Although firmly on the map as a world-class retirement haven, parts of Panama are still relatively undiscovered.
The country’s Veraguas Province is one such place.
It sits on the Azuero Peninsula, and its western coast is one of the few places in Panama from which you can watch the sun set over the ocean. And it’s here, in the town of Torio, that Canadian couple Ralph and Nataliya have settled into expat life and opened a new business.
“I actually discovered it by accident…
“My parents were nearing retirement age. They went to Florida and didn’t like it. So I did a Google search and Panama came up as one of the top three retirement destinations in the world.
“It was the closest of the options to Toronto and had direct flights. Plus, it had the U.S. dollar, security, economy, and all the other pluses that Panama has going for it.
“I planned a 15-day relocation tour with my parents. We got a rental car, GPS, and an itinerary with five stops from Pedasí to Volcán, Boquete… all over.
“Torio, Panama, was not on the schedule, but we had to stop in Santiago for two days on our way to Boquete. I looked at the GPS, saw the ocean, and decided to take a drive…
“This part of Panama is beautiful for its ocean sunsets. I fell in love with it but continued the itinerary.
“When I asked why Torio wasn’t part of the itinerary, I was told that it wasn’t developed and there was nothing to see there.
“On the contrary, I saw it as a good opportunity to come to this area because when it’s less developed, the price is better than other areas, and it also gives you the opportunity to do business because there’s less competition.
“I saw there were a lot of hostels and small places to stay but nothing when it came to luxury, so I saw that as my opening.
“My parents didn’t end up moving to Panama, but I did. I bought a piece of property and opened my luxury hotel—The Casa Blanca Inn.”
In the years they’ve been here, Ralph and Nataliya have seen some changes…
“Right now, the population is a bit small, and there isn’t a diverse selection of restaurants, grocery stores, and amenities, yet,” says Ralph. “But I can see that already starting to change…
“A new gas station opened in Torio a few months ago, and there are plans for a new grocery store.
“As those things develop, it’ll have a snowball effect. More people will come, more amenities will come, and in the long-term, it’ll be better for everybody.
“There’s talk about a pharmacy and clinic, maybe coming next year. Ever since the new road went through, a lot of things have been improving.
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“When we first moved here, there wasn’t any internet. Now the internet has enabled a younger demographic who can work remotely to come down. And I heard that there’s going to be a new high-speed fiber optic system.
“Everything is being upgraded.”
When it came to settling into the community, it was pretty smooth-sailing for the family.
“I’m still learning Spanish,” says Ralph. “Ninety-nine percent of the Panamanians that come to the hotel speak English, and they always want to practice. Though I want to practice my Spanish, I always put my guests first. My 10-year-old son goes to the local school and is learning Spanish, so he’s my teacher.”
“The community overall is very nice; the Panamanians and the expats alike are very friendly,” adds Nataliya.
“There’s a lot to like here… Nature, quiet, clean air, the ocean breeze…
“We’ve created what feels like family with the people around us. Our maids have kids, and we’re always giving them homemade baking, leftovers, or whatever our son is not using… decent clothes, toys, and good food.
“We just tend to share with everybody, and that’s reciprocated. We have a maid who knew that Ralph liked traditional Panamanian corn tortillas, so she made them from scratch and brought them.
“We didn’t expect it… it gives us a feeling of unity, like a big family.”
On the subject of safety, the couple had this to say:
“There is small, petty theft, but personally, we have many people that work for us in construction and workers around us all the time… our gate is unlocked, and nobody ever takes anything.
“The first few nights I didn’t sleep too well because I didn’t know how secure the area was, but after a while, I realized it’s safer in Torio than in Toronto and felt totally at ease…”
Contributor, Panama Letter