Friday, May 22, 2009

What to Bring to Panama, What to Leave Behind (Updated)

A few years ago a friend from California who was planning a move to Panama asked me what she should bring, and I wrote a post about it. The subject has come up again in the Panama Forum Yahoo discussion group, as it does from time to time, so I'm updating my old post. I have also expanded the list of things to leave behind.

If you live in Panama (or anywhere in Central America since all deal with similar challenges of humidity and lack of local manufacturing) and you have any further suggestions of your own, please add them by commenting to this post:


  • Quality tools of any kind, whether hand tools or electrical tools. The ones here are imported from China and are poor quality.
  • Quality kitchenware, including pots and pans, silverware, can openers, etc. Again, not the best quality here.

  • English language books, CDs, DVDs. Even if they're books you've already read, you can trade them at the various book exchanges, like the one at the expat center in Panama City.
  • Light clothing made of natural materials such as cotton or linen. I recently ordered a bamboo fiber shirt online and found it to be extremely light and soft. Also, you may not find your size here. Panamanians tend to be shorter and more slender than North Americans.
  • A pair of waterproof boots or shoes for the rainy season.
  • If you'll be in the highlands, a waterproof or water-resistant jacket might come in handy during rainy season. In Panama City, however, it would be too hot for this.
  • Comfortable house shoes or house slippers. I have removed three giant spiders from our house, and I always wear slippers now. In addition, floors here are tiled, not carpeted, and so may not be as soft as you are used to. I have a pair of Crocs that I wear around the house and I'm very happy with them.
  • A computer. The computers sold here have Spanish-language operating systems, so if you prefer an English-language model you should bring it with you. Also, computers and electronics in general are more expensive here than in the USA. Other electronic items I have brought from the states include a digital camera, aSkype-enabled cordless phone and a PDA.
  • If you have particular cosmetics or skin care products that you like, I suggest you bring a supply with you, since there's no guarantee that you will find the same brand here. Certainly the Farmacia Arrocha is full of imported skin care products, but you may not find that particular brand that you're used to.
  • High thread count sheets and pillowcases. Hard to find here, I've heard.
  • Alice, a reader of my blog says: "Face Cloths! When we traveled to Panama in January most of the mid-priced hotels we stayed in did not have face cloths. When browsing different stores for items like towels, pillows, etc there was a VERY small selection to choose from. I also noticed that the quality of plasticware was very poor. I dare say you wouldn't put any of it in a microwave, so I'll bring my own. Just a couple of observations while in Panama."
  • Richard adds, "Right-on about the face cloths. My wife and I spent considerable time even in Panama City trying to find small wash cloths and just ended up with what we call 'hand towels' that were much larger than needed."
  • The power goes out here occasionally. On her last trip to the U.S., Laura brought back a hand-cranked lantern and flashlight made by Freeplay. I love these. You just wind them up and you have light. No batteries needed. I take the flashlight with me when I go on my evening walks.
  • Update regarding hand-cranked devices: I brought back another hand-cranked flashlight and a hand-powered radio and I gave them to my gardener as gifts. He lives in a village in the mountains with no electricity, and walks an hour every day to get to El Valle. And I know that he (like many locals) is too poor to buy batteries for battery-operated devices. He was very happy with them and I believe they will significantly improve his quality of life. I can imagine the whole family sitting around in the evening listening to the radio and taking turns winding it up.
  • Connie from the Panama Forum came up with the following list: "Lots of refills for anything that requires refills: coffee filters, vaccuum bags, Swiffer refills. They aren't available here very often... I don't think you would want to ship them, but you may find yourself bringing back spices and extracts (just try to find peppermint extract in David or > Panama City) and other goodies like special flours or canned green, chilis or whatever it is you like to cook... Susan G-G would probably recommend a good can opener... Plastic shelf liner from the Container Store (if you have an American style kitchen, you may have trouble finding enough liner of any kind). If you are building, kitchen knobs; without being picky, I could not find enough of any kind in David or Panama City unless I wanted plain wooden ones. Anything for organizing: hooks, drawer dividers, shelves, etc. (very limited selection here). More gardening tools (good quality) and some of my favorite plant pots. An electric space heater (I live in the mountains)."
  • I second the vote for a good can opener. I searched everywhere for one. Many stores carried electric openers, but it wasn't until I visited one of the department stores on the peatonal (the pedestrial stretch of Avenida Central) that I found a low-quality manual opener. I had to show Rosa (our maid) how to use it because she had never seen one and had been punching cans open with knives!
  • Susan Guberman-Garcia says, "If you have a high end computer with a lot of data and software in it, bring that. If you have a good saw and a few high end tools bring those. Bring your cotton clothes. If you have books you particularly treasure, bring those. Everything else leave home, sell it, give it away, or put it in storage if you aren't sure whether you are coming back. That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it. (and I think it's nuts to ship a car here...)."
  • Another reader of the Panama Forum says, "Well I would recomend being sure to bring all small appliances from the States. We paid good money for a coffee maker at the Do-It Center (in Panama) and it died this morning. Just a short 8 week life span. Yesterday, a $40.00 tower fan died a slow death. Actually it was a massive heart attack and very quick. The fan lived a short 6.5 weeks. Not really long-life appliances."
And a few more unusual ideas:
  • Are you an ice cream fan? It's hard to get good ice cream here. They do sell Haagen Dazs pints at the Supermercado El Rey, but they are expensive and often have that icy texture characteristic of ice cream that has melted and re-frozen. So Laura brought back a "Lello Gelato" ice cream making machine, pictured here, from her last trip to the States. It makes fantastic home made ice cream. Laura has made coffee, honey and chocolate flavors.
  • When you're ready to build a house, you want to make sure that any wood used in the construction is thoroughly dried, otherwise it may warp later. This is a problem here in Panama, as wood kilns are extremely rare and air-drying is not effective in this humid climate. If you can afford it, I suggest buying a meter that will measure the moisture level in wood (costs about $350).
  • A final word from Connie: "What we brought that I am glad we did: books, my husband's tools, my sewing machine (cleaned and checked out before I came), yoga equipment, all my kitchen stuff, our computers. Oh, yes, my husband's box of suits and ties, so I can tease him about never wearing them. By the time we unpacked them, the wool suits were already moldy."


If you maintain a home in the USA, or you can leave a few things with a relative, you should consider leaving the following items at home. If you really must bring them, take extra care with them:
  • Anything that would be adversely affected by constant humidity. For example, a baseball card collection, personal artwork, or family photographs. Of course you want to have some family photos with you, but is it necessary to bring them all? If you have time you could scan them and put them on CD's or a hard drive.
  • One reader of this blog commented, "With regard to family photos. I totally agree with "not bringing them. My wife and I have spent the last two years, on and off, scanning 22 years and 12 albums onto C.D's. These can be kept forever and with a DVD player viewed on television on the game setting. Works very well."
  • And Randy added, "Take care with putting archives on cds. I believe removable hard drives are the way to store this sort of thing. CDs and DVDs are not designed to last forever."
  • Anything fragile, such as glass-framed posters, glass collectibles, or ceramics. These kinds of things are easily damaged in shipping. If you must bring them, pack them very carefully.
  • Heavy clothing, woollen clothing, jackets, sweaters, etc. Unless you are going to be in a highland town like El Valle, Cerro Azul, Boquete or Volcan, you will not need these things at all. Even in the highlands, a few windbreakers and sweatshirts generally suffice.
  • Another list by Connie Grant from the Panama Forum: "What I wouldn't bring: Henredon or other brand wood furniture from the U.S. It swells in the humidity... Anything wool; it tends to mold in the humidity... Same problem with some but not all leather goods... Cars (everybody I know who did it wishes they hadn't)... Front loader washers (sometimes special detergent is available, sometimes it isn't in David). Also, last rainy season, our wooden spoons got moldy. Now we use only nylon spoons for cooking."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bugs on the Brain: Wild life and insects in Panama

Toucan seen in Soberania National Park, Panama
Quick word: I have finished the website that showcases my house for rent and for sale here in El Valle de Anton, Panama. See it at

Now on to the wildlife:

One of the joys of life in the tropics is the incredible wealth of life, both plant life and animal life. Panama boasts more species of birds than any nation in the Americas. El Valle is a birder's mecca. People come here from all over the world to hike up into the hills and birdwatch. Within a few hours hike you can spot toucans, a huge variety of hummingbirds, herons, eagles, many species of quail, macaws, parrots, cuckoos, owls of all kinds... the list goes on.

In this house, I wake up to bird song. It's a lovely sound to be greeted by. Often when I walk in the evening, I pass horses grazing on the road in front of the house (it's a grass "street"). I see owls, bats, possums, armadillos, ñeques, and the occasional sloth. And I sleep to a symphony of frogs and crickets.

Speaking of crickets, however, that brings me to an aspect of life in the tropics that may annoy some people: the bugs.

Beetles are common in Panama
Anyone who is afraid of insects would need some therapy here. This is a tropical country, and bugs of all kinds are a fact of life. Right now it's beetle season. Every day I find several in the house, usually upside-down and waving their legs in slow motion, like a drunk trying to flag a taxi. They are beneficial insects, so I pick them up and take them outside.

By the way, did you know that there are more species of beetles than of any other animal in the world? There is a mind-boggling 350,000 known species of beetles in the world, which is 40% of all described insect species, and 25% of all life on earth!

Every now and then I'll find a large spider in some corner. They are gray, hairy spiders the size of my palm. Again, I scoop them up with a dustpan and toss them out.

There are at least four varieties of ants that are common here. One always has to be aware of food storage and disposal. Leave anything sweet or sugary out (even juice residue in a glass) and tiny sugar ants will be all over it within a half hour. Breakfast cereal, candy or sweets, and of course sugar must all be stored in the refrigerator. Leave anything with protein out, and black ants will march in to devour it. The same black ants will consume the beetles or other insects if they die in the house and remain on the floor too long. These blank ants bite, and if you accidentally step in their way they will be all over your leg before you know it, biting like Mike Tyson.

I have my own strategy for dealing with mosquitoes. I have gotten very good at killing them and can snatch one out of the air with one hand. The real problem comes at night, when one becomes an unconscious feast. What I do is, in the evening I keep the bedroom dark, and I turn a bright light on in some other part of the house to draw them out. When I go to sleep I shut the bedroom door so they can't get in. If I do get bitten, I've found that a brief application of ice to the bite will cure the inflammation and itch completely, if you don't scratch.

The mosquitoes and moths attract geckos, which can frequently be seen on the walls or ceiling. Again, I don't know how they get in, but they are beneficial and I leave them alone. In fact in Panama they call them "limpia casa", house cleaner. They have a distinctive call that sounds like a mocking laugh. Occasionally they time it just right, for example after I've said something silly or forgot what I was doing, and I have to say, "Yeah, very funny!"

Outdoors is another matter. There is a teeming variety of both beneficial and harmful insects, with the real pests being ants and noseeums (also called chiggers or sand flies). Leaf cutter ants are everywhere, and it's not a good idea to step in their path. Fortunately they are easy to spot, with their clear-cut trails through the grass, and their leaf pieces moving along as if by magic.

The noseeums fertilize cocoa trees, so I realize that they too have a purpose in God's plan, but their bites are maddening, much worse than mosquito bites. I never walk outdoors (even in the yard) barefoot or in slippers. I always wear shoes, socks and long pants.

Bees and wasps are common, and we have twice had to remove wasp nests from the eaves of the house.

With all that said, you get used to it. It's a part of life here and eventually you adjust. It's the price you pay for the fruits that drop from the trees right into your hand, the profusion of flowers, the hummingbirds that can be seen outside the window every day, the amazing variety of bird calls, and all the other wonderful aspects of life in the tropics.

Monday, May 18, 2009

House for Rent in El Valle de Antón, Panama

I'm in the process of building a website to showcase my house, which is available for immediate rental in El Valle de Antón, Panama.

The website is

Check it out and see what I've got so far.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi
This has nothing to do with Panama, but is an important issue. The government of Myanmar (Burma) is bringing new charges against Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the democracy movement there. Ms. Suu Kyi is also the rightful leader of Burma, having won the last elections held in that country in 1990.

The charges are baseless and are merely an excuse to extend her house arrest, which has been ongoing for almost 20 years, and which was due to expire this month.

Update: in the latest development, Ms. Suu Kyi has been arrested and taken to Insein prison.

Learn more and take action here:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I (heart) El Valle de Anton

It's so nice to be back in El Valle and this house. I love this place. It is peaceful here. Last night I slept nine hours almost uninterrupted, which is really an unheard of thing for me. The only downside is that I miss my daughter Salma very much. I hope that when she is older I can bring her back to El Valle sometimes in summer to visit. So many people here ask about her.

I walked to my next door neighbor's house and before I even got to the front gate they were all rushing out to see me. Senora Teresa, her daughter Maria, and Maria's children Alba and the baby Emily. Another girl I didn't know, probably a niece. All their faces were shining and they were so happy to see me. I had gift for all of them. A little outfit for the baby, a copper bracelet for Alba, and a big jar of mixed nuts for the ladies (from Cosco). Senora Teresa held up the nuts and said, "Ay, que rico!" I saw Elvin hanging back by the chicken coop shyly. He waved at me and I called him over. He came running and I gave him a pack of Life Savers. Even Kissy the dog wagged her tail at me. As I left Teresa told me repeatedly that they were at my service for anything I might need during my stay here. I walked away with a big smile on my face. Later I saw the patriarch, Senor Rufino, sitting on the porch and waved to him. He doesn't get around much anymore. Last year he fell and broke his arm and I drove him to the hospital in Penonome.

I'm spoiled, used to having a car here in El Valle. I need to buy some groceries from the Centro Comercial but don't feel like walking all the way down there, so I've been going to some of the closer but smaller stores like the Yin. I also need to take my clothes to the laundry and buy a cell phone from the new Digicel store here in El Valle. I'm told I can get a phone for $10. That, plus a $10 card for talk time, should get me through my two remaining weeks in Panama.

I met a fellow at Los Nances named Ray Underwood. He sells medical equipment and knows all the doctors in Panama. He told me there are three dentists in Panama who use lasers rather than drills, and he recommended one in particular, a Dr. Felipe Magh who is located at Consultorios Paitilla. I need to have two cavities filled and a thorough cleaining. Ray says that all this can be done easily with lasers and that laser procedures are almost painless. So as soon as I get a phone I'll call him and make an appointment.

Other things that I want to do during my stay here include shipping some of my boxes back the USA and finding a good storage facility for what's left. And of course find new tenants for the house, and list it for sale.

Adam has been trying to get a carpenter for me to do the closets project for the house. There's a Guatemalan fellow named Emilio who lives here in El Valle, and who, when he is not drunk, is very skilled. He's always busy and we've made an appointment for him to come to the house Friday to see the closets.

I also want to buy a bed. We don't have a bed in the master bedroom, just a box spring and mattress that sit on the floor, and while I find it comfortable enough, I feel it doesn't make a good impression on prospective renters. Adam is going into Panama tomorrow and I think I'll go with him and check out a discount furniture store. We could pick up my friend Tracy along the way, and he and I could hang out together. I haven't seen him since last year.

I've been going out for walks every night. I carry my stick to keep the occasional aggressive dog away. The dogs are mild mannered and even cowardly during the day, but at night they seem to think they own the roads. I listen to my iPod, walk the dark roads past the fruit trees and flowers, and enjoy the sounds of the strange night birds.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Beautiful house for rent in El Valle de Anton

I am offering my furnished house for rent in El Valle de Anton. For those who don't know, El Valle is a lovely town 90 minutes outside of Panama. It sits at 600 meters elevation and has a pleasant, cool climate. El Valle is a reort town and a popular weekend destination and as a result it has many nice restaurants, a thriving crafts market, a hot springs, waterfalls, and an established expat community.

The lot is 1,500 m2 with beautiful mature trees of all kinds, including papaya, eucalyptus, bananas (the banana trees produce a small, uniquely flavored banana called "guineo de manzana"), and various berry bushes.

The house is 260 m2 with three bedrooms and three baths. Some of the house's features:

* Convenient location two blocks off the main road and close to the center of town. Everything is within walking distance.

* Plenty of windows and lots of light.

* Split AC's and ceiling fans in each bedroom.

* Stone flooring and teak cabinets in the bathrooms.

* A huge kitchen with a large island and plenty of counter space. Refrigerator was purchased last year.

* Large living room built in a unique "patio style" that keeps the room cool year round and allows the breeze to pass through.

* A barbeque in the living room and an exhaust fan to take away the smoke.

* Plenty of closet and storage space.

* Internet ready with a MobilNet dish on the roof and the cable already installed. All you have to do is call them and activate it.

* Furniture includes rustic-style couch and chairs, built in tables and seating, rocking chair, hammock, kitchen stools, two beds plus sheets and pillows, nightstands, large TV and DVD player, small desk and leather office chair, three UPS devices and several surge protectors, lamps, Vornado floor fans, quality cookware and silverware from the U.S., garden shed equipped with tools, and more. It's turnkey. You could move right in with just the clothes on your back.

Our last tenants were very happy and comfortable here.

An excellent maid and gardener work one day a week each in the house, keeping it maintained and clean (you pay them). They have worked in this house for five years and know it very well. You will not find better employees anywhere. By the way, Rosa (the maid) would be happy to cook for you as well if you like. She has really branched out her cooking skills over the years and can prepare very nice local style food, Chinese stir fry, Italian and even vegetarian.

Rent is $1,100 per month (negotiable), plus security deposit.

Cats or small dogs are ok and in fact the side door has a small pet door built in.

If you are interested please call Adam Brunner at 6517-2947 and make an appointment to see the house.

House with a view

Bill Brunner's son Adam has been managing my house in my absence. When I left I had pakced a few dozen boxes that I was not prepared to ship back to the States, so Adam put them in storage at his house. Adam's house was built by his grandfather and a german engineer in the 1960's. It's on the road to El Valle, high up on a ridge looking out over the Pacific. It was not lived in for many years and it's a mess, but Adam has been gradually fixing it up. Here are some photos of the house and the view:

El Valle house

Panama house

El Valle house

El Valle house

Los Nances bed and breakfast in El Valle

The view from my room at Los Nances

Renovation work at Los Nances in El Valle

Construction at Los Nances bed and breakfast

Heading up to Los Nances bed and breakfast, I was not sure what to expect as Adam had told me the place was undergoing renovation. I imagined a small, dusty room with furniture covered in plastic.

In fact it was a lovely, large room with attractive wooden furniture, a mini kitchen and a great view. The top photo in this post is the view from my room, through the screen.

Los Nances used to offer four spacious and comfortable rooms for rent. When it reopens, it will offer eight rooms outside the main house, plus a few suites downstairs. They are also building a large deck that will offer a spectacular view of the valley. Although they are not open for business, Bill has been kind enough to let me stay in one of the rooms. They have fed me breakfast and dinner, and I have been able to use their wireless internet network.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Getting a ride to El Valle; Los Nances Bed and Breakfast

I subscribe to the El Valle Yahoo group, and I noticed in a recent posting that Jackie Johnson, a Zonian who lives in El Valle, was going to be in Panama City on Friday. I emailed her and asked if I could get a ride back to El Valle with her Friday afternoon, and she agreed. I was so happy that I did not have to take a taxi to Albrook mall in order to take the noisy, crowded bus to El Valle, lugging my suitcases with me. Jackie told me she was getting her car fixed and she'd pick me up outside the hotel at 3pm.

I checked out of the hotel Friday at 3pm and waited for Jackie. Time went by. I listened to my iPod: first a Spanish lesson, then an episode of Talk of the Nation from National Public Radio. More time went by. I don't have a mobile phone and could not call her. But I was not worried or agitated. I know how things are in Panama. It could be that her car was not ready when they promised it, or she was stuck in traffic. Jackie showed up around 4:30 and as I suspected, she had had a difficult day. We got on the road, and we talked along the way. I've spoken to Jackie more than once in the past but never in depth. So I got to know her for the first time. Like me, she has had a difficult year, but hers was a matter of fate while mine was more of my own doing. Anyway, we found a lot to talk about.

I was going to be staying in Los Nances, high on a hillside above El Valle, but Jackie didn't want to drive that steep road up to the inn, so we called Adam Brunner and he met us in the center of town, in front of the Supermercado Yin. Adam picked me up, I had dinner at Los Nances, and settled into a very comfortable room for the night.

A lawyer, a chef, printing photos, and a good laptop repair shop in Panama City

I got an early start the next day and went directly to the offices of Berliza Arosemena, Abogada (Attorney). Berliza has been my lawyer for four years now and I recommend her services to anyone who needs a capable, competent, agressive attorney. Her website is Tell her Wael referred you.

Berliza got married recently and just had a baby, and she looked good. Her skin was glowing and she seemed generally more content and easygoing than I remembered. She showed me a photo of the baby and she (the baby) looks exactly like the mother. I conducted some business with Berliza and gave her the gift Laura had sent for her, some nice clothing for the baby. Berliza filled me in on the latest gossip regarding expats that both she and I know. It was a good visit.

I walked up the street just a few dozen meters to La Novena, a gourmet vegetarian restaurant run by Chef Arturo. I used to eat at La Novena often but had not been there in a long time. Arturo was in the kitchen busily preparing the special of the day, a yucca pie. He looked up and saw me and said, "Have mercy!" Later his trainee chef - a tall, painfully thin woman who needs to sample more of her own cheesecake - took over, and Arturo sat with me to talk. "What are your intentions?" he asked me in his clearly enunciated, oddly accented English. I filled him in on some of the changes in my personal life and he was shocked. "Life changes," he said. "That is the only constant."

I mentioned that the Hotel Marparaiso has wireless internet. What I did not mention is that after the first night in Panama, my laptop stopped charging, and the battery life dwindled steadily until the computer shut down. I should have known better. I lived in this country for three years. You simply do not plug expensive electronics into an unprotected wall socket here, unless you want to end up with a very pricey paperweight. The electrical current in Panama is not steady. It sometimes cuts out for milliseconds and then comes back with a surge. It will quickly fry almost anything you plug in, from a floor fan to a refrigerator. To protect your electronics, plug everything into a surge protector, and in the case of computers I recommend a heavy-duty surge protecter and UPS device (uninterruptible power supply) that will kick in automatically if the power fails for even a microsecond.

I got lucky. I wanted to print some photos of Salma to share with friends here. I have a CD with 100 photos on it. I took it to the MultiMax store on Via Brasil near MultiPlaza. I hoped that I could also find a laptop battery there. They didn't carry laptop batteries, but they have a Kodak machine that prints photos from a CD or USB drive. You put the CD in the machine, and your photos come up on a touch screen. You select the photos and quantity that you want, and the machine gives you a receipt. Then you come back a few days later to get your photos. It only cost me $10 to print 100 photos! I couldn't believe it. Other people tell me they've seen these machines in the States, but I doubt they printing for 10 cents a photo.

That's not the really lucky part. Walking back up the street from MultiPlaza, I tried to catch a taxi but could not. It's always difficult on that stretch of Via Brasil. As I approached the Idaan building I saw a small show called simply, "Computadoras." I went in and saw that they specialied in laptop sales and repairs. The young man told me he could not help me without seeing my computer.

I finally caught a taxi back to the hotel. The driver was talkative, praised my Spanish, and told me that he wants to retire and travel the world. I told him that I want to go to Africa, and he warned me that the tigers there would find me to be a fat and juicy morsel. I know some North Americans would find this offensive, but Panamanians are very open with these kinds of comments and I laughed.

Grabbed my computer out of my hotel room, and caught a taxi right back to the computer shop. Traffic was horrendous and it took forever. The driver had his wife in the front seat and his young daughter (perhaps seven years old) in the back, next to me. She had apparently just gotten out of school and was wearing her uniform and trying to sleep on the seat. The driver was listening to evangelical music and when a particular song came on, the girl sat up excitedly and began to sing along. I didn't get all the words, but some of it was,

El es todo,

El es grande,

So the lucky part is that the fellow at the computer shop found me a battery. It's not exactly the right model and charges more slowly than my old one, but it works. And I bought a surge protector this time.

Like I said, it's called Computadoras, has pictures of laptops on the front, and is just down the street from Idaan.

Panama City Hotel Reviews: Hotel Marparaiso

Henry gave me a ride to ScotiaBank, where I keep a checking account. By the way, I recommend ScotiaBank for personal checking or savings accounts. It's not perfect, but I've never experienced any real problems, the fees are reasonable, and I've never heard of ScotiaBank perpetrating the kind of customer service horror stories associated with many other banks in Panama.

After that Henry was kind enough to chauffer me around Calidonia looking for a cheap hotel. By the way, Henry and Nora run Paradise Services, an expat services and real estate company. They are great people and you simply could not find someone better to help you get settled and find property in Panama. Their website is

Back to the subject of hotels in Panama: three years ago I used to stay at the Las Vegas (in the heart of El Cangrejo) for $35 per night, but good mid-range hotel rooms have become extremely scarce in Panama due to both increased tourism and lack of new hotel construction. Prices have more doubled at the Las Vegas and it's always booked far in advance.

We drove around until Henry spotted the Marparaiso, which he had heard good things about, so we stopped and I rented a room for $40. The room was not luxurious by any means, but adequate. A bed, chair, a few small tables, a wardrobe, cable TV, and lukewarm water in the shower. I was very happy to find that they have a free internet network for guests. Oh, and check out time is 3pm! My room also had a hole in the wall that seemed to lead to a crawl space, but that's Panama. Unfinished construction and odd flaws are normal. The only real problem was a weak air conditioner that did nothing to moderate the furnace-like heat on one of the hottest days that Panama City has had lately.

I was so exhausted that it hardly mattered. I stripped naked and slept in a light sheen of sweat all afternoon long. Later I got up and showered, and went out to eat. Not feeling like spending the hour and a half that it takes to dine out in Panama, I got a Subway sandwich to go, Went to El Rey supermarket for a soda and chocolate bar, and to Farmacia Arrocha where I bought a strong desk fan. Caught a cab back to the hotel for $1.50.

The next day I asked to change rooms. All the guide books say that you should ask to see a few different rooms first, and I suppose that's good advice. The second room was far better than the first, for the same price. Better furniture, a functioning air conditioner, and a better view.

Summary: I recommend the Marparaiso for the price, but ask to see a few rooms first, and make sure the air conditioner works well. Be aware that the neighborhood is not safe for walking around at night. If you go out at night, take a taxi.