Retiring in El Valle de Anton, Panamana
Panama was the first place I was seriously considering for retirement. My reasons were many, but there were some obvious high points such as Central America not being all that far from the US and Canada making trips back and forth reasonably easy. Panama is also a popular enough destination that there are multiple flight options to keep the prices relatively low. In addition, the warm weather and diverse ecology (rainforests abound) both added to the Panama's appeal.
Unfortunately, not all of Panama is a good option. In fact, most of the cities I considered were fairly quickly eliminated because of obvious characteristics. First and foremost, many places were eliminated because they're just too hot and humid; I want to enjoy my days and not hide inside with A/C on. An archipelago in the north, Bocas del Toro, sounded promising, but turned out to be too expensive. I wasn't surprised given the numerous resorts and the fact that getting stuff to islands costs more, but the area was worth investigating.
Two other cities, Boquette and El Valle de Anton sounded quite promising as they both were at higher elevations which meant that the weather would be less oppressive. A little digging revealed that El Valle was where many affluent Panamanians went on weekends. This meant that the housing was more likely to be in line with my expectations. It also meant that there would likely be a good balance of amenities for anyone that wanted to live there.
While buying a house would be a long term option, in the near term, renting is what I'm interested in. In El Valle there seemed to be quite the range of prices from $500 to $1500 a month. Based on descriptions, what I was looking for seemed to fall into the $600 to $700 range which was a comfortable range for me. The cost to buy was harder to figure out as many of the online advertisements seemed to be priced for gringos i.e. inflated.
Curiously, food and drink in El Valle actually seemed to be expensive. Looking at the menu of one local restaurant revealed that lunch would run about $10. Now compared to big city prices in the US this amount is certainly lower, but it's certainly not the great bargain a retiree like me would be looking for. And I couldn't but question whether it is indicative of the cost of other things in the area.
Other negatives of El Valle included high humidity. How did other expats deal with this? Some said they just got used to it. Others indicated they kept a dehumidifier in a room to ensure that things didn't get damaged from the humidity. Another resident mentioned that the humidity was so high that a mold was growing in his expensive camera lenses. Yikes! Others offered tips on how to deal with mold in their homes — the tips were interesting, but the thought of dealing with mold was disconcerting.
El Valle's location is what appealed to me the most. Despite being at elevation, it is surrounded by rainforests. That's right up my alley and I thought about how fun it would be to spend my days traipsing through the forest with my camera in hand looking for things to take pictures of.
The expat community also seems to be active. Check out the Yahoo Group for a peek into the day-to-day activities of the residents. Keep an eye open for those talking about the threat of home robberies — there's one guy who reported he's been robbed enough times that bars on the windows are now a must. With El Valle being somewhat small it seems that multi-unit condos, which are inherently safer than standalone houses, aren't available.
At this point El Valle is my second pick. If my first pick doesn't pan out, I'll very likely head to Panama for some in-person research. I've even picked where I'll stay during my visit, The Golden Frog Inn. And I'll most definitely pop into the Canadian owned Ty's Sports Grill where expats often gather and information is exchanged.
You are mistaken about the availability of both stand alone houses and the price of food in restaurants. I'm a retiree with a 100% rating from the VA. My income is between $43K and $44K per annum; not wealthy by any means, but quite comfortable, especially here in El Valle de Anton where I have leased a beautiful one bedroom casita on a private estate for $725 usd, everything included; water, electric, Netflix, horses,pond stocked with tilapia, in the most exclusive neighborhood in El Valle, near the Golden Frog. For my breakfast this morning I had cafe con leche, an omelet with queso,hongos and sabolla, jugo de naranja and yucca frita. Cost; $7.60 usd.