August 16, 2012

What's Up with Panama?...

When we decided to move to Panama everyone would ask us, "Why Panama?" It was kinda random if you think about it. After doing all of our want list and research, it just seemed like the best place for us to plant our feet first. When we first moved to Panama, we lived in the old town in Panama City called Cosco Viejo. We actually lived right around the corner from the Presidential Palace. After about a month and a
half, we decided to move an hour away to a beach community called Coronado. Each had its own positives and negatives, but overall, we were much happier in Coronado.

Here's what we were looking for in our new country:

  1. Good medical care
  2. Ability to travel within the country and surrounding countries
  3. Cost of living
  4. Cultural diversity
  5. Cost of airfare to travel to and from the US
  6. Weather
  7. Safety
I'll put the GOOD first:
  • They had a couple of fantastic malls inside the city that were comparable to the some of the best malls in the US. Albrook Mall had 3 different food courts and had every store that you would find in the US or its equivalent. Right when we were moving, they were building a new mall between Coronado and the City. It was going to be even larger than Albrook Mall and the second largest in Central America.
Cosco Viejo Apartment
Coronado Apartment
  • The cost of living was about the same as the US. We paid $1000/ month for our one bedroom in Cosco and $1500/month for our 2 bedroom beach front in Coronado. Keep in mind, we were paying Gringo price, and we could have found a much cheaper place on the ground by the water. However, we chose to pay more for the views up high and other amenities. The Cosco location was all bills paid, and thus, we didn't have to worry about an electric bill. In Coronado, we only paid for electric which was about $75/month depending on how much we ran the air which wasn't often. Our electricity rate was higher than the US, but we just never had to run the air because we lived directly on the water, up high.
View from our Coronado balcony
Typical pretty sunshine, pleasant day
  • The weather was actually extremely good. It was a consistent 87 degrees every single day. It rained quite a bit during the rainy season. Hence, the term rainy season. However, there were no hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes. It was just overall pretty pleasant.
Clinic down the road from Coronado apartment.
Had an MRI and X-Ray machine and own lab and pharmacy
on site. All doctors spoke English and most employees.
  • We found the medical care was absolutely amazing. Pretty much any expat you ran into, no matter what country they originated, will tell you that Panama hands down beats their country. It was extremely inexpensive, and you could easily get by without insurance. Most of the doctors were trained either in the US or partnering hospitals like John Hopkins and Baylor.
  • Seth and I always felt safe whether we were in the city or out in the booneys. When we lived in Cosco, there were the Presidential Police, National Police, and Tourist Police everywhere. We never worried about our safety, but then we never went into a part of Panama City that we shouldn't. In Coronado, there were National Police, but they were more for show then actual protection. I drove into town by myself all the time and never worried about something happening to me. Read here to see what happened to Seth and me when our car broke down in the middle of nowhere.
  • Public transportation is available everywhere. We chose to never use the buses, but taxis were readily available. A taxi in the city will cost about $2-5, one way, from most locations. Within Coronado, we did use taxis before we had a car, and it was about $2 one way from the beach into town.
  • The grocery stores were modeled after Walmarts. They weren't as large as Walmarts, but they had just about anything you could need. If you wanted it bad enough, you could find it, but you were going to pay Gringo price. For all your basic food, no problemo. Within our small little community of Coronado, we had 3 major grocery stores that we could hop to and from for whatever we needed.
So what's the story behind the story? The BAD:
  • Honestly, we didn't really travel that much in Panama. Its not that we couldn't. Its just that we really didn't want to. The towns and cities are not really that built up, and there's not a lot of activities to do once you get there.
We didn't take a lot of pictures of the trash everywhere.
This is a typical dilapidated building in Panama. There were many.
  • The one thing that bothered Seth and me the most was how the country was so dirty. Trash everywhere! I mean trash EVERYWHERE! A bus would be driving down the road and the passengers would just throw their trash out the window. There was no pride in their land or community. Got trash? Throw it on the ground. That's the motto.
  • Buying a reliable car was near impossible and expensive. It took us over a month and half, of constant searching, to find a car. Panamanians are notorious for taking parts from one car and putting in another, even if the make and model are completely different. Its not uncommon to find someone went in and thought they were handy with wires and hooked the air wire up with the starter. Pretty crazy! I know! Also, people would advertise their car for sale, but then wouldn't return your email or phone call to sell it to you. It was weird because no one ever seemed to be in a rush to sell the car they had for sale. So needless to say, we spent forever trying to find a car. Then when we finally did find one, we had to have the thing completely overhauled so it would make it from the Coronado to the city for our doctor appointments.
  • They burned their trash. So when you live in the "country" a high rise...on the 15th get to smell trash every evening as people burn it in their yards right below your building. YUCK!
This was our beach.
They only activity on it was the weekends and people just swam.
No snorkel, no parasailing, no jet skis, no deep sea fishing, nada.
  • There were no established tourist activites. None. Zero. Zilch. I mean sure, if you wanted to search high and low you might eventually come across a tour guide for the Panama Canal, but that's about it. If you went to the beach, don't look for a snorkeling or windsurfing package. You're going to be very pressed to find something to do. Hence, the reason we didn't travel. There was a beautiful mountain to travel to, but there were very few, if any hiking trails or activities for people. However, I will say that I've heard that some expats are starting to create some beach activities for tourists, but they were not opened when we lived there.

  • I'll sum this one up. Driving is pretty horrendous there. Street signs were non-exsistent in the city. Street lights, stop signs? What for? When there are 500,000 registered cars in the city, they can all work it out together to maneuver around the streets. Right? Uh, wrong! Craziness! On top of that, they used the horn like it was the only means of communication for everything. Hence, the reason we moved out of the city because all we heard was honking from 7am-5pm every single day!
Disclaimer: This is just my opinion of what is good and bad about Panama. Some Expats have moved there and thought it was amazing. Others, like Seth and me, found it just wasn't for us. Do not take offense by anything stated and understand that every place has its good and bad.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, those apartments sound expensive to me! Maybe I've been in Mexico too long haha

    From what you say, it sounds like Panama might drive me crazy with nothing to do and lots of trash (my pet peeve)