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Panama's Land of Plenty Fish

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Written by Big Al from Pedasi   
Wednesday, 25 March 2009 07:02
Pedasi PanamaMarch 23, treat 2009 (Panama) Musings from my voyage of discovery throughout the Republic of Panama; may it never end. A couple of years ago, I decided to drive most of Panama with the exception of Darien to see for myself this great land of opportunity. I also sailed San Blas Islands as part of this trip and I guess you can say that I got the best first hand look on everything the guide books and internet forums talked about when it came to places to invest in real estate. Knowing of course, many of the internet sites touting places to live and retire also have real estate developments to recommend -How nice. I guess that's legal as long as you know who/what you're dealing with. My route followed the Pan/Inter-American Hwy past the developed area of Coronado, which included brief stops to view developments in Playa Blanca then onto El Valle in the highlands (nice and cool), then back on the highway to Penenome, Santiago, Boca Chica, Santa Catalina, David, Boquete, Alimirante, Bocas del Toro (surrounding islands), back to the mainland, on to Volcan, Cerro Punta, down the Costa Rican border to Paso Canoas, Puerto Armuelles, and then back down the highway to Divisa and made a big right hand turn to Azueros along the highway through Chitre, a bunch of smaller towns, Las Tablas, Pocri and finally spending my final week in Pedasi-Tonosi area. You could say that I have a reasonable view of the landscape from the ground level after about four weeks on the road.

For those of you starting to consider the same process, here are some quick observations from an unbiased investment and retirement living point of view. I've decided to limit myself here to the Azuero Peninsula and the two most popular areas outside of the Azuero Peninsula (Boquete, Bocas del Toro) fully acknowledging that there are other areas that merit serious discussion like Boca Chica, El Valle and Cero Azul. I will however focus my findings to these three areas with the focus mainly on my favorite, Pedasi. My first foray into the land known as "plenty of fish".

Boquete, PanamaI needed to see Boquete because of all the hype and found it well into real estate high gear; you realize this when everyone you meet has a piece of real estate to sell you. Unfortunately it all looked too chok-a-blok, confusion of scattered construction and lack of community plan, which, given it's genesis is understandable. People flocked to this area and just started building when the rush was on. Valle Escondido and a development further south who's name escapes my memory being the exceptions. I found the expats and people of the area to be wonderful.

Unfortunately, I also found the cool weather and fog/drizzle/rain to be too close to home for me. Interestingly, I found that there were a number of people that wanted to sell their homes after having spent a couple of years there but not sure why. Maybe the cliché of being an expat living in paradise, no matter how nice it is, is not for everybody. Something I should take note of I suppose. Boquete is generally a very comfortable place weather wise. Enough restaurants to keep things interesting and the holy grail for coffee addicts. It's close enough to David (45mins) but still a bit of a haul to Panama City if you want to drive.

I visited Bocas del Toro and viewed a number of beach lots along with a couple of developments. The beaches and water were beautiful and nicer than the Pacific. I found the town to be filled with backpackers, internet cafes and buildings built over the water. A melting pot of Caribbean, Spanish with a smidge of English. Good choice of restaurants and entertainment considering its location. A bit smelly at times (not always the entertainment). Sunset Point development offers the full-meal-real-estate deal and they have a well-planned community.

Bocas del Toro, Panama What was the non-starter for me? I could not get away from the no-see-um critters (chitres I think they call them here?) that are equivalent to an organized militia of mosquitoes with one target in mind. Plus it appears that twice as much rainfall compared to the Pacific side made for more rainy days than necessary. The other downside is you need a boat to get around to the outer islands and mainland. Water taxis are very expensive $15-40 depending on where you want to go and with whom you share your ride with. Usually it's difficult (or very expensive) to get things in and off the island easily. Interestingly, property prices on some of the out-islands can be cheap ($50-80K for water lots) but problems with titling can also be an issue. Lack of fresh water and power generated by an unreliable diesel engine turns out is part of the charm I'm told. Bocas could work if you're ok with living on a remote island lifestyle and if you and truly want to get away from everyone. You need to bring everything in. Picking up a quart of milk you forgot in town is a 40 min boat ride. Flying in and out of Bocas town to Albrook airport is easy and a bonus.

Azuero's south of Las Tablas is unspoiled by the first waves of expats but this is changing. At the moment there are many developers who have staked their land and I will state for the record I am now an owner of property via a gated community development in Pedasi. So take my comments as a biased end-user, who has still not moved into the area; However, here are my reasons for picking this part of Panama over the first two. Caveat de emptor.

When I first visited the Pedasi area I stayed at Villa Camilla of the Azueros project, and fell in love with the architecture, views, wide open beaches and unspoiled spaces. I did not buy in the project but came very close. I think if the representative had just pushed me a little, I might be an owner and probably be ahead investment wise as all of the prices have gone up considerably since. Gilles St. Gilles the French designer who decided he was going to build quality homes with custom designer flare set the bar high for the area. This level of craftsmanship you don't get to see in Panama generally. Most Panamanian homes are basic in finishing details and the quality can be terrible by western standards. Of course it's all about who you are building for and in this regard, things are getting better. There are big investors supposedly moving into the area, being touted as large famous investors, the likes of the Prince of Lichtenstein, Brad Pitt and Mel Gibson among others and as far as I'm concerned, the old axiom, that it's probably good to not believe in most of what you hear and only half of what you see, may be useful.

I spoke with the representative at the Villa after a couple of days of poking around the area and asked, what do people do around this sleepy little town? It only took me a couple of days I was bored. Visiting Pedasi town was no more than a one-hour affair, if you took your time to walk up and down every street. So, this could be a problem for my type ‘A' personality. Sure there are two or three restaurants, one of them was selling $12.00 bottles of Chilean red wine one could buy across the street for $4 at the grocery store but who's worried about a 300% mark-up when the most expensive bottle is going to cost you 12 bucks? Got to make a living right? They should at least pick a wine that's not so available, or at least not so...across the street. In any case, I discovered the few gringos I met were either in the real estate business or had someone they knew selling a piece of real estate or subdividing their own parcel into saleable lots. Basically, it seemed everyone who was not a local was in the real estate business and drove muddy four wheel trucks.
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At first this was a bit disconcerting, one feels they're late to the party. Nevertheless, the good news was that things were beginning to take hold and while it attracted those with foresight along with early adopters, it also suggested their investment reinforced the validity of the area. It was still largely undiscovered by the average buyer of real estate. In fact, most of the real estate that was for sale previously was huge parcels owned by farmers to feed their cattle. If you wanted to buy anything less than 50-200 hectares, you were out of luck unless you wanted to live right in town.

Pedasi, a quaint Spanish Colonial town has a wonderful ambiance and it felt like it was in the early stages of discovery; with the best or worst yet to come. It needed a larger grocery store with a better selection of...wine, veggies, cheeses and meats that are in....nice little plastic packages!

I returned back to my hometown, with all my collected notes, pictures of properties I had visited and continued to read and do my research.

ONE YEAR LATER: Economies around the world started to look like they were all going to hell and a hand basket and all of a sudden my thoughts turned to how unique the Azueros Pennisula really is. What began as a problem of isolation quickly became a place that I could get away from the madness. A refuge with benefits.

So, I tested my thoughts of what I would do if I spent more than a week on a hammock in Pedasi. Sure I could fish off the "tuna coast", surf, sail, snorkle and hang out with the dudes, but how much fresh tuna and shrimp and 4 dollar wine can a guy consume? Could I really stand it? I could just as easily buy property somewhere else. Miami looked pretty cheap with the same weather and the added excitement of hurricanes, or maybe the Caribbean. Then I began to understand the advantages of buying somewhere before the masses had staked their claim and put up a tent. Why do I need to live where there are thousands of people, crowded streets and crime? In fact, it's becoming more and more difficult to find a place in the world to get away from it all. Besides, I resolved myself to the fact that if I really needed a big city fix, I could always fly from Pedasi's tiny airport to the big city. Yep, this should work, right? 40 minutes and you're in Panama City. Of course, you need to figure out the intermittent schedule of flights. I think it's every second leap year without a Sunday in the week. Or maybe you need to call up to the pilot when they're flying overhead and have them drop in to pick you up?

Late that year, I decided to fly back to Panama and then take a flight to Pedasi, this time with a friend. The next few days were spent checking out most of the places I had already seen the previous year, hanging around with a few of the self-appointed real estate people along with a couple of developers who talked up the area previously. I checked out a couple of the newer developments that were just an idea a couple of years ago but are now subdividing lots, having power installed (or being installed) and roads beginning to take some shape. I noticed the increase of dump trucks and graders rumbling the normally quiet streets. I checked on some prices, I was surprised to see that while property is not as cheap as inland pricing, the prices were considerably less than one would have to pay for anything close at the Villa Camilla waterfront lots started at $120/m2 + to ocean views lots in the $80.00/m2 + plus. You can still buy inland parcels in the $10/m2 range, most likely in need of power or water well.

Soon enough, there I was looking out over the ocean again from "the" lot. Beautiful view, quiet breeze, a flock of pelicans floating by, I decided to take the plunge and make the investment. It was done.

There are still only three restaurants in town not including the high priced Villa C. The addition of the pizza joint and a smattering of shanty style food operators along the beaches heading towards Tonosi. Developments on or near Playa Venado I hear are breaking ground and there look to be more restaurants and services planned. In Panama, the word "planned" I've learned can be anything from a passing thought to a real drawing. It's evasive at best with no guarantees that the thought may ever come to fruition or worse even be remembered. At least there is always more planned to replace those that die off. Planning at this level is cheap and thankfully everyone can participate. The area is still in the earliest of development stages. When the people begin to move in (like me) there'll be reason to open a business to serve us gringos, I suppose, or maybe not. Until then it's a lovely sleepy little place just starting to wake up to the rest of the big world. A drive from Pedasi to Las Tablas on a straight nicely paved highway will get you to the first big market town in 35 mins at 100 kilometers/hour (or 60 miles/hour) comfortably.

Costa Pedasi, Panama Interestingly and now admittedly pompous, now that I've written the big check, I'm reluctant to see the area lose it's quaintness and lovely smiles from it's native inhabitants. It scares me to think what would happen if a couple thousand gringos descended on the area and tried to westernize the town. That would be tragic. No need for choc-a-blok development and cheesy tourist stands selling knick knacks to bus filled tourists. In fact, boring is good, beautiful even. Better we take our time and plan the expansion, if that's even possible in Panama. We shall see. Kudos for Gilles at Villa C. for setting the standard and keeping the bar high. It was unfortunate that I did not purchase when prices were lower at his development. Thankfully there are other developments. Having said this, there should not be a developer that comes to the Azuero Peninsula who does not pay tribute to this man. He did not take the easy way to success. It was quality before quantity.

Bocas del Toro Image Credit: www.3viajesaldia.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/01/bocas_del_toro_panama.jpg
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Update
written by UPDATE , March 25, 2009
The development in which I purchased a property, has sold the majority of their first phase and as of this time, there are a number of people drawing plans up for their houses. Great developer and builder. I begin to build my house this month March/09. lot #9 http://www.costapedasi.com See you in Pedasi!
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beach
written by La Mer , March 26, 2009
Fair enough. Your Azuero looks like a very attractive place. If I didn't buy on Costa Arriba, you would have gotten my vote for this development.

Since you went there and see the beach can you please offer details about the land structure? Is it mostly rocky right next to the water ? This is how it looks in the pictures. Also, from the pictures, the sand looks fine, salt & pepper in color. Is that right?

How much is a plane ticket from Panama City to Pedasi?
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big al
written by Steve Ruggerio , March 26, 2009
al, how would you compare pedasi's real estate scene to the rest of azuero, specifically santa catalina and the western coast? i'm familiar with torio, mariato...etc but know very little about pedasi's region. thanks!
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...
written by don , March 26, 2009
If any canadians reading this have bought or thinking of buying in costa Pedasi please be in touch with me. My wife have bought a waterfront lot and are trying to move down next year. smilies/grin.gif my email is ddennis@trebnet.com Cheers
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Alan
Response from the author
written by Alan , March 26, 2009
La Mer:
The beach in the Pedasi area is typical of the Pacific coast in Panama. Generally light grey mixed at times with a golden color. In some places it is striped with volcanic sand which is black. There are places that the sand is coral based (Isla Iguana) and it is almost white in color. Remember that the tides on the Pacific side can be as much as 18 feet every day. The Caribbean is just a couple of feet. So the Pacific coast is more turbulent. There are at least a dozen fabulous beaches in the Azueros area that are long and beautiful without rocks (See Playa Venado). In between there are rocky outcrops and in some places it is just smooth rocks. I recommend you go to google earth and see for yourself.

Big Al
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Alan
Response from the author
written by Alan , March 26, 2009
Steve:

I would compare the real estate scene between Santa Catalina and Pedasi area by simply stating the big money has been buying or completely bought big tracks of land on the water. Santa Catalina appears to be developing on a smaller scale and depending on what kind of scene you're looking for I can't recommend one against the other. It's more a personal preferance. I believe Santa Catalina will develop albeit on a more individual rather than developer driven projects. Flying out of Pedasi (cost is about ($110.00 return for both) it's just as easy as flying out of David. I did notice the native inhabitants of Pedasi to be a proud group of people who take care of the town. It's very clean with no garbage liter anywhere. Best to drive to each and see for yourself

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Pedasi Going as Planned
written by Thelma , March 26, 2009
Does anyone know how development is going in Pedasi? I was under the impression everything was slowing down to a stop but Ihear there is some sales action again? I have only been there twice but agree it is a unique identity.
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What a load of $#i7
written by B. Byrd , March 26, 2009
Pedasi is overpriced, limited in variety/accesibility/beauty, and has a LONG way to go before there are any substantial infrastructure support beams. For me, getting in this early on this kind of market should be far less expensive - plus, some of those projects look super sketch
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Pedasi???
written by Edward , March 27, 2009
I fully agree with B.Byrd. It will take years to bring there sufficient infrastructure. I’d rather prefer Coronado where you already have it all in place and price difference is very modest.
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alternatives
written by La Mer , March 27, 2009
This morning I looked up Gilles Saint Gilles' development at azueros.com. Many parts are currently sold out. The prices are VERY high but at least, there seems to be enough infrastructure, the possibility to buy fresh fruts and vegges inside the reserve and a lot of entertainment on site. Maintenance fees are extremely high as well (we're talking $180 to $500 per month). Now, by comparison to Azueros, the development on Pedasi Coast that Alan talkes about seems cheap but in itself isn't because, as it seems, there is no proper infrastructure in place and the project is in the very early stages. A big plus is the gated community concept -- I believe that's highly needed in Panama for safety pursposes.

Someone mentioned Coronado on the Pacific Coast which is easily accessible from Panama City. What are the prices for land close to the beach in Coronado?

I would mention the beach community development that is closest to Panama City ( 1 h on the soon to be highway). This one is on the Carribean side on the Maria Chiquita beach (more rain I guess but also more lush vegetation) and it features apartments in low rise bdg. as opposed to houses. Any informed opinions about this project?
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other reports on azuero
written by La Mer , March 27, 2009
An interesting comparison between Azuero and Guanacaste in a recent article found on eyeonpanama:
http://www.eyeonpanama.com/pan...t-advice/

Anyway, Alan, you got my vote on seeing beautiful Azuero and the Pedasi Coast project on my next visit to Panama.
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check this out
written by La Mer , March 28, 2009
detailed info about developments around Pedasi + some other beach resorts here:

http://www.ultimateescapes.com...202008.pdf
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Fish...I smell fish!!
written by Philomena Hoel , April 06, 2009
Mmmmmmm....I smell fish. Oh, La Mer. The smell of fish is strong. I might even go for a dip with the gorgeous young Matt and La Mer. Double dipping would be fun!
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Maria Chiquita
written by DMorgan , May 17, 2009
La Mer. Have you been to Maria Chiquita? If you have, I'm surprised you'd even think of recommending this place. The 10-15 minutes drive from Sabanitas to Maria Chiquita, then the place itself would be enough to turn anyone off. Then there's the rain....
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Advice on Panama.
written by Bobby , June 28, 2009
Good afternoon all, I find myself ready to leave the rat race hear in New Jersey/New York City USA, my Spanish is not great but no problem my wife is from Medellin Colombia and her English is not great also smilies/cheesy.gif I have heard many good things about Panama and after passing threw the Panamanian Airport many times on my way to Colombia next time the trip will be to Panama. What I want to know and please feel free to tell it like it is, I would love to purchase a piece of property within 20 minutes to one of the many beautiful beaches in Panama, I am not rich by any means but hope there still are areas where 65K or under I may find a piece of property to plant my vegtables and call it home,. I am a person who when fishing feels like he is on top of the world and need to be within driving distance of the water. I have thought many times of moving to Colombia maybe Cartagena but its just too crowded there. Would love to hear any insight you may have. Thanks Robert
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To Bobby: Advice on Panama
written by DMorgan , July 04, 2009
Bobby. So you're thinking about moving to Panama.... and you've never visited the country outside of Tocumen Airport?

I lived in Panama for almost 7 years from the late 80s into the 90s, and returned for the fishing and girls for vacation every year except this one -- my love affair with the country is definitely over and has been for the last few years. Fluent in Spanish, traveling with a Panamanian girlfriend, I have been everywhere in Panama except Darien and Bocas del Toro. As far as beautiful beaches, the US and Mexico are far far superior in that regard. The fishing has crashed unless you're rich and can afford the exorbiant prices of Pinas Bay or Mother Boats near Hannibal Banks; I guess there's always bass fishing in Gatun for $100 or so a day. Heat, crime, bugs, rain, poor infrastructure, trash come to mind whenever I think of Panama, anywhere in Panama. Nickel and diming gringos is becoming de rigor, I suppose encouraged by the imbecilic foreigner invasion. Pedasi, Chiriqui, the Perlas have some charm, but it's wearing off fast as foreigners move in (and then out!). Panama City is a nightmare of traffic and noise although dining out and the nightlife are good. Unlike a lot of shortsighted folks who got caught up on the hype and real estate speculation, spend a few months living/traveling around the country before you think about actually buying property and living here.
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Last Updated on Wednesday, 25 March 2009 07:09
 
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