Reasons why moving to Santa Fe, Veraguas may be for you.

This post is part of a two-part series  on buying real estate and retiring in Santa Fe, Panama from the point of view of people who, aren’t involved in the industry.  Why? Sometimes it’s nice to have another point of view.  Here you get two.

I tend to think that the prices are high, infrastructure is scarce, and there are unintended social consequences (read entire article), while my husband Cele thinks it could be a good idea for the adventurous, friendly, and younger retirees.

Here are Cele’s top  reasons for retiring in Santa Fe:

1) Great weather

Turtle hanging out, waiting for breakfast
Flowers near walkway

If you’re looking to retire in Panama, you can’t beat Santa Fe’s weather.  At a bit over 2,000 ft, Santa Fe’s  weather is noticeably cooler than the baking heat of the lowlands. We like that it is warmer and sunnier than Boquete.  Lately, highs have been in the 80s and lows in the upper 60s to lower 70s.  It rains quite a bit, even in dry season, so our landscaping and surroundings are green, lush, and happy.  The climate helps with our gardening.  We have passion fruits trellacing our inn’s walls, pineapples in the yard, mango, and of course, coffee plants.

2) Friendly Community

People tend to be friendly and welcoming.

3) Outdoor Adventure

You can’t get a better location for the outdoors. We’re next to the National Park, but lower in elevation, so the climate is warmer and less cloudy.  You could easily grab a 4×4 and head up to the park, or go for a hike to the rivers, swimming pools or waterfalls.

4) You want to take a risk and make an investment in a developing area.

There are more people buying in Santa Fe.  Prices are not cheap, but the area is growing.  You could make an investment, and if the area continues to grow, re-sell.

5) You want to do something a bit off-beat

We recently had a guest who wanted to establish a sustainable organic farm,  live off the land, without modern conveniences.  She found the perfect location for doing this in the mountains surrounding Santa Fe.

Top 5 things to consider before buying real estate in Santa Fe, Panama

Celestino and I don’t sell real estate – nor are we selling any property, but we have had several guests come to explore the area for potential investment / retirement.  To date, we’ve kept out of the discussions and business surrounding real estate in Santa Fe as our primary interest is our inn and ecotourism.

We do get several questions and thought we would take a stab at expression our opinions. This article is part of a two part series with opposing view points from Cele and myself on the expanding focus on the real estate market in Santa Fe. I tend to think that people don’t know what they’re getting in for, while Cele thinks it could be a good move.

Santa Fe is a small village in the mountains of Panama.  It is a rural and beautiful area.  The poverty level in the district is high, it is remote, and there are few foreigners.  Most people in Santa Fe are nice, but wary of foreigners and the influence of land value, jacking it up beyond the reach of many locals.  There has been a sign spray painted “gringos vayanse” or gringos leave!, on the entrance to town.  Others welcome tourists, but say that they want the tourists to go back after they finish their visit – no to gringolandia.  It’s not so simple as that, and development is bound to happen.

My husband and I don’t sell real estate, aren’t looking to sell.  We understand why people might want to move to Santa Fe, but from people with no horse in the race, these would be my top considerations.

So you’re thinking of moving to Santa Fe, Veraguas…

1) There is no healthcare or emergency care near.

In town, there is a Centro de Salud, which is about as helpful as the nurses cabin when you were a boy or girl scout at camp.  Got a cold – no problem.  Need to check your temperature or blood pressure- got that covered.  Anything else, you’ll be making a two hour round trip to Santiago.  Over the past weekend, there was a severe traffic accident in Santa Fe.  It took about 2 hours from when the accident occurred to when people reached medical help in Santiago, one person died in route.

In Santiago itself, medical care isn’t that complete or great.  For example, after my father-in-law’s stroke, he was taken to the Santiago hospital.  An internal medicine doctor could not see him for two days, as he is stationed out of Aguadulce and only travels to Santiago 2 or 3 times a week.  It’s true that the cost of health care is cheaper, but there is a reason for the cheaper health care – less service.

2) Are you thinking of moving here because of the cost of living? If so, it probably isn’t the best reason.

I’ve heard people say that the cost of living in Panama is about 60% of the states, we find it about 75%.  One of the killers for us is gas. During March, Cele and I spent over $450 in gas with the trips to Santiago, which is the nearest place to buy many supplies.   Our electric bill is about double that in the states.  Locally grown food is cheaper as is cable, internet, and trash service. However, food that is not locally produced can be twice the cost in the states (example $5-6 boxes of cereal).  Taxes are higher.

3) Will you be comfortable being an outsider?

I lived in rural Veraguas for two years without being married to a Panamanian.  I speak Spanish.  I have the advantage that my husband is Panamanian – but people will judge me and think of me as different because I’m not Panamanian.  One of my husband’s pet peeves is that Panamanians always tell him how lucky he is to have married me (which, of course is true 😉 ) but not because of my character (which is the reason I would chose) but because of the appearance of hey, he’s got it good now.  I find it insulting as well.  (Of course the argument, no, he is NOT lucky to have married me -doesn’t get me very far either).

It annoys him to no end that he built our inn – was there every day, mixed the concrete, hired and oversaw people, while I was working, and people in Santa Fe think it’s mine – not his, because, well I’m white.

People will have perceptions of you, whether they are true or not, whether they see direct evidence to contradict it, because that is their perception of the world.  And that includes you as something different.  Not the same.  An outsider.  Your friendships will likely always be different than that in the states, and it can be lonely.

As for expats in remote areas in a foreign country, Panama does have it’s share of people running from the law or running from themselves.  Of course, that’s not everyone, and not everyone who runs is bad.

4) Do you speak Spanish?

If you don’t speak Spanish, you should before considering moving to a rural area of a Spanish speaking country.

5) What does your family and spouse think?

Will your family be on board with a move to a rural area in a foreign country.  Sometimes we tend to marry the opposites of us, as we see beauty in the difference, an outgoing person marrying a shy one, a loud person, a quiet, an agreeable person, a contrary one, a risk taker to one that likes careful planning.  The last one is Cele and me. You are as happy as the least happy person in a couple, which may be why that we’ve seen many expat couples break up or leave.  If you think it’s a good idea, but have a spouse that doesn’t speak Spanish, make sure that they will be comfortable making such a move.

Finally, remember, as in all of Panama real estate, people do actually lie.  The prices are pretty high, you can buy in Miami for cheaper, and if it’s not titled, don’t do it.

To come, from Cele: Why moving to Santa Fe could be a great idea!

New Signs for Waterfalls in Santa Fe National Park, Panama

UPDATE: Signs to many destinations

If you’re driving or hiking around Santa Fe, you may benefit from some of the new signs that my husband organized to be constructed to mark the waterfall trailheads for hiking near Santa Fe National Park. I’m so proud of him for organizing this  – even though it doesn’t directly benefit us.

So here’s the story.

Over Carnavales, which is the five days before Ash Wednesday in Mid February this year, we were super busy.  We’ve had guests go out hiking before and not find the waterfall they were looking for. However, over carnavales we had two great Panamanian ladies who  wanted to go exploring and hiking – and when they got to Alto de Piedra, where one of the waterfalls is in the National Park, down a trail that leads off from the road, people wouldn’t tell them which path to take, saying that they needed to hire a guide.

I can understand that you hire a guide to give an enriched experience.  We do this in our tours.  Our guests enjoy this.  And we do it proudly. (And I guarantee you will have a better experience for going out with us). Now, maybe these people were visitors to Santa Fe themselves, and just didn’t know… BUT you don’t hire a guide for directions to a public location.  Giving those directions is just part of being human.

So, my husband, Celestino, went to talk with ANAM, the natural resource management agency that manages Panama’s national parks.  He got permission from ANAM to put in signs and talked them into throwing in sign supplies, talked with the local tourism coop, and now there are signs marking the trailhead locations and directions to some waterfalls.

I love that he did this.  I will post a picture tomorrow!

Do you like that he did this?  Want to help?  Stop by and let us know!

The four bands for the 2013 Feria de Santa Fe, Veraguas

I love small town celebrations and dances in Panama. With Panamanian tipico music, live bands with tour buses travel all over the country, playing at dances in the interior towns, and growing into celebrities.  You can dance tipico late until the night – the steps are like a fast 2 step, country western dance.

During the Feria de Santa Fe (30 Jan – 4 Feb), there are four groups playing, and I thought this would be a good place to highlight the bands.

Friday, February 1st. Abdiel Camarena

Abdiel Camarena – 2007 Accordian Champion. Photo Source:

I’ve not heard Abdiel Camarena play, but he has the nickname “The Pony”.  I’m kind of curious about the nickname, but this native Veraguense has talent -won Panama’s accordian contest in 2007.

Check him out here.  Video

2. Saturday, February 2nd. Herminio Rojas

Herminio Rojas, Source: El Siglo

Herminio Rojas and his band have been playing professionally for over 20 years.  Quite popular. They have quite a following.  Some of his most popular songs contain double entendres, including the Delicious Mint.

Sunday, February 3rd. Joselito Quintero

I’m not familiar with Joselito Quintero. 

Monday, February 4th. Ulpiano Vergara

One of the most popular (and according to some, the favorite) musicians for tipico in Panama. Like Herminio, he has been playing professionally for years.  UPDATE, ULPIANO WILL NOT BE THERE, SIGH…

Father Hector Gallego: kidnapped in Santa Fe, Veraguas

Statue of Father Gallego near the town square in Santa Fe, Veraguas, Panama
A statue of the kidnapped Father Gallego stands near the town square in Santa Fe, Veraguas, Panama. SOURCE:

In a previous post about the coffee cooperative in Santa Fe, Veraguas, I promised a story about a statue, a priest and a kidnapping.  Here we go.  Near the town square in Santa Fe, you’ll see one and only one statue – it is Father Hector Gallego who worked in Veraguas from the late 1960s to 1971.  He is notable, not only for his faith, but that he stood up for something, and worked towards a future that is greater than himself.

Overview of Father Hector Gallego

In the 1970s, a young Catholic priest from Colombia came to Santa Fe when land and farming was controlled by four main families who were also allied with governmental leaders.  He organized the poorer campesinos into cooperatives, suggested a plan for development of Santa Fe to the government, received threats for his work, his house was burned down, and weeks later, he was kidnapped and dragged away one night in full sight of witnesses, and was never seen again.  Investigations pointed to involvement of the police (national guard), as well as a couple of accomplices.  While a trial was held, there is still much mystery and rumor of additional involvement surrounding the case.

Cooperative in Santa Fe, a Legacy

Today, there are a couple of related cooperatives who trace their beginnings back to Father Gallego’s efforts to mobilize and unite the campesinos for a better future.  The coffee cooperative, with its own label, and over 50 small scale farmers is one of them.  His statue stands in the town square near the entrance to one of the cooperatives.




Panama: Report of the Commission of Truth

“Jesus Herrera Héctor Gallego. CV-D-Missing 
 035-01. Santa Fe, Veraguas Province, June 9, 1971.

Record of Hector Gallego 
 victim was 33 years old, a Colombian national. Catholic priest was responsible for the Church of Santa Fe, Veraguas province.


Father Héctor Gallego was forced by two subjects to be mounted on a jeep with a white top, the night of June 9, 1971, as stated by witnesses Jacinto Peña y Clotilde Toribio de Peña in the summary of the case.

Two men came to the residence of Jacinto Pena Abrego, located in the town of Santa Fe, in the province of Veraguas asking for Father Gallego. The priest woke up and came to the door…. According to (the witness), he could not make out the faces of the people who came, because he was inside the house, while Gallego was talking to these people. But I heard them tell the Father that he should accompany them to headquarters by higher order. “Father refused at first, but then they said something quietly, Father agreed and went into the house to get dressed … asked him (the witness) to be quiet and he (the priest) went with them.  Both witnesses saw the how the priest walking between the two men and heard him cry out.  They went outside to see what was happening, but the men rushed out of the place with him in the jeep.  He was not seen again…Several testimonies of people of Santa Fe have pointed suspicion to the police, and [individuals].

The Truth Commission considered:

a. There is sufficient evidence to conclude that Jesus Hector Gallego Herrera was arrested by the National Police and  disappeared while in the custody of the armed forces.

b. Therefore, it can be concluded that it was committed against the violation of their right to life enshrined in Article 19 of the 1946 Constitution, in Article 1 of the American Declaration of Rights and Duties of Man and in Article 3 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and also violated the principle of good faith in signing agreements and treaties, Article 4 on the right to life, of the American Convention on Human Rights, signed, but not ratified by the Republic of Panama. “