When we decided Panama was our choice for our retirement, we made 3 trips for research purposes. The first was in 2012. Our first trip was to Panama City. We had booked into a small hotel about a 45-minute drive from the airport. We did not stay at a resort but instead chose an inexpensive efficiency hotel owned by a Canadian. We wanted to have the ability to explore Panama City and make inquiries.
We were picked up by Roy, who worked for the hotel in the capacity of tour guide and airport driver. We ended up developing a relationship with him and he was very helpful during that trip and future trips.
We did a lot of walking and getting a feel for the people and the city. Every morning we went across the street to a restaurant for breakfast. I always ordered fresh fruit consisting of papaya and banana. My husband had the usual bacon and eggs and all the coffee he wanted. Both breakfasts together cost around $10.00 USD.
We experienced shopping in Ray’s which is much like our Loblaw and Metro stores. You could get most anything you wanted. There were many North American imports but they did cost more than eating the Panamanian way.
One night we wanted pizza and were referred to this little restaurant just down the street from our hotel. When we went in to order our pizza we found we found we were in a hooka establishment. It was very busy with people sitting around smoking and chatting. The atmosphere was much like our North American coffee shops. We were not disappointed with the pizza. It was delicious.
During our internet research we were led to believe that a lot of people in Panama spoke English. We discovered that was not true. We would go into a medium sized department store and the staff did not speak English.
We wanted to see some sights while we were there so we, like most tourists, went to the Panama Canal. Touring the museum was very interesting as was watching the ships go through the canal. We were told at that time it cost a ship around $400,000USD to pass through the canal and there were about 14,000 that passed through each day. That has all changed now as there are two canals and many more ships passing through daily.
Then we took a boat trip down the Gamboa River. Because of the canals there are no longer as many birds and monkeys. We did see several howler monkeys, some very teeny tiny monkeys and some birds. It is not a trip I would recommend for tourists.
We came from a large city, Toronto, Ontario, so we knew we didn’t want to re-locate to another large city. We felt that Panama City gave us a jumping off point. We really wanted to see areas outside of the city so we hired Roy to take us out for the day. That was a fairly expensive day at a cost of $300.00USD and it is a given that you purchase lunch for the tour guide.
We went first to Coronado. It is about 2 hours outside of Panama City off the PanAmerican highway. Because the Panama Canal used to belong to the Americans there is a huge American influence in Panama. Coronado is one of the best-known places for expats just outside of the City. I will describe Coronado in more detail in a future article. We then went to Nuevo Gorgona. That is a smaller expat community about 10-15 minutes further than Coronado. Then came San Carlos which is smaller yet and about another 15 minutes from Gorgona and Coronado. Again, I will further describe both these place in a future article.
We stopped at a lovely restaurant in Gorgona for lunch. I had a very common Panamanian chicken and rice dish. It was fantastic. If possible, on future trips I made sure I got to that restaurant for that same meal.
We also went up Ancon Hill which is the highest point in Panama City. It had a beautiful view of the surrounding area. On the way up we saw a white-nosed coati run across the road heading into the bushes. They are about the size of our groundhogs.
I knew from that first trip I wanted to retire somewhere in Panama. It took Michael a couple more trips. Our next adventure was visiting Puerto Armuelles a true beach town at the other end of the country.