing the old video game Frogger.  Eyes wide open dodging traffic for their very lives.  Panamanians may not slow down for a person, but they will slow down for a pothole or a speed bump so be careful.  If they don't suddenly brake to almost 0 kph, they will swerve and run other cars right off the road to avoid any inconvenient jostling inside the automobile.

 

Turn lanes.


Single turn lanes often turn into 2, 3 and even 4 car wide turn lanes, and it is just the person with the widest eyes and the most courage who gets to push into the steady flow of traffic next.  The lines on the road usually mean nothing, and the city hardly cares about repainting the faded ones, so 2 lanes of traffic turn into one, 2 into 3, and when there are 5 lanes, you just pick a line and stay between the car on the right and the car on the left.   One expample of a common occurence is on a left hand turn, there are 2 direct lanes, and of course a turn lane on the left, there will be a car turning left from the right lane.  Another reason for wide eyes and care, not speed.

 

Red Lights.


Red lights are a great place to text, check emails, read a book, or conduct some business.  You often sit at a red light for 4 red lights, and the best thing about it is, if you are preoccupied by your favorite novel, someone will always give you a honk when it is time to move.

 

Entering the flow of traffic.


There is a ton of construction in the city.  Perpetual construction season.  The traffic is bottlenecked, redirected and generally, just over crowded.  This makes it absolutely imposible to enter traffic by sitting with your signal light on and waiting for an opening.  There just never will be an opening.  Never.  Don't worry, the traffic waiting behind you will inform you of this by using their horns.  They may even be courteous enough to pull up on your left side and push a hole into the traffic for you.  The proper procedure is to push your nose into the flow until you force a car to stop, creating an opening.  Do not attempt this with the Diablo Rojos, they will just smash you.

 

Taxi's / Buses


Taxis are pushy, to say the least, and they just aren't good drivers.  Almost every crash you will see involves at least one taxi.  Even our Mitsubishi has a couple nice yellow stripes on it.  Be careful around a taxi.  Diablo Rojo's are the old painted school buses.  They WILL run you over, so let them go by unless you really want an adrenalin rush.  The city bus drivers are a little more courteous, but you will run into the odd one that is obviously piloted by an ex-Diablo Rojo driver.

 

Learn the limits of your automobile.


Driving in this traffic takes skill.  If you are a bad driver in Canada, or the USA, don't attempt it here.  You need to know where the front of your car is, where the back is, where the sides are.  Traffic gets tight, people push you around and at times, you will need to push back, and for that you need to know the limits of you car.  If you're a race car driver, or a gamer, you'll have a great time!!

 

Ok, it's at this point in the aricle that I am going for a drive to make sure I haven't forgotten anything.  Back in a couple hours ;)

 

Traffic circles.


FREE FOR ALL.

 

No parking?  No problem.


Curbs painted yellow and signs with an "E" with a cicle and cross through it indicate no parking.  That is just a suggestion, much like a stop sign.

 

Have a map or Nav.


There are very few signs indicating direction, speed limits etc.  It is a great idea to have a nav system that property indicates street directions etc, as there are tons of one ways, some of which change direction at certain times of day!!  Google maps works well on your iPhone or android.  Apple maps are very very bad in Panama.  Wrong street  names, missing streets, and no indication of direction.  A free ap is Waze.  For iPhone, androids, and blackberries, it provides an ok map and lets you know where traffic hazards and police are.  You can program a route and it will take you there safely, around the hazards.

 

Speed limits.


In the city just drive normally or even slower.  Be careful.  On the highways, the usual speed is 80 when you are not sure.  There are often police posted every 3 or 4 KM's so when you are passing one it is best to slow to 80 and maybe even 60 as there are many 60 zones that are not clearly marked, and not seeing the sign is no excuse.  There are also 100 zones but few and far between.  A helpful tip is to keep a 10 dollar bill in your passport or International drivers license.  It may not be there when the officer hands it back, but guaranteed it saved you a bunch of hassle.

 

...and last but not least, when your finished your beer, just turf it out the window, someone might pick up the can for a few pennies...  I'm kidding, it's illegal and dangerous!

 

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One of the first questions I often get when taking on a new client interested in buying in Panama is "Can you send me some listings?"  I understand why people want to see what is available, and I do try to accomodate the best I can, but 9 clients out of 10, really haven't explored Panama enough to have any idea what area or what type of community they are going to feel comfortable in.  I can add my expert and experienced opinion, but that is like me recomending that you paint your house orange because it's my favorite color.  It probably isn't yours.

 

For example, I recently dealt with a couple who originally felt living in a small local community, not touristy, "among the locals" was what they were looking for.  I sent them listing after listing, which really wasn't much help because these folks, although had been to Panama, had never really explored, or learned about the different areas of Panama.  Sure, there can be a really nice little 3 bedroom house only 10 minutes from the beach, close to the supermarket and a hospital, but is it an area that is safe for a North American to be walking after 7 pm when the sun goes down?  The answer is, not always, and quite often, NO.

 

 These clients ultimately ended up buying in a gated community no where near the area which they had originally had in mind.  I had spent countless hours searching and sending listings which, in the end, didn't work for my clients.  On top of that, my clients had spent countless hours sifting through listings which, in the end, didn't work for them either!!  In my world, time is pretty precious and I'm sure most people feel the same way.

 

The just of what I am saying is that if you are buying a home, not a rental or an investment, but a home, you cannot rely on listings that are sent to you some 5000 miles away.  You need to set aside 2 weeks of your time and come down to Panama, and travel the coast, or whatever area that compliments your idea of where you would like to live.  

 

So many people want me to send listings on properties because they plan on buying in the next couple years.  Well that is like going car shopping today because you are planning on a new car in a couple years.  Things can change drastically in that time.  Prices, availability, architecture, developments etc.  If you have spent plenty of time here and know that you want to live in a certain area, great, buying sight unseen works for many, but for others it just doesn't.  Again with the car analogy, it's hard to buy a used car over the phone.  You've got to see it, and it only takes a short time with me in person to show you this country and what it has to offer.

 

Rentals and investments are a little different in that most will buy inside a gated community by the beach that has been built for the purpose of holiday homes with on site renal programs.  Of course people live there too, but those people again, are going to want to come down, spend a week with me to see in person the grounds, amenities offered, touch the beach, feel the area, look who the neighbors are etc.  Trust me people, sending you listings is exactly as helpful as a car salesman sending you specs and photos on a brand new Chev Equinox in 2005 when you plan on buying in 2007, and you aren't even able to drive the thing.  In 2007, when you are ready to buy, there will be plenty available, the salesman will be just as helpful, AND you will get to drive it, odds are it will sound like a tin box and you'll go buy and Edge anyway!  ;)

 

It's a buyer's market in Panama at present.  There is a lot, and I mean a lot for sale.  Don't worry if you can't make it down for another 3 months, or if you plan on buying next year, there will still be a lot, and I say again, a lot for sale.  We will find the right one for you.  Unless you plan on buying here without coming down, based on your realtor's recomendation, you really need to come down and  see what is here.  You have to see the different areas, as so many factors can vary from one to another.

 

I try to keep all of my listings up to date.  I don't put all of my listings on this site so you can also check www.beachesandcity.com where you will find the rest of our listings. 

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Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,

 

I just got back from the beach, and I wish I could turn my car around and go back to where I just came from. Coronado, only about an hour outside Panama City, is what I'd consider the most turn-key, most expat-ready ocean-front lifestyle available in Panama. Foreign retirees living in Coronado have already paved the way, leaving you little to do for yourself to create a familiar, comfortable, English-speaking atmosphere.

 

It's fear of the unknown that keeps many people from making the move overseas. In Coronado you can rest assured you'll find like-minded folks, all living out their dream retirements on the beach, ready to mingle and welcome new neighbors.

 

I arrived in Coronado on a quiet Friday afternoon. Residents of the area were out at lunch, busy shopping in the new El Machetazo (the closest thing to a Walmart here in Panama), or lounging by the beach. The sun was shining, not yet allowing the dark, rainy season clouds to push their way into town. Four vendors had set up shop at the entrance to the community, selling everything from bunches of assorted flowers to plantains, tomatoes, pineapples, and garlic. Trucks were loaded with fruits and vegetables.

 

I'd hoped for a weekend like this, calm and quiet. Holiday weekends can see loads of families from Panama City flocking to their vacation homes on the beach, crowding the grocery store parking lots and filling up the restaurants. For many years, that was Coronado's main purpose, to serve as the vacation getaway and weekend home for those who could afford a retreat outside the capital. Over the past few years, though, as Panama City has grown busier, dirtier, noisier, and generally harder for many retirees to take day-to-day, Coronado has transformed into a full-time retirement community.

 

I've driven past Coronado many times this past year on research trips for past Panama Letter destinations, so I knew that the town had grown by leaps and bounds, but I had no idea by how much. On the Pan-American Highway at the turnoff to Coronado, three new shopping centers have sprung up, along with a number of restaurants. This area today has everything the retiree could want or need, from a medical clinic to a brand-new gym, from three major supermarkets to a dry cleaner, from a Mailboxes Etc. to a golf course, even an equestrian school and three international schools. And, remember, you're only an hour from Panama City, with its Johns Hopkins-affiliated hospital, 18-screen movie theaters, nightlife, shopping, and casinos.

 

The entrance to the central neighborhood that is Coronado is guarded, which provides security to all those living on the other side of the gate. Plus, right next to the guard shack is the Coronado police station.

Residences in Coronado range from small, cozy single-family homes to million-dollar mansions and high-rise condos. While I was in the area, I heard a couple of people say that Coronado is like the Miami of Panama. I'd argue that the Cinta Costera and Avenida Balboa areas along the water in Panama City are more like Miami. I grew up in South Florida, and I'd say that Coronado is more like the Las Olas, Fort Lauderdale, of Panama.

Some of the homes on the beach are magnificent. Some are old-fashioned and have probably been around for many years, while some others are modern, fancy, even slightly futuristic-looking. Something for everyone, including smaller homes in the US$250,000 range. If you're willing to look on the outskirts of town, even right across the street in the hillside town of Las Lajas, homes can be found for less. I met a couple living in the beautiful hillside community of Altos del Maria, which is probably about a 20-minute drive from Coronado. They were in Coronado, spending their day enjoying all that the beach town has to offer. Karys, our bed-and-breakfast owner, is selling a three-bedroom house she owns in Chame, probably 15 minutes from Coronado, for US$165,000.

 

You could rent here for maybe US$750 per month. In Las Lajas, that hillside community right across the street from Coronado I mentioned already, I found a two-bedroom house for US$900 per month. In nearby Chame there's a four-bedroom home that will set you back only US$650 per month.

 

Something that I've always appreciated about Panama and that I noticed is common in Coronado is growing many of your own fruits and vegetables. Mango and papaya trees are everywhere, as are plantain and banana trees. Many people grow their own spices, fruits, and vegetables, in their back yard gardens. The owner of our bed and breakfast, Morgan's Paradise, grows many of the spices and vegetables she cooks with. At the home she's selling in Chame, she has yucca, ginger, papaya, mangoes, aloe, and many other valuable plants and vegetables growing on the property. It's a way of life here.

 

Chris Powers

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