You never confided to anyone about your secret desire to retire in the mountains of Panama. All your life you labored hard in your home country putting up with congestion, urban decay, traffic and just plain rudeness of city slickers. As you neared retirement age, you kept saving and saving so you’d have enough resources to take off to another country where you could buy yourself a cozy mountain retreat – far away from the madness of home.
You come to Panama to see if indeed, it is the quiet, unspoiled paradise that your fellow North Americans have bragged about continuously. With medical facilities that meet western standards and a cost of living that is not what some retirees in Europe call preposterous, you know – deep in your heart – that this is where your tired soul and weary mind can find solace and refuge.
The idea of retiring in Panama engulfs your whole being and the obsession is beginning to gnaw at you. Why not Panama where your dollars will buy you more? And why not Panama’s mountain region where you can forget about the past and look forward to tranquility?
Panama’s mountains are where new vistas open up and where learning about a different way of life can be a romantic endeavor. Yes, retire in the mountains of Panama!
Running east and west throughout Panama’s geographical length is a somewhat broken chain of mountains where the gap between the east and west sides made way for a passage that travelers take when reaching the highlands.
The mountain regions on the east side of Panama are divided between the Serranía de San Blas and the Serranía del Darién and have an average elevation of about 3,000 feet. Geologically speaking, Panama’s volcanoes are NOT active, so there is stability with only moderate earthquake activity. By the way, there are no hurricanes in Panama.
On the western side you have the provinces of Coclé and Veraguas. Panama’s ancient Hispanic families hail from these regions. Further south you have the Azuero Peninsula which experienced travelers describe as a string of rolling hills with grasslands and forest.
We mentioned Bocas del Toro earlier. It lies northwest of Panama and has some of the thickest forests in the country. The province of Chiriquí is found in the southwest mountain region and David is its capital. On the east lies the province of Darién, home to the indigenous Chocó people, including immigrants from Panama and Colombia. The San Blas Archipelago is located along the northern shore and this is where the Kuna people live.
We’ll describe some of these other areas of Panama briefly:
Darién is the largest province of Panama, but it is the least populated – if you’re looking for a place to retire that isn’t crowded…yet. It is characterized by deep and far-reaching forests, and has about four different mountain ranges: San Blas, Darién, Sapo and Pirre. This region’s biodiversity is well known to scientists and environmentalists, and if you’re ever curious about giant orchids, this is the place to trek to.
No continuous road exists all the way to Darién. The Darién Gap breaks the 16,000 mile stretch on the InterAmericana Highway from Alaska to the tip of South America. The road ends in a town called Yaviza, and from this point, you’ll have to travel on the river. Patricia Katzman says you can drive all the way to Yaviza, but she doesn’t see any reason why you would want to, although the Darién National Park should make it to your “must-see” list.
This is the province where boredom has no place. If you enjoy mountain-climbing, rafting, kayaking, horseback riding, and biking, Coclé province promises to deliver. Coclé’s path can be traced from the beaches of the Pacific Coast to the tip of the Cordillera Central. Like Darién, it has a small population and the people live mostly in villages. This province is known for its coffee and fruits, salt and sugar. It also has the oldest church in the Americas and if your spouse is looking for the famous handmade Panamanian hats, Coclé is a safe bet, although you can purchase these hats in most arts and crafts stores in the city as well.
Veraguas is Panama’s third largest province. Again, it is one of the least populated areas of Panama, lying between Coclé to the east and Chiriquí to the west. If you’re missing a bit of Texas, this is the place to be. Apart from dense jungles and mountains, you have cattle ranches manned by cowboys who do entertaining rodeos. The combination of white sand beaches and rich green textures are fascinating. Bird watching, gold exploration and inland treasures await you. Rare orchid and bird species can still be spotted around Santa Fé.
Festival time! If you can’t make it to Rio de Janeiro for a holiday, the Azuero Peninsula will do just fine. It hosts the country’s most important carnival and is an area famous for its festivals. This is a dynamic cultural spot, and has sufficient attractions for travelers and new retirees looking for native goods such as polleras and devil masks and exquisite pottery. The beaches in the Azuero Peninsula are rarely visited.
Chiriquí and the Western Highlands
The Chiriquí Gulf is so large, according to William Friar, that people mistake it for a small sea. It is here you will find Coiba National Park which has often been compared to the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.
Panama’s highest mountain is located here and is the home of Barú Volcano. Its fertile soil makes Chiriquí a coveted place for gourmet coffee, exotic flowers and juicy oranges and strawberries. Friar recommends a visit to La Amistad, a national park where 600 species of birds and 6 species of big cat are found here. Alongside Barú is the charming town of Boquete.