Panama Pacifico—A Master-Planned, Family-Friendly, Eco-Minded Neighborhood Only 15 Minutes Outside Panama City
I’m asked often what I’d consider the most realistic lifestyle option for a new expat, someone just starting his or her living overseas adventure. For some people that means living out in the interior, in a very local community, where they can learn the Panamanian way of life. For others it just means an escape from their home country, an easier lifestyle in a warm, tropical country. For these people, money might not be an issue and the chance to live in an easy, well-planned-out community, is just what they need. For these people, I’d usually mention Coronado, as it’s only an hour’s drive outside of the city and has many of the amenities they may be used to. I recently reported on Coronado (to see the written report on Coronado, click HERE).
In this article, I’d like to focus on an area that’s even closer to Panama City, but might actually require a higher budget than the expat-friendly beach town of Coronado. Panama Pacifico, which is located only 15-minutes from the heart of the city (which we’ll call downtown) and just a couple of minutes past the Bridge of the Americas, used to be the old Howard Air Base. Now, it’s a masterfully planned community, organized by the Panamanian government and built by London & Regional Panama (LRP).
I’ve been putting off visiting Panama Pacifico because the last time I visited, probably a little over a year ago, the place needed a lot of work. I’m not talking needing work like a house falling apart and in need of reparation, I mean needing work as in when you look at the website you see all the plans and artist renderings and then upon visiting, it still looked a lot like the old Howard Air Base. After a few requests from readers and some questions regarding what the place is all about, I figured it’s about time to see what’s going on out there now.
What’s Panama Pacifico All About?
The first thing I have to comment on is the security at Panama Pacifico. I visited early on a Monday morning, maybe 9:00am(ish). I stopped the car to get out and film the video intro in front of the Panama Pacifico sign and was immediately approached by a security officer on a motorcycle. The area’s security was pleasantly surprising (and somewhat annoying since I was trying to sneak pictures and film, lol).
Excellent job on their part as the first guy questioned me about filming (but since I was outside the gate, he allowed me to carry on) and later on, inside the community, a second security guard approached me on a motorcycle. She just seemed curious as to why I was walking around the Business Park. She just kind of circled around a little bit and watched me. Having a security and law enforcement background myself, I can tell you that these are good signs. Living inside of Panama Pacifico, it seems you’ll have an alert security team.
As you enter the main gate, you’ll find a nice, smooth road with green lawns to both sides. Panama Pacifico signs point you in the right direction, as if you’re heading into Disney World and might have trouble finding Tomorrow Land or Frontier Land.
A few old, wooden bus stops are dot the main stretch of road, and you immediately come across signs for two Howard neighborhoods. I drove through these neighborhoods, which I believe are considered part of Panama Pacifico since they’re located inside the main gate.
The first neighborhood, Villas de Howard, looks a lot like the residential areas in Clayton. It’s mostly old military housing. The homes have been taken over by regular folk like us, but they still maintain their old cream and rustic red coloring from days of old.
One of the police stations is also located near this neighborhood. With the Panama Pacifico security force making its rounds and the national police nearby, this should be a safe neighborhood.
Next up is Residencial Howard. This is a more colorful neighborhood (the most vibrant one you’ll find here) with homeowners free to put their own spin on things. Unlike the newer, more planned out and cookie-cutter homes that will be in place once Panama Pacifico is finished, houses in this old Howard neighborhood are painted cheerful blues and yellows. Some are quite large, probably old officers’ quarters, many of the foundations enhanced for a more modern touch.
If you stay out on the main road and keep traveling into town, you’ll eventually reach the Business Park, with its fountain out front and bright orange buildings. This is the first sign that you’ve reached the brand new part of town.
Behind the fresh structures that sit at the corner of the Business Park, you’ll find a series of buildings that comprise a sort of corporate mini-mall with a few restaurants, banks, a medical clinic and more. This is also where the Panama Pacifico visitor center is located.
The back roads are full of green pastures, jungles, hills, and blocked off lots where I’m sure plenty of action is going on behind the scenes (construction action that is). The road that leads past the Business Park and towards the backside of town is lined with big, funky streetlights that make you feel like you’re sneaking into Area 51.
I followed the road, thinking I might get a first peek at an alien and instead found a very bored security guard trying to balance himself on an unmoving bicycle. Boredom is hell, I feel ya, bro.
Since this security guard was blocking one of the streets I wanted to check out, I tried to drive out to some of the others, set far apart from the Panama Pacifico residences, but most had either barriers closing the streets or security members in place to keep trespassers away. I did see the new Panamerica Corporate Center where many companies are holding their warehouses, but I didn’t venture inside. I could see all I needed to from the main street. No need to deal with security…again.
One thing you’ll notice from these photos on the back streets is the amount of pure, natural beauty that’s all around. It’s all trees and mountains surrounding Panama Pacifico, and you get these views no matter where you are in town. I can only imagine how nice the views must be at the top floor of one of the condos.
Closer to town, right behind the business park, you’ll also find a small airstrip that’s been in place since the old Howard Air Base was operational. Right now it seems to be operational, as I saw this plane parked out near the runway and I saw a security guard inside of the small airport, but I guess it’s only for use by the businesses operating inside of Panama Pacifico.
I tried to get info on the MPPA airport, but there doesn’t seem to be much available. I tried to connect with the Panama Pacifico staff via email and never received a response.
So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. I’ve received requests for this report, from people who’ve already purchased a home, pre-construction, or are seriously considering buying a home. I can imagine the excitement one must feel when reading a website like the one they’ve put together at http://www.panamapacifico.com. The finished product is sure to be an outstanding and awe-inspiring endeavor. But what does Panama Pacifico look like right now?
The truth is, at this point in time, it’s still very raw. I explained in the Panama Pacifico video, which you can see by clicking HERE, that right now this neighborhood is kind of like being served a steak that’s really rare when you were hoping for one that’s well done. All that means is this steak needs more time to cook.
Right now, the real deal on Panama Pacifico is that there’s a whole lot of construction going on, and not much that’s finished and move-in ready. Living in town right now might be a bit of a challenge. Why? Because RIGHT NOW it’s mostly just a bunch of construction sites. But what were all great neighborhoods at some time? Construction sites.
I keep emphasizing RIGHT NOW, because this place is evolving rapidly. By next month there could be new things in town and by next year it will probably look like an entirely different place.
Let me start by explaining what’s planned for Panama Pacifico. This is a place that’s going to be all about connectivity. With infrastructure planned to be underground and the whole place designed to be connected by parks and walking trails, plus the use of the community’s bus service, being in Panama Pacifico could quite possibly mean living in a place where you don’t even need a car to live your day to day life. Sure, you might want one for traveling to other towns in Panama (or for loading groceries into the trunk), but in reality, you could probably get by easily without one.
You might see a lot of construction going on right now, but that’s because the developers of this place have their sites set on creating 20,000 new residences and 40,000 new jobs. Panama Pacifico is going to be home to modern apartment/condo complexes, duplexes, and beautiful single-family homes. Plus, you can expect commercial centers, corporate offices, and plenty of parks and trails.
So What Can I Expect To Find In Panama Pacifico?
This is a former U.S. Air Base, so the infrastructure put in place by the U.S. military is still around, and has been improved upon by the team behind Panama Pacifico. The plan is to put it all underground. The electricity is sound and the water is potable. I had no issues with cell phone service during my visit and I saw a Cable & Wireless building in town, plus satellite dishes on some of the homes in the Howard neighborhoods, so Internet and TV should be fine.
A Mailboxes Etc. in the Business Park will allow you to easily send and receive mail/packages by setting up a P.O. Box that will give you a Miami-based address (friends and family can send to that address and it will then be brought to Panama).
Transportation in town is one of the key benefits of living in this place. Not only will you see taxis making their way through town, like anyplace else in Panama, but Panama Pacifico is home to the first Transportation Demand Management system in the region, meaning buses take people where they need to go, either to the city’s malls or to employees’ neighborhoods in and around Panama City.
Since visiting Panama Pacifico, I’ve seen the buses out on the road. I saw one in Albrook the other day and just saw one near Villa Lucre. Check out this link if you want to read more about their transportation system and to see the current bus schedule: http://panamapacifico.com/transportation/. UPDATE, I originally stated that the bus service was free. It seems that only the bus to the malls is free. It’s a free mall shuttle service for residents.
You’ll find one small medical clinic and a pharmacist in the Business Park, plus I was told there’s a Farmacia Arrocha on the way, which is a lot like a CVS or Walgreens in the U.S. I didn’t see a dentist or any other medical specialists on-site, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some in the future. For now, for any major medical needs, you’d just need to drive to downtown Panama City, where you’ll find the Johns Hopkins affiliated Hospital Punta Pacifica (http://www.hospitalpuntapacifica.com/) or the Centro Medico Paitilla (http://www.centromedicopaitilla.com/).
As far as religion goes, I know there’s a school that caters to the Jewish community, but I saw no churches in Panama Pacifico other than the old Mountain View Chapel, which I’m pretty sure is no longer open.
When it comes to shopping, at present time, you’ll need to leave Panama Pacifico for just about anything you’d need to buy. Other than a small mini-mart and a hardware store, you won’t find much in town. Once the Riba Smith supermarket is built and the Farmacia Arrocha arrive, living in Panama Pacifico will be a lot easier. For now, you’d be kind of in the middle of the city’s shopping and the new Westland Mall at Chorrera, so you have both of those options.
Same goes for restaurants. In the Business Park, you’ll find a couple of restaurants and cafes (including a new Subway) and at the Town Center you’ll find a pizza joint and a few other cafes. You’ll definitely have your pick of places to stop for a cup of coffee. With rumors of Starbucks coming to Panama, I wouldn’t be surprised if one shows up in Panama Pacifico. There’s almost no better place in Panama for the slightly pricey coffee chain.
You might even see some of the area’s wildlife while you sip your Joe. A Coatamundi, or what they call in Panama a Gato Solo, is kind of like a mix between a raccoon and a little bear. I saw one dash across the parking lot and right up to the front door of one of the cafes that kind of doubles as a bakery. It stood up on its hind legs and pushed the door, rocking it as if knocking and trying to get someone’s attention.
A security guard, a really nice gentleman standing post at the Banistmo bank, told me this little guy pulls this stunt every day. He hangs out at the bakery and won’t leave until he has a piece of bread in his mouth. This day he was chased off by one of the café staff.
Speaking of banks, I counted 6 in town. Citibank, Scotiabank, Banco Nacional, Banco General, Citicorp Bank, and Banistmo. And I saw a lot of corporate offices and warehouses. Companies like Dell, Caterpillar, Albacrome, Green Ivory, Grace, and Ecotecnica are calling this place home.
If you plan to move to Panama with school age children (or need to take some college classes yourself), you’ll be happy to know there are plenty of schools in Panama Pacifico. Howard Kids (http://www.howardkidsacademy.com/?lang=en) teaches kids from pre-K to 9th grade, and I’m sure it will extend past 9th grade once those kids move on to the next grade. That’s kind of how it’s done here in Panama. Schools are launched with whatever grades are needed in the area. Then, as the kids grow older, new grades are added.
You’ll also find Knightsbride Schools International Panama (http://www.knightsbridgeschools.com/) with curriculums for students preschool through 8th grade. Magen David Academy is a school for children of the Jewish faith and teaches classes in English for kids in pre-K through 12th grade. (http://www.magendavidacademy.org/) Lycee Francais (Paul Gaugin de Panama ) is a French school offering pre-K through 12th grade (http://www.lfpanama.com/).
Two universities are also located at Panama Pacifico. Both Universidad Tecnologica de Panama (http://www.utp.ac.pa/) and Universidad del Caribe (http://ucaribe.edu.pa/topic/index.html) have campuses in town.
For kids and adults, most of your entertainment options will be found outdoors. I saw a playground and a sports park, which currently has basketball courts, tennis courts, and a small soccer field.
Soon, there should be an American football field and a baseball diamond. If you like to walk, jog, or ride a bike, Panama Pacifico currently has two trails open and plenty more on the way. Plus, with an outdoor amphitheater coming soon, live concerts and shows will definitely kick the entertainment up a notch. If you want to see a movie, go bowling, or anything else not available in Panama Pacifico, just hop on a free bus to the Albrook Mall or Multiplaza Mall.
A Bit Of History Sprinkled In With The New
One of the things that could be either depressing (due to the old, drab colors and square construction), or for those who spent time in the military or at Howard Air Base itself, could be a walk down memory lane, is the amount of old military construction still in place.
It’s hard to get a feel for what this modern oasis will truly look like in the end, when most of the buildings and neighborhoods are sprinkled in among the old military hangars, barracks, office buildings…and even a gymnasium.
I’m not sure what the plan is for the old buildings. It’s possible they might knock ‘em down to make room for the new. I have no idea what they have in mind and to be honest with you.
Something else to consider, which adds to the safety and security aspect, but also goes along with the military feel of the area, is the fact that that the training center for the National Police is on site. So, it’s common to see troops marching in formation and running through the obstacle course.
In addition to the training center, you’ll also find one other police station, a fire station, and a chapter of Panama’s red cross. Oh, and for all my devil dog friends out there, check out this old USMC building. Not quite as fancy as our Air Force digs, hahaha (cue the groans and Air Force jokes now).
The housing in Panama Pacifico is going to be awesome. Right now it’s all construction mess, except for one neighborhood that actually looks amazing. The Nativa neighborhood is really cool.
This community of contemporary homes slopes upwards and is surrounded by rainforest on three sides, which means it’s all green behind and all downward Panama Pacifico views in front, to include a backdrop of hills and mountains.
These are all single-family homes and duplexes with colorful flowers and walkable sidewalks. A playground and community area are up on the hill.
It would be easy to walk from the Nativa neighborhood to most of the schools in the area and even to the town center, where you’ll find many of the area’s cafes, a beauty salon, some banks, and even a gym.
At the town center, you’ll find two large condo-style apartment buildings (I say this because Panamanians typically call all buildings apartments). I called a few of the numbers on the “for rent” signs taped up to apartment windows, and it seems the asking price for a 1-bedoom apartment is right around $1,400. 2-bedrooms seem to be starting at $1,800.
I spoke with one gentleman named Zvi, who’s renting 2 apartments, both fully furnished (with a TV and all) and at what he calls “5-Star Hotel Quality,” with gas, electric, water, cable, Internet, maintenance fee, and even a weekly cleaning service included. For anyone who could afford it, it would be really nice to be able to move to a brand new place and not worry about paying a single thing on your own other than food, entertainment, and travel. His 1-bedroom is going for $2,000 per month and his 2-bedroom for $2,500. If you want to get in touch with Zvi, call him at 6430-4072. He speaks English and is a pleasure to talk to.
What Will It Really Cost To Live In Panama Pacifico?
I’ve mentioned a couple of times that living in Panama Pacifico isn’t going to be low-cost living. At least not for most of us. Compared to places like Boca Raton, Florida, and Beverly Hills, California, it might be a little more affordable, but it’s definitely a step up on the pay scale from average small town U.S.A., Canada, and most other countries. The biggest part of your budget is definitely going to be consumed by the high cost of rent. If you’re able to buy your home outright, the other costs of living will be comparable with many of the other towns (or city neighborhoods) in Panama.
When putting the budget together, I used what seems to be the going rate for a 2-bedroom. If you only need a 1-bedroom, you could drop your budget down by nearly $400 per month as the average 1-bedroom is about $1,400.
Electricity, for me, is outrageous here. Then again, I have 4 kids and the AC is running all the time. Where I spend close to $300 per month on electric, the average couple would probably spend closer to $150-$200, and quite a few people report that they’re spending less than $100 (I’d rather you overestimate than fall short). Most of your electric bill will come from AC usage.
Most of the budget you see below is self-explanatory. I set the food costs at $400 because, unless you travel to the city to shop, you’ll be doing most of your grocery shopping at the soon-to-open Riba Smith. Riba Smith is my favorite grocery store, because it carries tons of imported goods. That means you’re more likely to spend a lot. You can save money by making weekly trips to one of the city’s large produce markets. Buying your fruits and vegetables at Riba Smith is probably not the smartest way to shop.
I kept the traveling around town amount at $20 because that’s the average cost in most places. However, remember that if you walk the trails and take the shuttle buses, you shouldn’t spend much on in-town travel. Take a look at the budget below to see what I think you can expect to spend on a life in Panama Pacifico.
Monthly budget for a couple living in Panama Pacifico, Panama (Other)
Rent 2 bedroom apartment $1,800
Electricity Mostly from AC usage $150
Gas For cooking and dryer (2 small tanks) $10
Telephone/Internet/Cable Package deal $50
Phone card for calling the U.S. (if you don't use Skype/MagicJack) Telechip International, for 5 hours talk time $5
Food For 2 people $400
Entertainment Only a few cafes at the moment $200
Routine Doctor Visit Once per month for each person ($25 each) $50
Medication Varies, but for my monthly high blood pressure and diabetes meds this is what I'd pay just to give you an idea $45
Getting around town Buses and taxis $20
Travel outside of town By bus $40
Extras Other things you may need $50
Total Monthly Expenses For 2 people $2,820
My overall gut
The truth is, moving to Panama Pacifico today (remember this was written on June 4, 2014) might be difficult. It’s not an easy overseas move. Not right now anyways. However, by the time most people would actually arrive, this place could be completely different. Once the Riba Smith supermarket opens, the living situation will drastically change, as the biggest hassle at current time is the fact that you’d have to drive to either Panama City or Arraijan to pick up groceries. With Farmacia Arrocha opening up soon, life will be even easier as you can pick up most other things there.
I see Panama Pacifico, ultimately, being one of the best places to live in Panama. I can’t imagine life could be any easier anyplace else. That is for those who can afford it though. I published the video about a week before this written article, and already I’ve received comments from people stating that this place seems way overpriced and it’s no lower than what they see in the U.S. That’s true. It really is. However, what are we comparing it to in the U.S.? This place, when it’s complete, will be luxury living. This is a place where you can wake up in the morning and walk to the town center to grab a pastry and a cup of coffee. Or walk over to the Powerclub Gym and go for a swim in the Olympic-size swimming pool. This is a place where, if you work in the community, you can walk or take a bus. Heck, you can even take a free bus to the city’s malls.
My only complaint about Panama Pacifico is the lack of customer service shown by the staff. I sent an email prior to visiting to inquire about rental prices and never received a response. I sent an email after my trip to try and get information about the airport and didn’t receive a response. When I was there in town, I visited the visitor center and the corporate office and received a very lukewarm reaction. I got the feeling they had no desire for me to be on the premises. I don’t think they fully understood why I was there and what it is that I do, so in their defense they may have just been a little confused. If you call or email with full intentions of buying a lot, I bet they’d get back to you in a jiffy.
And this is about you and your move, so let’s keep this positive and focus on what a life in Panama Pacifico is all about.
This is a place where your afternoons can be spent hanging out in one of the local parks or playing tennis in the sports park. Your evenings can be spent beneath the stars watching a live concert at the amphitheater. I’m not trying to toot this place’s horn, I’m just saying that for those who can afford it, this is going to be a really cool place to live.
Thanks for spending time reading this article,
P.S. Don’t forget to check out the Panama Pacifico video by clicking here.
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