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Chitre, Panama

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Chitre: Crossroads In Panama

Lonely Planet says that Chitre, on the Azuero Peninsula, “is hardly geared toward travelers, but it’s an agreeable stop on the way to the peninsula.” Herein lies its very charm. Chitre is an honest, unpretentious regional capital town. Its preoccupations are based on agriculture and local provincial commerce.

Amenities And Accessibility

Located only 20 minutes south of the Pan-American Highway, Chitre is accessible to everything. A short trip down or across the Azuero Peninsula finds you at some of the best surf and fishing spots in Panama (and, therefore, the west coast of the Americas). After a comprehensive upgrade, Panama City can now be reached in around three-and-a-half hours by car and four hours by bus. David and the cool Boquete Highlands are equally accessible to Chitre, just over three hours to the west.

There is a small airport at Chitre, and the town is only 90 minutes from the new international airport at Rio Hato, which opened to commercial flights in 2014.

Cost of Living In Chitre

Apartment Or House Ownership Budget (For A Couple)

 
Expenses Monthly Costs Notes
HOA Fees US$250 This can range from US$0 to US$100 depending on the unit size and value as well as property amenities.
Transportation US$60 To own a vehicle; occasional bus trips instead of driving to Panama City ($13 to $18 roundtrip). (If you opt to not own a car, this cost would be around US$200 for two taxi rides per day, intercity bus trips, and one bus trip to the city.)
Gas US$10 For cooking.
Electricity $125
Water $5
Cell Phone US$35 Including 500 minutes, unlimited data, and flexible contract with Cable & Wireless.
Internet US$85 Includes telephone and cable.
Cable TV Included in internet fee.
Household Help US$80 One day-long visit per week; US$20 per visit.
Entertainment US$482 Eating out twice a week at a mid-range, local restaurant: US$25 to US$65.

Local drinks twice a week at a nearby watering hole: US$104 (US$18 for a bottle of wine; US$2 for a beer).

Movie theater trip twice a month: US$18 (US$4.50 per ticket.

Groceries US$425 Basic items for a couple.
Gym Membership US$22 US$275 for a year-long membership.
Medical Appointment US$35 For a specialist or a clinic visit; a basic checkup in a public hospital is just a few dollars.
TOTAL US$1,614

Apartment Or House Rental Budget (For A Couple)

 
Expenses Monthly Costs Notes
Rent US$800 A furnished, two-bedroom, comfortable apartment in a desirable area.
Transportation US$60 To own a vehicle; occasional bus trips instead of driving to Panama City ($13 to $18 roundtrip). (If you opt to not own a car, this cost would be around US$200 for two taxi rides per day, intercity bus trips, and one bus trip to the city.)
Gas US$10 For cooking.
Electricity US$125
Water US$5
Cell Phone US$35 Including 500 minutes, unlimited data, and flexible contract with Cable & Wireless.
Internet US$85 Includes telephone and cable.
Cable TV Included in internet fee.
Household Help US$80 One day-long visit per week; US$20 per visit.
Entertainment US$482 Eating out twice a week at a mid-range, local restaurant: US$25 to US$65.

Local drinks twice a week at a nearby watering hole: US$104 (US$18 for a bottle of wine; US$2 for a beer).

Movie theater trip twice a month: US$18 (US$4.50 per ticket.

Groceries US$425 Basic items for a couple.
Gym Membership US$22 US$275 for a year-long membership.
Medical Appointment US$35 For a specialist or a clinic visit; a basic checkup in a public hospital is just a few dollars.
TOTAL US$2,164

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

 
Expenses Cost Notes
Rent US$100 Cheapest part of town; basic one-bedroom rental.
Transportation US$75 Minimal use of taxis and buses.
Gas US$5 For cooking.
Electricity US$12 No use of air conditioning, fans only.
Water US$5
Cell Phone US$35 Including 500 minutes, unlimited data, and flexible contract with Cable & Wireless.
Internet Cell phone data use only.
Cable TV US$30 Basic plan with 194 channels.
Entertainment US$250 Eating out at fondas and drinking local beer.
Groceries US$50 Fresh fruits and veggies, local brands only; supplemented by eating out cheaply.
TOTAL US$562

Chitre, Panama: The Newest Expat Haven In The Country

Small fisherman boats at the bay and the houses in El Rompio village near town of Chitre in Panama
Alamy/Marek Poplawski

La Ciudad Donde Nadie Es Forastero…The City Where No One Is A Stranger. La Ciudad Que Crece Sola… The City That Grows Itself.

There’s no better way to describe Chitré than with its endearing nicknames…

They capture the area’s appeal for expats and explain why locals are so proud of their chitreano heritage.

Two of Chitré’s biggest selling points are its rapid development and warm, inviting culture.

Living here, you’d never lack any necessity or convenience; you’d enjoy a laid-back lifestyle in a safe and peaceful community; and the locals would happily adopt you as one of their own.

This is El Corazón De Panamá… The Heart Of Panama… and few other towns have preserved their traditions as well as Chitré. There are multiple folkloric festivals throughout the year with cabalgatas (horse parades), bailes típicos (traditional dances), and women dressed in Panama’s traditional attire, la pollera.

The festivals, the Spanish-colonial architecture, and the fincas (ranches)where campesinos (ranchers)work Brahman cattle on horseback, give you a sense of what life was like on the Azuero Peninsula decades ago.

The beach is never far—Playa Monagre and Playa El Rompío are only a few miles outside downtown Chitré—and you can buy beachfront property at shockingly low rates… up to 35% less than the value price.

This is a land of opportunity for investors—take advantage of the limited tourism attractions and accommodations, and you’re bound to make a profit.

Finding Chitré

Chitré is a district in Herrera Province with five corregimientos (townships)—San Juan Bautista, Llano Bonito, Monagrillo, La Arena, and Chitré (the main town).

The town of Chitré is the capital of Herrera Province and its largest city, with a population of about 9,100. In total, the district has about 50,700 residents.

You have three options when traveling to Chitré—you can drive, take public transportation, or fly.

Buses to Chitré from Panama City cost US$9 (about US$6 for retirees) and leave from the National Transportation Terminal at Albrook. The trip takes five to six hours with a 15-minute stop en route for a food and bathroom break. You’ll disembark at the Herrera Transportation Terminal in Chitré.

If driving, the trip will be shorter and you’ll be behind the wheel for about four hours. Follow the Pan-American Highway (Carretera 1) for about 134 miles (217 kms) until you reach the town of Divisa in Herrera Province, about 25 minutes past Aguadulce. You’ll then turn left onto the Carretera 2 ramp which you’ll follow straight to Chitré.

If you’re in a hurry, Air Panama offers round-trip flights from Albrook’s Marcos A. Gelabert Airport to Chitré’s Alonso Valderrama Airport.

Budget As Low As US$600 A Month (For A Couple)

Thanks to its limited tourism and small expat community, Chitré is one of Panama’s most affordable areas to live in—and cost of living here is highly controllable.

A couple who owns their house should budget about US$1,600 a month, and a couple who rents will spend about US$2,000 monthly. Choose a minimalistic lifestyle and you’ll get by on about US$600 a month.

Buy fresh produce and seafood at the open-air market, with infrequent runs to the supermarket, for a monthly grocery bill of less than US$100 for a couple.

A domestic beer costs US$1 in Chitré… the cheapest you’ll find anywhere in the country.

I found that with US$10 I could eat well at a Panamanian restaurant (drink included), and for US$15 I could afford a large meal at an international eatery like Estambul, a restaurant serving Middle Eastern fare. You can enjoy a simple breakfast and coffee for US$5 or less.

Household cleaners charge US$15 a day and about US$300 monthly—remember to tip at least US$5 each day. Ask for referrals for cleaners from fellow expats or your landlord.

The Hub Of The Azuero Peninsula

Chitré is best described as a town with the services of a city. Living here, you’ll know your neighbors, locals will stop and chat with you on the street and at the supermarket, and you’ll enjoy friendly and warm service while living a well-appointed lifestyle.

This is the Hub Of The Azuero Peninsula and people come from across the region to shop, bank, access health care, and to seek the services of lawyers, real estate agents, and other experts.

The district offers:

  • An excellent and affordable health care system;
  • High-quality, free medical attention for all;
  • Fresh produce and seafood—you can eat fish that was swimming that same morning;
  • World-class bilingual schools;
  • All major banks that exist in Panama;
  • Mall Paseo Central, a multiple-floor shopping mall with a food court;
  • Supermarkets, pharmacies, hardware stores, furniture stores, post offices, car repair shops and car parts stores, hair salons, and other professional services;
  • Accountants, lawyers, real estate agents, Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MICI), and other business services;
  • A movie theater, diverse dining options, casinos, a baseball stadium, parks, museums, churches, plazas, beaches, and more attractions…

The Expat Experience

About 500 expats live in Chitré. During my last visit, I met expats—both retirement age and younger families with children—from the United States, Canada, and other Latin American countries like Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

The expat lifestyle is in stark contrast to the one on offer in Panama’s biggest expat haven, Boquete, where foreigners make up a large percentage of the population and the town caters to English speakers.

Life in Chitré is more authentic. You’ll live side-by-side with locals and become immersed in Panamanian culture. Your neighbors and friends will be Panamanian, you’ll celebrate Panamanian festivals, and take part in their traditions.

That’s not to say you’ll have trouble finding other expats or expat gatherings—in Chitré you can live wholly in both worlds. The expat community holds a meeting every Thursday around lunchtime at Hotel Azuero where you’ll have the chance to chat with fellow foreigners, seek advice and recommendations, and learn about clubs and events.

An Unrivaled Health Care System

Health care is one of Chitré’s biggest claims to fame. The two best private clinics are Clínica San Juan Bautista and Clínica Dr. Venancio Villareal.

Two public hospitals offer exceptional care for free (or at a very minimal cost). Hospital General Cecilio A. Castillero is a general hospital providing cost-free care for all patients.

Hospital Gustavo Nelson Collado provides free care to residents and citizens with Panamanian Social Security. Without Social Security, the cost is US$15 per day and US$1 for a consult. It also has an ICU.

Hospital Regional de Azuero, in La Villa de Los Santos, is a public hospital and has an agreement with Johns Hopkins. It specializes in heart attacks and heart disease, and all treatment is 100% free, with or without insurance. The doctors are excellent, and some speak English.

You have several options for dentistry and orthodontics, including Clínica DentiAzuero, Clínica de Odontologia José Villalaz, and Clínica Dental Cambara Calderon.

Optometrists, physical therapists, and massage therapists are also available.

Nowhere in Panama has better health care than Chitré.

Bargain Real Estate For The Buyer Or Investor

I sat down with Alicia Corro, founder of Alicia Corro Real Estate, to learn more about the market for buyers, renters, and sellers in Chitré. In addition to being a real estate agent, Alicia is also a lawyer and owner of her own bakery, Pan & Cake, with locations in Chitré and La Villa de Los Santos.

Alicia tells me that most homes on the market in Chitré are high-quality, used houses. She explains that many older expats return to the States once they can no longer live independently, and the houses they leave behind sell cheap—for about the original purchase price.

Owner financing is almost always possible, and most plans allow for a promissory contract with monthly payments over the course of three years, after which time the title is transferred to the new owner. Owners generally ask for 50% down and the monthly payments are interest-free.

Alicia says that the real estate market is recovering to its pre-pandemic state and is once again moving upward, with increased interest from buyers and more expats and tourists visiting Chitré on relocation tours. Most houses on the market are owned by locals, and buyers are predominately foreign… in certain beach neighborhoods, about 90% of residents are expats.

Alicia emphasizes that the time to purchase property in Chitré is now, as prices are a steal. Houses are selling for 35% less than they were before the pandemic. She mentions a two-story, beachfront home with a pool that was listed at US$600,000 before the pandemic and just sold for US$300,000.

Here at LIOS, Chitré has become one of our top havens in Panama. If you’re looking for a new home with the comforts of a city but a small-town feel, an opportunity to immerse yourself in Panamanian culture and live side-by-side with locals, and if you love the beach but not overpriced beachfront property, your dream life awaits you in Panama’s heartland.

Gabrielle Wells
Editor, Panama Letter

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