Panama City – What A Great Place To Visit

For the past two years, I’ve been promoting Panama City, Panama as a great place to invest in real estate, and have been proved absolutely right. In a stable, tax-efficient environment, prices have been moving steadily upwards.

To aid this promotion, I’ve personally spent around six weeks in Panama during this period, and wanted to write to give those who perhaps don’t know the area a chance to understand what there is to do, where to visit, what it’s all like and why tourism and business activities are booming.

Airport – coming from the UK, I flew London-Miami and then a 2.5 hour flight Miami-Tocumen (PTY). Tocumen airport is around a 20 minute taxi ride from the centre of Panama City. For US citizens, direct flights into Tocumen are available from many of the larger cities in the US. These flights tend to get booked very quickly, such is the demand for travelling to Panama City at this time. The flights were always fine, PTY airport is a little old fashioned and slow, but generally it all runs OK.

There is a smaller domestic airport in Panama City, used for local flights within the country. I used this to travel towards Boquete – and will go into this later.

The City itself has a severe shortage of quality hotel space, typically running at around 85% occupancy rate. Room rates for the good hotels are around $100-150 per night. I’d recommend the Radisson Decapolis and Intercontinental Miramar as my two favourites. We are actually developing a condo-hotel product right now to satisfy the ever-growing demand for hotel rooms.

Living expenses are low. Very low. For example, a good meal will be $6-10. A taxi $2. Coffee in a shopping mall $0.65. etc. etc. Even drinking in the most happening bars will see change from $4 for a cocktail.

There are plenty of restaurants offering all sorts of styles of food, with good service and good prices.

There are a couple of big shopping malls, very much in line with a US city in terms of style, shops etc. But, unlike most US malls, they are just so busy. In fact, it’s almost tricky to walk around them. The economy is booming to such an extent that the local Panamanians are spending, spending, spending in the malls. We found clothes to be really cheap – for example, t-shirts from $1 etc. Luxury items are not cheap though, so the Rolex watch you’ve dreamed of will be just as expensive in Panama as anywhere else.

From the City, you have many options for things to do within an hour. You have the Panama Canal/lock (a wonder of engineering), rainforest (we visited the Gamboa resort), a good golf course (we visited Summit Golf Course), beach (we visited Coronado, and will be developing a beach resort there shortly), casinos, boat trips, shopping etc.

We didn’t bother renting a car as taxis are so cheap and the driving style is a little manic. Thus, rely on taxis – the only issue is that when it rains, the taxis very quickly become taken.

The Gamboa resort offers the most wonderful wildlife experience, with tours encompassing views of the canal and so many animals – monkeys, caymans, sloths, dragon flys, birds of prey etc. all in their natural habitat. You can stay at the resort, with all the usual luxuries that a luxury hotel can offer. I’d recommend doing so for 1-2 nights.

Coronado, about 45 minutes drive away from Panama City, is a town where the wealthy Panamanians go to retire for the weekend. The combination of year-round sun, beaches and golf provide an irrestible offering. This is an excellent location for a second home. The homes tend to be very large and impressive – we visited several, each with on-site butler/maid service, huge pools etc.

Panama City itself is often compared with Miami. It has a similar look and feel, being right on the water-front and consisting of many modern, tall buildings. It’s a much nicer place to be, I have to say, having visited both. Panama is slower, more genuine, lower cost and just feels better. That may change, of course, as it almost tries to reinvent itself to be more Miami-like. Spanish is the common language, but everyone is now speaking English (well, American English). The schools teach it to all children these days. All business is transacted in English. However, some knowledge of Spanish will help you get around with taxis etc.

Panama has the lowest cost of living and the highest income per person than anywhere else in Central America. Its tourism industry is growing rapidly. Its real estate market is moving upwards. The pensionado programme is incentivising retirees to move to the area. The tax regime incentivises investors to come to the area. Its almost equatorial location provides a wonderful climate, offering year-round sun.

A UK developer has just announced a $700m contract to build close to Panama City, in what will be one of the largest developments ever undertaken in the world – some 2,750 acres. This shows the global confidence being put into Panama, and bodes well for the future of the City/country.

I continue to visit Panama regularly, have some wonderful friends/associates there and have pleasure in advising clients in investing into the local real estate market. I have personally purchased in Panama, and am considering relocating there within the next 24 months – what more can I add?

If you wish to discuss the City, travel, tourism or real estate within Panama, please do feel free to ask.

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