This Is NOT North America

It boggles my mind how some folks move to Boquete without doing any research, or visiting the country boots-on-the-ground to check things out before moving here.  Here are a few crazy examples I’ve heard about recently.

  • Apparently there is some religious, end-of-the-world-type group, that has advocated members escape to Panama.  A group of new residents were meeting together, just chatting over coffee about how and why they decided to move to Panama, and one single woman in her late fifties announced, “I was ordered here.”  Apparently God “ordered” her here to avoid to coming doom to the US because the Supreme Court confirmed that equality is in fact the law of the land, even for gay citizens.  Now I have always believed that God has a wonderful plan for each of us, and that it is a plan for our good.  I have no doubt that God leads us along the way, and the Biblical image is of a Shepherd not without good reason.  A Good Shepherd, the Biblical term, leads his sheep by gently nudging them along the way to protect them from falling off the cliff, and to lead them to the greenest pasture.  God has never “ordered” me to do anything! And He doesn’t have to.  At any rate, I doubt that this gal is going to be very happy here, or maybe not anywhere else, and will likely be gone in less than a year.  Do the hard work and due diligence of research!
  • Second story, a woman bought a home near us.  She sold her home in the States, moved a container with all her worldly goods to Boquete, and moved into her new home.  The first day she discovered that Panama has ants.  She couldn’t live with ants! So she packed up, unloaded the home she’d just purchased, and moved back to the States!  Incredible, except I know the guy who sold here the home.
  • Third story, and unfortunately these stories all involve women, but I’m sure I could find equally alarming stories about men … Gal has lived here a short while, has to go back to the States to take care of some business.  Her husband is quite infirm and has serious issues, so she tells her neighbors that if something “happens” to him while she is gone, they should just “call the Neptune Society” where they had prearranged their last wishes.  Not a bad idea back in the States.  But this is Panama!  It’s different here. The laws and procedures for dealing with death are VERY different (which is why our local Hospice group has researched the issue and put together a presentation for expats), and besides there’s no Neptune Society in Boquete!

Panama, and Boquete in particular, is a wonderful place to live as many have discovered, but it ISN’T North America.  Things are different here!  “Soup” Campbell and his wife moved to Volcan from the North Pole, Alaska.  [Yes, Virginia, there IS a North Pole, Alaska.]  The great advice Soup gives to folks considering moving to Panama, aside from reading my book, is to “check your expectations at the border.”

Jackie Lange of Panama Relocation Tours did a great piece about the sidewalks, or lack thereof, in Panama.


On the Panama Relocation Tours web site we say if you can’t walk several blocks on your own and get up and down steps easily then Panama .. and the tour…may not be for you.   We make this disclaimer because sometimes it will be necessary to walk from the bus to a restaurant.. sometimes 1-2 blocks away.  You will need to go up stairs to get in and out of the bus.  Some of the hotels we stay at have steps to get to the hotel lobby or to your room.  That’s another reason we encourage people to only bring a carry-on size suitcase.  There will be no one to carry your luggage for you.   One afternoon, we give you a few hours on your own to walk around Boquete so you can check out the grocery stores, department store and pharmacies.  We spend an hour at a shopping center where you can see electronic stores, grocery stores, wine stores, and Target-like stores… this all requires walking.  We walk around a PriceSmart store which is like a Costco so you can see if they have the items you like most and find out what they cost in Panama.  We visit several houses where expats live during the tour but the bus cannot drive up to the front door to let you out, you will need to walk up or down driveways.. sometimes steep driveways… to get to the house.

To make matters worse, the sidewalks are a mess in Panama — if they exist at all.  So, you have to be very careful where you are walking.

I received this email today.

I was looking at your tours, sometime back, and I found something that bothered me. You had mentioned that the sidewalks in Panama city are uneven or broken, and you recommended that people with difficulty in walking should not undertake your tour! Can you explain that a little more for me?

Are sidewalks uneven “all over” Panama, including Boquete (which is the city of my real interest)? Because if it is difficult to walk on your short tour, how can we conduct our lives everyday in Panama? Actually, if sidewalks are uneven or broken, even people of normal health will be unable to enjoy their walks on a daily basis!! So, why should I consider moving to a country where there are “unwalkable” sidewalks?

My answer was

Sidewalks, when they even exist, are uneven all over Panama. There could be 1 foot wide and 1 foot deep holes on the sidewalk or a metal rod protruding or chunks of concrete missing or chunks of concrete added to make a hump in the walkway that could trip you if you are not paying attention to where you are walking.  Steps will not be the same size and there are usually no hand rails.  This is true even in Boquete (where I live).  Around the Coronado shopping areas the sidewalks are better than other towns.

Despite all of this, I assure you that Panamanians and most expats have absolutely no problems getting around.  They are careful to watch where they are walking!  Some cities are working on replacing the sidewalks but there is a long way to go before they are anywhere near North Aamerican standards.

I express the caution because you really have to be very careful everywhere you walk in Panama.  You need to look down to know where you are stepping on sidewalks. You could walk in the street in areas where there is not much traffic but it is not safe in high traffic areas.  If you cannot get around easily during a one week tour, then it will be difficult to get around Panama if you move here.  If anyone has mobility issues or vision issues it will be hard to get around in Panama.   That’s just the way it is.

I could tell you the rose colored glasses story that international publications put out which paints that life is perfect in Panama… but that would not be the truth.  I think it is better to warn people about the problems before and during the tour.  If uneven sidewalks are an issue, then many of the other things would be too.

If you can get around ok, then you should come see Panama.  The pluses FAR outweigh the negatives!

Even though the sidewalks are a mess, when you look up in Boquete and see the beautiful mountains surrounding the town and the spectacular flowers everywhere — it just makes the sidewalk issue seem really small compared to the natural beauty, fresh air, clean water, and affordable prices.  Living in a place where you don’t need an air conditioner or heater is just amazing!


Sidewalks Panama

Sidewalks Panama

Sidewalk Panama

Sidewalk Panama

Steps in Panama

Panama Sidewalk

Panama Sidewalk

Honestly, after you’ve been in Panama for awhile you don’t even notice the sidewalk problems.  Instead, you focus on the positive things about living in such a beautiful country!Instead of walking on sidewalks for exercise, many enjoy the many hiking trails in Panama.

Hiking Boquete Panama

Boquete Panama