Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rent from $500 a Month in Panama's Secret Hideaway

Rent from $500 a Month in Panama's Secret Hideaway
By Linda Card
This morning, from my hotel's terrace, I sat and watched the sun come up over the peaks of the Cordillero Central Mountains.
It's my first visit to Santa Fe, about an hour north of Santiago in Veraguas Province, Panama and I'm excited by what I've found.
It's a place where you can't help but stop to take in its beauty: its angular slopes layered on top of each other, rocky formations jutting out of the forest, and jagged summits reaching into the clouds.
I'm sipping a hot cup of El Tute coffee, grown locally and processed in town at the cooperative. Its deep flavor and strong aroma are exactly what I want in my morning coffee.
Coffee is just one of the many crops grown here. Santa Fe is an agricultural town, at an elevation of nearly 1,500 feet. This makes for an idyllic climate—temperatures average mid-80s F year round.
With a population of just 2,500, Santa Fe is off the beaten path but full of charm. The main gathering place in town is marked by the church, with a small park on one side and a soccer pitch on the other. People wait for buses on the benches along the street, or buy groceries at the store across the road.
Irregular terrain makes for narrow streets that zig-and zag through town, up and down the gentle hills, winding this way and that.
An enterprising collection of expats have made their homes in and around Santa Fe. Most of those renting live close to town, but many others have bought property in the surroundings hills. They're a diverse group, arriving here from all over the globe. Among them are a South African home builder, a Dutch hotelier, a British property manager, a Texas cattle rancher, Belgians, Italians, Americans and more. All know each other and don't hesitate to lend a hand when needed.
If you're looking for a place to strike out and be self-sufficient—perhaps even to have a small farm—Santa Fe could well be the place for you. The town has all the basic essentials, such as grocery stores, hardware, simple eateries, pharmacies and such. For a bank, gas station, movie theater, or mall you need to head to the provincial capital of Santiago, less than an hour away. It's the commercial and business hub of the area and buses frequently make the run back and forth.
The cost of living is low and you can rent a furnished home with all utilities for $500 a month or less. Many who live here produce much of their own food, raising chickens for eggs, growing vegetables, and harvesting fresh fruit from the trees. Cell phone and cable or satellite TV service are available and generally reliable. The only other necessary expense is a trip to Santiago a couple of times a month for whatever you can't get in Santa Fe. A couple could easily manage on $1,000 to $1,200 a month here.
This evening finds me relaxing on the patio of Hotel Anachoreo as the sun sets and the lights on the distant slopes twinkle like lightning bugs. The wide Santa Maria River flows nearby, rushing around huge ancient boulders, with innumerable smaller rivers and streams joining it on its way to the Pacific Ocean. For dinner I'll be having fish amok, prepared by the chef and co-owner, a petite young woman from Cambodia. Joining me at the table are a couple from Germany who are on vacation.
It's easy, simple, and stress-free—the way life is in Santa Fe.