Volcan - Gringo's View - June 2010
This is information that I have gathered about Volcan and the area in general. Accuracy is not guaranteed! Your results & opinions may be different from mine!
Volcan, Chiriqui Province, Panama – June 4, 2010 (Originally June 2007)
The small city of Volcan is located about 35 miles Northwest of David, the second largest city in Panama. We are at 4,700 feet above sea level, about 10 miles from the border with Costa Rica. The city of Volcan is named for Volcan Baru, an inactive volcano that rises to over 11,400 ft., the highest point in Panama. The area is agricultural with beef, dairy and vegetable production being the chief products.
The infrastructure in Volcan is mixed with electricity and water to every home but no sewer system as the soil is porous and septic systems work well. Water comes from springs in the mountains, is treated at a central plant and is safe to drink. Paved primary roads are very good and paved secondary streets are not so good at times. Many city streets are not paved and some are very difficult to travel except at very low speeds. Secondary roads in the countryside are almost never paved.
Living in the mountains in the tropics has many advantages, not the least of which is that no air conditioning or heating is required. Daytime highs are 70-80 degrees and nighttime lows are 55-65, all year. Some people have fireplaces to take the chill off of the evening but it is not necessary. It is generally dry and green here from mid- December to late March. Then the daily rains come (much like Hilo, Hawaii) and it becomes wetter and greener. On a personal note, I was bothered by heat and humidity in Nashville, Tennessee in the summer and I have not experienced a “hot” day in Volcan in spite of the humidity. You will sweat when working, but probably not in normal activities.
Panama is officially a third world country, but it is difficult to remember that at times as many things are as modern as in the U.S. Most of the “poor” are working, at least in the countryside, and they are clean and happy. Volcan is safer than most U.S. cities but you would not want to leave valuable items lying about or else they might/will develop legs and walk away. (The same as in the U.S.) Some bars could be very poor choices also.
Volcan has at least 4 major grocery stores and many smaller ones. There are 2 banks, 3 service stations, dozens of restaurants, hardware, building supply, automotive parts, and other stores here. Major shopping trips to David, including (Price Smart discount membership store) take about 1 hour each way on the paved highway. There is a medical clinic here and 2 private hospitals in David. Volcan will soon have its own hospital. Medical care ranges from “good” U. S. quality to better in some hospitals, and is much less expensive than the U.S.
A Real Estate boom has happened in this area, one of the last in Panama to be re-developed to accommodate North American and European retirees. The city of Boquete on the opposite side of Volcan Baru has become the hot spot for retirees wanting a mild climate and more relaxed lifestyle. It has also experienced a “land rush” that has priced almost all properties out-of-reach for average retirees. Raw land, lots and larger parcels, in Boquete are now running from $120,000 to $240,000 and more per acre ($30-60 /m2). Land is normally sold by the square meter and there are 4,047 sq. meters in an acre.
The new land rush has begun in Volcan but the geography and land use here are different. Boquete is in a valley with limited land and Volcan is on a plain surrounded by low hills and mountains that are farther away. The result is that there is more usable land around Volcan. The bad news is that most of the land around Volcan is in active agriculture production and families are reluctant to sell it. Much of the land produces 3 crops per year and is very valuable for its present use.
Land prices in the Volcan area vary widely, but are still increasing every year. There has been a leveling in home and lot price in the city itself in the past year. City lots are now running from $17 to 22/m2 ($69,000 to $90,000 per acre) and up. A year or more ago the price was around $15 to 17/m2 ($61,000 to 69,000 /acre). Three to four years ago you could buy a lot in Volcan for $8 to10/m2 ($32,000 to $40,000 /acre). The usual 1,500 m2 lot is .37 acre.
I have been asked about prices of properties near the beach, but I do not have good information on either the prices or personal safety in any of these areas. I do hear that there is much un-titled land for sale there, and that there are many "scams". You will need to do personal research for any land information. It is too hot and humid for me at the beach.
I was first here in February of 2007 for ten days shopping for land. I came back for a week in April and I returned at the end of May. In May and June, looked at properties with Real Estate Agents every day for over 3 ½ weeks. I ended up purchasing over 4 acres of land about 3 1/2 miles out of Volcan. I built a new home on the property in 2009.
Most of the larger properties in Volcan or on the outskirts are priced from $45,000 to $120,000 per acre, or $10 – 30 per sq. meter, or more. Titled rural land is generally $20,000 to $100,000 per acre and more, ($5 to $25 /m2) depending upon the location, property size and if there are views of the mountains, or views of a river. All properties in this price range should have electricity and community water service. Cheaper properties may not have electricity and/or water service, or road access.
Building requires architectural plans and a building permit. However, construction to earthquake standards is only about $50 / sq. ft. (1/2 or less of U.S. prices). in the Volcan area.
Another factor is the banking system which is very good, but requires some red tape to navigate due to attempts at money laundering by the Colombians and others around the world. To open a bank account here generally requires a letter of credit from a U.S. bank and a couple of personal references, one local, which can be from an attorney. Some local Panama banks will no longer accept new accounts from U.S. citizens due to new draconian attempts by the U.S. Government to make them file detailed reports of many transactions. Remember that your U.S. bank is going to report, by law, any transfer of $10,000 or more.
Any money that is used to purchase property here must be “clean” and traceable to a legitimate source. Again references are required.
In 2007 I purchased about 1.8 hectares (4.45 acres) of hilltop, overlooking a stream, about 10 minutes out of Volcan and now on a paved road. It is in the mountains at about 4,600 feet above sea level with great vista views. I built my new home here and I have 2 choice lots of about 5,700 sq. meters, or 1.4 acres each for sale at the same location.
I looked at properties with several licensed Real Estate agents as there is no multiple-listing service and I got some personal leads. before making a decision. You should spend some time here looking before making any decisions.
Best Regards from Panama, Jay
4 June 2010 with small updates 28 May 2012.