Santa Fe

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The Quaint Mountain Community Of Santa Fe

Reviewed by Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen is the Live and Invest Overseas Founding Publisher. She has more than 30 years of hands-on experience traveling, living, and buying property around the world.


Santa Fe is a lovely mountain village with a small local population and limited infrastructure and services. It’s a beautiful, tranquil, picture-postcard highlands escape. As in Boquete, the climate is more comfortable than down at sea level.

Life in Santa Fe, Panama, is simple, safe, and super-affordable. For example, this is a place where you could live on as little as US$1,000 per month if you’re up for going very local. In truth, you have no choice.

Located in Veraguas, this is the only Panamanian province that reaches both the Caribbean and the Pacific Coast.

Some say the word Veraguas comes from ver (to see) and aguas (waters) which is interpreted to mean seeing both coasts, and lots of rain (Santa Fe receives an average rainfall of 2,543 millimeters annually).

Under Spanish rule, the province of then Veragua was established in 1560, which according to some was named from the same indigenous word viragua meaning goddess or strong woman.

At that time, the grandson of Christopher Columbus named Luís Colón, 1st Duke of Veragua (amongst other titles) sold his rights to this area back to the Spanish crown after several failed attempts to control the native population for the purpose of gold mining.

Veraguas is known as The Land of Columbus and Urracá. Urracá being the legendary Ngöbe-Buglé chieftain who bravely fought and defeated the Spanish conquistadores for nine years circa 1520s. And, is the same Urracá who is featured on the Panamanian one cent coin.

In 1630, Santa Fe was named as the capital of the province of Veraguas until 1890, when it was eventually replaced by the city of Santiago.

Getting To Santa Fe, Panama

Santa Fe is four hours (driving by car) from Panama City, including one hour up a winding mountain road from Santiago.

Above all, the road is narrow, lacking any yellow or white division lines as well as a shoulder or guardrails.

To reach Santa Fe by bus, you will need to travel from the Albrook Mall bus terminal to Santiago (US$9) and then from Santiago to Santa Fe (US$2.50). Buses leave approximately every 45 minutes and take up to seven hours.

One of the first and larger towns you pass after leaving Santiago is San Francisco.

This is the location of the nearest bank and ATM which serves the Santa Fe area. As you continue your ascension, the road begins to parallel and cross the wide Santa Maria River.

The main road eventually leads you to the center of town. There you’ll find a large church, a few general stores, and a small community market.

Expat Community In Santa Fe, Panama

These days, days Santa Fe’s international community is growing. The foreign community is diverse.

North Americans, Europeans, South Americans, and South Africans, among other nationalities, have chosen to live here.

Gardeners and wildlife lovers have begun to immigrate, and there seems to be a group of alternative health care providers; massage therapists, reiki practitioners, and osteopaths (yes plural).

People get together for regular hikes, a swim in the river, dinner parties, and an annual American Thanksgiving feast. If you are looking to include the rotary club, bridge club, or a theater group in your migratory life, you will not find that here.

Though there are not many local residents who speak English, there are plenty of expats getting by on very basic Spanish. They generally have an English-speaking attorney but can use google translate for basic tasks.

It is worth mentioning that the expat community is spread out, as many people live quite isolated outside of Sant Fe Center. People stay happily busy working on their homes, in their gardens, and caring for animals.

Some foreigners have integrated into the local community, and, in general, most expats have a support system which includes local neighbors and/or trusted employees.

Culture shock goes both ways in Santa Fe, Panama. You may be taken aback by the usual Panamanian experience; mañana mentality, paperwork upon paperwork for paying US$1 at the public health clinic, but don’t be surprised if a little indigenous lady in a traditional dress is shocked by your very presence.

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Things To Do And Places To Visit In Santa Fe

Santa Fe is a gorgeous destination with lush green almost-virgin forests and an array of outdoor activities to enjoy. There’s also a growing expat population, some of whom have started businesses such as restaurants.

Here’s a list of things to do and places to visit when in Santa Fe, Panama.

Hiking

Santa Fe is a paradise for natural lovers and hiking enthusiasts. This little corner of Panama is surrounded by lush forests and mountains.

Trails to explore here include Cerro Tute, El Tufi, and El Salto Waterfall. Whichever you choose to explore, make sure to find a local guide. Also, you may find a guide at a local hostel where they normally offer such activities to guests.

Birdwatching

Santa Fe’s surrounding forest is home to many animals. Among them are birds. If you’re an avid birdwatcher, if you’re looking to take up this new hobby, this is a great place for you to grab your binoculars, camaras, video camaras, and head out.

Birds you could spot here are toucans, parrots, hummingbirds and more.

Horseback Riding

One of the more unique ways to get to know the surroundings in Santa Fe, Panama, is on horseback. Cross over the mountains, forests, and streams while taking in all the lush greenery and scenic views.

Relax Outdoors

Santa Fe’s beautiful almost-virgin forests, rivers, and waterfalls, make for a wonderful place to visit if you’re ever in need of destressing.

Head out to a waterfall like the Cascada El Salto and take in the sounds, smells, and views of untouched nature.

The Cost Of Living In Santa Fe, Panama

Panama uses the U.S. dollar.

Apartment Or House Ownership Budget (For A Couple)

ExpenseMonthly CostsNotes
MortgageNot included here as too variable.
HOA FeesNo condos or housing developments here.
Property Taxes
TransportationUS$100Fuel. Daily trips around town, and two trips to Santiago per month.
GasUS$525 pounds (lasts two months or more).
ElectricityUS$60Air conditioner in bedrooms and TV.
WaterUS$2Unlimited (IDAAN in town).
Cell PhoneUS$40Unlimited minutes, unlimited data.
InternetUS$33Wi-Fi only.
Cable TVUS$80With all the bells and whistles.
Household HelpUS$120US$10 to US$20 daily wage, about three times a week.
EntertainmentUS$100This includes the couples’ cost for eating out twice a week at a mid-range, local restaurant (US$8.50 per plate); local drinks twice a week at a nearby watering hole (US$1 national beer/US$3.50 glass of wine); movie theatre trip twice a month (US$4.75 per ticket).
GroceriesUS$250Basic items for a couple.
Gym MembershipHiking is free here.
Medical AppointmentUS$10Without insurance at a private clinic in Santiago.
TOTALUS$800Doesn’t include mortgage fee.

Apartment Or House Rental Budget (For A Couple)

ExpenseMonthly CostsNotes
RentUS$400In a desirable area, furnished, two-bedroom, comfortable apartment.
TransportationUS$100Fuel. Daily trips around town, and two trips to Santiago per month.
GasUS$525 pounds (lasts two months or more).
ElectricityUS$60Air conditioner in bedrooms and TV.
WaterUS$2Unlimited (IDAAN in town).
Cell PhoneUS$40Unlimited minutes, unlimited data.
InternetUS$33Wi-Fi only.
Cable TVUS$80With all the bells and whistles.
Household HelpUS$120US$10 to US$20 daily wage, about three times a week.
EntertainmentUS$100This includes the couples’ cost for eating out twice a week at a mid-range, local restaurant (US$8.50 per plate); local drinks twice a week at a nearby watering hole (US$1 national beer/US$3.50 glass of wine); movie theatre trip twice a month (US$4.75 per ticket).
GroceriesUS$250Basic items for a couple.
Gym MembershipHiking here is free.
Medical AppointmentUS$10Without insurance at a private clinic in Santiago.
TOTALUS$1,200

Penny-Pincher’s Budget (Bare Minimum Costs, For A Couple)

ExpenseMonthly CostsNotes
RentUS$150Cheapest part of town (still desirable), most basic one-bedroom rental.
TransportationUS$20US$5 roundtrip by bus to Santiago, twice monthly.
GasUS$525 lbs. (lasts 2 months or more).
ElectricityUS$30TV, fridge, and fans. No air conditioner.
WaterUS$2Unlimited (IDAAN in town).
Cell PhoneUS$14Local minutes. No data.
InternetUS$33Home Wi-Fi
Cable TVUS$26Basic (4 or 5 English channels).
EntertainmentUS$50Two lunches and two dinners at cheap local places.
GroceriesUS$250All local-brand items only. Shopping markets and local vendors along with grocery stores.
TOTALUS$580

Eating out:

Average cost of drink and a sandwich/burger:

A beer: In a local bar 50 cents. In a local restaurant US$1. High end restaurant US$2.50.

Rum & Coke (or other local drink): US$4.

A coffee: US$1.

A sandwich (or equivalent): Burger at Café Dorado is US$6.

Average cost of a meal out per person:

Lunch: US$3.75 typical plate.

Dinner: US$9.

Car/Motor Bike Ownership

If you are able to give costs of car/motor bike ownership please add here:

  • Vehicle insurance (car): Full coverage, US$60 per month.
  • Fuel: US$100.
  • Upkeep: Oil changes and cumulative for tires US$500 per year.
  • Monthly payments US$250.
  • Parking: 0.

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Map Of Santa Fe, Panama

Safety In Santa Fe, Panama

Santa Fe, Panama, is a generally safe small town located in the highlands of the Veraguas Province. However, we always recommend you follow standard safety practices no matter where you are in the world.

Keep your belongings such as wallets, purses, phones, and cameras on you at all times. Avoid keeping valuables on display. Make sure to lock your home and car when not around.

For example, if you use public transportation or plan on walking, try to avoid being out and about alone at night. Keep out of any deserted dark alleyways and streets. Stay vigilant and be aware of your surroundings.

We also recommend you keep up to date with the local “news” and happenings. Whenever there’s some sort of theft or happening that’s out of the norm, locals (your neighbors and people you pass by on your day to day) will likely be talking about it. Keep your ears and eyes wide open.

Climate In Santa Fe, Panama

Santa Fe is set at 430 meters above sea level, not quite qualifying it as a cloud forest, but has that same mountainous, orchid, mossy terrain.

The average annual temperature in Santa Fe is nearly 76°F (24.4°C). Its cooler climate makes for a garden enthusiast’s dream and gives way to an economy which is primarily built on agriculture.

Santa Fe is warmer (especially at night) and dryer than Boquete.

Health Care In Santa Fe, Panama

Health care is more limited in Santa Fe than in other areas.

Because this is a small town that’s remained largely unpopulated until a few years ago, there are no major hospitals here. You can get basic needs addressed to, though.

Santa Fe has a small medical center where you can go for regular checkups and in case of an emergency that doesn’t require highly specialized equipment. For more specialized care, patients will likely be patched up as best as possible at Santa Fe and then require transportation to nearby larger cities such as Santiago, David, or Panama City.

Santa Fe, Panama, also has a pharmacy where you can find over-the-counter drugs and basic supplies. However, if you suffer from a specific medical condition and require medications regularly, we recommend you buy a large batch and bring it along with you.

Calculate how long it’ll likely be until your next trip to one of the larger cities and purchase enough meds to cover that time.

In terms of communication, we recommend you have enough proficiency in Spanish. English-speaking doctors, nurses, and other staff will be difficult to find here.

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Visa And Residency Information

U.S. citizens may enterPanamawithout a visa and remain in the country as a tourist for a maximum of 180 days per trip. As a result, if you wish to stay longer than 180 days, you need to seek permission to remain in the country.

The Specific Countries visa program is available to citizens of 50 specifically named countries, including the United States.

This is the best Panamanian residency option after Panama’s pensionado visa.

Panama’s pensionado program offers special benefits and discounts for foreign retirees. To sum up, it’s the current Gold Standard.

Retiring in Panama, you can save as much as 50% on everything from restaurant meals to in-country airfares, and from prescription medicines to closing costs on your new beach house.

For further information such as requirements, documents needed, and help with your visa application, we recommend contacting a Panamanian lawyer.

Santa Fe, Panama - FAQs

Is Santa Fe, Panama, Worth Visiting?

If you’re looking to retire or visit someplace where there isn’t a lot of noise, people are still friendly and not stressed, has a slower pace of living, and is surrounded by nature, then Santa Fe, Panama is worth visiting.

What Is Santa Fe, Panama, Known For?

Santa Fe, Panama, is known for its orchids. It holds a fair every year where you learn about all the different species that exist. This festival/fair usually takes place every August.

What Is The Climate Like In Santa Fe, Panama?

The climate in Santa Fe, Panama, is cooler than most places but is still warm. The average temperature here stays at 76°F (24°C) year-round.

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