The misnomer of banana republic is fitting for this lost-in-time town. It certainly no longer applies to the country as a whole—Panama is quickly becoming a First World country—but for this little coastal town, it fits; Puerto Armuelles and its environs were once the banana capital of Central America.
Puerto Armuelles feels like it could be the end of the earth… and it actually is the end of Panama, hugging the southern borderline between Panama and Costa Rica. And it’s the farthest Panamanian town you can live in from Panama City, at over 550 kilometers away. For much of the country Panama City often represents the closest real city, and is the best prospect for First World shopping, for example. For Puerto residents, though, getting to Panama City is quite a trip… Costa Rica, on the other hand, is but a stone’s throw away.
Just about anyone can afford to live in Puerto… after all, this is an economically depressed region and local wages are low—some of the lowest in the country, in fact. Half of the local population of Puerto lives off of their pension alone.
Turning south off the Pan American Highway you begin to feel that you have left Panama. There is a feeling that something is different… like you’re stepping back in time…