“My wife and I live in the United States and went through a terrible winter. We have read everything you produce and other sources and have narrowed it down to Panama and Costa Rica.
“Which one has the friendliest people? We also want a consistent temperature around the high 70s and would probably prefer up in the mountains. We hope to have an exercise gym around, we like the outdoor markets, and we’d love get down to the beach a couple of days.”
–Jim B., United States
Latin America Correspondent Lee Harrison responds:
Costa Rica has more options for cool weather than Panama. For high-70s weather, you should be looking around 1,500 meters (5,000 feet), and much of Costa Rica’s Central Valley is near that. Lake Arenal is a good place to look, along with the towns between La Fortuna and San José. I’m not too fond of San José, but south of town, on the highway to San Isidro has some good options. I also liked Cartago.
Looking toward Panama, El Valle is hard to beat and has everything you want: right temperature, in the mountains, a great outdoor market, and it’s 30 minutes from the beach and from Coronado which has gyms and more markets and shopping centers.
I personally found that the people were much friendlier in Costa Rica than in Panama, though my friends who spend more time in Panama may have a different story. In my experience, most of the Panamanians I met were living near high concentrations of expats, which was not the case in Costa Rica. And when I think about my experiences elsewhere in Latin America, and most anywhere, locals are less friendly when they’re around a high concentration of relatively wealthy foreigners. Maybe not unfriendly, but not particularly warm.
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