Those of you who’ve followed my blog know that we are in the process of “retiring from retiring” … well, actually moving from Retirement.1.9 to Retirement.2.0 … a little more relaxed and with less responsibility. So, we’re selling our home just outside of Boquete, described by many as “the most beautiful home in Boquete.”
So here’s a little backstory and a little behind the scenes of what it costs to live in Panama.
When we moved to Boquete 15 years ago if you wanted a North American style home you pretty much had to build it. We initially lived in Valle Escondido, Boquete’s first gated, guarded, “planned” community. We purchased the third house built in Valle Escondido. At the time Valle Escondido was still mostly undeveloped and pretty much Panama. So we lived through all the building, waking up to workmen yelling to each other across the Valley and peeing outside our kitchen window. But when it was nearing being built-out, although beautiful, it really was no longer the Panama we came to enjoy. It became like any gated, guarded community in California with well-heeled expats and weekend mansions for wealthy Panamanians.
We had purchased some properties for investment including a tiny abandoned coffee property. We liked escaping to that property and my wife got the idea to restore the coffee, and she did … and today we enjoy our own home-grown coffee, along with bananas, oranges, lemons, and a bunch of other stuff. So we liked going up there, loved the spectacular view, and were getting tired of what was being called the “gringo ghetto” so we decided to design and build our dream home. We designed it with the help of our friend Brad Abijian,, and took our design to a local architect to prepare the drawings.
Building wasn’t easy. We sourced materials from all over … tiles from Spain, cherry cabinets built for us in China, slate from India … and it all came wonderfully together, but not without a lot of hassle: subcontractors and workmen who didn’t show up, a general contractor who spent all our money finishing up his last project. Amazingly I didn’t end up in the loony bin. I’d begin every day praying that none of the workers would die (no OSHA!) and that I wouldn’t kill the builder.
We ended up with a beautiful home and property: a private driveway lined with beautiful royal palms, flowers and tropical plants everywhere, banana, citrus, coffee trees and other tropical fruits. No neighbors. Very private with spectacular mountain views. And, right off a paved road, just 12 minutes from “downtown” Boquete, and 30 minutes from David and the new 400 store shopping mall under construction.
People thinking about escaping to Panama always wonder about the cost … so here’s what things cost …
• Town water $60 A YEAR!
• Trash pick up $30 A YEAR!
• Propane gas … for hot water, clothes dryer, cooking … $70 for a huge tank which lasts about 3 months.
• Electricity … for our house with 4 dehumidifiers, electric spa, our won well and water systems, out buildings, and rental casita on the property … $110 a month.
• The beautiful landscaping around our home, the rental casita and our driveway is maintained by one neighbor … a university student … who works one day a week, usually just 8 hours, at $1.75 per hour.
We have chosen to maintain the coffee as a hobby farm. We enjoy being a part of the coffee culture tradition in Boquete which goes back 100 years. We love our fantastic Arabica coffee … and so do our kids and friends. We hold out, and process coffee for our own use, but most is sold “in the cherry” to large, local coffee producers. Boquete coffee is some of the best in the world and snapped up by folks, like Starbucks, who blend our coffee with other coffees to boost the flavor. So if you drink Starbucks … every billionth bean may be mine!
We break even on the coffee. Yes, there are opportunities to sell it on line, or to sell it all to a restaurant in North America that wants to offer an exceptional single-source coffee which is exclusively theirs. But we are retired and have a lot of things going on, so we haven’t pursued these opportunities. Others have done so, very successfully.
A future buyer of the property might continue to grow coffee, or expand the operation, or switch over to nut trees, build greenhouses, or turn it into a pasture for horses. There are lots of options and opportunities for a B&B or rental cottages. If you want to go off the grid and grow much of your own food, this is the place to do so.
What does coffee cost us? We fertilize, trim, and spray a couple times a year. For much of the time we had a full-time worker who managed things. Our total cost for that full-time guy was under $6,000 a year. Eventually we decided that we could hire local kids, mostly university students, to work for us on a short-time, occasional basis. That costs us less, has proven to be more efficient with less required paperwork with the labor board, and is a way to support the dreams and education of our local kids, many of whom we’ve watched grow up. The “labor intensive” time comes in October to December when we pick. Unlike the big farms that bring in Indigenous folk who come in from the comarca (kinda like an Indian reservation, although with more self-control and independence than Indian reservations in the States) to do the picking. Because we’re just so small, we just use our Gnabe Bugle Indigenous neighbors, mostly members of the little church up the road. For us this is much, much better. We support and look after our neighbors, and they look after us. We’ve had many of the same people pick for us now for eight years. We’ve watched their kids grow and start their own families. So we break even with coffee, although, the truth is I think we would gladly have paid for this experience.
Right now you can’t make that much picking and selling bananas, citrus, and other tropical fruits, so we just use these for ourselves, or share them with our neighbors.