By Mac Davidson - The Assistant to Señor Spears
Everyone always asked me the same question when I told them I am going to Panama... Why do you want to go to Panama? Why would you want to leave a great country like Canada and live in Panama?
My answer was always the same, 'Panama is my paradise'... This is by far, one of the most beautiful places I have been and by the end of this article, maybe you will be a little more curious and know why this place is so magical. Of course I haven't been to every corner of the planet, seen everything there is to see...But this small little slice of land in Central America is home to me. Stepping out of the airport, into the warm night air at the Tocumen airport, I was happier than I have ever been in my life. And that feeling has continued to this day....in fact, its growing more and more as I discover more about this wonderful and beautiful country, the history, the people, cultures, traditions, cuisine and sites.
I have not yet seen the whole country, but so far from what I have seen has been incredible and makes me loves this place even more. There is all the things you can read about online or in books, but when your feet are on the ground and you are seeing, feeling, smelling, touching things yourself, its amazing. And you find things you have never read or seen pictures of or even know existed.
Did you know there are little plants here that when you touch them, they close up?
Now Panama may not be for everyone, you have typical problems such as traffic jams, extreme heat, driving (as I mention in another article)... Signage, traffic lights and traffic regulations are lacking a little too. Landmarks help...but not much if your in the burbs or driving at night. One of my friends says night driving is the worst for him because everything looks the same and the lack of proper street lighting makes it worse. The condition of the roads and sidewalks are also a caution here. The highways may have holes, cracks... in the towns and cities there are potholes, and sometimes people steal the sewer grates along the sidewalks. So again, drive carefully, walk with your eyes open... But thats not far from lovely Winnipeg (where I am from), after the winter the streets and highways are cracked up like a warzone from the subzero temperatures, summer is spent repairing and upgrading the roads. So for those of us from those wintery climates know all about dodging holes and breaks in the concrete... Not a big deal.
One other aspect foreigners may find a little ugly is the littering. Unfortunately littering is quite common, however as you go further into the countryside, you find less and less of the littering happening. But its always disconcerning to see a nice property and right next to it in the ditch is a pile of garbage just dumped there rotting away.
And of course crime is a problem, but its a problem everywhere. Panama is no different from any other country, look for trouble and trouble will find you. Stay out of the bad areas. Lock your doors (house and car) and keep your money out of sight. Play smart & play safe.... Don't go wandering in the jungle alone, don't swim alone...use guides, hire a car/driver... use common sense and you will be fine.
Now, with those words of caution out of the way, let me tell you about why this country is amazing for me. And to answer the question, 'Why Panama?'... Why would you want to come here, live here, invest here, retire here, do business here? Why did I come here? Let me explain and give you some idea.
There are a million and one things that set this country a part from the others and I will try to touch on them in this article of what makes Panama a beautiful and wonderous place!
For me, one of the key aspects I love about this place is the weather. NO SNOW! Coming from Winnipeg (smack dab in the middle of southern Canada) where summers are short and easily spoiled with a few rainy weekends, or a slow start to the season...and winters being dark & cold (easily hits -30 and colder with the windchill, sometimes for months on end), Panama is paradise. Evenings and night at sea level (more or less) are a balmy 24 to 26 degrees celcius. Great summer breezes in the Panamanian Summer (Dry Season) keep things fresh. Daytime temps go into the 30's...bright and glorious sunshine.... In the Panamanian Winter (Rainy Season), it rains a little bit almost every day with beautiful rumbling thunder and lightening storms. With the rain, comes higher humidity, you will learn to love your AC and cold showers!
However the whole country is not constantly cooking with the tropical climate. You can easily escape the heat by heading to any one of the beautiful beaches for a dip in the ocean or go into the lake country and go for swim. The water is always refreshing and never freezing cold like up north... There are great public beaches, beach communities, hotels and resorts spotted along the coast. Actually I found a fellow who teaches surfing close by, so I definitely will be going to try that out. If you are interested in surfing, let me know and I can refer you. There is a big surfing culture here, and it seems the further west you go along the pacific coast, the more surfing you find. But for the sun whorshippers, swimmers, ocean fishing folks, resort junkies, backpackers, travelers, and those of us who love being close to the water, you will find it in Panama. And what still blows my mind, prices for beach front or beach access property is still incredibly reasonable. For the price of a regular sized house in Winnipeg (one of the cheaper places you can buy real estate in Canada), you can get a beautiful spot here by the ocean! Even cheaper on the Caribbean side which prices are amazing right now, so if you want a pacific or Caribbean slice of paradise (and a great investment), I would highly recommend you come down, check out the properties and buy now while the buying is good. Feel free to browse the beach properties we have here as well (CLICK HERE).
If miles of beautiful sandy beautiful beaches with towering palms and tropical sunshine are not your thing, Panama may still be for you as there are areas in the country that have vastly different climates and vistas. Heading into any one of the mountain communities or parks you can notice a huge change in the temperature. Mountain areas such as El Valle, Cerro Azul, Altos del Maria (to name a few), can give you the cooler climate you could be looking for with breath taking views. I found from my trips to Cerro Azul (for example), the temperature difference was almost always 10 degrees less (afternoon temp) than in the city. The city was around 34 degrees celcius (pretty toasty even for the locals), while up in the mountains, it was 24 degrees. So if you live in the mountains, you could easily enjoy a evening fire in your fireplace or a relaxing hot tub before bed... The pine trees in these mountain areas is wonderful too....smells like Christmas! There are exciting real estate developments happening all the time in these mountain escapes which you can find great deals for. There is ample land available as well to allow you to build your own castle over looking green valleys, waterfalls, freshwater lakes. And amazingly its so quiet... no traffic, no horns honking, no big trucks, never hords of people...quiet, secluded.... You can hear the winds blowing through the towering pines, watch the hummingbirds zip around, and enjoy the clouds sweeping overhead at near treetop level.
Another great aspect I love about Panama is the accessiblity for everything. For example, using Panama City as a starting point, you go within a few minutes and be in the mountains, high above the city or scoot over to the beaches. Head west, you encounter a beautiful rolling country side, small town living, ranches, farms. There is definitely prime real estate available in these rural communities (CLICK HERE) as well. If you want a farm, land to call your own, house in a small town, its all available. And all within one gas tank. Using the Pan American highway, you can access so many great locations and destinations in easy reach. Within the rural areas, you will encounter even more beautiful Pananamian traditions, music and the easy going country life style. Its worth a check to see for yourself.
Coming from a landlocked prairie city, where you have to drive hours or days (or fly) to get anywhere close to the desinations you can find here, is amazing. At least for me, everything I could want is just a quick car/bus/taxi ride away. This also makes it handy for real estate, as we can zip you around to some great properties in a day that will show you some of the beauty of this magnificant country.
Beautiful spots like Bocas del Toro and the San Blas islands, I can't comment on as I have no been to them yet. I will save them for future articles. But, what I can say is that everyone I have talked to who have visited this areas found them to be a paradise in and of themselves. Both are located on the Caribbean side at opposite ends of the country and definitely appear to rival most major caribbean destinations. You can bus it to San Blas from Panama City and be there in a few short hours. Ferries from Colon to Bocas are available as well so the access to these spots is definitely improving and everyone says, its worth the trip! I can't wait to see these spots.
So to recap so far... From the Capital, you can hit gorgeous caribbean destinations, fresh and cool mountains, relaxing pacific beaches and great small towns in the rolling hills and inland valleys. One other item I forgot to mention in connection to how convenient everything is in this country, if you need to fly to the US, Canada, South America, Europe, even Asia...you are just a few hours away. Direct flights from Panama to many major hubs are available to whisk you away if you need. And the prices are much better flying out from this location as well, giving you access to anywhere you need to go.
Then there is Panama City itself. This is a beautiful city, traffic and noise aside, this city is amazing. The skyline is constantly changing with new developments and projects being constructed every year. This past year, buying these developments in pre-construction was extremely popular. Buying in the construction stages usually yeilds you some of the best deals. Come see us if you are interested and we can give you some great options (CLICK HERE). Within Panama City is great shopping (of course as I outlined in one of my other articles), large modern malls, luxurious hotels, great local cuisine as well as exotic restaurants, exciting casinos, festive traditional events, as well as mainstream festivals. The modern infastructure of this bussling metropolis allows for all the modern conveniences you are used to in North America, Europe...Asia... One thing I love about this city is that it is not over crowded or congested. You can walk down the sidewalks and not be squished in with tons of other people bumping past you. And there are taxis everywhere. Unfortunately its a unregulated taxi system and if you look foreign, you will get foreign prices. But....these 'foreign prices' are still a fraction of North American taxi prices so don't worry too much about being ripped off. Getting around the city is pretty easy, provided you know where you are going or the name of the location... Language barrier is a bit of an issue, I am still learning Spanish, and encounter more people who know little to no english than who actually do.
There are also a host of islands off the coast of the city, starting with the Causeway (beautiful highway), connecting Panama City to the Amador islands which have a host of restaurnts, discos, museums and marina ports and offer a beautiful view of the ships waiting to go into the canal and the city. Then further out are even larger islands in the Bay (Taboga, Taboguilla and more even further out), however I will save these descriptions for future articles as well. But they all have great beaches, great real estate and opportunities galore and deserve their own articles with pictures.
Panama City is not just a great place to live. But its also a great place to work and invest. With the expanding economy and infastructure, this city (and the country for that matter) has been growing as a great location for commercial and manufacturing interests. Large multinationals are taking advantage of the great tax insentives and have moved or expanded operations here. The canal is also being expanding as well and when completed are going to double the GDP, bringing even more commercial and manufacturing opportunities as well as having business giants expand and setup up shop here. Business happening now in Panama is merely just the beginning as this country stands at the point of a giant leap forward which many eyes are now turning towards and taking notice. Banking, telecommunications, large brandnames, all gathering momentum here. As a budding business owner, entrepreneur or investor, now is the definitely the time to start looking at the opportunities here and making the arragements to expanding or moving operations here. There is tons of commericial/office space available, business insentives through the Panamanian government as well as modern manufacturing and warehouse developements. For the investors, real estate is taking off. You can find new developments springing up in every locality here. Building is on the rise, with great resort type condo facilities all along the pacific that definitely will give you a great return in the years to come. Oceanfront/view city property is also going up (being built) with expansive luxurious living offered at a great price.
If you are retiring, you have a great opportunity to live in a very comfortable lifestyle, maintaining your standards of living you are used to and will even be able to save money here. Cost of living is still much lower than Europe and North America so come and see for yourself. There are amazing programs for retirees which are available giving great incentives through the government as well.
Invest, retire and enjoy!
Aside from the business aspect which is going to be taking off very soon, the other part of this great place is the People. Panamanians are so friendly and are not shy to say hi, even on the street. Shoot someone a smile, they smile right back. Panamanians are generally a warm, happy and friendly people. They seem to find any occasion to break into dancing, and socializing. Maybe it is true what that article said, Panamanians are the happiest folks on the planet? I am leaning towards the feeling that they are. One large leap of social progress I have been observing is that there appears to be very little racism and discrimination among the Panamanian population...at least its not as overt as you can see in many other countries. People of all colors, ethnicities and religions inhabit this country and I am guessing this something that contributes greatly to the overall happiness of the population. Even my visit to the Immigration office to have my passport registered, I saw people from all over the world working on their immigration to Panama... Families from Europe, South Americans, other North Americans, Indians...you name it... even business folks and individuals starting a new life...like me were there. Panama is very much like Canada in terms of being a global population of a great mix of natoinalities from everywhere as well as locals.
I applaud people here and give thanks to them that their kids growing up here will rarely see or experience rasism and discrimination that we have all experienced and witnessed in our home countries. I will continue to observe and talk to people here to do my own little research project on how people interact with each other as well as to foriegners. Its a good measure of a country to see how people are treated and treat one another and so far Panama ranks number 1 in my list of tolerant and welcoming peoples. I guess that Panama, having a long history of peoples coming from other places over hundreds of years has contributed to this tolerance. So if you have any discriminatory practices and want to bring them here, you will definitely be a lonely person...better to stay where you are as you definitely won't be welcome here.
I touched a bit on the cuisine here, however I haven't gone into the actual food aspect. Fresh produce, fresh fruit abounds. I recommend you hit the local farmers markets. Cheapest veggies I have ever seen and they bring in truck loads of yuca's, tomatoes, pineapples, carrots...bascially if you can think of it, they have it. These markets are truly amazing and worth it. Don't bother hitting the large grocery stores unless you are looking for a special imported fruits or veggie. I can tell you that my diet has changed for the better living here. All year round fresh...everything...makes such a huge difference. Not only will you find great markets for veggies and fruits but also seafood. All the critters of the ocean are available at seafood markets across the country, the biggest being in Panama City which I wrote about as well. The beef, pork and chicken aspects are all equally good and when I left Canada, beef prices were going through the roof, with chicken being already expensive... Here, a good juicy steak is half the price in the grocery store as it is in Canada...actually less than half! So if you are retiring, need a specific diet or on a budget, you can find it all here and for a lot less than you are probably paying in your home country. The restaurant scene is amazing too. You can find everything typically found in a North American city, as well as highend cuisine with chefs from all over the world preparing some of the most beautiful dishes to satisfy your every craving. There are also local typical restaurants serving more traditional Panamanian dishes (these are some of my favorite restaurants), with great prices to boot. And the best part...there are restaurants and food stops everywhere! You will never go hungry in Panama and never run out of different foods and dishes to try.
Its time for another recap... Panama has a great and stable economy which is growing more and more with great opportunities to come giving rise to further investment, business and commerical growth. Job demand is going to be increasing even further, possibly surpassing local resources. Great food, great entertainment, beautiful and warm people rich with tradition and culture, and great foods to satisfy the pickiest of eaters... Beaches, mountains, countryside...
I hear this voice in my head repeating this phrase every time I discover something new in this country, 'Panamanians have no idea how good they got it here.' Beautiful country, beautiful people, wonderful cultures, fascinating traditions, great music, tasty food, land of oppertunity and just a great place to live, relax, work and enjoy.
So.... My question to you now is 'Why Wouldn't you come to Panama?'!
This is part of why Panama is my paradise.
So come join the happiest people in the world!!