Most importantly what you need to know about Panama is that it only has two seasons instead of the traditional four seasons. The high season or dry season starts in December and ends around the middle of March. The low season or wet season is from March to December. It’s kind of implied, but the dry season is when there is limited rain and the weather is more like a “summer” The wet season is just what it implies, its more wet. Similar to the Hawaiian Islands the rain usually comes in the afternoon and might go for an hour or so and then stop. You will occasionally have a full rainy day during the wet season, but its mostly showers that move in and out with the clouds. The months of September to November can be the perfect combination of these two with limited rains which means cooler weather, but its not wet and dreary!
In Panama, a retired American couple can live on the beach and eat farmer’s market fruits and vegetables all year-round, without sacrificing the conveniences and amenities of home for $1,500 a month — all in.
The cost of living is low compared to the quality of life in Panama, which is why the Central American country was named the best place to retire in International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index for 2016.
Already home to 50,000 US expats, Panama topped the index after raking in top scores across 10 categories including: buying and renting property, visas and residence, cost of living, environment and amenities, health care, infrastructure, and climate.
The list was compiled after consulting a team of correspondents, editors and retirees around the world.
New this year, voters were also asked to weigh in on two added categories which have emerged as important issues for expat retirees: healthy lifestyle and visas and residence.
Couples interviewed for the index raved about their new life in Panama, where the sweet life is described as not only cheaper, but simpler and stress-free.
“We’re healthier and living a better lifestyle here than we ever did in the U.S.,” says expat Mitzi Martain, who has lived on her farm near Santa Fe, Panama for nearly the last nine years.
Added Connie and Mikkel Moller who have been in Panama since 2012: “Our stress level is 10 percent of what it used to be.”
Utilities are a fraction of what retirees are used to paying back in the US, clocking in at around $100 a month for electricity, water, internet, cellphone cards, and trash pickup and allowing renters to live happily on $1,500 a month.
That can be slashed by up to half for couples who own their own property.
“In Panama’s capital I have the best of both worlds,” said IL Panama Editor Jessica Ramesch.
“There’s a growing cultural and arts scene…opera showcases, art exhibit openings and handicraft festivals…[and] there are so many new restaurants every week, I stopped trying to keep track.”
Here are the top 10 places to retire according to International Living’s Global Retirement Index 2016:
4. Costa Rica
Celebrating Carnaval in Panama
However you spell it, Carnival or Carnaval, it is not just a Brazilian holiday or only celebrated in Rio de Janeiro. Carnaval is a mega-holiday celebrated throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and it’s even celebrated in Europe. No matter where you go or which country you find it in, Carnaval is a joyous, festive event.
Golden carvings of women on a floats for Panama Carnival with Panama City skyline in the background
As elsewhere, in Panama, Carnaval always takes place over the four to five days leading up to Ash Wednesday. Even though it’s not an official holiday for the country, many businesses in Panama shut down for the entire time, and the the entire country lets loose to party hearty. People all over Panama gather to drink, eat, and party until the sun comes up for 4 days.
The word chaos comes to mind. The only thing in America that’s even slightly similar is in New Orleans, where it’s called Mardi Gras.
The first Carnaval in Panama took place in colonial times, when individuals dressed as king and queen of Spain, conquering soldiers, slaves and Indians and then proceeded along a road while simulating battles. When it was revived in the early 1900s, they chose a king and queen, complete with attendants, held a parade, and had fireworks. Or so I’ve read. That doesn’t explain why it’s done that way everywhere in Latin America … does it?
Where to party for Carnaval in Panama
Some of the biggest parties are in the interior (center of the country). Everyone seems to agree that the town of Las Tablas is the country’s top Carnaval destination, which sounds exciting … but if you try to get more details about going it might be followed up by phrases like “but it’s so big,” “it’s only for Panamanians who are used to that sort of thing,” or “but you need to be careful.” Between the crowds, potential pickpockets, heavy drinking, 4- to 5-hour drive and needing hotel reservations months ahead of time, any gringo might consider not going.
Public safety is a major concern. Police will be out in full force.
Highlights of Panama Carnaval and what to expect
Every year in Panama City the police set up traffic blockades along Avenida Balboa, the large, 4-lane road that runs along the waterfront, and set up a tall perimeter fence around the festival area. As with most places these days, there are security lines with pat down (male and female) to ensure no one is carrying weapons.
Tip: Get there early; the lines get really long by late afternoon.
The streets will start filling up with people early in the day.
Mid-afternoon might be when the schedule says it will start, but thats probably when it will be getting started. That’s typical of Panama.
Tip: Wear comfortable walking shoes that will protect your toes; some people don’t pay attention to where they step.
Inside the fence we found amusement park-style rides, food booths, drink booths, live music, games, vendors selling souvenirs and culecos, water-filled trucks which shoot streams of water out at the dancing and sweating hordes of people. Don’t think that avoiding the trucks will keep you nice and dry, though; we saw a number of people carrying loaded water guns. Also, be prepared to get wet a number of people will have loaded water guns and they aren’t afraid to use them!
Tip: If you are there on Carnival’s final night, you will be treated to a very nice fireworks display after dark. To avoid the press of people at the end, leave early and find a bar, hotel or restaurant that offers a nice view of the water. You’ll be able to sit and enjoy the fireworks in relative peace and quiet. Check the schedule first to ensure you’re not missing anything else, though!
What You Will See
Carnaval Parade Floats
The full-blown parade begins after sunset, but they don’t wait until then to parade around. So that everyone gets a chance to see the floats, they drive around the grounds while it’s still daylight as well.
People dress up for Carnaval
Some people who attend Carnaval like to dress up in colorful and creative costumes.
Others prefer the costumes of the very traditional diablos. These devil costumes vary by region. While they may have carried—and used—real whips in Bocas del Toro, in at Panama City’s Carnaval, the whips they carry are mostly just used as props.
And then there’s the food …
Besides the soda, water, local rum and cerveza, there’s a huge variety of really delicious food. You can eat and drink to your heart’s delight. Grilled chicken, chorizo (sausage), hamburgers, hot dogs, plantains, you-name-it.
Tip: Find out where the toilets are as soon as you arrive; you’ll need them!
Today’s tip is going to be a pretty quick one! I read a lot of posts from people coming to visit and live that want to know what to do when they land here about cell phones and sim cards!
My wonderful husband just so happened to take a picture of the kiosk at Tocumen airport the last time we were there (good work Todd). This machine is located just outside of baggage claim towards the car rental area. There is usually a very cute Panamanian girl working there that will help you purchase a sim card for your phone and get you going, at least temporarily. All you need is an unlocked phone that takes a sim card, pretty much that easy!
I think we paid about $30 for the card and a weeks worth of service when we first got here, then took it to the Movistar office and signed up for a monthly plan that gives me calling, texts (local), and about 3GB of data per month. I pay automatically by credit card and its just around $32 per month.
Since the roads here are poorly named and very difficult to navigate I would recommend having internet on your phone from the very moment you get here! Of course if you’re being driven and just want to get away from it all, then skip it and enjoy no Facebook alerts at 2 in the morning when you are sound asleep!! Lol!