Boy, Howdy, Look At How This Town Is Growing Up
When we’re at home in Panama City, our weekends are like those of any working family with children. We go to the grocery store and PriceSmart. We watch our kids compete in sports events. We take our 15-year-old son to parties. I do laundry; Lief pays the bills…
It’s when friends and family come to visit that we remember we’re in Panama.
That was the case two weekends ago when a friend from New York, Scott Norvell, came to town. Lief and I offered to take Scott on a personalized tour of Panama City and environs, and, in the process, we reminded ourselves what an impressive place this is.
Over the seven years we’ve been living here full time, Panama has been (and remains) a city under construction, both literally (building cranes, concrete mixers, and work crews crowd the streets) and metaphorically. This town is a melting pot that grows more eclectic every day. The skyline is ever-changing and so, too, is the population.
Panama City is a bona fide boomtown appreciated as a land of opportunity not only by us Americans but the whole world.
Take a minute to let point that settle in. It’s not over-stated.
The entire world is beginning to focus on this little isthmus of land at the juncture of the Americas.
For years, Panama has been recognized as an advantaged safe haven by folks from neighboring countries. For the past decade and longer, if a Venezuelan, a Colombian, a Guatemalan, or an El Salvadoran had capital to protect, he’d invest it in Panama. In more recent years, I’ve watched as the list of people seeking out Panama for business and investment has expanded to include Argentines, Chileans, and Brazilians… British, French, Portuguese, and Italians… and, today, Chinese and Middle Easterners. In August, Emirates Airlines began offering a direct flight from Panama City to Dubai (the world’s longest nonstop service)… and planes are full.
Money goes where it’s treated well, and money from across the planet is finding its way to Panama City.
To show our friend Scott the level of investment, both foreign and local, ongoing in this town, we took him to Panama Pacifico, the new city being built just outside Panama City; Panama Pacifico is a fully fledged community, with condos, townhouses, office complexes, light-industrial parks, shopping centers, schools, playgrounds, restaurants…
We drove Scott the length of the Cinta Costera. Both an expanded highway and a landscaped park, the Cinta Costera, nearly a decade in the making, now extends not only along the face of downtown Panama City but also out over the sea; the new elevated section of this highway whisks you around Panama’s old town, Casco Viejo.
We took Scott to see the former U.S. military base known as Albrook, where one-time officers’ barracks have been rehabbed into modern housing to create a Panama City suburb.
Then we traveled over the Bridge of the Americas and along the Pan-American Highway to the “City Beaches.”
“Are we ever going to see the water?” Scott asked about a half-hour outside Panama City.
Not from the highway. The Pan-American Highway runs a kilometer or so inland from the ocean. To get to the Pacific and all the private communities being developed along it, you have to turn left down one of the many (and more all the time) access drives.
Some 17 years ago, when I began paying attention to Panama, the stretch along the Pacific starting about an hour outside the capital and known as the City Beaches consisted of individual houses in ad-hoc clusters. These were the weekend getaways of wealthy Panamanians from the city. During the week, they were empty and this coast was abandoned.
Today, condo towers and luxury homes punctuate this coastline that is increasingly populated and active. We took Scott for lunch at our favorite City Beaches spot, the granddaddy of luxury developments along this coast, Buenaventura with its JW Marriott Golf and Beach Resort. Lief toured the property with the original developer 15 years ago, when the first house was under construction. Wow, how this place has grown up.
We ate at a new chichi restaurant on the Buenaventura property that wouldn’t be out of place in any big U.S. city. The service was real world and so were the prices.
“Wow… I can eat out for less in Manhattan,” Scott observed after looking at the menu.
Panama City isn’t the bargain it once was, and some of its nearby beaches are likewise developing for a high-end client.
Remember, though, that Panama City is but one face of Panama and increasingly a world apart from the rest of this country. Elsewhere in Panama, the appeal isn’t to do with building businesses or making money. In parts of Panama’s “interior,” as Panamanians refer to anywhere in the country that isn’t Panama City, life remains sweet, simple, and, yes, cheap.
Scott will be returning to Panama in a few weeks. Next visit, we’ll take him to see one part of Panama’s interior that we find particularly appealing, the western coast of this country’s Azuero Peninsula. This is where Lief and I have been developing the Los Islotes community that is a part of our long-term retirement and legacy plan. It’s also where we’ve made many friends and connections… including a retired schoolteacher named Peg Fairbairn.
Peg, her partner April, and their two dogs and two cats have been living on Panama’s Azuero peninsula for nearly two years now… and having the time of their lives.
How did these two retired ladies from Texas end up living full time in the Panamanian coastal village of Palo Seco?
How else could they afford to retire to the beach on a schoolteacher’s pension?
Peg and April’s retirement is shaping up to be a grand adventure. Already, these two have quite a story to tell. More tomorrow…
P.S. Scott Norvell will be spending a lot more time in Panama. We’ve persuaded him to join the Panama City-based Live and Invest Overseas team. Scott is going to draw on his decades of experience in television and video production to help us continue to help you understand all that Panama has to offer, from the business and investment playground that is Panama City to emerging coastal communities like the one where Peg and April have chosen to settle in for retirement.
With help from Scott, Peg, and others across this country, we’re launching this week a new free e-letter service called In Focus: Panama.
In Focus: Panama will be published every Thursday and will reveal, through real-life stories and from-the-scene discoveries, observations, insights, and recommendations, the real Panama.
The first issue will arrive in readers’ inboxes this Thursday, Oct. 15. You can sign yourself up to receive it here.
If you’ve any interest in getting to know Panama better—be you a would-be retiree, expat, investor, property buyer, or entrepreneur—you want to be reading In Focus: Panama.
Again, it’s free.
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