Liz Larroquette
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Cruise Panama Canal

Luxury Cruise Leads to Panama

“We like to cruise,” began the woman. “We take a nice cruise about every year so and at this point, we look for places we haven’t been. I know it sounds ridiculous but we settled this year on Miami to San Francisco. Seems a little mundane doesn’t it when you consider the Middle East, Africa and Europe.”

I simply smiled thinking about taking a cruise every year. I was having enough trouble getting my two children to cruise right up to middle school every morning. Thoughts of cool drinks and beautiful sights slipping past my veranda danced in my head. I was aware that in recent years, multiple cruise lines had started stopping at the Port of Colon. Many of them were all-inclusive luxury lines filled with experienced travelers.

Panama Looked Interesting

Cruise Panama Canal

Traversing the Panama Canal on a cruise ship

“We had never been to Panama and that seemed to be one of the places calling us,” she continued. “We’ve been to San Francisco and Miami often, but we’ve had so many friends look into Central America as a place to retire, we thought we’d take a cruise and cover the high points. We stopped in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, Mazatlan in Mexico and other stops in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Cartagena in Columbia. The cruise was wonderful, but Panama was what we remember.” The woman looked to be in her mid to late sixties; well dressed and poised. She smiled as her hands rested on the round glass table that sat between us.

“So you spent time in Panama?” I asked wondering what she and her husband had seen of the country.

A Domed Railway Car

train jungle Panama

Travel through the jungle and along the canal on the Panama Canal Railway

“We did,” she responded enthusiastically, “but we only had a day. We were traveling with another couple and the men wanted to check out the Panama Canal. The girls went on the city tour and the men went to look at locks and gears and things,” she continued. “Well, actually they took a domed railroad car from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Apparently it was a totally different experience and the ride took only an hour,” she said. “I’m sure you know the history, but it’s the first transatlantic railroad and was built for the Gold Rush to take people back and forth after they struck it rich,” she laughed. “It also made the completion of the canal possible. Two oceans in an hour. I think it was the highlight of the trip for them.”

“And, you, what did you think of Panama City?” I quizzed.

“Stunned. We were stunned. I’m not sure what we thought, but I guess we thought it would be a little less developed,” she said lowering her eyes. “I mean, not that we didn’t think it was going to be wonderful, but it could have been any city in the States just with a lot of history. So much character.”

“I hear that a lot” I responded. “Panama is so unique and in the last ten years so much has come together that it’s hard to believe what a modern first-world city it has become.”

Commuting from Dallas

Panama City Travel

Panama is within convenient travelling distance of major US cities, and other destinations in Latin America

“So we are back, well I’m back for research,” she said. “I need to know the options for maybe purchasing a place where we could go back and forth easily from Dallas. We are still working part-time, but we are transferring the business to the children. We have a son and daughter and they are both heavily involved—we build strip shopping malls. We aren’t ready to take off our hard hats just yet, but soon and maybe we’ll just slip into the excitement of Panama City.

I knew this is where I needed to be careful. Asking the right questions is imperative in helping my clients get it right. Everyone has a different idea of retirement and it’s my responsibility to ask the questions they don’t even know they need to ask. Beach, city, culture, shopping, fishing. Panama has just about everything, but when two people are involved, it is important to make sure everyone is really happy. “So what kind of place are you thinking would be perfect for you both?” I inquired.

Wanting Different Things

“Well, that is the point. Just when it came to selecting excursions on the cruise, my husband and I often times want different things. I’m more of a city girl and he likes open space, being near the water, having time to play cards with his friends and taking little trips. I loved Panama City because when the tour stopped in the ‘Old City’ of Casco Viejo, there was lots of history, but so much had been restored and the restaurants and night life was everywhere. Those restored hotels are just stunning. Because we stayed in port until 11:00 pm we got to see the city after dark.”

Panama City night

Panama City lights up at night

“But your husband didn’t go to the city,” I said easily. “What is he looking for?” I then wondered why he wasn’t with her and made a mental note to ask.

“He loves the water. Not necessarily, body surfing, but walking along the beach in the morning, watching the sun come up, having a great cup of coffee on the balcony. We know Panama has the coffee because we have orders from our friends to bring plenty of Panamanian’s finest back to Texas,” she continued.

Beach and City

“So you want beach and you want city,” I said. “You know there are no swimmable beaches in Panama City.” I wanted to be clear. “In the city we have rocks. Plenty of boats that take people out to wonderful islands, but no beaches where you’d take your kayak and go for a paddle or even a walk on the beach. We have wonderful parks and causeways which take you out around the water, but to actually live on a beach, you’d need to go about an hour outside the city.” I paused as she looked at me steadily. I could tell she was processing.

“I don’t know, I guess we just figured, if a country has miles and miles of shared border with two different oceans, there would be a beach for walking within a short distance to the city where we’d live. You know walk out of the house and onto the beach,” she responded.

Central Park Costa del Este

Costa del Este is an urban area with lots of green spaces and an ocean view - but no swimming beaches

“Let me tell you about your options,” I started. “There are wonderful places in Panama City—right in the city where your husband could have coffee looking over the water, but his walk would be on concrete. The concrete is very nice and the views are spectacular.

Costa del Este is booming right now and the new residences are simply stunning. Restaurants and nightlife, some of the finest retail shops, everything within walking distance, but remember lots of green space, no beach.”

Heading Out The Pan-American Highway

She nodded affirmatively, so I continued. “About 50 minutes out the Pan-American Highway—it’s a nice four lane expressway—there is new construction going up that is absolutely beachfront. It’s in Nueva Gorgona, which is a small secluded community. Royal Palm is a twin-tower building with 24-floors, wraparound balconies, floor to ceiling windows and when you step off the first-floor social level you are almost in the Pacific Ocean. There is restaurant space on the third floor and plenty of pools if you don’t want the beach. Your husband could walk for hours. You, would also have plenty of great restaurants in nearby Coronado, but high-end shopping would be in Panama City. Plenty of grocery stores and expats for socialization, but it’s a beach-centered building.”

Royal Palm Nueva Gorgona

Enjoy the ocean and long walks on the beach at Royal Palm, located around one hour from Panama City

“That sounds nice,” she said, appearing a little more hopeful, “but I think a big night out would necessitate a stay in the city,” she said, and I nodded. “It’s quite nice and always a special get-away, but I never plan on driving back to Coronado.”

“OK-we have city, no beach and beach with no city,” she said, “anything in between?” At least she was starting to smile.

“I absolutely think Casa Bonita” might be perfect you for both,” I said with a broadening smile. “Casa Bonita is a stunning Greek Mediterranean style building that is almost completely sold. It has great balconies and is nestled on a beach, among the rainforest. The residences are some of the nicest you will find in the entire country. Amenities galore. Infinity pools, children’s play areas, social areas.”

“More pools and no beach,” she said laughing. ”Nope,” I responded, “plenty of beach for walking.”

Just Over the Bridge

“Then no city?” she questioned. “Just over the Bridge of the Americas” I started to explain, “is an extraordinary small community including Casa Bonita. It’s a 15 minute drive, unless you are in rush hour traffic, from the city to Casa Bonita. If you want a great night out at one of the fabulous restaurants in the city, or some cultural event in Casco Viejo, it’s a simple Uber ride away. Probably much less of a drive than in Dallas.”

“So it’s on a beach,” she asked again.

Casa Bonita Bay view

Casa Bonita offers a private beach, just 15 minutes from the CBD - and many other resort-style living amenities

“Not only is it on the beach, it’s part of a complex that includes a couple of five-star hotels. The Westin is just steps away with lots of different restaurants, pools, activities such as yoga classes and children’s programs. You can order room service and they deliver to your residence. Sometimes, it’s almost too many options,” I laughed. “Pool bars, live music, you know an all-inclusive resort, but one that you don’t know is there unless you want to use their facilities. The residences are tucked away.”

“Lots of kids?” she questioned. “I love our four grandchildren, but not so much other kids who are on vacation.”

Massages and a Private Beach

“As a resident you gain membership in the Pearl Club which is not open to hotel residents. It’s on the beach and includes a Clarins Spa, private pool and beach,” I said. “But that isn’t even what I like best about Casa Bonita,” I said as she looked up in surprise.

Casa Bonita Pearl Club

...and don't forget the day spa at the exclusive residents Pearl Club in Casa Bonita!

“It’s at night, when all the ships queue up waiting to transit the canal. You have the beach, the canal, the boats, Panama City, the rain forest, all right at your feet. It’s quiet and I just never get tired of watching the maneuvering, twinkling lights and city in the distance. The residents tend to be a great mix of people who like the fact they are close to the international airport, the city and the beach. I hear all different languages, but English is the primary language. There is a bus stop right outside the gates which is convenient for domestics who work in the building along with a small deli if you run out of coffee.”

“Beach, city, seclusion, shopping, direct flights to Dallas and if family wants to visit, I can just let them know about the five-star hotel next door,” she said. “That all seems to work.”

“It might,” I said quickly. “The other properties are still worth consideration because you might want to be on the beach when you see what Royal Palm has to offer, or maybe Costa del Este, where home is not even an Uber ride away and the investment potential is greater.”

What About Price? 

“Let’s talk price” she said. “John couldn’t make it this trip because of business so I want to be able to answer all his questions when I get back.”

Question marks on sand

When considering your options, price isn't the only question. Think about the kind of lifestyle you want.

“Royal Palm is going to be the least expensive,” I began. “We are still in construction so I’ve got great opportunities. The first residences won’t be ready for occupancy until the end of 2017. It’s going up fast, but because it isn’t finished, you can still negotiate pre-construction pricing. Costa del Este has a wide variety of options—some on one of the best golf courses in the Americas and others designed with enough square footage for families and live-in help. That might be the most expensive, but I have some deals there too. Casa Bonita is unique because we are closing out that building. It’s completed, has lots of residents and we are pricing the remaining units to sell. We are getting ready to break ground on another tower there called Costa Bonita. You’d have instant equity.”

There wasn’t much more to say. My new friend just remained quiet. “I love the idea of being close to the airport so we could get home to visit with the grandchildren or they could come visit with or without the parents. We’d still be easily accessible to keep working. I’m a little overwhelmed.”

No Need For A Quick Transition

“Don’t be,” I said quickly. “There’s no need to make a quick decision—well, except if you want Casa Bonita, those units are limited and priced to move. Find a date when you and John both come down and let’s arrange for a stay at The Westin.”

My new Texan friend took a breath. “Sometimes things just come together,” she said. “I love cruising!”

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About the Author Liz Larroquette

Whether you are looking to retire in Panama, relocate your family, or buy property as an investment Liz is a wealth of knowledge you can and should tap into.

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