Being from Vancouver, Canada, I’m used to seeing the Pacific Ocean every day. In my area of Panama City, though, I rarely catch a glimpse of it, let alone get the chance to dip my toes in the water.
Whenever the constant concrete of the city starts to get to me, I like to escape to the beach, usually heading to familiar and close-by Coronado. However, I recently went on an adventure… I got to know a different stretch of Panama’s Pacific beaches and was pleasantly surprised by what I found.
Chame is a quieter alternative to Panama’s expat-populated City Beaches area, and it has a lot to offer… natural diversions ranging from white-sand beaches and kitesurfing to national parks and bird-watching to canyon-swimming and cliff-jumping.
Chame is both the name of the district and the town. The district of Chame, part of the Panama Oeste Province, comprises 353 square kms and 11 corregimientos (or small towns). These hamlets offer the ultimate relaxation—traditional, sleepy hamaca living—but for most expats, they are just names on a map.
The town of Chame is inland. Many pass through it on their way to the City Beaches area and don’t even realize they are entering a town. The good news is this lack of interest means much cheaper real estate prices than in neighboring expat hot spot Nueva Gorgona, for instance.
After speaking to several locals (both Panamanian and expat), I got the impression that there are three main population groups in Chame:
- Middle-class locals and expats.
- Weekenders from the city.
The last two categories are transient groups, perpetually coming and going, while the first is permanent. All three groups buy Chame’s real estate. In particular, the expat contingent of the permanent population chooses Chame because it’s a quieter alternative to the big city.
Benefits Of Living In Chame
- Real estate is cheap. It’s a buyer’s market, and owners who have had their houses on the market for years will accept far less than what they paid for (especially for cash offers)—great if you’re a buyer and want a place to hang your hat.
- Close to nature. Unless you opt to live in a manicured gated community, you’ll likely live surrounded by jungle and in the heart of outdoor activities such as hiking, bird-watching, surfing, fishing…
- Small-town feel. The population of permanent residents is small and spread out. The isolation draws people together, and you’ll likely get to know everyone in your area if you participate in one of the community groups.
- No traffic. Especially for those coming from Panama City, this is a huge draw.
- Close enough to the city for major needs. The lack of entertainment options and certain amenities could likely go unnoticed with Panama City only an hour-or-so’s drive away.
Challenges Of Living Here
- Not super kid-friendly. Your kids can enjoy the outdoors, but aside from a jiujitsu school, there are few team sports, organized leagues, or group extracurricular activities. One expat lamented the lack of daycares, pediatricians, and maternity wards.
- Power outages. Power comes and goes without rhyme or reason.
- Water struggles. Some areas struggle with water outages. Know what type of system you’re on before buying property.
- Pollution. Seeing trash on roads and beaches is disappointing but part of life here.
Those cons aside, I was stunned and refreshed by the natural beauty of Chame. Lush rolling hillsides, white-sand beaches, the crashing waves of the Pacific… all just an hour and a half away from the capital.
Gaps To Be Filled
Chame is where you go to revel in nature… but you’d never know about its amazing natural attractions without talking to locals and getting word-of-mouth recommendations. No tourism infrastructure is in place, and nothing is advertised. In some ways, this is a good thing: Panama still has a chance to develop an ecotourism industry the right way and strike a balance between making the most of the natural world and conserving it.
Someone with the capital to start an ecotourism resort or an outdoor-adventure company offering zip lining, trekking, rock climbing, rappelling, or glamping could do very well here.
And that’s not the only market niche that needs filling… One expat with a printing business is busier than ever simply because no one else in the area offers that service. A daycare or babysitting company is badly needed. In Punta Chame, affordable accommodation for surfers and young people is lacking. A hostel or B&B could be a great seasonal business.