Retirement In Las Tablas, Panama

Las Tablas Revisited

The first (January 2010) issue of my Panama Letter featured Las Tablas, a little town on the eastern Pacific coast of this country’s Azuero Peninsula.

Why did we decide, back then, to begin our up-close and no-holds-barred reporting on what it’s really like to live or retire in Panama by focusing on Las Tablas?

Las Tablas is the first town of note along this Pacific Gold Coast. Other beaches, certainly, are easier to access from Panama City. But these “city beaches,” as they’re called, have gotten expensive. Panamanians like to be able to leave work on Friday afternoons and reach their places on the water by dinnertime, and they are willing to pay a premium for that privilege. Properties at these Panama City beach areas, therefore, have appreciated in value over the past several years, but I’d say that, generally, the experience doesn’t support the inflation.

It’ll take you four hours to reach Las Tablas from downtown Panama City. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you travel well-maintained highway door-to-door. The really good news is that, having made the drive, you are greeted by a charming and lively town center, a welcoming local population, and a long-established community of Panamanians and expats who savor their seaside lifestyle.

Here’s the best news: You could join them on a budget of as little as US$1,200 per month.

At least this was the case 27 months ago when we published our first in-depth report on life and retirement in what we dubbed Panama’s premier bargain beach town, Las Tablas.

What about today, we wondered, as we prepared the 2012 Panama Letter editorial calendar.

We sent Panama Letter Editor Chris Powers off to Las Tablas to find out.

“Las Tablas hasn’t changed much in all this time,” came Chris’ initial report from the scene last week. “The cost of living in this friendly seaside town is more or less what it was back in January 2010, about US$1,200 per month, including rent. You could actually live on less if you wanted to go more local…”

Chris continued, describing his visit:

“I drove into Las Tablas just after Midnight. The place was a ghost town compared with two months earlier when the entire town was overrun by Carnaval party-goers. Las Tablas is one of this country’s Carnaval centers. The night I arrived, though, I found but a few taxis, driving around slowly, and a town center that was near-empty, save a few locals wandering out from the bars.

“Las Tablas is a stark contrast to Panama City, where I live, in many ways,” continued Chris. “For example, this is a town for walking or biking. The sidewalks are great (very unlike in Panama City). They’re smooth and clean, and some are even wheelchair-accessible. This is the only town I know in Panama that seems to be making an effort to make it easier for handicapped residents to get around.

“The best thing, though, about Las Tablas is the cost of living here and, especially, the cost of housing. You could rent a fully furnished home for as little as US$300 per month. One Canadian couple is renting an unfurnished house for US$200. Another couple I met with (and interviewed for the expat feature in this month’s issue) is renting a home right on the beach, fully furnished, with all utilities included, for US$600 per month. That’s considered expensive for the area, but, again, the Pacific Ocean is their front yard.

“Not only is Las Tablas a place where you could live on the average Social Security check, but it’s also safe. ‘This town is so safe,’ our hotel clerk told us, ‘that you could fall asleep on the sidewalk, stay there, asleep, through the night, and no one would bother you. You’d be fine…’

“If I were looking for a coastal town where I could live very affordably right on the beach, with my front lawn stretching out to the breaking tide, I’d be looking at Las Tablas. This is a low-key, stress-free choice where the streets are safe and the people are friendly, welcoming, and accepting of foreigners…”

Chris’ complete Las Tablas Revisited report, including a fully detailed cost-of-living budget and current property offerings, both for sale and for rent, will be featured in the next issue of my Panama Letter, due out May 1. If you’re a subscriber, watch for it in your e-mail in-box. If you’re not, get on board here now in time to be able to access it.

Kathleen Peddicord

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