Panama City, Panama

Cosmopolitan Living in Panama City

When looking at Panama City, it’s important to keep a couple of thing in mind with a city of this size. Different markets are at work and the city can be vastly different from neighborhood to neighborhood. If you are looking to live in Panama City, we recommend that you “thin-slice” the city into the areas that best suit your lifestyle and tastes.

In fact, neighborhood to neighborhood in Panama City, everything about your life could be different. The view from your bedroom window. The noise level (depending how much construction is going on around you). Your neighbors. The amount of English you hear on the street or in the shops nearby. The kinds of shops you’ll find nearby. The opportunity for walking to shops (rather than having to take a taxi), if you prefer. The ease of hailing a taxi (some Panama City taxi drivers don’t like to travel to some neighborhoods). The number and the kinds of restaurants. The opportunity for nightlife. The number of parks. Places to walk your dog if you intend to keep one. Level of disruption during celebrations like Carnaval (which completely disrupts some sections of the city). Etc.

A Brief Rundown

In some Panama City neighborhoods (notably Costa del Este), you’ll feel like you’re living in a Miami suburb. In others (Casco Viejo), you’ll know you’re in the Third World.

In the areas of Marbella around Calle Uruguay (where all the nightclubs congregate), you’ll want for a decent night’s sleep, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

Others (in fact, many qualify on this score) will shake you awake every morning to the sounds of jack-hammers all around. Remember, Panama City today is very much a city under construction.

The types of real estate available (from high-rise apartments to single-family homes, from suburban development communities to 300-year-old colonial buildings, etc.) and the costs per square meter vary. Sometimes even dramatically, neighborhood to neighborhood.

Neighborhoods of Panama City

Costa del Este

Near the airport, this is a suburban area, fast growing with its own grocery stores, schools and other services. Created in 1995, it is one of the largest and most exclusive developments in the city. Its design meets first world standards like residential areas with restricted access, underground wiring, and its own water processing plant. There are homes and a few high rise projects. In residential terms, it is the second highest valued property area in Panama City. The Balboa Avenue takes the first place. Life in Costa del Este is, as we like to call it, Panama Lite.

Punta Pacífica

A high end area on a landfill peninsula that juts into the Pacific Ocean. This exclusive neighborhood is next to lavish malls, high rent offices and is home to the most luxurious high rise condos and hotels in Panama with fantastic Ocean Views. Examples include the Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower (formerly Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower).

There’s a select development project currently undergoing in this area. The project’s name is “Ocean Reef Islands”. It features two artificial islands. These are being made targeting an upscale market. They will include exclusive condos with world-class amenities, a high-end marina, and even helipads. The “West” island is finished and is going through project development, while the “East” island is still under construction.

Punta Paitilla

Next to and similar to Punta Pacífica, but older and with fewer new offerings, mostly resales. Luxury condos and developed neighborhood has some condo re-sales with fantastic views of the city and ocean. It has many amenities like close-by malls, Hotels like the Radisson And Hard Rock Hotel, and the Paitilla Medical Center.

Balboa Avenue

The banking and business center along the main ocean side boulevard that is the heart of Panama City. Home of Panama’s business elite. Skyscraper offices and condos offer towering views of the the Pacific and Casco Viejo. It is the most modern road in the country, and the most costly kilometer of a road in the world in real estate terms.

Casco Viejo

The magnificent antique part of town where French influence is clear among these lovely facades. There’s much ink about the potential of this once fabulous area that is quickly being renovated by foreign and local investors alike.

Casco Viejo was a slum some years ago. Now, Casco Viejo is an evolving gentrification project and the hippest night spot in the city. The Spanish-, French-, and American-colonial structures here, a world-class UNESCO-protected collection of buildings, renovated into private homes, condos, restaurants, bars, art galleries, and shops. The whole place now is encircled by a highway suspended above the water.

Amador Causeway

Nightlife, boating and tourism area, home to several projects underway that are excellent investment opportunities. This area stretches out to the sea and greets ships as they enter the Canal. Sweeping views back to the mainland city and Casco Viejo.

Another spot in Panama City that should be on any nature lover’s list is the newly opened Biomuseo, at the base of the Causeway.

Designed by architect Frank Gehry, the Biomuseo has a contemporary structure in the category of the Pompidou Museum in Paris. The museum’s exhibits base on Panama’s biodiversity and curated by the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Panama. One recent exhibit showcased the fossils of giant sharks and tiny camels. they were unearthed during the ongoing Panama Canal expansion work.

Albrook

This former military (Air Force) base converted to a residential area with one story homes and large yards. It features renovated former officer’s homes, newly constructed houses, and condos. They enjoy lots of greenery and a country feel, despite being just minutes from the city.

Clayton

A former military (Army) base home to the “City of knowledge”. Nice rural housing and lots for sale. Lots of green area and a slower, more residential suburban feeling that’s preferred by many families and retirees.

El Cangrejo

This residential neighborhood with slight elevation and parks has several new high rise condos in construction. Great for those looking into investing in rentals.

El Cangrejo, epitomizes urban life in Panama. The neighborhood itself is at once fascinating and infuriating, exciting and slightly intimidating. All manner of people pop up in El Cangrejo. This neighborhood has it all. It’s never dull here. With its active nightlife of clubs, pubs, concerts, casinos, cafés, and theaters, there is a little of something for everybody here.

El Cangrejo, which translates to English as “the crab,” is so named because the layout of its streets somewhat resembles the shape of a crab. Founded in the 1950s by Jewish residents, at the time was the most modern and exclusive neighborhood in Panama City.

It took on a much more diverse makeup in more recent years, as the Jewish community relocated mainly to the Punta Pacífica and Costa del Este. The legacy of the Jewish community epitomizes in the many memorials to the great Albert Einstein in and around the area. Including a giant statue of his head and both a plaza and a clinic named after him.

Where Do Expats Usually Live In Panama City?

Avendia Balboa

The high rise buildings in Avendia Balboa have some of the best views in Panama City. Looking out across the Pacific Ocean you will feel the sea breeze. This arrives whenever the sun is shining. Close to Avendia Balboa you have the Cinta Costera which is a great place to exercise. As well as a scenic foot and cycle path there are free basketball and football courts available. You can also use the free gyms as well.

Avendia Balboa is home to some of Panama’s most luxurious shopping malls and some great schools. There is also the fish market serving some of the best ceviche you can find. One of the most modern areas of Panama it seems that every building here is a skyscraper.

Rental Accommodation in Avendia Balboa for a 1 Bedroom Apartment starts from $1500

Purchasing in Avendia Balboa for a 1 Bedroom Apartment starts from $250,000

Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo means Old Town. Casco is home to most of the remaining colonial style buildings in Panama City. It feels a world away from the concrete and steel which makes up many of the other districts. By day Casco has a sleepy feel, even the passing traffic feels insignificant next to the ancient buildings.

At night Casco comes alive and is home to many of the best bars and clubs in Panama City. If you are considering living in Casco, make sure your accomodation has double glazing.

A 1 Bedroom Apartment starts from $1,200 to rent

A1 Bedroom Apartment starts from $300,000 in Casco Viejo

El Cangrejo

In the past this was one of the most exclusive areas in Panama City but is now moderately priced. El Cangrejo is popular with younger expats and young Panamanians. The benefits of living in El Cangrejo are its central location. It has great transport links to the rest of Panama. El Cangrejo is also an area full of amenities such as bars, restaurants and supermarkets. This area has everything you need for day to day living.

A 1 Bedroom Apartment starts from $750 to rent

A 1 Bedroom Apartment starts from $190,000 to buy in El Cangrejo

Punta Pacifica

Punta Pacifica is where many of Panama’s wealthiest citizens choose to live and one of the most expensive areas in Panama City. There are gated communities and some amazing views across the bay. It has all the amenities you could need as well as convenient access to the airport. If budget is no concern then Punta Pacifica maybe the best place to live. The Ocean Club (formerly Trump Ocean Club) is Punta Pacifica’s most recognizable landmark.

A 1 Bedroom Apartment starts from $1,500 to rent

A 1 Bedroom Apartment starts from $300,000 to buy in Punta Pacifica

San Francisco

San Francisco is an up and coming area in Panama City. It is one of the areas attracting interest from investors. San Francisco is also popular with Panama’s rapidly growing middle class population. The area retains a quiet and secluded feel with parks and trails for walking and jogging. In fact Panama’s largest park, Parque Omar, is situated here.

A 1 Bedroom Apartment starts from $950 to rent

A 1 Bedroom apartment in San Francisco starts from $220,000 to buy in San Francisco

Cost of Living In Panama City

Panama City is no longer a bargain destination in the grand scheme of things. Although it is cheaper than other major capital cities, it is not cheap to live here.

Public transport in Panama City is reliable and well-priced. Running a car is also inexpensive with gas about $2.20 per gallon. There are toll roads within Panama City called Panapass. They require you prepay via the internet. You need an electric car windscreen sticker which is read by the scanner as you approach the toll gate. Various motorways are also tolled such as the main one between Panama City and Colon. The toll roads within Panama require you to have a windscreen sticker containing a chip. Cycling to work is not an option unless you live near a bike path. Taking a bicycle on the road here would be tantamount to suicide.

Hired help such as maids and gardeners are not expensive in Panama City. Neither will cost more than $4 an hour. Other small businesses like barbers, nail and beauty salons and painters and decorators are also inexpensive.

A trip to the supermarket is about the same price as you would expect to pay in the U.S. but with a few disclaimers. Firstly imported items cost more. Sometimes a lot more. To live cost effectively in Panama you will need to learn to live without some of your favorite brand names. You can also take advantage of the cheap fruit and vegetables available.

To keep your cost of living down you will also need to be frugal with the electricity. Electricity is expensive and appliances like air conditioning cost a lot. You will quickly get into the habit of turning off the air conditioning when you are not in the room, as well as any lights and fans.

Things To Do In Panama City

Ancon Hill

Ancon Hill is a 654 foot hill overlooking Panama City. The surrounding area was used for Panama Canal administration by the Americans when they were running the canal. The Panama flag which flies from the summit is a symbol of pride for Panamanians. In 1977 Panama reclaimed the hill and almost immediately planted the flag.

A hike up Ancon Hill gives you a glimpse of Panama’s rainforest. Although it is not a strenuous walk, it is hot and often muggy so bring some water with you. Along the way you might see iguanas, toucans, sloths and also plenty of butterflies.

From the summit you will get the best view in Panama City. Framed by lush rainforest, one vantage point looks out across the bay. In the foreground you have the old buildings and some of Casco Viejo. Bright paint and red tiles dominate, further away the skyscrapers of modern Panama, grey concrete and tinted glass. Out at sea the changing landscape of container ships wait to cross the canal.

Mira Flores Lock

The Miraflores visitor Centre is about 20 mins drive from Panama City. It has an interactive museum which charts the history of the canal. You can find lots of artefacts which were used during the construction of the canal. There is also a floor dedicated to the wildlife you can find along the canal. The array of different species here is truly remarkable. There is also a nice place cinema where you can view a 20 minute film about the canal.

The best part about the canal is the chance to watch ships navigate the locks up close. The locks are an engineering marvel seeing the water rush in to raise the ships is an awesome site. Simply being so close to the ships also provides perspective on their vast size and is not an everyday experience.

Casco Viejo

Casco Viejo is a must see for any tourist to Panama City. The UNESCO World Heritage site one of the most unique places you will find in Central America. The area has lots of the city’s best bars and restaurants as well as being a beautiful place to walk around and spend time in.

Rooftop bars offer happy hours in the afternoons and beautiful views of the city during the night. There is every restaurant here you could want but to try some authentic Panamanian food look for a Fonda.

Panama is home to the most expensive coffee in the world, Geisha Coffee. The coffee plantation is on land which was formerly an orange farm. The coffee has picked up some of the citrus which can be detected in the flavor and aroma. Casco Viejo has some excellent coffee houses where you can taste the best of Panama’s coffee. You can also buy beans or powder for personal use.

Travel Within Panama City

Metro

Panama City has a modern subterranean train system, the only one in Central America. The system uses Japanese technology which is another first for Central America.

There are many benefits to travelling on the Metro. It is air conditioned, something always welcome in Panama City. Here the temperature is always high and the humidity can get close to 100%.

The metro is also affordable. The price is 35 cents per journey. For all but the shortest journey it is the cheapest way of getting around. For retirees with a Pensionado you are able to travel for 24 cents.

The metro benefits from a regular service with an extra number of trains running at rush hour. The traffic in Panama City is notoriously bad meaning that the metro is the fastest way of travelling distances of over a couple of miles. During rush hour the metro does get very busy, but no more so than any other major city.

New lines for the Metro are still under construction. At the time of writing it does not cover the whole city. Eventually it will span from Albrook Bus Terminal out to Tocumen International Airport.

Bus and Diablo Rojos

The bus service in Panama City is the other main form of public transport.

The Diablo Rojos (red devils) are legendary around Panama. These are former U.S. school buses, modified in the Panamanian style. Loud music blasts out out through open windows. There is no air-conditioning here to keep you cool. The Diablo Rojo’s are privately run so they are competing for fares. The sight of two Diablo Rojo drivers cutting an opportunistic path through traffic, racing to the next bus stop is familiar to everyone in Panama City. One argument for the Diablo Rojo’s is that you are safer in them than sharing the road them.

There is also a more modern bus network called the Metro Bus Network. These air-conditioned buses cost 25 cents, rising to $1.25 if your route takes you to Corredor Norte or Corredor Sur.

Taxi or Uber

Uber is the best way to hire a vehicle in Panama City. Taxi drivers have a well-earned reputation for trying to rip off tourists. This is impossible with Uber.

If you do have to travel by taxi then agree on the fare before you start the journey. If at all possible ask a local how much they would pay for the fare and use this guide price. Be prepared to ask more than one driver and you will find a taxi before long.

Things You Might Not Like About Panama City

Traffic – During rush hour traffic here is a nightmare. Leaving Panama City towards the city beaches is an exercise in patience on a Friday afternoon or Saturday lunchtime. Heavy rain makes things even worse.

Rainy Season – Humidity rises and sometimes the sun doesn’t break through the clouds for days on end. If you are out on foot during a downpour you might need to shelter for up to an hour before the deluge ends.

Checkouts – Checkout operators and cashiers work at less than half the speed of their U.S. counterparts. Fast food is often just food. Waiting in line at a supermarket will give you plenty of time to plan you’re your week’s meals.

Things You'll Love About Panama City

Relaxed, laid-back attitude – The manana culture has its drawbacks, but it is rare to find a stressed Panamanian. Living in Panama gives you a new perspective on what is worth worrying about.

Great health care – The healthcare system in Panama is world class and costs a fraction of what you would pay at home. The dental service in Panama is similarly excellent

Warm weather year-round – The temperature in Panama City is unlikely to ever drop below 84 degrees Fahrenheit. Summer is between January and April making Panama City an ideal winter getaway.

A Green City – Panama City has a rainforest within its borders. Plants and flowers thrive here and you can see hummingbirds, iguanas, sloths and monkeys within the city borders.

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