David, Panama: The Perfect Jumping-Off Point to Adventure
Just ask anyone who lives in or has ever traveled through Panama’s Chiriqui Province, and they’ll tell you what a vital role the town of David, Panama, plays in making life easier in the surrounding Province of Chiriqui.
Located in a basin on the coastal plain, the Chiriqui capital of David is situated about 55 kilometers from the border of Costa Rica on Panama’s Pacific Coast.
The town has a population of just under 145,000 people, and isn’t as densely populated as many other cities its size, since there are few buildings over 5 stories tall.
The low population density and meager skyline give David a very small-town feel. However, it remains Panama’s second largest city and a major hub for transportation and commerce. It’s a relatively wealthy city, with a dominant middle class and a very low poverty index and unemployment rate.
David, Panama, is different in many ways than a lot of other tropical destinations. On the one hand, a lot of its buildings are newer construction. That’s good, in that they’re functional and solidly built. But it’s bad in the sense that the city lacks the colonial charm associated with the clay structures and tile roofs common to many Latin American destinations.
So, while it isn’t exactly the country’s most aesthetically pleasing destination to purchase Panama Real Estate, David and its surrounding areas still have many factors that make the city quite attractive to tourists and expats alike. As a result, it has a large established expat community.
However, even more notable is the number of expats living in close proximity to David, who take advantage of all the amenities and conveniences it offers while foregoing its drab environment.
Here are a few of the reasons the area in and around David is so attractive to expats and travelers.
1. David makes exploring & living in the amazing Chiriqui province much simpler.
Within a short distance from David are a number of fantastic destinations. The majestic Volcan Baru, the country’s highest peak, and the town of Volcan are about an hour away.
Both the mountain town of Boquete, with its coffee plantations and vibrant expat community, and the beach town of La Barqueta are only a 30 minute drive from David. It’s also only 19 miles from the country’s boundary with Costa Rica, making it an important border town.
Playa Burica and Bocas del Toro are two other destinations within a short drive from David.
Also nearby (only 5 minutes from the airport) is the Pedregal Marina. This port houses the private boats and yachts owned by David’s residents. It’s also a great place to do some sport fishing. From this port, you can also explore the nearby mangroves or the Gulf of Chiriqui.
It also provides access to exotic Boca Chica and the beautiful Boca Chica Island, before giving way to the open Pacific Ocean.
While these are all amazing places to live & visit, what makes them even better is that fact nearby David offers a place to restock on supplies. It has everything travelers and residents of these more remote areas might need, making all of these areas incredibly accessible.
Situated halfway between San Jose, Costa Rica, and Panama City, Panama, David is conveniently located right smack on the Pan-American highway. It also has an international airport with flights to San Jose and Panama City. You can’t get much more accessible than that (although David may be about to…more on that later).
2. David is also a great place to stay while you explore the surrounding areas.
With so much to do within such close proximity to the city, David is a natural choice for where to set up camp while you take advantage of all the natural beauty, exotic wildlife, and opportunities for adventure that surround it.
Sure, some expats may choose to make David their home base, but when given the choice between living among cinder block buildings vs. living in an internationally-renowned mountain paradise (Boquete) or on a stunning secluded island (Boca Chica), most people are going to opt for one of the latter choices.
For those who wish to make David their temporary basecamp, it has hotels available to suit every budget.
Our favorites are Cuidad de David Hotel, whose rooms rent for around $120 per night, and for a lower cost option, Alcala Hotel ($30 per night) is clean, has a restaurant, and is centrally located.
You can also try Hotel Iberia or Hotel Iberia Sur (two hotels, same management). It has a nice restaurant, is within easy walking distance of the downtown area, and rents for about $42 per couple.
3. David, Panama, is jam-packed with supplies you’ll need.
Thousands of expats live in Chiriqui Province. Towns like Boquete and Volcan have modern conveniences and almost everything their residents need. When they can’t find something, they go to David. It’s where expats from all over Panama go for a quality piece of furniture, brand name clothing, or an obscure electronic gadget.
There are about a dozen large supermarkets, 10 auto dealerships, six appliance and electronic stores, four department stores, three furniture outlets, two theaters (with movies in English), a Price Smart (similar to Costco or Sam’s Club), and a Do-It Center (like Lowe’s or Home Depot). Other businesses and services include clothing boutiques, shoe stores, dry cleaners, bakeries, video stores, pharmacies, salons, and even chain restaurants like KFC and T.G.I.Friday’s. And new businesses are opening regularly to accommodate a growing number of tourists and expats.
The roads are in good condition, and most public services are reliable. Privatized companies offer electrical service, as well as cable, telephone, and high speed internet. You can drink the water from the tap. David has frequent bus service throughout the city, and it’s quite reasonable. There’s also garbage collection twice per week and a number of local radio stations.
One thing to understand is that shopping in David (or Latin America for that matter) is different than in North America. You’ll have to get use to hunting for the things you need. It can be tough to go into one store and find everything. But once you get the hang of it, there isn’t much that you can’t find.
4. Among David’s amenities is a top-notch medical facility.
Don’t let the photo fool you. Hospital Chiriqui is the largest private hospital in the region. Its state-of-the-art equipment and over 100 doctors offer quality care at extremely affordable prices. Several of the hospital’s doctors and nursing staff know at least some English, and many trained in the U.S. or Europe.
The entire experience is very different than a visit to a North American doctor. Rather than zipping patients in and out like they’re on an assembly line, the doctors take extended personal time with each patient.
There’s less government and insurance regulation, so doctors are free to make decisions based on their professional opinions. Wait times are pleasantly short once you learn to either book an appointment or show up right around the time that the doctor will begin seeing patients.
And while the care provided is top notch, the associated costs are minimal. Doctors don’t perform a lot of unnecessary tests and procedures. And, since the Panamanian society is not a litigious one, they aren’t shelling out half their income to pay for liability and malpractice insurance. As a result, those savings are passed along to the patient. For example, a visit to the ER might only cost around $25.
Services offered at Hospital Chiriqui include emergency, trauma, orthopedic, gynecology, neurology, cardiology, pediatrics, and many more. Although costs are already low, compared with the price for the same service in North America, the hospital also offers a discount program to members. The MSChiriqui program provides medical coverage and savings at Hospital Chiriqui and, in many cases, at least partial benefits at other facilities.
Like the rest of Panama, healthcare in David is nuanced. So check out our Panama healthcare report to learn more.
5. A major airport expansion means huge investment opportunity for David and the surrounding area.
David’s Enrique Malek International Airport has always been a great feature for the city. Located on the opposite side of the country from Panama City it’s always been the best way to access all the great destinations in Western Panama.
Panama’s current administration has been investing heavily in infrastructure, which is a good thing for the country and its tourism industry. One of the projects underway is the expansion of the David airport, which is a great thing for David and the areas close to it.
Renovations include an extension of the runway, facility upgrades, and a more streamlined immigration process, all of which would make David an attractive candidate for more international flights.
In fact, Copa Airlines has indicated they plan to begin direct flights to David from the U.S. (likely beginning with Miami and/or Houston). This is all speculative at this point, but all it takes is one trip through the airport these days to convince you that major changes are underway.
This represents huge potential from a real estate and investment perspective. When infrastructure improves and towns become more accessible, they become more attractive to visitors and new residents. As a result, this expansion could have a tremendous impact on David, Panama’s real estate, particularly in areas that haven’t had the huge boom some of their neighbors have experienced.
David will certainly benefit, as will areas like Boquete, Volcan, and Playa Burica. However, towns like Boca Chica are probably best poised to see appreciation.
6. The cost of living in David is very low, even for Panama.
After hearing the list of services and amenities available in David, Panama, you wouldn’t expect to learn that it’s all offered surprisingly cheaply. But it’s true. Products and services in David costs much less than in Panama City, in many cases even half as much. You can get a nice lunch in a restaurant for $5, including a soda. A large Panamanian working-class lunch is only $2.75 and usually includes a plate full of rice, chicken, plantains or beans, and a salad.
For those who do decide to set up residence in David, utilities and services are also affordable. You can find reliable high-speed internet for as little as $19 per month, and water service for a two-person household is only about $7. You can hire domestic help for $10-$12 per day, or a full-time maid for only $175 per month. All in all, you could easily get by in David for no more than $1,500 per month, including rent, although the cost will vary depending on your lifestyle.
Real estate in David is also a bargain. You can get a smaller, Panamanian-style home that needs a little remodeling for as low as $40,000. Even a move-in-ready property would still only come in at about $75,000.
7. Recent incentives make David a great place to invest, particularly in the tourism sector.
Many of the factors we’ve already mentioned make David a prime location for investment in Panama. Although it has a lot of businesses and services already in place, there is a lot of money in David. Not to mention, expats living in nearby areas come to David to shop.
They would likely love to see more options for evening entertainment, specialty shops, and even more specialized services. And with expats continuing to settle in the Chiriqui region, David’s economy is expected to boom in coming years.
What’s more, Panama’s government is heavily focused on increasing tourism to the country. And much of its efforts are concentrated in and around David. When recent legislation offered huge incentives to those who wanted to establish tourism companies or developments in certain targeted areas, over 80% of them were in Chiriqui.
It’s clear that the government believes that in this area lies its best opportunity for tourism growth. If you spend some time there, you’ll see why.
Among the incentives available to those investing in tourism are exemptions on taxes on everything from property to imports to building materials and, in some case, even income tax. The various laws all have different specifics and qualifications. But the bottom line is that, if you want to invest in Panama (and specifically the areas around David) the government wants to make it as easy as possible for you.
8. While there are a few negatives about David, the list is short.
No place is perfect. We all know that. And David is not without its list of shortcomings. The heat is a big one. As is the humidity. David can be absolutely sweltering with little relief from the heat. The best way to beat it is to relax in the city’s beautiful Parque Miguel de Cervantes with a cool drink of helados (fresh coconut juice) or a fresh fruit smoothie.
This is a big reason many expats don’t choose David as a place to actually set up residence. If you’re going to deal with the heat, you might as well be on the coast or a nearby island, with a nice coastal breeze to cool your skin. Or move up into the mountains where you can enjoy all the conveniences of David in close proximity, with much cooler temperatures and less rainfall.
Also, while there’s a ton to do in the areas surrounding David, the city itself doesn’t have a whole lot to offer in the way of entertainment and culture. Oh, it’s purely Panamanian. But when it comes to museums, night clubs, and fine dining restaurants, David leaves a lot to be desired. It’s a city that’s more focused on agriculture and industry than on being a cultural hub.
That being said, if that’s the worst it’s got, then David isn’t that bad of a destination for expats and tourists. In fact it gets a lot of both. However, for the most part, people tend to settle in the outlying areas. They’re just too spectacular not to! So, if you think David might not be the right place to live, then check out some of the other fantastic areas in Chiriqui. David will be there when you need it.
Map of David, Panama
David Fast Facts
- Population: About 150,000
- Typical temperature: 73 degrees lows with the highs in the upper 90’s
- Nearest airport with U.S. flights: U.S. Bound flights leave daily from Tocumen Airport, both domestic and international flights to San Jose, Costa Rica depart from Enrique Malek International Airport in David
- Nearest U.S. consulate: Panama City