Why are so many people interested in Panama?


Yesterday we greeted visitors to this blog from the United States, Canada, Thailand, Mexico, Panama, United Kingdom, Japan, Greece, Costa Rica, Japan and Australia, and that’s a pretty typical mix of where visitors come from on a typical day.

Why this great interest in Panama?  

Well Panama has always been at the crossroads of the world.  Geographically, but also in terms of its strategic and political importance.  Yes, today it is bolivar_arturo_michelenalargely because of the Canal and one of the largest international hub airports in the Americas.  But even before the Canal … during the Spanish conquest, as Spain started sending back the treasures of the New World, most of that went through Panama City, then “the richest city in the world.”

The great liberator of Latin America, Simon Bolivar, once said, “If the world had a capital it would be Panama.”

Today the attraction of Panama is …

  • It is at the “crossroads of the world,” “the hub of the Americas.”
  • It is a neutral country, a peacemaker on the world scene not given to stirring up conflict and anxiety.
  • It has one of the most, if not the most, robust economies in the region.
  • It uses the US dollar, calls it the “Balboa” but it is in fact the US dollar, still considered by most to be one of the most secure currencies in the world.
  • It is outside the hurricane zone.


1200px-Atlantic_hurricane_tracks - detail

  • It is safe and peaceful.
  • It is still in many ways relatively affordable.
  • Although officially a Christian, Roman Catholic country, it has total religious freedom with large groups of Jews, Muslims, Evangelicals and many smaller faiths.  It is home to a Mormon Temple and a Bahai Temple.
  • Because it has been at the crossroads of the world, Panama is composed of a rainbow of people from different cultures and backgrounds.  Panamanians come in all shapes and colors and live and work happily together, and in fact Panama has scored as one of the “happiest” countries in the world.
  • Anyone can own property in Panama.


  • For most people, assuming you have no criminal record and you come from one of the many of Panama’s “friendly nations,” it is easy to get permanent residency and after five years you can get a Panamanian passport.
  • It is tropical, with lush foliage, no snow, no big time changes, and tropical climates ranging from hot & humid to the cool, year-round Spring-like climate of Boquete and Volcan.
  • Panama has beautiful beaches, snorkeling and diving, and some of the most fantastic fishing in the world.
  • For 27 years Panama has been a thriving democracy. [Presidents are limited to one 5-year term, then must sit out 10 years before being able to be re-elected.  Politics are grass-roots.  People are elected based on party and program and not TV ads and robocalls.  There are three parties with passionate followers but no great political divide, since everyone pretty much wants the same things and it’s just a question of which group is going to pocket the money for the next five years.  Candidates are typically all slightly right-of-center business people.  When elections are over everyone just works together to move the country forward.  Once in a while there is a fist fight on the floor of the Assembly, which may actually be a better way of resolving differences than perpetually blocking all progress.]
  • Panama is not a one-pony economy but has strong international banking, is home to many of the world’s largest corporations, has registry of about 25% of the world’s ships, has the world’s second largest free trade zone, is a rapidly expanding airport hub of the Americas, and has a booming tourist industry.
  • And, oh yes, did I mention … The Panama Canal.


Thinking about Panama?

  1. Get my book THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE all about our experience moving and retiring in Panama.  As my expat neighbors say, “Richard tells it like it is!”
  2. Check out the Welcome To Panama List of Friendly Nations
  3. Come on down and check it out for yourself!  Panama is not for everyone, but it just may be the Paradise you are looking for!


Time to Choose

After pondering all the places where we thought we might like to retire we ended up with a short list …


So now it was time to research . . . books, reading and more reading, searching on line for anything I could find and, eventually, when Panama kept coming out on top, a trip to Panama to spend some time and check it out in person.  But I’m getting ahead of myself . . .I used an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of what I found out about each of the countries on my short list.  Then the MBA in me forced me to find a way to quantify what I was discovering.  It may be kinda corny, but it worked.  He’s a glimpse of my spread sheet . . .


So now we had some way to compare . . .


What was interesting here is that comparing everything using this system Panama scored quite high. The Virgin Islands on the other hand scored lower than where we were already living in Ventura, California. But remember we had said that not everything was equal . . .


So looking at the alternatives with these weights in mind, I came up with yet another spread sheet . . .


And when all was said and done this is what we came up with . . .


Clearly Panama was on top, but what was interesting was how poorly the Virgin Islands did in comparison to Ventura.  And Costa Rica ended up being the same as Ventura, so why would we go through the hassle and expense of moving?

How Panama?

When I give my “Escape to Paradise” lecture on board ship, people always want to know how Panama got on my short list of countries when we were looking for a place to retire. So here’s the abbreviated story . . .

I was serving as Protestant Chaplain on the ROTTERDAM which was doing the 10-day Southern Caribbean itinerary round trip from Fort Lauderdale which includes going through Gatun Locks and into Gatun Lake,

My wife saw this “Authentic Embera Indian Village Tour” and wanted to go.  It was expensive and I said, “It will just be some hokey, touristy thing” – not that Holland America would ever do a “hokey, touristy” tour, but we had been on some othercruise lines that did offer some “hokey, touristy” tours.  So I told her, “You go, I just want to go ashore and say I’ve been in Panama.”    So I paid $30 to get off the boat and go ashore to the “Gatun Lake Yacht Club.”  Talk about a misnomer!  There was . . . and is . . . absolutely nothing at the “Gatun Lake Yacht Club”.  No yachts, no canoes, nada, nothing.  There were a few Embera Indians there selling baskets and somehow I got in a “conversation” with one of the Embera guys.  Interesting since I didn’t know Spanish and he didn’t know English.  But somehow we began to communicate.

Perhaps because paying $30 just to get off the ship was kinda “hokey, touristy”, the shore excursion operator began serving free beer to ROTTERDAM guests.  So I got some beer, and brought some back to my new Embera Indian friend.  Soon I met all his brothers, and soon I was getting beer for everyone.  Pretty soon the shore excursion operator began serving the beer to me and my new friends.

So here we all are drinking beer with the ROTTERDAM in the background . . .


Well it turned out that my new friend, Erito, was the chief of this particular Embera Puru village.  His younger brother, Auselio, was in love and wanted me to take a picture of him and his girl friend.


Auselio took a liking to me and gave me some Embera beads.  Not having anything to give him in return, I gave him the ROTTERDAM shirt off my back.  And he said, about the shirt and this beautiful bare-breasted Indian girl, “I can’t wait to get back to the village so I can put my girl friend in the t-shirt so she will look sexy like American girls.”

And I had to explain that in America we try to get the t-shirt off !

Well, they got my t-shirt, my 24 Hour Fitness gym bag, and they would have gotten my shorts, but I figured if the Chaplain came back on the ROTTERDAM wearing nothing but a red loin cloth, I’d never get invited back on Holland America!


Five hours later my wife returned from her Indian Village tour (which by the way turned out to be fantastic!  and that is still the reaction of our guests on ZUIDERDAM who take the tour today!) and found her half naked husband and his Indian amigos.  They kept saying to me, “We want you to visit our village.”

When I went back to Ventura I went on line to try and find out more about the Embera and their village and in the process, by accident, I stumbled onto all the information about retiring in Panama and the benefits of retiring in Panama.  So that’s how Panama made the list!

It’s because of Erito and his brothers that we live in Panama today!  And we’ve remained good friends with Erito and all the folks at the Embera Puru village at San Juan de Pequini.  We’ve visited them and they have visited us.

And last year on ISLAND PRINCESS [2015] I took 109 people on the ship’s Authentic Embera Village Tour to Embera Puru and took these pictures of the guys and their families.

Erito Family

Ausilio Family

Fernando family