Penonomé, Panama, WRITTEN Report

Penonomé, Panama – A Charming And Realistic Lifestyle Option Only Two Hours Away From Panama City

The first time I visited Penonomé, was a little over three years ago. We spent the day hanging out at my wife’s family’s house, relaxing in hammocks while enjoying the constant breeze that flowed over the back patio. One thing I noticed about the place during that visit and every visit since is the slow pace everyone adopts when entering town. It’s amazing how relaxed everyone is. No one seems to be in a rush. It’s kind of like someone took small town Columbus, Ohio, and plopped it down on the Pan-American Highway, only two hours drive from Panama City.

And getting there is easy. In fact, you can’t miss it because you literally drive right through it to get to anyplace else. One of the greatest things about traveling around Panama is once you get outside of Panama City, most of the towns you’d want to visit are just one straight shot down the highway. You pass right through Chorrera, Capira, Coronado, Santa Clara, Rio Hato, and many other towns as the highway runs right through them.

Penonomé sits right smack dab in the center of the country and even though people race past it on the highway as they attempt to reach the towns farther away, Penonomé remains a silent and peaceful lifestyle option that seems to have missed the radar of many retirees. Sure, foreigners live in Penonomé, I even heard classic rock blasting from one of the houses, but the foreigners living in Penonomé are keeping to themselves or staying within their close circle of friends. It’s definitely no Coronado or Boquete where you see expats everywhere and hear English in all the cafes. This is a different lifestyle altogether.

Last night, I received a comment from a reader with concerns that many of the budgets I’ve presented aren’t any cheaper than what he’s used to in the U.S. That’s true in many cases, especially in Panama City and in the popular expat gathering spots. Boquete doesn’t really qualify as super cheap anymore, and neither does Coronado or El Valle de Anton. That’s not to say that they’re not more affordable than major cities in the U.S., because renting a home in Boquete isn’t going to compare with the costs of renting a home in Boca Raton, Florida (unless you’re trying to rent a mansion in Boquete). However, if you come from Oklahoma, Kentucky, Ohio, or many of the small towns in the Midwest, you might be shocked at some of the real estate and renting costs in the popular Panama towns.

The only house I noticed for rent

Don’t let that scare you away from Panama though. It’s still very possible to find affordable places to live in this country. I think Penonomé still qualifies as cheap. I’ll get to the cost of living in Penonomé a little bit later in this report, but just to give you an idea of what costs are like in this part of the country, I found a two-bedroom house for rent going for $700 per month. That’s less than what I paid for a two-bedroom apartment in Boynton Beach, Florida, nearly ten years ago. How that compares to rentals in whatever part of the world you’re coming from, I don’t know, but I think Penonomé, at the moment, is still an affordable lifestyle option for most people ready to retire, but I have a feeling it won’t stay that way for long.

What’s this place all about?

Let me tell you all about Penonomé. First, it’s much larger than I ever expected. This time around, I didn’t take a car. I decided to hop on a bus, which only costs $5 each way, and travel like locals heading home. The trip was short, and easy, but man…I should’ve taken my car, lol. Penonomé is a town that’s easy to walk around, with sidewalks along most of the roads, but it’s so stretched out that getting from the more modern part of town (over by the McDonald’s) all the way to the new windmill farm is a serious feat…but I did it…kind of (cheated a little bit on the last day and had my wife’s aunt drive me to the windmills).

See? McDonald’s is way over there!

When I say that it’s stretched out, I mean you have brand new fast food chains you’d be familiar with like McDonald’s, Subway, and Dominos, out on the Pan-American Highway, making it easy for travelers to make a pit stop as they pass through, then you have the charming old town tucked quietly away, unseen from the highway, but a busy spot full of pedestrian traffic deeper inside of Penonomé. Surrounding the old town are peaceful neighborhoods with homes of all shapes, sizes, and income levels.

You’ll see homes of all income levels on one of the main roads in town

Some homes are just small cinderblock structures, the basics, with clothes drying out on the line and kids playing in the front yard.

A brand new neighborhood

Some are brand new communities, not even lived in yet, and some are huge mansion-like homes.

A huge home right down the street from the others

What I liked the most about Penonomé was the small town charm you feel walking around. It’s quiet and the people are friendly. As I walked past one of the schools, I stopped to watch the band at mid-practice. The drummers were doing their thing, the horns were blasting away, and the girls were twirling batons.

Afternoon band practice

Then, maybe fifty yards away was a huge track and field, similar to what my high school had. It’s the first time, in any town I’ve visited, that I saw people training for a track meet. Runners were making their way around the track while the coach stood by with a stopwatch. There was even a high-jump mat and pole. For a brief moment, as I watched the kids circle the track, and breathed in the scent of the fresh cut grass, I was taken back to my high school football days.

Just like my high school days

It wasn’t until later that I discovered the town even has a stadium, and out in front of the stadium I found even more young people, this time a futbol (soccer) team, making their way around the track, while off to the side, younger kids practiced in a miniature soccer field. I got the feeling that living in Penonomé might actually feel a little bit like home to me. I watched the team practice for a little while as the sun was setting. It was great.

A friendly futbol team waved hello as they jogged past

The next morning, bright and early, I set out on foot to really find out what this town was all about. Before this trip, my fondest memory of Penonomé was the first time I attended carnaval. Penonomé has a great carnaval celebration.

The culecos at Penonomé’s carnaval

It’s not as wild and crazy as the fiestas in Las Tablas and Chitre, but it’s still a blast. People took to the streets, dancing to live bands under the spray of the culecos (people spraying water from water trucks) raining down from above.

Penonomé’s carnaval is awesome

Snacks and drinks are cheap and everyone is in good spirits. I might have to make my way to Penonomé this year for carnaval. It’s definitely worth trying at least once.

A huge police station overlooks the park at the town center

Something else that’s great about Penonomé is the safety you find in the town. I never felt that I was in any kind of danger when walking around town, whether it was early in the morning, later in the evening, on crowded streets, or on empty dirt roads.

Cops on bikes cruise around, keeping everything in order

At the town center you’ll see a huge police station, and all over town you’ll see police cruisers keeping a watchful eye on things or police on bikes making their way up and down the town streets. And even the cops and firefighters seem to be happy moods. When I walked past the fire station, some of the guys were joking around out on the curb in front of the building, heckling one of their buddies.   

The fire station at town center

And with the town having such a big fire station with so many bomberos (firefighters) hanging around, I imagine they’d be quick to the scene of any emergency.

Penonomé’s airstrip

Penonomé even has its own small airstrip although I think it’s mostly used for crop dusting planes and little cargo planes. It’s definitely not a commercial airport. You’ll find a small civil air police office at its entrance and that’s about it. It’s basically just a runway and a couple of very small hangars. 

Getting Around Town

Penonomé is a tranquil, peaceful place to get out and walk. Sidewalks do exist, but out in the neighborhoods, they kind of come and go. One moment you’re on a safe sidewalk, then it disappears and you find yourself walking alongside the road, hopping into the grass anytime a car speeds by. Like the sidewalks, the road conditions vary. Some are very smooth, paved roads while others are dirt or gravel, leading to potholes and puddles of mud on many of the streets.

Some of the roads are very well maintained

None of these are so bad that you couldn’t drive around in a regular car. I didn’t really see any parts of town that would require a 4×4 vehicle or anything like that. Out by the windmills you find some questionable roads, but in town you should be good to go in any car.

And some need a little bit of work

Speaking of cars, you’d probably want to own one if you lived in Penonomé just because of how spread out everything is. You can walk through the old town with all the shops and restaurants, but walking home if you lived out in the nicer neighborhoods, would be a pain. That said, one of the things I loved about Penonomé was the fact that I saw so many people out on foot. It’s a very busy town for being such a small one.

I love seeing all the people out walking through town

Traffic is very light, almost non-existent in the neighborhoods, but it gets quite heavy in the main part of town (the old town). Pedestrian traffic is the same. Out in the neighborhoods, you see a surprising number of people out and about. It’s great. The town feels alive. Then, once you get to the old town, where most of the shopping is, it gets quite crowded. I was there the Friday before Mother’s Day though so that could be why I found it so thick with foot traffic.

Traffic is heaviest in the old part of town

Now, I know I just said you’d want to own a car in this town, and that’s true, but you could live in Penonomé and get by without one. Taxis are everywhere and small buses ready to take you to Panama City or any other small town in the vicinity are lined up on the highway. All you have to do is walk out onto the sidewalk in front of the hospital, where all the souvenir stands are lined up, and trust me, if you look like a foreigner or a tourist, it won’t be hard at all to find a bus taking you where you want to go.

This is where you catch the bus back to Panama City

I heard, “Psst, gringo. Panama City?” As I walked around taking photos, I had to tell at least five drivers that I didn’t need a bus this day. And with no bus station or ticket counter in site, you just have to make sure you have cash on you. When I finally did depart Penonomé, I just made sure I had a $5 bill handy to pay on the bus ride home.

Plenty of taxis and buses

In addition to the cars, trucks, taxis, and buses, you’ll also see a lot of people on bicycles. And if you do decide to go with a car-less lifestyle, and you decide you’d like to drive somewhere for a day or two, you’ll also find a couple of car rental offices in town. I saw offices for both Express Rent-A-Car and Dollar Rent-A-Car. With this place being right in the center of Panama, there’s almost no better place to base yourself if you plan to travel around the country. 

What’s life really like here?

I have to be honest and tell you that life in Penonomé might be a bit difficult if you don’t speak at least a little bit of Spanish. I speak enough to get my point across, and I found Penonomé to be a bit of a challenge. I know there are English-speaking people in town, but unlike most towns where I usually find at least one person who tells me they speak a little bit of English, in Penonomé I found only my wife’s little cousin.

A team hard at work keeping electric service stable

Things like setting up your utilities and stuff like that might be a bit difficult unless you can find a translator. It’s definitely a good place to live if you want to force yourself to learn the local language. You will be immersed in Spanish, whether you like it or not.

Central America’s largest wind farm

That said, once you get your utilities hooked up, you’ll find that everything is reliable in Penonomé. Electricity works great and with Central America’s largest wind farm soon to power this little town, it should become a lot more affordable too.

I gave up trying to walk to the windmills

Water is drinkable from the tap. I drank from the tap the entire time I was in town and I had no problems at all. If you’re visiting for the first time, you might want to stick to bottled water, just because your body might not be used to the different water. This is a good idea no matter where you’re visiting. You won’t get Montezuma’s revenge or anything like that, but unless you’re staying here for good, or a long period of time, I wouldn’t risk it. 

Where you pay your water bill

I saw a Cable Onda office in town and many of the homes have satellite dishes so I know getting cable TV or satellite TV will be no problem.

Set up cable TV service here

I also saw offices for all 4 major cell phone providers in town, so setting up your phone, Smartphone, or Blackberry should be easy. I did have a little bit of an issue with reception inside my wife’s aunt’s house, so make sure you check on that if you’re looking for a place to rent or buy.

One of the many cell phone providers

Most homes in town use gas for dryers and stoves. Swapping out the small tanks, like the size you’d usually use under a gas grill, is easy. If you don’t have them delivered by the gas company, you can just take them to most mini-supermarkets and swap them out for just under $5. The larger ones, which usually last at least a couple of months, will need to be changed by the gas company and cost somewhere around $40.

Internet cafes are available

Internet is high speed and if, for some reason, you don’t care to have Internet connected in your home, you’ll find plenty of Internet cafes around, plus office supply stores where you can have faxes sent, copies made, books bound, etc.

Mailboxes Etc. is located in the modern shopping center along the highway

I saw one Mailboxes Etc. in town where you can set yourself up with a Miami P.O. Box and have packages and mail shipped to that address, which will in turn be brought to the store in Penonomé. It’s all pretty easy. I have my mail service set up through a similar company here in Panama City and my only complaint is the amount of time it takes for packages to arrive sometimes. I’m not sure if it’s any faster with Mailboxes Etc., but if you have a little patience, it’s a great service since it allows you to shop online and have your orders arrive right in Penonomé. 

You can pay most of your bills at the ePago

To pay your bills in Panama, you can either go straight to the source (like the IDAAN office you see a few photos up), pay in one of the large supermarkets, or go to the ePago, which you’ll see in the photo above.

So, infrastructure in town is pretty sound and you should have no problem getting connected. One thing that might take some getting used to is the amount of stray animals you see wandering around, and I’m not just talking about cats and dogs. For the most parts, felines and canines seem to be kept under control. It’s the amount of roosters and chickens I saw wandering around town that blew my mind.

Birds in the backyards

Many are in fenced in yards, but not all. I saw quite a few roaming around town, not a care in the world. And living in the quiet Penonomé neighborhoods, you might have to get used to being woken up by the roosters too. I swore that roosters only crowed first thing in the morning. That’s the way it happens on TV. That’s the way the Corn Flakes rooster did it. It’s not like that in real life. In fact, not only do they crow in the morning and during the day, but quite often you’ll hear them crowing in the middle of the night too. What’s up with that? Someone needs to give these birds a watch.

I was tempted to ask the chicken why he was crossing the road, hardy har har!

I stayed with my wife’s family during my visit to Penonomé, and they have a rooster that swears it owns the place. It walks around the front yard, the back patio, and everywhere else with its chest puffed out. It even hopped up onto the bannister behind me while I was sitting out on the patio in the morning, enjoying my coffee. And this thing had an attitude too. He kept crowing and crowing, but as soon as I whipped out the video camera, he refused to crow. Then, when I’d put it down, he’d go back to crowing. I tried to get him crowing on film at least five times and I failed every time.

Hangin’ out with my rooster buddy

People are so used to sharing their lives with these birds that it’s common to see chicken feed for sale right next to the pineapples and onions at the fresh markets. Now that I think about it, I wonder if cockfighting is something that takes place in Penonomé. I’m not an advocate of the violent sport, but it’s something that does take place in many of the small towns in Panama. When I visited Rio Hato, a lot of the homes had cages out on the front lawn where they kept their best fighters. Signs were up all along the highway announcing the next big cockfighting event. I didn’t see anything like that in Penonomé, but don’t be surprised if you hear about an event like that.   

Getting things done

Penonomé is a very self sufficient town and you’d be able to take care of most things you need right in town. Getting access to money would be easy with all the banks and ATM machines in town. I saw BBVA, Multibank, Banco General, Global Bank and many others. You’ll even find a lottery building where you can cash in your winnings.

Penonomé is home to a lot of banks

Of all the towns I’ve visited, I think Penonomé might have the most schools. I saw a school on nearly every street it seemed. I’m talking public and private schools. At one of the private schools, Colegio San Augustin, I stepped inside to see what it looked like beyond the front entrance, and what I found was a huge, wide open courtyard with plenty of green space and even a swimming pool. I was impressed. Most of the schools in Panama City are quite contained because of a lack of space, but this school had plenty of room for the students to move around. 

Colegio San Augustin, a private school in town

Here’s the website to Colegio San Augustin in Penonomé, incase you want to contact them: http://colsape.wix.com/colsape. The other school I mentioned before with the band playing out front and the kids at track practice, is called Colegio Angel Maria Herrera. It too seemed like a very nice school. It’s a secondary school, but I can’t find a website for them. 

Colegio Angel Maria Herrera

I even saw a Merchant Marine school and a driving school. Plus, if you speak Spanish and want to persue a higher education, I even saw several universities in town including UDI (Universidad del Istmo), ISAE Universidad, and Universidad Latina de Panama.

Universidad Latina is already in the Christmas spirit

You’ll find many government buildings in town, including the Public Registry building, INAC (Instituto Nacional de Cultura), which is basically a small cultural museum, and an office for the transit authority (the traffic cops). You’ll even find several notary services and travel agencies. 

The office of the traffic police

You’ll find repair services of all kinds in town, from electronic repair centers, where you’ll see TVs piled up at the front door, to auto repair centers where cars are parked all over the front lawn. It’s always interesting to me how many businesses are run from peoples’ homes. In Penonomé, I saw medical clinics run from homes right in the middle of the neighborhoods and I even saw this sign for auto repair out in front of a house.

A home-based auto repair center

You’ll find no shortage of beauty salons and barber shops in town, from the super small barber booths located right in the community to the more sophisticated places in the newer shopping center. Getting your hair and nails done is very convenient. I like the look of some of the smaller barber shops, like the one in the photo below.

The small barber shops are full of character

Some of the other businesses I saw in town were several insurance companies, a small gym, a large community gymnasium, and even a local branch of the Red Cross.

You can even visit the psychic…and then go next door and get your shoes fixed

I read recently online somewhere that if you lived in Penonomé, you’d need to travel to Panama City for any serious, major medical situation. That may be true, but for anything not-so-serious, you’d never have to leave town. Penonomé is home to a hospital and several big clinics, not to mention all of the small doctors’ offices spread out all over this place. You see clinics in the old town, on the highway, and even in the more suburban-like neighborhoods.

A hospital right on the Pan-American Highway

Many of the clinics in town host a wide variety of services, like the place in the photo below, which handles pediatrics, gynecology, general practice, internal medicine, has its own pharmacy, and even handles odontology. That’s one stop shopping. Get your teeth fixed, pick up some medicine, and get a pap smear all in one place. And I think right next door was an Internet Cafe, so you can even stop in and make sure you post your adventures on Facebook. Never a dull moment in Penonomé.

Such a small place for all the services it provides

Plus, over by the stadium, there’s a brand new polyclinic on its way, situated down a back road, right around where the nicest homes and new communities are located, meaning you wouldn’t even have to head out to the highway to see the doctor.

Soon to be the new polyclinic

I even saw a Centro de Salud, a social security hospital, several eye doctors, quite a few dentists and orthodontists, and even an alternative medicine clinic. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, if you absolutely had to, you could head into Panama City where you’ll find top notch hospitals.

The Catholic Church at the town center

Penonomé is home to churches of many different religions. At the town center, you’ll find a huge Catholic church, plus another catholic church on the road that takes you towards most of the homes in town. I saw a Baptist church, a Church of God, and what I think was a Mosque, along with many other small churches.

How’s the shopping?

It seems that in Penonomé, you’ll find two main shopping areas. The first is downtown, in the old part of town, where people crowd the streets in search of bargains. This is where you find people selling cheap toys and souvenirs on collapsable tables, loud music playing at the storefronts, and just about everything you would want to buy being offered. Just double check the quality. I’ve bought a lot of very affordable items just to have the break right away.

The bargain shopping district gets crowded with pedestrian traffic

The same goes for the clothing. You’ll find prices that are so unbelievably low, you’ll just want to go crazy. Trust me, I’ve been there. When I first visited Panama, I went back to Anchorage, Alaska, with suitcases full of the most ridiculous knickknacks and cheap threads. I brought back so many strange statues, all because they were affordable and I thought they looked cool. Turns out they didn’t look so cool spread out around the house. Who knew that a blue stone fish statue wouldn’t look that great next to a fuzzy white polar bear statue? I had bags of those stupid colorful pebbles that you’re supposed to put in a bowl on the coffee table. I think that’s what you’re supposed to do with them. I think I ended up just tossing them at my drunken military buddies at parties. 

Shoes for sale

I’ve always had a hard time shopping in Panama, unless I find a place that sells imported clothes. My shoulders and neck are too big for most of the T-shirts I find for $1. It sucks. I wish I could load up on bargain clothes. When you are buying these deeply discounted shirts and pants, make sure you’re checking them good. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Sometimes the fabric is very thin, sometimes the pockets on the pants are really short, and quite often you’ll arrive home to find that the zipper is busted on your new pants.

Cuidado, these bargain jeans might come with built in wedgies

I grabbed a pair of jeans once that I really liked. I almost didn’t try them on because I was sure they would fit me. At the last second I decided to go ahead and try them on. I’m glad I did because they came with a built in wedgie. Seriously. As soon as I put them on, the center of the pants was riding up my butt. Had to put those back on the shelf.

Just check out these prices!

I think women have an easier time finding clothes that actually fit for an amazing price. You’ll find nice dress shoes here, stuff you could wear in an office setting, for like $5. It’s crazy. Again, men might have a hard time though. I wear a size 12 shoe and it’s very difficult for me to find my size in the bargain shops. I can find my size if I want to pay prices like I’d pay back in the States, at some of the luxury malls here, but not in the cheap stores. 

Enjoy your time shopping in these bargain centers though. Go nuts. When you’re visiting a place and you have money set aside for souvenirs and stuff, it’s almost like going on a shopping spree when you see prices set at $1.99, $2.99, and $3.99.

Even some stores you might be familiar with

You’ll also see stores like DDP and Payless Shoes in town. Plus, as you make your way down the Pan-American Highway, you’ll reach the new shopping center where you’ll find a few boutique stores where the clothes will be a little more expensive. I saw kids’ bicycles in the bargain area for $40 each. Then, at a store inside the newer shopping center, I saw the same exact bikes for $70.

More stores on the way

In addition to clothing stores, you’ll find everything from pet food and supplies to hardware stores to furniture stores. You’ll also find places to help fix up the home, like do it yourself stores, a Lumicentro where you can shop for lighting and fans, Super Pisos where you can buy flooring supplies, a few paint supply stores, and of course you’ll find auto part stores.

Go green and pick up your plants here

You’ll even find florists and a plant market. Plus, with several new shopping centers on the way, who knows what will make its way into town next.

This is the place to get your Panama hats

Penonomé is a great place to pick up souvenirs. You can find most typico clothing sold in town, especially along the highway, at the bus stop. This is a town know as the place to buy Panama hats. You’ll see them for sale in several places in town, so shop around and find the best prices.

Penonomé has two major supermarkets

With two major supermarkets in town, plus a ton of mini-supers, picking up groceries is easy. Plus, you’ll find so many vendors selling fresh produce right on the street. I saw a pickup truck loaded with plantains, melons, potatoes, and all kinds of other fresh pickins.

Only $1 per bag

Then, in the old town, on a Friday afternoon, I passed several more trucks, with the tailgates down, and scales hung up and ready. If you don’t find what you need at one truck, just keep going down the sidewalk and you’ll probably find it at another. I made a left hand turn at one point and walked into an alley where people were selling all kinds of snacks and grilled foods. It was definitely a fun shopping experience. It was kind of like being at some sort of food fair, on a regular weekday.

Fresh produce right on the street

If you can wait until the weekend, you have the opportunity to visit the government run market. I visited on a Saturday and couldn’t believe the amount of fresh produce on offer. Most at only $1 a small bag. For $6 I bought two heads of cabbage, a small bag of onions, a bag of tomatoes, a bag of green beans, a sleeve of garlic…it was nuts.

The Saturday market is the place to be

Most Panamanians flock to the market and line up to buy the gigantic 20 pound bags of rice. They go so quickly and people get so upset  when they miss out on their bag of rice that police are now stationed at the rice area to make sure things don’t get out of hand.  

It’s the giant bags of rice that most people are most interested in

In a town with so many options for saving money, you could lower your budget substantially by buying your rice, fruit, and vegetables at the fresh market or from street-side vendors.  

What’s there to do in Penonomé?

Penonomé might not have the bustling city streets like you’ll find in downtown Panama City, but you’ll find that this small town has a lot going for it. Unlike many of the other small towns, Penonomé does have a movie theater. It’s a small theater that I couldn’t find at first because it’s wedged into a typical shopping center, right in the corner. It looks more like a restaurant or small shop. It has only a few screens, but it does play first run movies and they’re incredibly affordable.

Penonomé even has a small movie theater

If you go to the movies any day Monday through Wednesday, adults will pay only $2.75. It jumps up to $3.75 the rest of the week. You can expect to pay a little more if the movie is in 3D. If you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll want to make sure you go for the movies that say SUBTITULADA, meaning it will be in English with Spanish subtitles.

Look for the movies marked SUBTITULADA

My only complaint about this theater is that it’s in a regular shopping center, parked right next door to two nightclubs. We went to see the 9:15pm showing of Hunger Games 2, and right around 10pm (which is when the bars and clubs get crowded) the bass started pumping from the techno and reggaeton music blasting in the club next door, so we had to watch the rest of the movie with that playing in the background.

To beat this, I’d definitely suggest going to the movies early in the evening. I’m sure any of the other shows prior to 9pm would be fine.

The loud music culprit

I counted four nightclubs, or what they still call discos here, and a lot of small bars. Many of the bars are very local joints located in the old part of town. You’ll find a few nicer ones closer to the highway. At a new hotel over by the Super 99 and McDonald’s, I saw a very classy looking bar, and in a new shopping center at the beginning of town, I saw this cool little pub and grill. 

A new pub

Penonomé is full of bakeries, restaurants, and small cafes. If you take a look at the video I put together to accompany this article, you’ll see a lot of them highlighted, but it’s kind of hard to show them all in a written article. You’ll find Panamanian cuisine, Chinese, Creole, Italian, and a few others in town, plus of course you’ll find pizza joints and fast food chains.

If I hadn’t just eaten, I definitely would have tried some of this guy’s BBQ. It looked delicious.

One thing that you may or may not like is the amount of American fast food chains you’ll see in town. To some people escaping the U.S., these places are the exact opposite of what they want to see. However, to some others, it’s comforting to see a few familiar faces. In Penonomé, you’ll find a KFC, Subway, McDonald’s, and Domino’s Pizza.

A little piece of home

And of course you’ll fine the popular Panamanian fried chicken chain, Pio Pio.

The Panamanian fried food king

If you’re looking for more nighttime activities than discos and bars, of course Penonomé has casinos. Not one, but I counted three, and I might have missed one. Casinos can be found in nearly all of Panama’s small towns. 

The largest of Penonomé’s casinos

Penonomé is definitely not a beach town. In fact, I’ll file it under the “Small Town/Other” category as it’s not in the mountains (even though it has some incredible mountain views) and it’s not located on the water. I was told there are several rivers around, but I didn’t get the chance to go out and visit any while I was in town. 

In Penonomé you get incredible mountain views like this

A new tourism spot has opened up called Icacos Adventure. I stopped by to check it out and a nice woman named Lourdes took me all around, explaining everything. If you blink, you’d miss the place as all you see is the following sign on the road that leads through the suburban area of town. I actually walked right past it at one point and had no idea what it was until a family member took me to see the place.

Icacos Adventure Park

Since I visited on the day before Mother’s Day, the place was completely deserted, but I was ensured that it would be full of visitors the next day. At icacos, you have the opportunity to go kayaking, practice archery, go ziplining (canopy), and fish. I was even told that you can take any fish you catch to the kitchen and have it cooked for you. That’s pretty cool.

Here are the prices

This would be a great place for a party or gathering as it has a nice open courtyard and a restaurant that overlooks a small lake with a fountain.

The lake at icacos

I don’t usually spend this much time promoting a local business, but one of my complaints about Panama has always been its lack of family-friendly activities, so to see a park like this that I’d never heard of, is really cool. I’d definitely bring my family here for a day. 

The backyard – If you look closely enough you can kind of see the ziplining stations in the background

Unfortunately, this place doesn’t have a hotel attached to it. Lourdes explained that they do have deals in place with some of the local hotels to make sure customers can get from the hotel to the park and back easily. If you want to find out more you can go to http://www.icacosadventure.com.

The courtyard at icacos

If you want to take a trip to Penonomé, or to see icacos, you’ll find a few hotels in town. I counted four, but I might have missed some. Two are located right on the highway as you enter town, one is on the street that leads towards the old part of town, and the last one I saw was located in the modern shopping center over by the McDonald’s.

Hotel Guacamaya at the beginning of town

I found only two websites for Penonomé hotels. Hotel Cocle, which is the new one in the modern shopping center, can be reached at http://www.hotelcocle.com/, and Hotel Las Fuentes, which is located on the right hand side of the street after you pass the El Machetazo supermarket, just before really entering town, can be reached at http://www.lasfuenteshotel.com/. I couldn’t find websites for the hotel pictured above, Hotel Guacamaya, or the other one I saw in town, Hotel Dos Continentes. 

 What does it cost to live in Penonomé?

While there are more affordable places to base yourself out of in Panama, Penonomé is definitely one of the “biggest bang for your buck” locations. Las Tablas is much more affordable, but it’s also more third world. I think the cost of living in Penonomé is still very reasonable. 

I mentioned earlier that I found only one house for rent and it was going for $700. That’s why I plugged that figure into the budget you see below. You may be able to find something for a lot less if you get out, make friends with people living in the area, and search for something by word of mouth. You might also find some listings posted in the local supermarkets.

I think your best option for saving money is on grocery costs. As I mentioned earlier, I spent only $6 and brought home garlic, onions, tomatoes, and a few other goodies. If you stick to buying only what you have to in the larger supermarkets, and cut down on imported goods, you can save a lot of money. So check out the budget I put together below for a couple living in Penonomé. As always, look at the Budget Snapshot tab in the menu at the top of this page to see how this budget compares with others. 

Monthly budget for a couple living in Penonomé, Panama (Other)

Rent2 bedroom house$700
ElectricityMostly from AC usage$200
GasFor cooking and dryer (2 small tanks)$10
Telephone/Internet/CablePackage deal$45
Phone card for calling the U.S. (if you don't use Skype/MagicJack)Telechip International, for 5 hours talk time$5
FoodFor 2 people$300
Entertainment Dining out, bars, playing pool, going to the movies$200
Routine Doctor VisitOnce per month for each person ($25 each)$50
MedicationVaries, 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 townBuses and taxis$20
Travel outside of townBy bus$40
ExtrasOther things you may need$50
Total Monthly ExpensesFor 2 people$1,665

My Overall gut

I didn’t know much about Penonomé before visiting this time. I liked it when I’d visited before, but I had no idea what the town was about. I had no idea that it offered so much.

A peaceful park at the town center

Penonomé isn’t for everyone. It’s definitely not for someone who wants to live right on the water and hear the lapping of the shore first thing in the morning. It’s not that at all. It’s also not high-elevation living. It’s no mountain town. 

Check out this amazing sunset

This is small town life, but it’s not a dead town. Sometimes when you find these small farming towns, you find there’s very little life there. Everyone keeps to himself. It’s not like that in Penonomé. The streets are full of life. Everyone is out on foot walking around, sports teams are practicing, school bands are playing music…it’s great.

I love the entryways to some of these homes

This is a place where you still have the opportunity to live in a home with a huge back yard and a front porch. It’s country living, but not so far removed from civilization. Some people have no interest in living on a beach or in a resort town. This is neither. This is a charming and realistic lifestyle (or retirement) option, only two hours from Panama City. This is Penonomé.

The Cruz-Bonilla family

Thank you to the Cruz-Bonilla family for allowing me to stay at your home during this trip, for hanging out with me at the movie theater, and for making sure I didn’t miss anything that Penonomé has to offer.

Well that’s it for this written report on Penonomé. I hope you’ve learned a little bit about the area.

Don’t forget to check out the Penonomé Video Report here.  

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37 Responsesso far.

  1. Francis Huicq says:

    Hi Chris,
    I have discovered your blog and read your detailed report on Penome with a great inerest.
    I am Francis a french expat, I am currently living in London and my wife teresa is Panamanian, she has some relatives living in Penonome and around.
    I finally visited Panama earlier this year for the new year and…I had a great time and loved my experience there and meeting with my in-laws.
    I loved it so much that we are considering reloccating in Panama.
    this is the early days of our project but the great thing is that Teresa`s family is wonderful and already offer us full support and look around for a place we could purchase and live in.
    I am very excited about this as there are many things I can plan doing in the short but also in the medium to long term.
    Your report is great in the sense that we feel through it the experience you had there and it makes it very different to the too many tourist guide which end up giving the same information.
    I would like if possible continue to be in touch with you and perhaps if we manage to make the move we could meet up in Penonome whenever you would be around.
    Thanks again for your report and passion you put into it!
    Best, Francis Huicq – London

    • Chris says:

      Hi Francis!

      Thanks so much for checking out the site. I love London, but I can see why you might want to escape to the tropics. Let me know if you’ve already made it to Penonome and if so, how’s it going?

  2. Sheila says:

    Chris, Where is the Saturday Market located?

    • Chris says:

      Hey Sheila,

      Since you asked this over a year ago, I’m sure you’ve found it by now. I wouldn’t be able to tell you the exact location anyway. I can’t remember, but I know that it’s off somewhere to the right when coming from Panama City down the Panamerican Highway. It’s somewhere back there in the neighborhood. I know that’s not much help. Sorry.

  3. Bob Casey says:

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for all the great location reports and videos. We are currently in PA, mid 50’s and considering Panama for retirement. My wife Barbara volunteers for a cultural exchange organization and a few years ago led a small group trip of teens to La Pintada, not far from Penoneme. The group helped refurbish the library there and kids from our town (we were living in Storrs, CT at the time) helped do some additional fundraising to get more books to La Pintada.

    I was not able to make that trip, but the stories of the area were fabulous.

    We will eventually make a trip to scope things out. Generally we are thinking of being about 1 to 1.5 hours from Panama city, prefer a cooler mountain location. The info you are posting is very helpful to get a better sense of various towns. Keep up the great work!

  4. Rob Brown says:

    I love your Penonomé report. Can you send me a link to the video?
    My website just broke 1 million hits – Perhaps we could join forces?
    e-mail me: roberto@retirementdetectives.com

    See also Panama Helpline (http://www.panamahelpline.com)

  5. carlo says:

    Would have liked to seen some of the local homes, to get an Idea of prices. Still liked the report, I’m looking for small place to retire in Panama.

    • Chris says:

      Hi Carlo,

      I’ve considered adding more real estate on the reports. The problem is prices change so quickly and units disappear even faster. Plus, when I do that, I’m basically giving the real estate companies free advertisement. Your best bet is to come down for a visit and then visit the areas you’re interested in, as chances are, the properties I’d showcase on the reports and videos wouldn’t be the ones available by the time you were ready to make your move.

      Thanks again, for reading and for commenting.

      Chris

  6. JOHN O'QUIN says:

    Hi Chris,

    It’s me–John, the mountain-hiker from Cerro Azul. After 2-3 days of trying to recover from a real nasty head and chest cold, coughing, etc. (I think it might have been related to sweating it up that day on the mountain–over-doing it, then getting into the a/c in the cab ride back to Panama City, I finally dragged myself over to Albrook bus station today and got on a bus to Penonome. About a two hour ride to get here. Found a room at the Hotel Cocle for $75 including taxes. Real nice room, but no complimentary bottled water or mini-bar, etc.–anything else is extra. At their restaurant, I ate a plate of really delicious bbq ribs and papa fritos ($12.50) and a killer brownie w sherbert dessert ($4)-total $17 +tip = $21. Not bad at all for a really nice restaurant setting and the quality of food. A little after that, I noticed that it’s right next door to a new mall with Dominos, Subway, KFC, etc. Also a supermarket. So I could have eaten for half as much if I had wanted to. Anyway, I will ride around in a taxi for a couple of hours in the morning to see if I can find some of the things you did. And maybe any rentals. Then I need to haul buggy to Volcan. That will take me all day and maybe some of the night to get there. I only have a few days left and really want to check out Volcan, Guadalupe and Cerro Punta (mountain towns)–then make it back to PTY by 6 a.m. Sat 9/18 flight home. Ha Ha –I can’t believe you find time to answer all these posts–where do you get the energy ? Thx for all the good info, though, man…keep up the good deeds, ok ?

    • Chris says:

      Hey John,

      I always get sick for a week or two when I leave Panama and come back, so your cold doesn’t surprise me, especially after hoofing it up a freakin’ mountain, lol. Your hotel in Penonome seems a little bit expensive to me, but if it’s a nice place with a fancy restaurant, it could be worth it. And that’s the place right on the highway, right? Oh wait, no, you said it’s next to that mall so it’s on the other end. I think I know which place you’re talking about, with the spa and everything. The movie theater is right across the street too. By now you’ve probably already finished your Volcan and Cerro Punta trip too. How did it go? I hope you really got to get move around a lot. I love going all the way to the end of Cerro Punta, then turning left and taking that back road around. That’s where you get the nice views of the mountains. Thanks again for letting me know how your trip is going so far and I hope to hear the rest.

      Chris

  7. Aerin says:

    Thank you for this excellent article. Two people on expatexchange recommended this place however is there a beach nearby? I love the idea of living in a small farming town with my husband and 3 little ones, but my son loooves the ocean. We have a small budget and plan on living abroad for at least a year.

    • Chris says:

      Hi Aerin,

      You’ll find rivers in or around Penonome. The ocean is never too far away. Penonome doesn’t have its own beach, but in nearby Aguadulce you’ll find a very small beach, kind of a nice secluded one. Watch my Aguadulce video under “All PFR Videos” then under Location Report Videos and Small Towns. Santa Clara, I think, is the closest major beach town, and that’s I wanna say about 30 minutes drive from Penonome. I’ve heard you have to be very careful at Santa Clara as a lot of the sand has been removed to build up other beach areas in the country, which I guess has left some pretty steep drop offs and the current can be quite strong, so just watch out. Rio Hato is even closer and has a small, very quiet beach. Coronado is probably the most popular beach area nearby and it’s about 45 minutes away. I hope this helps. Thanks for reading (and make sure you see the Penonome video if you haven’t already, it’s in the same part of the site as that Aguadulce video I mentioned).

      Chris

      • Rob Brown says:

        I live in Santa Clara – and yes, the beach can have under-currents/rip tides at certain times (usually full moon tides) you can see the swirls and cross- waves, but the beach is fine, white and clean – it is without a doubt the nicest beach on the Pacific side of Panama. (let the arguments commence)

        We walk the beach all the time with our four dogs. We have the beach to ourselves 6 days a week – Sundays and holidays it gets busy.

        There are two great beach bars – our fav is Las Verenaras, right on the ocean – it serves awesome pollo frito (fried chicken) and pescada entero (whole grilled corvina) – their giant prawns (lagasinos) are the best we have had anywhere!! Almost like Maine lobster tails. The Maui Mahi (Dorado) and the tuna (atun) is delicious.Try the ceviche. (camarone (shrimp) or mixta – mixed)

        • Chris says:

          Ha, you know the arguments are sure to come. Beaches are a sensitive subject here in Panama. I think that’s one of the best things about the beaches here in Panama. During the week they’re nice and calm. I remember growing up in Fort Lauderdale and it seemed the beaches were always nuts.

          Chris

  8. David & Melody Robinson says:

    Very nice reporting Chris. We just added Penonome to our list to visit next spring on our research trip. Great job on this and the accompanying video. Can’t wait to see what you do on David and Boquete.

    One question though…while we are learning spanish..we still don’t know much. You recommend “some” spanish….any insights as to what “some” means to you.

    • Chris says:

      Hey David and Melody,

      Thanks so much for your kind words and for checking out the website. I like Penonomé a lot and I’m glad to hear you’re adding it to the list. I’ll definitely get to David and Boquete soon. As far as “some Spanish” I basically mean you should be able to order food in a restaurant, ask how much something costs, at least be able to fend for yourself when out on the street. Truthfully, in Penonomé, you’ll probably want to know even more as it might be tough setting up your utilities and getting your car fixed and other things like that. Not many people in that area spoke English. I’ve mentioned this a few times on the site, but if you haven’t already, check out http://www.duolingo.com. It’s a fun way to practice Spanish (for free) while preparing for your upcoming research trip. It’s kind of like Rosetta Stone, but more of a social media (ish) version. There’s a phone app for it too. Good luck and thanks again for checking out the site and for commenting 🙂

      Chris

      • David & Melody Robinson says:

        Thanks…we have already been working on Duolingo and like it a lot. But it is odd to learn the phrase…El gato come la manzana…last I checked, cats don’t like apples much…hahaha. But yes we are learning. Thanks again.

      • David Rosenfeld says:

        Re: “getting your car fixed”.
        You were evidently not here long enough to discover Mega Autopartes whose Owner/Manager speaks very good English.

        Thank you for, far and away, the best article that I have seen on Penonome. I will reference it on my Facebook page so that my friends and relatives, who I hope will come to visit me, can get a better idea of the area that I live in.

        Currently 6 major hotels in town, all either right on or just off the Interamericana. In addition to the 4 mentioned above, there is the La Pradera, a nice older, remodeled hotel with a very nice restaurant, across from the new Hotel Cocle and the Hotel Village about a half mile west of town. Two new strip malls under construction in town and a new major mall just starting about a half mile west of town.

  9. Heya just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of the
    pictures aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
    I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same
    outcome.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks for your comment. I just checked and everything seems okay on my end. I’m not sure what the problem is. Thanks for letting me know.

      Chris

  10. Renee says:

    Hey are using WordPress for your site platform?
    I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started
    and set up my own. Do you require any html coding expertise to
    make your own blog? Any help would be really appreciated!

    Take a look at my page: Instant loans (Renee)

    • Chris says:

      Hi Renee,

      Yes, I use WordPress. I don’t really know much about HTML at all. As I was building the site, I kept checking back with this one Youtube channel. You have to check out this guy’s videos. He does it all free too. I think he gets money through being a Hostgator affiliate. So if you do go with Hostgator, it’d be nice to use his code so he can get paid for his help. Check him out though. His name is Tyler Moore and I can’t even explain how valuable his videos were when building my site. http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvG9V9e1s2lN-hoWeHsDCJQ.

  11. Kevin says:

    Hi Chris,
    Thank you for your efforts to inform us of life in Panama. This article is up to your usual high standards.
    I will be traveling from the U.K. to Panama in February. To avoid driving through Panama city I plan to stay the night in the city and get the bus to Penonome the following day, where I intend to hire a car to continue my journey to David, Las Tablas etc. If you can remember, are the car rental places you mention anywhere near where you get off the bus from the city.
    Thanks in advance.
    Cheers, Kevin.

    • Chris says:

      Hi Kevin,

      Thanks so much for your kind words. I don’t blame you for wanting to avoid the drive through Panama City. Sadly, neither of the car rental places are super close to the bus stop, but it’s kind of funny because once you reach Penonome, you’ll see that people start calling out “Parada!” to stop at regular bus stops along the way. By the time I reached the final stop, there were only maybe 5 of us still on the bus. So, if you speak any Spanish at all, you can probably tell the driver or his assistant that you want to get off at the Dollar rent a car. The Dollar is on the right hand side as you enter Penonome, before the bus veers right to make its way through the old part of town and to the final stop. The other one, which I think was Express Rent A Car (I’ll have to go back and check the report again) was farther down the highway, on the way to the McDonald’s so you don’t pass it on the way to the final stop. Both car rental places are on the Pan-American Highway.

      If you’re not comfortable getting off early, you’ll find plenty of taxis at the final stop. It’d probably only cost you $1.50-$2 to catch a taxi to one of the car rental places. Also, if you’re traveling with heavy bags that will need to either be placed under the bus or on top of it, they might not be too fond of unloading alongside the highway outside the Dollar Rent A Car.

      One more thing, and you probably know this already, but if you’re planning to drive to Las Tablas, you’ll need to turn at Divisa to head from the Pan-American Highway down the Azuero Peninsula (which will take you towards Chitre, Las Tablas, and eventually Pedasi…my favorite little beach town).

      Good luck and thanks so much for reading and for commenting.

      Chris

      • Kevin says:

        Wow.
        Thanks for the super fast and detailed reply. I will be in Panama for two weeks. I plan on staying in David for three days then driving to Pedasi and using this as a base to tour the Azuero Peninsula for the rest of my stay.
        Once again, thanks for your help.
        Cheers, Kevin.

  12. Chris says:

    Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you find some of the info useful.

    Chris

  13. Harold says:

    Hi Chris,
    This was quite the opposite of ‘mailing it in’, very thorough work indeed. Having spent a total of 5 1/2 years in Panama on two separate tours, I must have passed through this town a couple of times. I was in the Paratrooper unit on Fort Kobbe/Howard AFB across the Bridge of Americas and even by Infantry standards had very little time off and out in the jungle. You did, in fact, enlighten me into one of those ‘tweener’ hamlets that I can only imagine like Coronado back in the early eighties, minus the water, where as you say, people were super friendly and wanted to learn all they could about Americans, and like the majority of us, vice-versa. This was 1981-83. My second tour, which I’m sure will come as no surprise to you in 87-89, was a bit different. With Manny flexing his muscle, we were either out patrolling, this time with live rounds or kept on base or strongly advised to do so, so I nearly discount the second tour altogether. Luckily I missed Operation Just Cause albeit for a horrible reason as I was married this time around and my wife began to lose her eyesight. I began this by saying luckily because shooting Panamanians, even the PDF wouldn’t have been that far removed from shooting Americans. Of course we lost US troops and a couple of civilians but in the grand scheme of things, I’m pleased we intervened in the interest of an overwhelming majority of Panamanians who were scared to death of Noriega. A fantastic people who we had in our homes and visited a couple as well. With your natural curiosity and research shills, I’d love to read a sidewalk view of my old home of Fort Kobbe, what I know was turned over in 1999 in great shape. Fantastic job, my friend. Thank you. Sincerely, Harold

    • Chris says:

      Hi Harold,

      Wow, you had quite the experience here in Panama. It’s so peaceful now and everyone is so at ease that you forget what took place here. Thanks for helping to keep this place beautiful and for making it safer. Yeah, if Fort Kobbe is the same as Howard AFB, then it’s now also Panama Pacifico. I’ll definitely be heading out that way to do a location report in the near future. For a very short time, I worked at Dell, which is there in Howard. I’d love to do a report and show you how the place has changed. Thanks again for checking out our site and for commenting. I really do appreciate it.

      Chris

  14. Jamuna Burry says:

    Very thorough! Good work Chris.

  15. Dave Filing says:

    Great report Chris. We live in San Carlos and we do regular shopping runs to Penonome. Prices can be so much cheaper then Coronado. And as you say just be careful of the quality. I have bought sandals in town that lasted one day or two. I now buy all my foot ware at Payless in the new shopping area. We have bought appliances, building materials and about every thing you can think of in Penenome. When we have visitors from the States and if time permits we are sure to always take them to Penonome and then north out of town into some of the most beautiful mountains and scenic views you have ever seen. Penenome may be flat farming country but not far north out of town you can live in the beautiful hills and yes there are ExPats living in the hills one of which has a coffee finca. Again great article and thank you. I believe Penenome may be the only town that has its Carnival parade on boats in the river although I could be mistaken. Thanks again Chris.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks for your comment, Dave. Yes, Penonomé is somewhere I’d definitely consider living. I’m adding it to my list of strong possibilities to help me eventually get out of the city…maybe I’ll even check out those hills you mentioned. Thanks again, Dave.

  16. Kris says:

    This is a great report! Thank you so much. This sounds like an area we definitely need to check out.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks for checking it out, Kris. I like this area a lot. It’s kind of like a smaller version of David in a way.

    • Judy Choquette says:

      Thank you for such an awesome report,we had a trip about a year ago but closer to being ready for a longer stay in Panama I loved your report and think I am so ready to give Penonome a try .looks and sounds lovely yes our Spanish is beyond weak but we will learn,other areas we are interested in Anton,Las Tablas,Pedisi Parita loved Chame of course and will visit as many places as we can our soon upcoming trip.Have friends in Chame El Valle and Coronado and soon friends are building their home and cabins in Anton ,I felt like we had visited Penonome from you blog here thank you Judy Choquette

      • Chris says:

        Thanks so much, Judy. Thanks for checking out the site and for your wonderful comment. I like Penonomé a lot. It’s really close to Anton. Not El Valle de Anton, but the other Anton that’s located on the highway. I don’t know a whole lot about Chame. We’ll be visiting there soon I’m sure. Thanks so much for reading the report. Did you get a chance to see the video? If not, make sure you check out the Penonomé video too.

        Chris

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