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There are a number of destinations that can be included in a list of the healthiest places in the Latin Tropics. The abundance of fresh foods, a more relaxed pace of daily living, and the tropical climate are just some of the features that have made the region a long-time favorite destination for retirees and other expats looking for a better quality of life.

This compelling combination has dramatically increased the interest of U.S. residents in finding alternative approaches to their current living arrangements. It is not just the locations themselves, but the qualities and opportunities that can be found there, that promise an overall healthier lifestyle – both on the physical and the emotional levels.

What Makes the Healthiest Places in the Latin Tropics Special

There are a number of qualities that the healthiest places in the Latin Tropics all seem to share. Below is a list of these factors that contribute to the wellbeing of locals and expats alike.

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Finding fresh produce in the tropics can be as easy as taking a short walk or drive to one of the countless roadside stands or weekly farmers’ markets that are a fixture of life in these countries.  The wide variety of locally grown products is not only less expensive but makes it far more convenient to prepare meals from scratch – leading to another element that makes life in the tropics a healthy alternative: diet.

healthiest places in the latin tropics

Geoff Baker

Healthier Diets

There is certainly a much smaller emphasis on pre-packaged or “fast” food in the Latin Tropics. As a result, more meals are prepared fresh, instead of out of a container or microwavable box.

Additionally, there is not as much emphasis on red meat in the region, the preferred protein sources being poultry or fish. These kinds of diets have been shown to be healthier in terms of reducing fat and cholesterol.

Better Climate

Having more sunlight, warmer temperatures and less extremes in climate (i.e., winter cold to summer heat in a short period) has shown to be more conducive to better health. Aside from the physical benefits of Vitamin D, the abundance of sunlight also helps combat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Appropriately abbreviated as SAD, this type of depression brought on during the shorter periods of daylight during the winter months impacts roughly three million adults yearly. Given that daylight hours only vary about fifteen minutes during the seasons, life under the tropical sun is emotionally healthy as well as physically healthy.

Less Stressful Pace of Living

If there is one thing that is the hallmark of the Latin Tropics, it is the slower, more relaxed pace of life.  The stress of facing crowded streets, time clocks, and the omnipresent “noise” of the 24/7/365 connected world is replaced by the far more tranquil natural rhythms of the ocean, tropical rain forests, and small villages.

While the slower pace of getting things done (such as repairs or building projects) can take some getting used to, the physical benefits are worth the extra time spent.  It can truly be said that, in terms of daily living, you do without doing and it all gets done.

More Active Lifestyle

One of the most important features that all these locations share is a more active physical lifestyle. Warm weather is more conducive to outdoor activities that can range from merely walking to more strenuous forms such as swimming, surfing, and other sports.

The Top Five Healthiest Places in the Latin Tropics

Here is a list of the top five healthiest places in the Latin Tropics. While each one has its own unique characteristics, they all share qualities that make them desirable of destinations for those seeking to find their own personal “fountain of youth.”

healthiest places in the latin tropics


5. Volcán/Boquete, Panama

Located in the Chiriquí province of Panama, the Volcán/Boquete area boasts access to an abundance of fresh produce, herbs, and coffee and is known as the “breadbasket of Panama.” The moderate temperatures, low humidity (thanks to being 4000 feet above sea level), and a tranquil sense of wellbeing, all contribute to a more active lifestyle.

The region also can claim longer life spans for its residents than the rest of Panama. Boquete has been singled out by AARP magazine as one of the top places to retire in the entire world.

4. Playa Gigante, Nicaragua

This rustic fishing village on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua is rapidly becoming a mecca for a growing number of alternative health and yoga spas. With a very laid-back lifestyle, ready access to fresh fish and produce, and natural beauty of one of the country’s ecological centers, healthy living in Playa Gigante comes easily.

healthiest places in the latin tropics

Jon Hurd

3. Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

Aside from its breathtaking vistas, Lake Atitlán, Guatemala is becoming recognized as a place for retirees seeking a healthier lifestyle. With some of the best weather anywhere, the rich Mayan culture (still very much in existence), abundant fresh produce, and a variety of outdoor activities to enjoy, Lake Atitlán’s popularity as both a tourist destination and a retirement location continues to grow.

healthiest places in the latin tropics

Presidencia de la República del Ecuador

2. Vilcabamba, Ecuador

It may come as a surprise to many that Vilcabamba, Ecuador is included in this list. Located in what is has become known as the “Valley of Longevity,” local residents claim to reach life expectancies well past 100 years.

While there is no hard evidence to support this claim, the mild climate, abundant fresh air (no pollution), low animal fat diets, and active lifestyle certainly are positive factors for healthier living. The natural beauty and relaxed pace of life in the valley also contribute to the growth of Vilcabamba as a top retirement destination.

healthiest places in the latin tropics

Carlos Adampol Galindo

1. Nicoya Peninsula/Nosara, Costa Rica

Featured in the book, The Blue Zones, the Nicoya Peninsula – and Nosara in particular – has become the best known of top healthy places in the Latin Tropics. The ready access to fresh produce and seafood combined with a more relaxed outdoor lifestyle has created an environment where longer life spans are the rule, not the exception.

Healthier diets and more physical activity seem to be only part of Nosara’s secret. The growing number of alternative therapies, such as meditation and yoga, create an atmosphere where life can be embraced as opposed to just being lived.

Finding That Longer, Healthier Life Path in Paradise

Visiting the locations mentioned above (or others in the region) could be the first step to discovering what the healthiest places in the Latin Tropics could offer as a lifestyle choice. Learning where and what resonates with you is a great place to begin your quest for a healthier, happier existence.

Panama is becoming increasingly well-known as a top eco-tourism destination. Viva Tropical sat down with Oscar Peña Sanchez, Manager of Explora Ya, Boquete’s top eco-tour and adventure travel company to find out why Panama consistently ranks above the rest.

explora ya


Please tell us briefly about Explora Ya and the adventures you offer.

Explora Ya is an eco-tourism company dedicated to providing not only tours but “EXPERIENCES”; we are a company with a beautiful goal and that is to show the best of Panama and the Chiriqui province.  We want to have a positive impact on our community and every single traveler visiting us.

We value the big effort travelers make by taking the time off and also spending their savings to enjoy and get to know the culture of Panama in general, so the best way we can honor that is to make sure they leave Panama with positive and amazing experiences!

Much of Panama has an exploding eco-tourism scene. Can you explain to our readers why Chiriqui is especially important?

This is a very good question.  Chiriqui is one of the most important provinces in Panama for a number of reasons. Because of its location we can be in the mountains of Boquete drinking one of the best coffees in the world and then after a short drive we can swim in the warm Pacific Ocean. Chiriqui is also very rich when it comes to food production. We always have the highest quality fresh green veggies.

Chiriqui is a very dynamic place to travel and now even more since Copa Airlines opened a connection flight from Tocumen Airport. So our travelers, if they plan well, don’t need to stay an extra night in the city to make it to Chiriqui, which helps save them some time and money.

The variety of weather is another big part of why Chiriqui is the best province to visit or retire in many cases. Boquete for example is around 3,473 ft above sea level, so the temperature here is always fresh, but not too cold, and people feel very relaxed.  The weather is pretty much always the same since we are near the Equator.

What are the most popular areas for eco-tourism in Chiriqui?

To be honest, all of them! From Boca Chica you can take a boat and visit beautiful islands with white sand and amazing snorkel spots.  You can see sea turtles, colorful fishes, and humpback whales from the months of July until early October.  Also there are many other islands like Boca Brava and near the Chiriqui Gulf, which is growing very fast in terms of eco-tourism.

Boquete for sure is the most beautiful boutique town.  This town literally has almost everything: a nice amount of good restaurants, several trails for people to hike or do the best bird watching. We have a good amount of trained guides to ensure amazing experiences and spot the best of it.

The Baru Volcano is the Giant and center of attraction for many hard-core hikers or people who enjoy adrenaline by going up on a Jeep 4×4 or ATVs. We celebrate the famous Baru Eco-fest which invites a lot of people to challenge themselves to go up and down in a short time but under supervision of security like paramedics and emergency groups.

Generally speaking, Chiriqui has a little bit of everything for everyone.  Other destinations are great beaches like Las Lajas, and also Puerto Armuelles which is located near the border to Costa Rica and is getting more attractive for travelers and expats.  It has great fishing and also nice beaches to swim in.

Tell us how Explora Ya is adapting to Panama’s eco-tourism growth.

Explora Ya is progressively making sure we promote more activities that involve being in touch with nature, but in a safe way for our environment.  We are aware of how we can have either a positive or negative impact on nature, depending on how developed the activities are here.

I do remember when I got here almost six years ago eco-tourism was not that explored and there were not many options. It wasn’t so easy to spot a Resplendent Quetzal, which is a rare bird originally from Guatemala that has found home in the mountains in Chiriqui. This bird can be spotted from Cerro Punta to Boquete in several trails, and we make sure this bird and all the rest of them are protected.

It’s very much ingrained in the culture of Panamanians to adapt and take ownership of the natural reserves and be part of the growth in Panama.

Finally, what advice can you give to future visitors to Panama and especially to those who are planning a visit to Chiriqui?

First of all, planning ahead always is very helpful regardless of which activity you are going to do or which place you’re going to visit.  Make sure you bring the gear necessary to fully enjoy Chiriqui.  It is also very important to do research on different tour companies and make sure you always have a guide who’s certified by SINAPROC (National Civil Protection).  After that just enjoy the ride!

Explora Ya is an official ATP Licensed operator.  Its tour office is downtown in the heart of Boquete. You can find out more about the experiences they offer by clicking here.

Living in Panama today can provide a wide variety of options for those seeking opportunities outside the U.S. and Europe to live, retire, and invest. Ranging from big city living to secluded mountain villages, Panama offers a selection of lifestyles that is second to none in Central America.

Living in Panama

Panama City at Night

Panama’s Past Is the Cornerstone of Its Future

Panama’s history is one of change and growth. From its earliest colonial beginnings, to the construction of the Panama Canal, the turmoil of the late 20th century to the revitalization of today, Panama continues to thrive and offer fresh opportunities to live and immerse oneself in the diverse culture of Central America.

One of the major attractions in Panama is the lower cost of living throughout the country. With reasonable rents, lower food and medical costs, and a continuing growing standard of living, it is small wonder that Panama is viewed by many as picking up where other Central American countries have left off.

Living in Panama today provides a cultural and economic opportunity to share in a rich historical tradition while exploring and becoming part of a vibrant and exciting future. In a real sense, Panama’s past has become the cornerstone of the future potential as the country continues its course to becoming a premier expat destination in the 21st century.

Living in Panama – A Wide Choice of Locations and Climates

Panama is fortunate in that it offers variety in both climates and locations.  Though located in tropical Central America, Panama has several “micro-climates” that reflect the many regions in the country.

For those seeking the energy and excitement of a modern city, Panama City is the place to be. The skyline along the beaches of the Pacific Ocean is more reminiscent of South Beach than an emerging nation.

The cool climates of the mountains in such locations as Boquete, Sante Fe and El Valle offer a nice contrast to the hotter, more humid beachfront locations. The La Armistad Biosphere Reserve, at Volcan, demonstrates both the geographic and meteorological diversity that can be found in Panama.

A more rustic lifestyle awaits expats looking to the interior communities of David and Chitre. Being able to become part of daily village life may be an ideal alternative for those wanting to avoid the more frenetic pace of larger cities.

Island Life – A Uniquely Panamanian Alternative

Having more islands than any other Central American country, Panama can boast of some of the best beach living in the region. The Las Perlas Islands group on the Pacific side and the San Blas Islands on the Caribbean coast contain the best beaches in Panama and are more affordable than many oceanside locations elsewhere.

Panama Is a Land of Potential on Many Levels

The aggressive efforts of the Panamanian government in recent years to attract foreign investment and to make Panama a desirable location for expats and retirees is beginning to reap dividends. Changes in residency laws, enhanced benefits for retirees, and a pro-business and investment approach is making Panama a model for Central American vibrancy in the 21st century.

New Residency Laws Make Living in Panama an Easy Choice

In May 2012, Panama enacted the Specific Countries Program. Under this program, holders of passports from the United States, Canada and many European countries can become Panamanian residents in as little as six to eight months.

As Panama’s economy continues to grow, the need for skilled workers has led to revisions in the laws impacting those who may want to work in their new expat location.

The Highly Skilled Worker Permit is one of these new revisions. Under this program, which is exempt from quotas and sponsorship requirements, all that is needed is a Bachelor’s Degree (or higher) and a letter from the perspective employer.

Living in Panama – Retirees Are More Than Welcome

Panama is making a major effort to attract retirees with the Pensionado (retirement) Visa program. Any person over the age of 18, with a guaranteed monthly income of $1000 from a government agency, such as Social Security or the U.S. Armed Forces, can qualify for this type of residency.

Holders of retirement visas receive many discounts and benefits in the form of reduced prices for a wide variety of services and items. Some of the most attractive of these discounts are:

Entertainment (movies, sports, etc.) 50%
Airline Tickets 25%
Closing Costs for Home Loans 50%
Professional/Technical Services 20%
Dental/Eye Exams 15%

With the Retirement Visa, an individual is entitled to a one-time tax exemption on imported household goods (up to a $10,000 limit). Another important benefit is a tax exemption every two years for the purchase or importation of a new vehicle.

Living in Panama – Growing Pains

For all the positives and potential that Panama offers, it is important to remember that this is an emerging nation in the throes of development. As a result, some of the challenges that expats may encounter may not be a good fit for everyone.

Infrastructure Is Not the Same Everywhere

The modern and urban environment of Panama City does not carry over to other parts of the country. Less developed regions in the mountains and further inland are far more rustic in nature. If having access to modern amenities is a requirement, this could limit the choices for relocation.

Changing Legal Environment

Not everyone has welcomed the efforts of the government to attract foreign businesses and workers to Panama. As a result, changing laws and regulations could impact residency and tax matters. This potential for change can be a negative for some who would like a more stable, less dynamic environment in which to invest.

Improvement and Construction Versus Quiet and Established

The constant improvement of Panamanian infrastructure and amount of new construction is certainly a positive for the country. With this growth, however, comes the disruption of the tranquil nature of many communities in the country. Navigating through construction zones and dealing with the issues that this kind of development brings may be a negative to those seeking a more rustic environment.

Discover the “Panama Potential”

The emergence of a growing real estate market makes doing research on what is on the market more important than ever. Whether the desired location is big city or rustic village, looking at what is available can provide a perspective on the true potential that can be found in the various locations of Panama.

Do you love the climate and natural beauty of Boquete but hate the overcrowded, touristy feel it’s developed of late? Then you should check out Volcan, Panama.

Volcan, Panama

Rich Young

Located just around the corner, on the other side of the Baru Volcano (the country’s highest peak, at 11,400 feet), Volcan offers many of the same inherent benefits as its neighbor.  However, it comes with a simpler lifestyle, a more authentic Panamanian feel, and a considerably lower price tag.

Volcan, Panama, offers a cool mountain climate and incredible weather year round.

Much like Boquete, Volcan’s elevation of between 4,000 to 5,000 feet allows for spring-like temperatures all year long.  With lows nearing 60 and highs that rarely exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit, there’s no need for heat, air conditioning (other than a ceiling fan), or multiple seasons of clothing.

You can move to this serene mountain town with just a light sweater for evenings and a rain jacket for the afternoon showers.  Many expats choose it for its quaint pastoral setting, which some compare to a Colorado town without the snow, and the many opportunities for healthy living that are created by the climate and the abundant natural resources.

The area is blessed with rich, fertile soil that’s ideal for growing coffee, flowers, oranges, and many other crops.  It’s also an important area for cattle farming, with 80% of the country’s milk, meat, and vegetables coming from the region.  There are also numerous streams for fishing, and fresh fish and produce are widely available at roadside stands.

Volcan, Panama

D. Delgado

The town is pleasantly less developed than Boquete.

With only about 10,000 inhabitants (of which about 250 are North American expats), Volcan is on the smaller side.  As a result, there are no shopping malls, fast food chains, or movie theaters.  However it still has everything you need to enjoy a simple lifestyle.

There are several large supermarkets, four hardware stores, three banks, pharmacies, bakeries, medical centers, gas stations, internet cafes, and more.  There are also about 30 places to eat.  They’re all small, charming, and locally owned.

For anything beyond your basic needs, up to and including a large hospital, you’ll need to make the 45 minute drive to David.  For many expats, the simplicity and quaintness are worth the trade off.

Despite its size, Volcan has surprisingly good infrastructure.  Even the winding roads that lead up to the town are paved and well-maintained.  The tap water is drinkable.  The electricity is reliable.  And internet and cable are readily available.

Volcan also has a much more laid-back social scene than most of the larger cities.  There aren’t a lot of hopping nighttime hotspots.  However, there are a couple of bars, a disco, and even a pool hall in town.

Volcan, Panama

Adam Mizrahi

Yet Volcan offers just as many amazing natural attractions as nearby tourist hotspots.

One thing’s for sure.  Volcan’s small size certainly doesn’t translate into any fewer ways to enjoy the outdoors, as it offers a wealth of activities to adventure lovers of all kinds.

Sweet-water fishing is a popular pastime of locals and visitors alike.  You can also spend time mountain biking, hiking, or whitewater rafting.  A particular favorite is the hike up to the peak of Volcan Baru, where those who are blessed with a clear day can enjoy views of both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.  

The region is also great for birdwatching, as both Volcan Baru National Park and La Amistad Park offer sightings of the elusive resplendent quetzal.  There’s also Sitio Barriles Museum, a pre-colombian archeological site full of ancient remains such as statues, pottery, and other artifacts.

Volcan, Panama is also home to some incredible real estate opportunities.

With its immense beauty, amazing climate, wealth of natural attractions, and close proximity to a major city, you’d expect Volcan, Panama real estate prices to rival those in some of its popular neighboring cities. Guess again.

In addition to its significantly lower cost of living, Volcan also has plenty of homes priced well below the cost to buy a comparable property in most Panamanian towns.  Like most areas, pricing varies widely with properties costing anywhere from $40,000 to $150,000 or more.

There are also plenty of lots available if you prefer to build your dream home on a large tract of land, next to a trout-bearing stream, with sweeping views of the surrounding valley.  If you have closer to $200,000 to spend you can find a North American style home with acreage and all the modern conveniences.

Volcan’s expat population is still small, but word is definitely spreading about this quaint country village.  There’s a growing number of residential developments under construction to accommodate the increasing influx of expats to the area.

The spike in interest has also resulted in several years of steady appreciation of Volcan, Panama real estate.  The newly expanded international airport in David is also having a tremendous effect on property values in Volcan and throughout the Chiriqui Province, as visitors from various cities around the world can now easily access the area’s many attractions more easily than ever.

Volcan, Panama

Rich Young

Now is the time to buy or invest in Volcan.

If the simple, country life sounds appealing to you, then you should definitely check out everything that Volcan, Panama has to offer.  If you think it needs a few more amenities before it would suit your tastes, then you shouldn’t have to wait long.  As the population grows, so will the number of services offered.

Better yet, don’t wait at all.  Take advantage of the opportunity to use your entrepreneurial talents and fill a niche with the expat business you’ve always dreamed of opening.  It could be just the ticket to a lifetime of success and happiness in charming Volcan, Panama.

Map of Volcan, Panama

Volcan, Panama Fast Facts

  • Population: About 10,200
  • Typical temperature: From 60 to the mid-80s Fahrenheit
  • Nearest airport with U.S. flights: Tocumen Airport. Domestic flights to Panama City, Panama and international flights to Costa Rica depart from Enrique Malek International Airport in David
  • Nearest U.S. consulate: Panama City, Panama
Playa Burica

Playa Burica property in Panama

There are a lot of great up-and-coming places in Panama that are perfect for those who want to relocate to the tropics but don’t want to pay the hefty price for a place in an established area.  These locations are also ideal for any would-be pioneers who are looking for a rising hotspot that isn’t quite so “last week.”

So, whether you’re hoping to blaze a trail in an emerging area or just want to find your own piece of paradise with a slightly lower price tag, we recommend that you keep an eye on these 5 up-and-coming places in Panama.

1. Western Azuero

Unlike the eastern portion of the peninsula, the western coast of Azuero is much less developed.  Known as the Azuero Sunset Coast, this area is sparsely populated and home to very few expats.  While it has a couple of small towns–most notably, Torio, and Malena, a small fishing village–the region is mostly home to cattle ranches and those involved in other agricultural pursuits.

Situated on Panama’s Pacific Coast, the scenery on the Azuero is remarkable.  Lush mountainsides, with cascading waterfalls, give way to deserted stretches of beach where you could easily find yourself to be the only sunbather or surfer for miles around.  Speaking of surfing, this region, particularly Morillo Beach just south of Torio, offers some of Panama’s best and most consistent waves.

The Azuero’s western coast offers sightings of whales, dolphins, and sea turtles.  It’s also home to world-class fishing, with an abundance of tuna, sailfish, marlin, dorado, wahoo, and yellow tail.  And the rainforests of Cerro Hoya National Park are home to many endangered species.

Azuero coastal area does have some supermarkets and even a handful of new residential areas along the coast, but getting from point B to point B is indirect at best, however, if that doesn’t bother you, this area boasts one of the lowest costs of living in Panama.

With decent access to the larger city of Santiago, and even better access to more populated areas along the peninsula’s east coast (like Pedasi and Las Tablas), the western Azuero coast is a great fit if you want to live like a local without venturing terribly far away from modern conveniences.

2.  Caribbean Coast

In contrast to Panama’s often rocky and varied Pacific coast, its northern coast borders the Caribbean, which offers pristine white sand and shady palms.  Not to mention sparkling turquoise waters that offer crystal clear visibility.

Its beauty might suggest that Panama’s Caribbean coast would be its most desirable and home to many of its largest settlements.  Not so.

One reason is its inaccessibility.  The Pan-American highway, which stretches from Alaska down to the southernmost regions of South America (except for a brief gap through Panama’s Darien province), almost invariably clings tightly to Panama’s southern Pacific coast, making the Caribbean side of the nation much more difficult to reach by land.

Also, while there are areas such as Bocas del Toro that attract both tourists and expats in droves, they’re not the best bargains on the Caribbean coast.  If you’re looking for a bigger discount, Panama’s northern coast also boasts miles and miles of virgin beaches that are great for the more adventurous destination-seeker.

Along with the discounted price tag, though, comes much less in the way of infrastructure.  Think primitive roads, spotty internet, and fewer public water systems.

Additional challenges presented by Panama’s Caribbean coast include the large amount of protected land.  With many national parks and indigenous lands, property is quite difficult to come by.  Not to mention, the area gets a large amount of rainfall, roughly twice that of the Pacific Coast.

While the Caribbean coast offers opportunities to own stunning beachfront property at rock bottom prices, it’s not for everyone.  We’d only recommend this region if you aren’t afraid to hurdle some obstacles in the buying process and are willing to contend with a lack of conveniences.  At least, for now.

3.  Burica Peninsula

In Panama’s southwest corner lies the Burica Peninsula, which juts into the Pacific Ocean and divides its territory between Costa Rica and Panama, which claims about ⅔ of the landmass.  Accessible by a short scenic drive from David, the peninsula is home to Puerto Armuelles, which has shopping facilities and other modern conveniences.

However, Burica’s tropical wilderness, not its familiar amenities, are its real appeal.  Covered mostly in rainforests, it contains beautiful flora and fauna and is home to many endangered species such as the Panamanian Red Spider Monkey.

The area also contains fields, where cattle graze, and rolling hills that often drop off directly into the Pacific Ocean.  Its beaches are untouched and dotted with towering palms.  In addition to lounging in a hammock on an isolated beach, the area also welcomes you to experience some of the world’s best sport fishing and a few of Panama’s secret surfing locations.

A drive down the recently completed road that leads all the way to the tip of the peninsula affords views of Volcan Baru, the country’s highest peak.  You’ll cross a river and drive out on the beach, along the surf, to reach the Playa Burica community at the southernmost point.  But only at low tide.  Otherwise, you’ll need a boat to get there.

While this area is still up-and-coming, it likely won’t be for long.  If you’re looking for an elusive destination that offers a remote feel, just a short distance from civilization, take a look at the Burica Peninsula.

Note: Article 121 is something one needs to research before buying here. Despite this Law most of the coastline is currently owned by foreigners.

4.  Santa Fe

So, those are some beach areas.  What about something for the mountain-goers?

The relatively small, albeit growing, town of Santa Fe, nestled into the Veraguas mountain range about 5 hours from Panama City, is a place we think you should watch.

Although surrounded by much higher mountains, Santa Fe sits at an altitude of just 1350 feet.  That’s high enough to escape the heat and humidity of the lowlands, yet low enough to experience some nice warm days and no breathing problems.

While notes of traditional Panamanian culture still ring throughout, the city enjoys many modern conveniences such as clean drinking water and high speed internet.  However, perhaps its biggest draw is its opportunity for adventure.

Santa Fe offers horseback riding, bird watching, and exploring…from mountainside coffee farms to waterfalls to orchid gardens.  Among the town’s inhabitants are toucans, hummingbirds, and rare butterflies.

Also relatively rare in Santa Fe are expats.  Sure, there are some.  But rather than living isolated by themselves in gated communities, expats in Santa Fe often reside on large plots of land that they can use for coffee farming, reforestation, or even simply growing their own organic fruits and vegetables.

Santa Fe is a great value if you’re an outdoor enthusiast who wants community and conveniences, but in a place that’s rich in authentic culture and relatively unspoiled by developers.

5.  Ruta Sur

Ruta Sur refers to the new stretch of road that was built to bridge the gap between Boquete and Volcan.  Meaning “Southern Route,” it covers what is essentially 15 miles, as the crow flies, in many more winding miles of unmarked (and sometimes unpaved) roads.

Much different from the highly-developed and densely populated towns it connects, areas traversed by the Ruta Sur are rural and contain few inhabitants.  The route takes you past miles of coffee and vegetable farms, by orange groves, past Volcan Baru, alongside waterfalls, through canyons and lush valleys, and finally to fields used for cattle farms and greenhouses.

Once fairly unknown, this region offers, not only new and improved access, but many opportunities for enterprise.  Residents of this area are able to enjoy the breathtaking scenery and also earn a living operating a dairy farm or a spa retreat high in the mountains.

As the road begins to become more traveled, the region will likely gain popularity.  However, it could take a while.  The route is largely unlabeled, with only a telltale painted yellow stripe marking the way, much like Dorothy’s fabled quest for the land of Oz.

The areas along the Ruta Sur are perfect if you want to enjoy a life lived a little further off the beaten path and use your land as your livelihood.  Shop for property along this stretch of road if you want to embrace life along the journey, not at the destination.


A tourist friendly country with pristine beaches, majestic mountain views, and an affordable cost of living, Panama has so much to offer expats, including the mountain towns of Volcan, Cerro Punto, Boquete, El Valle, and Santa Fe.

While each of these towns has spectacular views, year round spring-like weather, and expat friendly communities, they each have something special that makes them unique.

First Stop, Volcan

Rich Young

Rich Young

Famous for its “eternal spring” climate, Volcan sits atop a plateau at 4,200 feet.  And it’s not surprising that Volcan means volcano, since the large green mountain that provides the amazing backdrop for Volcan is in fact the dormant peak of Volcan Baru (the highest peak in Panama).

This quaint mountain village was first settled by indigenous people thousands of years ago and artifacts are still found in farmer’s fields to this day. While some Ngobe Bugle people still reside in Volcan, expats can mainly expect to find the same relaxed and laid-back way of life that you can find across the country.

There is an established expat community in Volcan and over the years many have opened hotels and restaurants, further expanding Volcan as a prime retirement spot.

Only twenty minutes from David, the third largest city in Panama, Volcan is perfect for those who are seeking the quiet, mountain town way of life, with urban amenities close by.

On to Cerro Punta

Celen Aper

Celen Aper

Located in the highlands above Volcan, 2000 meters above sea level, Cerro Punta is the agricultural center of Panama. The hypothetical bread basket of Panama, Cerro Punta produces nearly 80% of the fresh produce for the entire country, and due to the high altitude, Cerro Punta has a slightly cooler, some might even say cold, temperature.

The friendly people and the relaxed farming atmosphere provide Cerro Punta with that small village feel that is sought after by many expats and as you stroll through Cerro Punta you will see many local farms, gorgeous mountain ranges and Ngobe families dressed in colorful traditional garb.

Next, Boquete

Boquete- roaming the planet - doors

Boquete- roaming the planet – doors

Arguably the most popular expat spot in the province of Chiriquí, Boquete was rated by the AARP as one of the world’s top retirement spots. This popularity began in 2001 and as a result, you will find a well-developed expat community in Boquete today.

Only a 45 minute drive from David, Boquete is known for its misty rain (bajareque), coffee, and flowers, especially orchids.

Boquete is actually considered the flower capital of Panama and upon entry, you will be greeted by buildings simply covered with magenta and coral bougainvillea.

With fresh produce and seafood in abundance, Boquete promotes a healthy lifestyle for all who live there, and because of the low cost of living, a delicious dinner for four can be purchased for around $10.

Boquete also has a strong arts community with a yearly jazz festival and even an English language theater group.

Consider El Valle

Orban Lopez Cruz

Orban Lopez Cruz

The world’s only inhabited volcano, this mountain village remains close to the urban metropolis of Panama City while keeping its coveted small town atmosphere.

Known for its wind, water, rich volcanic soil, and perfect spring climate, El Valle attracts many people interested in eco-tourism and wellness vacations.

And even though the volcano has been dormant for 5 million years, many volcanic hot springs have surfaced, providing proof that there is definite volcanic activity happening underground.

Relaxed during the week, El Valle is alive with activity on the weekends as people come out of the woodwork to visit El Valle’s famous arts and crafts market. There is much to be seen at this massive market as the locals and the Kuna Yala Indians come out to sell their colorful wares.

Last Stop Santa Fe

Jerry W. Lewis

Jerry W. Lewis

Expats come to Santa Fe to experience a truly authentic taste of Panamanian living.

Because Santa Fe is smaller and not as developed, you can really experience the serenity of Panama mountain life. Sitting at an altitude of 1350 feet, you will find the same year round spring weather and sweeping mountain views in Santa Fe, but with fewer expat additions.

The expats here don’t tend to participate in as many group activities as they do in the other mountain towns, and while there are still many outdoor activities to experience, there are not as many tour groups.

In addition, housing in Santa Fe tends to cost less, and although it will be equipped with cable and internet, the facilities will definitely feel more traditional.

Which Panama Mountain Town is right for you?

Rich with all the wonders that drew you to Panama in the first place, but with little differences that make each town a unique experience, any of these five towns could be the perfect place to set up shop.

A land covered in volcanoes, rivers, and lush forests, with a laid-back way of life and a low cost of living, Panama and its mountain towns are definitely an expat friendly treasure to behold.

So plan a trip and hop around to each town as you search for that ideal place to call home.