Retire to Panama's Gold Coast

US News

The east coast of Panama's Azuero Peninsula has, over the past half-dozen years, emerged as a kind of gold coast. Traveling south down the edge of the peninsula, you come to Chitre, then Los Santos, Las Tablas, Pedasi, Playa Venao, Tonosi, and, finally, Cambutal, all the way down at what feels like an end of the world.

From Chitre to Cambutal is less than a two hours' drive. Yet each town along this Pacific coast has developed a very different personality. Chitre is the biggest town, and the only one that could be described as a city, with a population of about 45,000 people and the shopping and other services to support them. Los Santos and Tonosi are tiny, and easily missed if you're not paying attention. Las Tablas is the country's Carnaval capital and also one of the best places in Panama to enjoy a beach retirement on a small budget. Playa Venao is recognized as one of the world's best surfing beaches. Billabong has hosted two international surfing competitions in the past two years. And Cambutal, at the bottom of the peninsula, is off-the-grid and still off the world's radar.

However, it's Pedasi that most deserves your attention right now if you're shopping for a place to launch a new life overseas. While Las Tablas has made headlines in recent years, both for its Carnaval celebrations and its super low cost of living, Pedasi, just a half-hour farther south along the peninsula, has been quietly attracting expats, entrepreneurs, investors, and retirees from around the world. The community that is emerging in this small (population about 2,500) coastal town is captivating, and the way of life being created here is undeniably appealing. While no one has been watching, Pedasi has become hip.

In Panama, even in what is a relatively remote part of the country, the infrastructure is good and rapidly improving. Everywhere you travel along this coast, new roads are being cut, dirt roads are being paved, and old roads and bridges are being repaired. The cash cow that is the Panama Canal throws off a half-billion dollars in profits each year. In a country this size, that much money goes a long way.

"It's thanks to the good-looking surfer guys," explains one good-looking surfer guy, David, who's been spending time in Pedasi for years. "We surfers find the cool spots," he teased. "Then the pretty girls follow us. Then everyone follows the pretty girls. That's how it works."

But it's not only surfers you find in growing numbers in this beautiful, breezy part of Panama. You meet all kinds of expats here, and this is a big and important part of the appeal. "Our neighbors are from all over the world," says an American woman, Christy, who runs a business in Pedasi with her husband, Dennis. She says her neighbors are French, Italian, Dutch, South African, Israeli, American, and Canadian. "This isn't a typical overseas retirement community, because the expats migrating here aren't typical retirees. Most of us are far from retirement age. We're entrepreneurs in search of opportunity. We're artists, architects, bakers, businesspeople," says Christy. "There are three really great bakeries in Pedasi now, plus cafes, shops, restaurants. The vibe here is incredible. There's such great energy in this place."

Although growing rapidly, Pedasi still has a small town feel. "We don't worry about crime. It's just not a concern," says Christy. "I think of it as some kind of Latin American version of Mayberry."

While Pedasi is not the cheapest choice along this coast, it is a very affordable place to live, depending on the lifestyle you adopt, and certainly offers a rich way of life for the money. A small house in town rents for $400 or $500 a month. That is, if you can find one. Pedasi has been attracting newcomers at such a rapid rate that rentals are not easy to find, creating an opportunity. New condos and houses are being constructed to North American standards on and near the beach just outside town starting at about $200,000.

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas--Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.



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