Living in Puerto Armuelles, Panama

Living in Puerto Armuelles.

By David Dell

June 2019

Panama, for many, has become the top retirement choice. Let’s be honest the country has a lot going for it. Various surveys show it having the happiest people on the Planet. International Living lists it as the top choice for 2019. Recently, Panama’s coffee fetched the highest price of any brew in the world.

The country is stable politically since the American “Just Cause” invasion of 1989? Ended the military dictatorship of Manuel Noriega. Yes there have been problems with money laundering (let’s not get into the Panama Papers just yet) and yes the former president Martinelli may be headed to jail for many alleged crimes. But the overall question should be how stable and safe a country is Panama today? – and excuse me where is this Puerto Armuelles place I mention in the header? Patience dear reader, all will be revealed.

My wife and I have lived here for 15 years. We own a beachside Villa in Puerto Armuelles and in the journals of “YourPanama.com” I have consistently stated that Panama is the best retirement destination in the Americas- bar none. It is not perfect, and we at Yourpanama.com never use the paradise adjective to describe any place on God’s earth- let alone this idyllic palm tree, sun  drenched  isthmus. Having travelled much of this world, including Europe, Asia, Mexico, Ecuador, Belize and Nicaragua I still haven’t found a place to beat Panama, it's not perfect but still is better than all the rest.

Why Puerto Armuelles?

I attach a map so you can see the location. First discovered back in the 1940’s by several Hollywood greats  Including Pat O' Brien, John Wayne and William Holden. This had many attractions for them as it was a quiet little spot  where they could relax without being bothered by hordes of fans. Also important it had world-class fishing. 

There are two small desert islands some 20 odd miles offshore called Isla Montuosa and Isla Ladrones as well as the much famed Hannibal bank.  Here you can catch everything from Black Marlin, Yellowfin Tuna, Billfish. I know I have done it.

The Hollywood stars especially loved the big game fishing.

But what about life in Puerto Armuelles, what would it be like for a retired couple that doesn’t have bags of money? If your dream is to have a home right on the beach- then yes you can still do it. There are several people offering beachfront lots for $50,000 and up. We have some good expat builders who can build your dream home  to your own design.

Before going any further, let me give you some sage advice. At Yourpanama.com we always advise to come first, RENT, check the place out BEFORE buying.

The Goldilocks search syndrome.

How many expats are there in Puerto and what do they do for entertainment? Last Sunday I joined a group at ROKERO  Beach bar for a chat. Much to my surprise many of them had done the rounds in Panama before choosing Puerto. One couple had been to Panama City- "sorry too noisy." Then they tried Pedasi on the Azuero peninsula, “lovely but too remote.” Next they tried the main expat hot spot of Coronado- “too expensive and yes too much ‘little America” Boquete was nice but “too cool and too expensive.”  Like Goldilocks and the three bears they found that Puerto Armuelles was just right. These expats meet every Sunday between 2:00 and 3:00.


When my wife and I first came to Panama in 2005, we found it heartwarming to see how content the people where. They are not as well-off as their Costa Rican neighbours but way more happy.  Why? Well they have a great social security umbrella. In Puerto we are about to open a multimillion dollar hospital.  There is already a modern kidney dialysis clinic with ultramodern equipment. This is health care for the “have nots” not designed to enrich some foreign insurance company.  A Panamanian friend of mine was on dialysis for 12 years. He paid $30 a month. In Canada or the US this would have cost over a million dollars.

ABOVE: Puerto's soon to be opened $64 million dollar hospital and yes expats can go there for emergency treatment.

BELOW: also soon to be completed the $7 million dollar baseball and sports stadium

BELOW: Wait there's more . . . The new fish market is also close to opening and will feature local fresh product at great prices. Fish will include Tuna, Mahi Mahi, Red Snapper and shell fish.

This sounds lovely but what about the negatives?

Yes, I did ask all the people that specific question and the negatives are.

First, the power outages. Heaven knows why Panama has such a lousy power supply. It produces plenty of clean hydroelectric from many dams in Chiriqui alone, but even in Volcan the power goes off between once and ten times a day. Another bugbear is the water supply. Constantly plagued with low-pressure and outright stoppages. And the water quality – well I watched as the owner of the nearby “Big Daddy’s Hotel”  filled his swimming pool. The cloudy water had a greenish tint. Dave, the owner, gazed sadly at the filling pool and said, “my God the Panamanians drink this stuff.” 

And let us not forget the series of interconnected potholes they call roads. However, the road from the border 36 kilometers away is 4-lane and well paved. Yes, this is a third world country and yes there is still widespread corruption. Though to be honest, in our 15 years in Panama we have seen major improvements in the honesty of the police.

PICTURED ABOVE: The bar and pool at BIG DADDY'S

For entertainment we do have regular live music events. One of the featured performers would be my good self. I hope to be performing regularly at “Big Daddy’s Hotel” on Friday night's. And just this Friday I saw two local expats, Ingrid and Linda, sponsoring an outdoor art display. Earlier, both women told me that was another positive part of Puerto life; If, you want to organize something – no problem you can just go ahead and do it.

Finally, most of the people I talked to said they would dearly love to have a good, high-class restaurant.

If you travel around Puerto today you cannot escape seeing the millions of dollars spent on civic construction. I have already mentioned the hospital but we also have a huge seven million dollar baseball and sports arena nearing completion. The new fish market should be opening shortly. And the Chinese government have signed a deal to build a multimillion dollar cruise ship and port complex. Perhaps Puerto Armuelles’s days of being the sleepy little “Key West” of Panama are coming to end.


ABOVE: The main supermarket is called ROMERO. It recently replaced all of its shelves due to the last earthquake and now is much nicer, cleaner and spacious. It has a pharmacy and an ATM machine.

This I can promise you if you do decide to retire to Puerto - life will just get better.

Please see the boxes ( up to the right) with links to restaurants, bars pictures and some real estate.

You can contact me and I will try to answer your questions. I promise not to give your email to anyone.

David Dell

chiriquivillage@gmail.com