I’m sitting in the truck watching 2 Cayucos approach the shore. The Cayucos are loaded with baby coconut palm trees, 300 of them to be exact. Off to the left I see a group of dolphins jump lithely out of the ocean and disappear again underneath. I make a mental note: favorite image of the day. It makes me want to spread my Pareo (blanket), open my umbrella and spend the whole day here. That is how Santa Fe de Veraguas, located in the Veraguas peninsula makes me feel. Other descriptive words come to mind too: quirky, bohemian, effortless, like Canadian Expat Brett R, who is developing a small piece of land a few kilometers outside Santa Fe, in the mountain countryside called Rio Onda. He has ordered the palms from the locals who brought them from a nearby island where the ripe fruit drops and sprouts. He is not only saving money not buying them from the nursery, he is planting every one of them in his other development near the beach, Lago Bay. Brett and his live in girlfriend, Coco, came here over 8 years ago so they could start a business. It all boils down to freedom, says Brett, meaning everything from building permits to licenses is relatively easy. They soon realized the quality of life here was higher than most places they had lived and traveled. They are not alone in this sentiment. A small but growing number of expats call this place home. And the draw is instantly apparent.
Santa Fe is a town of about 3,000 and has no traffic. Every single person you meet on the street says buenas as they pass. This is also true though out most of Panama too. The roads are newly paved and the homes are neatly painted. Despite the good infrastructure, Santa Fe has an undeveloped fee. As though it’s been hidden from the world all these years. One general store holds everything from towels to steel beams and staples like sugar and rice. There are just a handful of shops, one newer local is making fresh mozzarella much to everyone’s delight. At 1400 ft, the climate is delightful. Temperatures rarely get above 88F Evenings are in the 70’s. Rainy season stretches officially from May through November but afternoon rains are often fleeting. Most mornings are sunny with baby blue skies dotted with puffy clouds. Santa Fe National Park is one of the best places in Panama to hike or bird watch and you can camp in nearby forest reserve La Yeguda. One and a half hours away the principal capital of Santiago is also growing slowly but surely. There are hospitals, restaurants, shopping plazas, department stores, movie theaters and even discos. Brett has a home here and travels to his developments in Santa Fe and Lago Bay. Locals and expats who live in Santa Fe travel to Santiago once or twice a week. On a visit to the “city” they may go to a home improvement store, go to the bank, visit a clinic, and grab lunch. Nearly everything you need is available of ten a less than half the price you pay in the states. The drive back is absolutely beautiful. As you coast over the ills the views open up. Between 5 and 6 PM the sun sets over the hilltops and golden colors of papaya and passion fruit abound. You can also go horseback riding, tubing, and swim in fresh water swimming holes along the many rivers. There is a bird sanctuary near here where toucans are nursed back to health and when ever possible released back into the jungle. The local expats say that the people are a wonderful part of life here. They feel so safe they don’t lock their doors. If Santa Fe sounds like a sleepy, slow place, that is because it is. But Santa Fe doesn’t lack in modern conveniences. Internet is plentiful at around $30 a month. The most popular way to connect is through a usb wireless modem, you plug it in your laptop usb port and away you go. There is also reliable water, power and satellite TV. A chicken and rice meal is $1.75 and water is a few dollars a month. Even with a pool, 2 refrigerators, and a freezer you are unlikely to spend more than $60 a month. You don’t need any air conditioning or heat. Overall a couple could live here on $800 a month, rent included. You can buy a 2 bedroom home for around $80,000 or a three bedroom for around $100,000 but it is easier to find land than a house like this because they sell quickly