Panama Vacation Booked… Check!!

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Panama Vacation Booked... Check!!
Photo by Rowan Heuvel

Well, we’re making it happen… we just finished booking our Panama vacation.

I’ve heard all kinds of good things about the country for retirees and it’s really piqued my interest… enough so that we’ve been digging into the idea for quite a while now.

We’ve learned quite a bit more about the country since I wrote my post Is Panama the Right Place to Retire? a year and a half ago.

We’ve been reading everything we can find out about the country and I talked to someone who lives there to get some feedback as well.

Through our digging, we now have a better idea of the geography and the places that seem intriguing to live.  We also have a somewhat better understanding of some of the pros and cons of living there.

Here’s the thing, though – it would probably be a bad idea to move to another country without first visiting it at least once! 🙂

So, now we’re ready to take things to the next level and make a trip out there to check it out.

This is no ordinary vacation – it’s going to be a reconnaissance mission of sorts.  Yes, we’re going to have plenty of fun out there and enjoy the beach and the pools.

However, we want to spend a lot of our time exploring the areas as if we’re living there to determine if it’s truly a place we could imagine ourselves in.  We want to eat the local food, hang out at the local establishments, and immerse ourselves in the culture when possible.

So, that should explain the reason for the Panama vacation.  Now let’s talk about the game plan for the trip.

Here where we live in the Midwest in the U.S., we have four seasons: summer, fall, winter, and spring.  Panama really only has two seasons: a dry season and a wet season.  Although everyone and their brother tends to define the range a little differently, the dry season basically runs from December through April and the wet season from May through November.

We’re heading there in June for a ten-day trip once our daughter is out of school so the wet season should be underway.  The good news is that the really heavy rain season doesn’t usually take place until October or November.  The bad news is that, at some point, it would be good to know what that heavy rainy season is like.

My brother and his wife will be heading in from Texas and joining us on this trip.  They’re in the same mindset as us and interested in the possibility of this Panama vacation being a stepping-stone for retirement as well.  I’m not going to count on anyone living there with us so I don’t get my hopes up, but it will still be good to have some other gringos with us for the vacation.

Here’s our itinerary for the trip…

First stop – Nueva Gorgona

Nueva Gorgona - Panama Vacation Booked... Check!!
Photo by Remy Swaab

After we fly into Panama City, we need to get the heck out of there as soon as possible.  I’m not a busy city kind-of-guy and my understanding is that Panama City is a cross between New York City and Miami… count me out!  You might already know my feelings about busy cities from my trip to NYC for my cousin’s wedding.

We’ll be getting our rental car from the airport and heading a little over an hour away to Nueva Gorgona for a handful of days – a beautiful beach on the Pacific right near Coronado, which is a place where a lot of expats live.  My wife and my brother are interested in this area for retirement, but I think it will be too hot year-round and a little pricey for my taste.

Regardless, it’ll be a great place to kick off our Panama vacation!  We got a nice 3-room condo through VRBO right on the ocean.  So we’ll definitely be enjoying the beach life and the pool some of the time, but we’re going to be sure to get out and explore the life of the locals.  I made sure that we didn’t just book an all-inclusive vacation because I want to get out of our comfort zone – visit the places the locals go, meet the people that live there, and eat and drink some Panamanian food… no Domino’s pizza for us!

Anton Valley

Anton Valley
Photo by Brian Gratwicke

At some point, we’re going to make a day trip to Anton Valley (El Valle de Antón).  I don’t know too much about this area, but I’ve heard that this is another good place for expats, so I’m all for checking it out!

It’s only about an hour away from where we’re staying in Nueva Gorgona.  Since it’s so close, it definitely makes sense for us to scope it out.

Not much else I can say about this area yet!


Boquete - Panama Vacation Booked... Check!!
Photo by Dirk van der Made

Now comes the part of the trip that I’m most excited about.  After a handful of days in Nueva Gorgona (and the day trip to Anton Valley), we’re heading to Boquete.

I’m not looking forward to the drive (about 5½ hours), but if the city lives up to everything I’ve read, this is where I can envision living my life.

It’s a smaller community near the mountains and is mostly expats (people from other countries) retired and living there.  The weather is cooler because of its location, but it’s pretty consistent year-round… around 75-80° Fahrenheit year-round with lows in the upper 60s.

On top of that, the cost of living is about 60% of where I currently live.  It’s like San Diego weather except for a fraction of the cost and no hustle-bustle to worry about.

Now, that’s just what I’ve read so far, but this sounds like paradise to me.  I hope that the city is as good as everything I’ve read.  It’s also about an hour from David, which is another big expat city and right on the beach.

We’ll be staying at a really nice house with a pool and hot tub, but just like the other locations, we plan to get out and explore the area to see what it has to offer.

The Trip Back

Driving from Boquete back to Panama City would be about a 6½-hour drive.  That would suck for our last day, especially before the long flight back.

So, we’re going to drive to David, which is only about an hour away, and we’ll drop off our rental car and fly from the small airport there to Panama City and then back home.

The planned cost

The part I’m not thrilled with is that this is going to be an expensive trip for us (and you know how I hate to spend money!!).  Most of that is due to how we’re planning this trip.  We’re flying into one place, driving all over the country, and then flying out of a different place.  The good news is that some things will be split with my brother.  Here are the costs for our Panama vacation that we know so far:

ExpenseInitial CostSplitting w/my brother?Total CostComments
Flights$2,108No$2,108The biggest cost of our trip
Rental Car~$400Yes~$200
Lodging in Nueva Gorgona$748Yes$374Not bad for the great place we found!
Lodging in Boquete$698Yes$349
Total$3,031I think I just threw up!

Then there’s the cost of the unknowns.  For budgetary purposes, here are my estimates:

ExpenseInitial CostSplitting w/my brother?Total CostComments
Food and drinks$1,000$1,000I’m hoping this is on the high side!
Gas for the rental car$150Yes$75
Activities$250No$250e.g. Horseback riding
Vaccines$300No$300Better safe than sorry!
Miscellaneous$100No$100e.g. SIM card for phone

Total estimated cost: $4,756

Ouch!  That’s one expensive trip!!!  We’re trying to look at this as an investment, though.  Considering the cost of living difference, if we decide to actually make this our early retirement, this cost would be recouped pretty easily.

Will our Panama vacation rock?  I hope so.

Will it be our early retirement dream place?  This trip will be our first step in finding out.  I’ll have a follow-up post after we get back with what we’ve learned – hopefully with a bunch of photos as well!

Have you ever considered retiring to another country?  If so, which places have you considered?

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

26 thoughts on “Panama Vacation Booked… Check!!”

  1. First off here is to hoping it’s everything you’ve hoped. Even without the retirement hunting that sounds like a fantastic trip. I look forward to reading what your take is after the first visit. I recommend at least 2 more during other seasons before locking in.

    1. Thanks, FTF! Yeah, if this turns out to be what we’re hoping for, then we’ll definitely need to make sure to shoot down there once or twice more to get a feel for the rest of the year. A return trip should be much less expensive since we likely wouldn’t be all over the country and doing one-way flights and rental car trips mixed in there.

      — Jim

  2. Several thoughts:

    1. We’re looking at doing the same in May, but we picked St. Thomas versus Panama. If you’re going to move, go big, right? 😉

    2. Our cost will be about twice yours. Still, it’s in our budget.

    3. My parents are probably going too, but no splitting costs. We will pay for everything but their flights (they use points) and extras.

    4. If you blog about it, at least part of the trip could be a tax deduction. 🙂

    Have a blast!

    1. Haha, look at me whining – I should just talk to others like you spending more on their trip to make me feel better! 😉 That’s awesome though – I hope to hear more about your trip!

      I had thought about the tax deduction, but I’m not so sure if that’s actually legit. I’m going to have to dig into that a little more before I do anything that could get the IRS on my back! 🙂

      — Jim

      1. If you make money off the trip, you can deduct expenses.

        For example, take lots of pics, post a few times about it, get some sponsors, track ad revenue from those pages, etc.

        At the least you can deduct against what you earn…

    1. Thanks, ambertree – I’m excited about it and plan to continue vacations in my early retirement (even if we are living in Panama). I’m just not used to spending this much on a vacation. I’m pretty good at finding the deals, but because of the dual nature of this trip, it doesn’t have as much flexibility as I’m used to.

      — Jim

  3. I’m anticipating the Panama posts Jim! Can’t wait to see your take on things. I’ve only heard resoundingly positive things about Panama…but would love to hear from someone with a similar mindset to myself.

    Consider yourself lucky that it’s only going to cost $4756. If I end up going on my retirement destination scouting trip this year, that would only cover the flight!

    1. Wow, $4,800 would only cover your flight to your retirement destination?! Either I’ve just been unusually good at booking all our cruises and other vacations over the years (unlikely) or I’m just naive as to how much international travel really does cost (much more likely!). That’s crazy! 🙂

      — Jim

  4. Looking forward to reading more about Panama. That sounds like a tiring trip, though. A lot of driving around. 🙂
    I want to retire part time in Thailand for a few years and then somewhere in South/Central America for a few years. Panama sounds nice, but I don’t know much about it. I heard Ecuador is nice too..

    1. Thanks, Joe – it’s definitely going to be a little bit of driving so we can check everything out, but we left ourselves some room to actually enjoy our time at the two main places we want to look at.

      Well, if we both end up in Central America someday, I’ll meet up with you and buy you a beer! 🙂

      — Jim

  5. Hey Jim, I’ll be visiting Panama in August this year. Unfortunately, I won’t get to see as many cool places as you will, but I will be on a deserted island fishing lodge for a few days over in the Gulf of Chiriqui. I may plan an extra day on the way in, just to check out Panama City. Looking forward to hearing about your travels to Panama before my own. 🙂

    1. Wow that sounds awesome! Mrs. R2R is trying to throw in another stop on our trip to Boca Chica, which looks like it’s right around the corner from where you’re going to be. Are you going there to fish for your trip? If so, what can you catch out there?

      — Jim

      1. Hey Jim,

        Yeah, Boca Chica is right there where we’ll be fishing.

        We’ll be fishing for black marlin, dorado, and tuna… plus they have numerous other game fish (rooster fish, etc.).

        I don’t know where the island is exactly, but it’s somewhere right in there. It’s owned by an ex-pat and with any luck it will be an experience of a lifetime. 🙂 (if you curious –

        I wish I would have more time to explore Panama itself, but I suppose I’ll have to return with the wife and kids one day.

        Can’t wait to read up on all of your adventures there!


        1. That sounds awesome! I’m pretty sure we’re not going to have time for fishing on this trip, but that’s something I’ll need to do at some point for sure. Guess we’ll have to trade stories later – I’ll tell you about my trip and you can tell me about your trip! 🙂

          — Jim

  6. Panama has been on my bucket list since I had to change planes there a few years ago. I didn’t even leave the airport, but it made a great impression on me.
    I’m looking forward to reading all about your trip and hope you have a fantastic time.

  7. We visit Puerto Vallarta Mexico every year. We have some friends from Minnesota that spend six months out of the year there. There is a large and growing ex-pat community in PV. Our goal is to downsize once our youngest graduates and then explore creating a low-cost US home base that would allow us to spend about six months out of the year in Mexico, and possibly later expand that to full-time. Another fantastic location I’ve found is Lisbon Portugal. One thing I’ve been surprised by is that the overall healthcare systems in each of these countries, including Panama, offers better and more affordable options then we find in the US. We’ve also explored international health insurance from Cigna that matches our current policy at about a quarter of the cost. One thing they don’t advertise is that as long as you meet this six-month out of country claim window you’re covered in the US and worldwide as well. They do not require any documentation, visas etc.

    1. Great information, Brad! We’re just starting to dig more into international health insurance so that’s really helpful. The difference in healthcare systems outside of the US is truly eye-opening and hard to believe.

      — Jim

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