March 20, 2012 – plus more recent updates
Twelve years after Chiquita Banana closed its operations in Puerto Armuelles, the former Chiquita company town is once again showing signs of life.
Puerto Armuelles is slowly reemerging as the second most vital city in Chiriqui Province, after David.
David Panama, a little over an hour away, holds the honor of being the regional capital, shopping mecca, and largest town in Chiriqui.
Puerto Armuelles is the second largest town in Chiriqui, with a steadily improving economy and real estate activity.
Investors who bought land for pennies on the dollar while Puerto Armuelles was in its post-Chiquita Banana doldrums, are now looking like investment sages.
Real estate prices in Puerto Armuelles continue to rise.
Although, they are still far below land prices elsewhere in Panama, Costa Rica, or many other places in Central America.
Beach front lots are going for as little as $60/square meter.
Recent Puerto Armuelles Real Estate Activity
The signs of economic recovery in Puerto Armuelles are various and gaining momentum.
The past two years, or so, has seen a notable increase in the number of expat residents.
At present, you can drive through most neighborhoods and see at least one expat construction project underway.
There are two beach areas with multiple house/condominium projects being built.
Two guys from Costa Rica are building a house on the beach in Coronado (located just past Corazon de Jesus), ten minutes north of downtown.
An expat is building his new home in the Porvenir neighborhood
A couple recently bought a house one block back from the beach in the Corazon de Jesus neighborhood.
A woman from Maryland just purchased a beachfront lot in the Cucuy area. She already has an architect drawing up her house plans.
The San Vicente neighborhood of Puerto is experiencing tremendous activity – especially the beachfront in the southern end of San Vicente.
- A luxurious beach view home was recently completed.
- In addition, The Watering Hole, a new water front restaurant was built and is now open for business
- A beautiful beach front lot was just purchased by an expat for a new home.
- A small hotel of cabanas with swimming pool is being built, estimated to open in June.
- Property owners are steadily improving the neighborhood’s beachfront lots
There are actually too many recent purchases in or near Puerto Armuelles to list here. In fact, there is certainly more real estate activity that we have not heard about. There is no clearinghouse of real estate activity in Panama. This lack of full information is both a boon and a bane to Panama real estate investors.
Previous Lack of Info & Places to Stay
One of the obstacles for people to visit Puerto Armuelles in the past was lack of information about it.
Then even if you did hear about Puerto, there were very few options for staying overnight.
(FYI: Right now there are only 2 hotel options in Puerto. One is a dive and the other is marginally okay. There is one excellent B&B, but it is often full. But one new hotel and a B&B are on their way!))
In the past, most of Puerto Armuelles’ new foreign residents were friends of current residents.
These folks usually discovered the town while staying at a friend’s house.
Often these people also fell in love with Puerto Armuelles’ laid-back, beach town atmosphere.
However, if you didn’t have a friend in Puerto, it was very unlikely you’d visit Puerto.
Now, with the steady arrival of more expats, there are more chances for “friends of friends” to get a chance to visit.
Even better, the options for staying in Puerto Armuelles is finally increasing.
New Hotel in Puerto Armuelles
An expat and San Vicente resident is starting a new hotel, Tsunami Inn.
Tsuami Inn is located at the very south end of the San Vicente neighborhood.
It is a small hotel of cabanas, a rancho where breakfast and drinks will be service, and a swimming pool.
The cabananas will include bed, bath, and kitchen facilities.
Fishing and horse back riding tours will be offered.
According to the owner, Tsunami Inn will open in June.
UPDATE: This hotel plus another hotel has opened since this post was written.
Click to read about your hotel options in Puerto Armuelles.
Other Lodging Options
Soon there will be a B & B in the Las Palmas Neighborhood
There is currently a B&B, called Finca de Oso.
Also there are additional longer-term rentals on the market.
You may also want to stay out on Punta Burica. Click here for lodging options on Punta Burica.
New Dining Options in Puerto Armuelles
A couple of hundred meters down the beach road from the new hotel project, an expat couple has opened a beautiful new bar/restaurant on the beach.
It is called“El Ojo de Agua” (The Watering Hole) and is brand new.
When I visited, they still didn’t have gas connected to their range.
However, the sea breeze, the view, and the excellent quality of the construction and design of the place were a real treat.
The drinks are outstanding and reasonably priced.
A little further down the beach, heading back to town are several nice bars and restaurants.
Another beachfront restaurant is now under expat management and looks very inviting.
A little further down the road, a Panamanian-owned beach front restaurant has recently put on a second story addition to handle its expanding business.
All this says to visitors that Puerto Armuelles is no longer just a beans and rice place to eat lunch or dinner.
UPDATE: This restaurant is no longer open. Since this post was written, more new restaurants have opened. Click here for restaurants in Puerto Armuelles.
Many Taking A Second Look at Puerto Armuelles
Other signs of growth for Puerto Armuelles are subtle, yet convincing.
You know the old saying, “nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd” ?
As recently as four years ago, a quarter of the store fronts were boarded up;
Unemployment was reportedly over seventy percent. The town was in desperate straights.
Now new businesses are popping up all over the place. The economy has noticeably improved.
At that time, retirees looking at Puerto Armuelles, often decided to move to David, or even Boquete.
This was the case even though one reason they moved to Panama was to live near the beach.
Now these “disappointed” folks who had really wanted to live on the beach, are jumping on the bandwagon and coming to give Puerto Armuelles a second look.
Local Puerto expats are bumping into more and more retirees, especially expats from Boquete, who are tired of the cold, and the horizontally blown afternoon rainstorms, and are looking for a place to live in the tropics that is actually warm, and by the ocean.
I ran into one guy from Boquete who came to Puerto to fish for the day.
He said he had had no idea that Puerto Armuelles even existed before.
He had thought Puerto was just a boat launch, rather than a town of over 20,000 inhabitants.
Expats in Costa Rica
Probably the predominant group checking out Puerto Armuelles are expat transplants from Costa Rica.
If you have ever visited Costa Rica, you know that it truly is a spectacular tropical paradise.
Plus Costa Rica has a longer history of tourists and expat residents and consequently more amenities to serve them.
The big down side to Costa Rica is that along with all its successful development, has come a corresponding rise in living costs.
The cost of everything in Costa Rica, especially when compared to living costs in Panama, is sky high.
Puerto Armuelles is just thirty minutes south of the Costa Rica border crossing at Paso Canoas.
So it makes sense that expats from Costa Rica are stopping by to have a look.
It appears, they like what they see in Puerto.
Housing is a fraction of the cost of comparable properties in Costa Rica.
Plus, lunch here still costs under two dollars, instead of the ten that you might spend in Costa Rica.
Visit Puerto Armuelles
Find out for yourself why some people consider Puerto Armuelles to be the only true beach town in Panama.
Drive for 30 minutes on the road going south from Pasa Canoas and you will arrive at Puerto Armuelles.
Or if you are browsing the internet, it seems like every week there is something new being advertised in Puerto.
Who knows? You, too, might just find yourself calling Puerto Armuelles “home”.
Click to take our brief Should I Live In Panama Quiz
And find out Panama is a good fit for you.