Differences between Panama and Mexico

“Could you please tell me the differences between Panama and Mexico? I plan to move shortly to Mexico (Lake Chapala) to see if it is right for me.”

Judy V., United States

Lake Chapala is a good choice for a single woman. This region of Mexico is home to an established and thriving community of American, Canadian, and other expats. There’s a developed support system in place, from bridge clubs to gardening classes to book groups. The locals are well-accustomed to foreigners living among them, and many speak English.

As Chapala is in the mountains, the weather is pleasant. Guadalajara is nearby, meaning you have easy access to all the services and conveniences of a big city, including an international airport with regular service to the States.

Lake Chapala is what you might call a “tourist retiree” destination. The local Mexican community has adapted to and made accommodations for the gringo community. The area has developed into something like the Costa del Sol in Spain, where sometimes you have to remind yourself that you’re in Spain.

Chapala isn’t as touristed as the Costa del Sol, but it’s a very gringo-fied part of Mexico.

On the other hand, in many ways, Panama City, too, is an increasingly gringo-fied place. You’ll never mistake Panama’s capital for anything other than the developing world (my assistant Marion corrected me this morning when I referred to Panama as the “Third World”…”That’s now how you call it,” she chastised). At the same time, this city, with its high-rises, shopping malls, mega-movie theaters, jazz clubs, trendy restaurants, and art galleries, more resembles Miami than it does any other city in this part of the world.

A single woman might also be comfortable in Boquete, in the interior of Panama, where, as in Chapala, an expatriate community has taken hold. Plus, Boquete is near David, which offers shopping (including Costco) and other support services. And Boquete, again like Chapala, is in the mountains, meaning the weather is pleasant year-round (certainly more pleasant than here in Panama City).

One big plus for Panama is that the mountains are close to the beaches. Boquete, for example, is only two hours from the nearest beach. El Valle is less than an hour from the coast. So you can have cool mountain living with easy, anytime access to the beach…