It’s hot and humid. It’s one of the wettest areas in Panama and there are LOTs of bugs. There is trash lying around all over the place. It is loud – there are cars, people, and parties everywhere.
The Caribbean culture is very much in-your-face and just a little bit intimidating.
And yet, I find myself seriously considering Bocas del Toro Panama as a retirement spot for us.
And so I ask myself: Why is that?
Honestly, I don’t know exactly. I think it must be the vibe here. It feels like life and ocean and…I don’t know what else… maybe island?
Yes, Bocas del Toro archipelago is right on the Caribbean Sea but it’s more than that. I can feel it in the air; there is something special about these islands. It seems like pure Caribbean with a Latin flare. I can’t quite put my finger on it but frankly, I really like it.
Bocas del Toro was “discovered” in the late 1990s by some back-packers and northerners that started a wave of residential tourism, which exploded throughout the country. It has since been a huge tourist destination.
I was told that there are two types of expats here:
- Those that like to live right in Bocas Town, close to the action and vibrant atmosphere.
- Those that like to hide away from civilization in the remote islands.
It’s evident that no matter which you prefer, you can find it at the Bocas.
Personally, I think I’m in the number 1 category. I could see myself living in Bocas Town or perhaps just outside. I’d be very happy integrating into the local culture. In fact, that is what I prefer.
See my video of Bocas Town, to give you and idea:
Even though, it’s a small place, there is a ton of things to do. There are bars and restaurants, salsa lessons, yoga classes, beach activities, fishing and more. The expats we met were open and friendly. The locals are also friendly and helpful. There are little diners here, like Beso del Drago, where you can eat out really cheaply ($5/pp usually includes a huge plate of food and a beer – no I’m not kidding!). And, of course, there are tourist places where you can price-gouged. But overall, I think that Bocas Town would be fun and full-of-life place to live in.
Some things may even surprise you. The town has a wine bar, Bocas Wine Bar, and a gourmet restaurant, Guari Guari. There are grocery shops all over. And there is even a Super Gourmet Grocery that really shocked us with its awesome selection of European and USA goods – nice wines too.
As I already mentioned, it’s not all positive though. Real estate prices are getting ridiculous. We saw a couple of vacant lots for sale with water access for $200-300K – ouch! I also already mentioned the trash. It really is everywhere – see this great post from Habla Ya blog. It’s really quite sad for such a beautiful place.
The lack of medical facilities is another reported problem in Bocas del Toro. We were told that the nearest hospital is in Almirante (about a 30-minute boat ride) but even that is a “sh#t hole”.
The local schools are also reportedly run down and in bad need of attention but, since we don’t have kids, I don’t think that’s much of a show stopper for us.
So, I don’t know how well we’d do in Bocas del Toro long term because it clearly isn’t all “kittens and butterflies”.
And yet…it may be worth a try for short period of time. Didn’t I say a while back that it’s ultimately a heart thing?
We’re seriously thinking about kicking off our first year into early retirement with a 1–2 month stay in Bocas del Toro and studying Spanish at Habla Ya! Language School. And who knows, we may stay longer…
Written by Joanna Rolston -
Joanna is a Polish American living in mid-western USA with her husband Tim. She is an IT Director for a major public university and she is proud to be a professional geek. She dreams of living abroad. Joanna and Tim created AbroadDreams.com to help solidify and plan their dream of moving abroad.