The Best Of Panamanian Country Life (On As Little As US$700 Per Month)
November in Panama is the Mes de la Patria, the month when Panamanians celebrate their country’s road to freedom. Nov. 3 is the first of two independence days, this one remembering the break from Colombia in 1903. This is followed by Flag Day on Nov. 4 and Colon Day on Nov. 5. That last is like Colombus Day in the United States, remembering Christopher’s arrival in the New World.
Then comes the Primer Grito de la Independencia on Nov. 10. In English this is the First Cry For Independence. It is the starting point in Panama’s history as an independent nation, and it took place in the village of La Villa de Los Santos on the eastern coast of Panama’s Azuero Peninsula. On this day in 1821, the people of Los Santos wrote a letter to Simón Bolívar complaining about the Spanish and asking for some revolutionary assistance.
Eighteen days later, on Nov. 28, the country officially declared its independence from Spain. Needing a protector to help face whatever conflict might follow, the fledgling country aligned itself with Bolívar as part of the Gran Colombia. That didn’t work out so well from Panama’s point of view. Thus, the second declaration of independence about 80 years later.
Understandably, thanks to its place in the country’s history, La Villa de los Santos holds a sentimental spot in the heart of every Panamanian. Few outside the country, though, have heard of it. In this part of this country, Pedasí, Las Tablas, and Chitré get all the attention. Depending what kind of lifestyle you’re looking for, La Villa, as it’s known among the locals, could top them all.
La Villa was home to the oldest civilizations in Panama almost 11,000 years ago. The Smithsonian Institute manages an archeological dig here. About 500 years ago, the Spanish Conquistadors arrived on the scene and now you know the rest of that story.
La Villa, with its long and noteworthy history, is today a sleepy town that has managed to retain its authentic local charm. Unlike Pedasí and Las Tablas, for example, farther south along this Azuero coastline, La Villa has no established community of expats or foreign retirees. Living in La Villa, your neighbors would be Panamanians, your way of life local.
And, as a result, your cost of living would be exceedingly affordable. This is one of La Villa’s biggest advantages over other retirement lifestyle options in this country. La Villa is cheap the way most of Panama used to be cheap. Meantime, you’re still in Panama, enjoying the residency, tax, and other benefits, and, when you wanted a dose of more developed-world living, you could travel the half-hour south to Pedasí or four hours up the peninsula and then east along the Pan-American Highway to Panama City. Comfortable air-conditioned buses service the route daily.
Not much goes on in La Villa most of the year. Then, in November, businesses close, the streets are shut off to traffic, and people from across the country make their way here to celebrate their country’s heritage. The town’s year-round population of 9,000 explodes to many multiples of that. Party-goers fill the central square and the surrounding neighborhoods.
After the Mes de la Patria celebrations, La Villa goes to sleep again until April, when it reawakens for the annual Azuero Fair. As during the month of independence, La Villa’s population expands into the hundreds of thousands for this once-a-year agricultural festival. It’s like a state fair in the Midwest, with livestock exhibits, roping competitions, games, rides, and live music. Farmers and ranchers come to shop for farm equipment, cattle, seeds, plants, even boots and belt buckles. It wouldn’t be a party in Panama without drinking and dancing in the streets, so there’s plenty of that, as well.
Outside those two festival months, life in La Villa is simple and quiet. This is Panamanian country living without any frills. It’s not for everyone, but it’d be hard to imagine a sweeter, safer lifestyle… or one more affordable. A couple could live in La Villa on US$700 per month. The cost of living is so low because rents are low, you can live here without owning a car, and food is local, organic, and a bargain. Otherwise, frankly, there just isn’t much to spend money on.
Change is coming, though, as this Panamanian coastal region attracts ever more attention. La Villa still has no real estate agency; however, five housing developments are under construction, and a small mall is scheduled to open next year. Meantime, La Villa remains one of the friendliest and most affordable spots in all Panama.
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