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The International Writers Magazine: Panama

A Candid Panamanian Experience
• Norman Wolfer
I don’t think we have ever visited a country around the world that one could consider perfect.  Every country seems to have wonderful things to offer along with the idiosyncrasies that take away from paradise.  Panama is no exception. 


Our visit to Panama started in Panama City where we were subjected to much of the same bureaucratic nonsense we experience in the first world countries.  We were finger printed, photographed, questioned, and sent on our way. 

Panama City is a large, high population city that is suffering from a great deal of new infrastructure construction and an ever growing population.  Views from the airplane’s windows had confirmed new construction of large Panamanian neighborhoods to absorb the growth.  Infrastructure construction provides many of the new jobs, which leads to a growing economy and what is touted as a burgeoning middle class, confirming much have what we had heard.  Our transition through the city seemed like it would go on, forever.  Traffic was horrendous and construction sites impeded progress, especially because there were relatively few traffic lights to keep order.
indian girl

We had decided to experience Panama by rental car, without an agenda.  The first destination we had identified was Coronado, for no other reason than to visit a beach community in Panama.  We traveled on the Carretera Panamericana (Hwy 1) following some expat friends, Dusty and Carolyn Tubbs who live in Panama, for the better part of two hours, which put us in Coronado at dusk.  Upon entering the Coronado and dining at a Panamanian version of a fast food restaurant (actually quite nice) we drove into what promised to be Coronado village, where we were stopped at a guard gate, revealing much of the Coronado beach area is a gated community.  The young man at the guard shack was kind enough to call ahead to the Coronado Golf Resort (Av Roberto Eisenmann, Playa Coronado, 0816-00571 +507 240 4444 ) and confirm they had a room for us.  We landed in an austere, but pleasant and quiet room with two queen beds for $150, which included a meager breakfast.

Santiago Our next destination was Santiago is a medium sized town and we found a nice habitacion, called the Hacienda Hotel (, (507) 958-8751 / 958-8580 / 958-8579 located right on Carratera Panamericana), which though nothing fancy, turned out to be a nice place to stay for about sixty dollars.  There was an attached restaurant, but no breakfast was included. 

Our next stop was the second largest city in Panama, the City of David.  That it was large was evidenced more by the number of cars and people than the geometric size.  We spent the night in a room that felt like a jail cell in a hotel I would never recommend but cost only $35 for the night, and got up the next morning rested and ready for our main destination.  We would be driving to the city of Boquete, which was only about 30 kilometers from David, and as luck would have it, there was a flower fiesta going on. 

We were told it would be a great experience, because the Panamanians would be celebrating that festival for a full ten days.  Whether it was “luck” or not could be debated.  The number of people attending, from far and near, choked both the roads and the hotels.  The first night in Boquete we ended up getting what was apparently the last room in the area.  It was far enough away from the celebration, which continued very loudly until 6:00 in the morning—every morning, that we were not kept awake by the festivities. 

The Valle Del Rio was a very nice hotel which included a nice breakfast and a comfortable room for $200.  Again, it was more than we wanted to spend, but we did not want to drive back to David.  It did not include wireless internet access, however, except in the lobby.  It is located at Camino Valle Escondido Bajo Boquete, Phone +507 720 2525 and web address

The city of Boquete was alive with many hundreds, if not thousands of visitors, most of whom were very friendly.  The activities were pleasant and festive.  There were many pastry shops and restaurants and we found a restaurant that served cafeteria style that had remarkably good food for a fair price.  It was called El Sabroson #3 and was on the uphill side of the main street.  There was at least one more (El Sabroson #2) further down the street, and we were told there was a #1, somewhere not too far away.

The next morning, we decided $200 a night was a little too rich for our blood and started scouting around for a different place to stay.  We were challenged by not wanting to be too far away from Boquete, not too close to the celebrating masses, and hoping not to spend too much for lodging.  We headed down the road toward David, again, hoping we had missed something on the way in.  We turned at an intersection that had a sign showing a golf course and country club, but after driving a ways we were convince that was a “dead end.”  We turned around and drove back to the main street and noticed a small strip shopping center, on the corner, called San Francisco Plaza.  I decided I needed to ask someone in a restaurant we spotted about potential lodging.

As we parked in front of the restaurant, my wife said, “Look, Norman.  The restaurant is called, “Zum Emsländer.”  My wife is originally from Germany and finding a German restaurant in Boquete was kind of nice.  We had already eaten, so I went in to inquire about any nearby lodging.  There were several people sitting at various tables and I could hear German being  spoken.  As a result of my wife’s diligent tutelage, I am fairly good with the German language, so I went up to a lady who seemed to be in charge and asked whether she knew of any place we could spend the night.  She did.  She asked us (my wife and me) to sit and have a cup of coffee and she would make a call.  Sure enough, she knew a Panamanian woman who had a guest room with a separate entrance (and very simple) who would rent it to us for $30 per night…would we be interested.  Of course we agreed. 

zum Zum Emsländer turned out to be a first class German Restaurant that served the German specialties that looked, smelled, and tasted like classic German Cuisine.  It is operated by George the German, who also operates a used European Furniture outlet from the same location.  This restaurant is only a little more than a mile before getting into the town limits of Boquete.  It is very high on our list of recommendations for restaurants.  Tell George, Norman and Evelyn sent you.

Our stay in Boquete was very pleasant.  The perfect weather (year around) was a big attraction for us.  There was usually a comfortable breeze, which kept it in a very tolerable temperature range, even when the sun was shining without cloud cover.  The Flower Fest was less than awe inspiring, but the energy level of the people celebrating the festival was contagious.  There were native Indian demonstrations in the central park, small, private vendors selling indigenous meats and wares, and all the normal Panaderias (pastry shops), coffee shops, and restaurants lining the streets making it easy to fill one’s appetites.  The two nights we spent in the guest house were quiet, comfortable and reasonably close to town.  Since it was a private party, if your interested in staying in this accommodation, you might want to stop at Zum Emsländer and ask for Ruth.

Michael Holz and Ruth Eyer, our two new German friends from the restaurant, informed us they were taking a three day, two night trip to a beach resort.  We had paid for two nights in the guest house and, since that coincided with when they were planning on leaving, we asked if it would be okay for us to follow them and spend a few nights there, too.  They were very gracious and not only agreed to have us follow them, but managed to negotiate the Resident Retiree rate for the room we got, which brought the nightly rate from around $120 per night to about $80 per night. 

When we arrived at Las Lajas Beach Resort, located at Playa Las Lajas, Jobo, Panama, and Phone:+507 6790-1972, where we were treated to beautiful lawn areas bordering the clean sandy beach and the 80 degree surf. 

The sunsets were remarkable, the people extremely nice, and the food was good.  This resort, too, was high on our list of places we could recommend in Panama.  We met other Germans there, who were spending an extended time there.  They had been in Panama for thirty days and had only one warning, related to Panama.  Their visit to Bocos Del Toro had been a nightmare, because their two year old son had managed, from just having his pacifier rinsed in the tap water, to contract a deadly parasite, which put him in the hospital.  That caught our attention, because we had been freely drinking of the water throughout Panama.  Fortunately, we did not experience any negative effects from the water.
Los Lajas

Our first night in Las Lajas, we went to another resort about 15 kilometers away, called Paradise Inn.  It had caught the attention of our friends, because the owner and operators were German.  Located at Las Lajas Adendro / Centro, Playa Las Lajas, Las Lajas 0446, Panama (cell 011 507 6580-8800) and website with Trip Advisor:, which boasted not only unique and pleasant lodging, but had exquisite food.  It is operated by Harold Merzscheidt and Helena Muensch, who were excellent hosts.

As we set out toward Panama City, again, our friends, Michael and Ruth, recommended we stop and visit El Valle for a few nights.  That took us almost to Coronado, again, but turned out to be about 20 kilometers inland from Highway 1 and took us into a higher elevation.  At about 2500 meters, the climate was once again one of eternal spring.  We happened upon a very nice hotel, Valle Verde (, P.O. Box 87-4381 Panamá 7 República de Panamá  +507 983-6080) which offered extremely nicely manicured gardens, a quiet setting, and included breakfast.  Although the winds, at this elevation, were gale force at night, the two days we were there were pleasantly breezy and pleasantly cool.  Valle Verde is a family run facility, but they spoke only Spanish.  While that created some obstacles, we found them to be very willing, friendly, and great hosts.
Frankly, we found the streets in places (especially the main Carretera Panamericana Hwy 1) to be somewhat treacherous.  However, the people were friendly, the terrain was as diverse as California’s, and the cost of meals, lodging, and the sights, were worthy of any traveler’s visit.  Regarding the things we find in publications enumerating reasons to retire in Panama, we found most of them to meet or exceed the reports.  There were, of course, things we did not care for in Panama, but the cost of living (especially for those on the pensionado program, which gives seniors generous government mandated discounts on almost everything including air fares), along with the eternal spring, wonderful people and numerous like minded expats from many different countries, more than make up for those certain inconveniences.  Visit Panama with an open mind and look for the good and you will find it in abundance.

© N Wolfer June 2014

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