Trying to Understand the Hype of Panama

Our posts on here are very few and far in between these days. This is partly because we moved around quite a bit this past year, and partly because we’ve been focusing on the websites that actually make us money and allow us to keep living this lifestyle (unfortunately the travel blog does not). I’ve realized lately though how much I do appreciate being able to look back at our past trips and experiences, and I’m kind of sad we haven’t kept them up to date. Its so easy to forget and I want to be able to hang onto the memories. So, for 2018, my goal is to try to spend more time on the blog. If not for keeping everyone else up-to-date and sharing our adventures, then at least for ourselves to have for years to come.

So, in keeping with my goal, my first post of the new year is trying to figure out what the hype is all about in Panama…

Boquete, Boquete, Boquete…

boquete panama

Charlie’s been on this Panama train for over 7 years now. He’s done all the research, watched all of the videos, and always had it in the back of his mind that Boquete is the place to be (to retire or to work and live very comfortably at really affordable prices). But somehow its taken us traveling to over 30 countries, 5 years later to finally make it here. Our plan was to spend the month of January here: a few days in Panama City, and then hit some of the coastal towns like Bocas del Toro, and then chill out and work a few weeks in Boquete, the city of eternal spring.

boquete, panamaSpeaking of eternal spring, this was one of the biggest selling points of Panama for us. After living most of our lives in Florida and Thailand where its hot and humid most of the year, a breezy 70 degrees year-round sounded absolutely peachy. Additionally, being in the same time zone as our family in Florida and only a couple hours flight away was really enticing. It seemed like it could truly be a place where we could settle for a while.

Needless to say, our hopes were high for Panama. Probably even more-so for Charlie who has had Panama on his mind for as long as I’ve known him. Unfortunately, it just hasn’t lived up to the picture in our minds. Perhaps our expectations were too high. Or perhaps we really have been ruined by Chiang Mai…

casco viejo, panama

We always say that the worst part of living in Thailand is that you compare everywhere thereafter to it, and just nothing else compares. For the value and what you get for your money, its unbeatable. And for the community, the food and everything else that comes with it, nowhere else stacks up. (Read 8 Things We Miss About Chiang Mai) And trust me, we aren’t the only ones that feel this way. We are constantly reading these very same thoughts by so many other travelers and digital nomads.

panama city, panama

One of the biggest shocks about coming to Panama is it really isn’t that cheap. At first in Panama City, we just chalked it up to being a big city. But after coming to Boquete, the small mountain-town consisting mostly of expats, prices still aren’t that cheap. In fact, I would venture to say that its more expensive than our hometown in Florida. I’m sure at one point, before all of the North Americans retired here, it was probably very inexpensive. But now, prices seem almost outrageous.

Finding a place to stay here was what first made us scratch our heads. For a one-bedroom, modern place to rent, everything we found was upwards of $80/night. Actually, it was mostly upwards of $100. We did find a place, Downtown Suites, with rooms for $89/night. And while it is nice and gets the job done, its definitely nothing special. That being said, in all of the time we spent in Europe, we never once paid over $75/night for a very modern and clean apartment near the city center (including expensive cities like Paris and Munich). Actually, on our most recent 6-week trip through Europe in November and December 2017, we stayed in 15 different Airbnb apartments and hotels, and averaged around $40/night for much nicer places. This is just baffling to me…

miraflores locks, panama canal

Aside from accommodations, food really isn’t all that cheap. Most of our meals have been over $20 and I haven’t found a single latte for under $4. Just this morning, we headed to a local coffee shop in Boquete and paid $9 for two, very small iced coffees. This just seems crazy. We might as well head to Starbucks for those kind of prices. For lunch, we did find a local place which was like a huge cafeteria serving local food and consisting only of local people. Even still, it was $10 for the both of us. And here is where I go back to comparing to Chiang Mai. That meal there would have cost around $3-5 total. For the both of us. And would have likely been way more delicious. Sorry, Panama…

casco viejo, panama city

I’m not trying to hate on Panama. And I know I’m opening myself up to tons of haters and critics (let the hateful comments commence). It really is beautiful up in the mountains and the weather is definitely wonderful. The people are very friendly and its a great place to visit. We just have a hard time understanding the hype. Its probably more affordable for those coming from the likes of New York or California, but in comparison to our hometown in Florida, its about the same – if not more expensive. And while Boquete is a beautiful and quaint little town, I think we would get bored after a week or more. After traveling to many different countries over the past years, it seems there are many places for better value, particularly in S.E. Asia and Eastern Europe (like Budapest, our favorite city in Europe!).  In conclusion, Panama is just not for us.

We’ve decided to cut our time here short and head to another Latin American city that we’ve been itching to check out. Its been said to be the “Chiang Mai of South America” and I think it will definitely have more to offer us. Whether it will actually live up to its nickname, we shall see…

Catch ya from Medellín, Columbia 🙂

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  1. Big mistake for having high expectations, we learned very early that we get so disappointed in places when we go in with high hopes…Hope it gets better! Miss you two.

    • Charlie and Brittany January 7, 2018 at 9:37 pm · · Reply

      Yep that was definitely our first mistake. Sometimes its hard to not get hopes up when its been building up for so long. But at least we saw it and now we know. We can move on! Miss you guys too XO

  2. Hello! I’m brand new to your blog and just love your writing/ photos of your adventures! Can’t wait to hear about Columbia!

  3. So happy to see you guys blogging again! Always enjoy your posts and hope you write regularly in 2018.

    Panama has never appealed to me, in fact Central America holds no appeal at all. In fact, as you say, once you’ve spent time in either Europe or SEA other places have a hard time comparing in terms of costs, quality of life, and cultural interests.

    We’ve got changes coming up in 2018 after making Croatia our home in 2018. We’ve loved it hear but Croatia isn’t a very friendly expat location and we’ve been forced into a decision. So we’ll be travelling again within the next 2 months and will actually be in Chiang Mai for the month of March. I’ll actually be heading over to your Chiang Mai post after finishing this comment.

    All the best in 2018 and don’t stop blogging! 🙂

    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Charlie and Brittany January 10, 2018 at 1:21 pm · · Reply

      Thanks so much, Frank! Hope you guys are having a Happy New Year.

      I have to agree that Central America has never really appealed to me either – other than the proximity to the US. I was hoping it would pleasantly surprise me because it sure would be convenient, but sadly it did not. As for Charlie, he’s pretty let down! We both agree the value in Europe and SE Asia is far superior.

      I just read your Croatia post and was surprised to hear that! But I can totally understand its a big commitment – we aren’t very good at committing either lol. Glad to hear you’ll be in CM though – did you spend any time there when you were in Thailand last? You might already be aware but March and April are usually the worst time to visit, unfortunately, due to the smoky season. I hope that won’t be your first impression of CM! If it gets too bad though, you can always escape down to the beach on a cheap flight 😉

      • Thanks Brittany,
        Yes, I know not ideal time, but March is a funny month everywhere and actually looking forward to getting back to tropics and Thai food (and Indian!), massages, and drinking beer while watching Thai Box. We won’t go too crazy with sightseeing, just taking it easy and enjoying the aspects of Thailand we’ve missed (haven’t been to CM in 10 years!).
        Then we’ll make our way down, visiting Sukhothai, Phitsanulok and Ayutthaya before getting to Bangkok (from where I’m thinking we’ll fly to Penang). Haven’t planned anything at all so open to suggestions!

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