The Panama Report

Up and Coming Panama Properties: Chiriqui

Written by Ezra Paskus
Wednesday, August 22 2007

About an hour east of David on the InterAmericana you will see a large neon entrance sign proclaiming, "Bienvenidos a Las Lajas" with a bright green and yellow neon palm tree. If you've spent any time in Chiriqui, specifically the David area, then at first you will probably think it's the overhead entrance sign to a local "pushbutton". But, you would be wrong, if you thought that. It's the entrance to, what I consider the best beach in Panama. Another 15 minutes down this road is a 14km stretch of white sand beach that is practically uninhabited.

Any given day, you can have the entire beach, with its gently lapping waves, practically to yourself. At night, the stars are truly breathtaking. The palm lined shore is something straight out of a movie. But don't get me wrong, this is not Survivor Island. There is a small beach community. Las Lajas is not like some beach Panama propertiesin, say, Colon. The beach is clean, the people are friendly, and the actual town of Las Lajas, where you can stock up on food and cold brews is only 7 kms away.

Las Lajas is a swimmers beach. Unlike other beaches, like La Barqueta near David, there is no gnarly rip tide and the waves don‘t pound you like the hammer of Thor. When the tide is out, there is about a hundred yards of sand, when it's in, the water is about waste deep for a hundred yards. Las Lajas is also a beginning surfer's delight. These are several different breach breaks. Get a good run in front of the cabins and cantina of La Estrella del Pacifico, or try the breaks at either end of the beach where the San Felix river dumps into the ocean. You won't ever sit in a lineup, and there is no annoying surfer "culture", you won't see taped up, bloody legs and hear a lot of "bogus break bro", or whatever, like you might in Bocas or Santa Catalina. During the rainy season, Panama properties tend to get nasty, but Las Lajas in rainy season is even better for surfers. My Panamanian friend's days go something like this: sunup at 6am, wake up, make coffee, hear the bombs dropping on shore, drink coffee, hit the surf, come back and eat breakfast, hit the surf, lunch, hit surf, attempt to fish, hit surf, hit surf, well you get the point.

But alas, all is not perfect at Las Lajas beach. You're probably thinking to yourself that you would love to have a nice little beach spot in Las Lajas for yourself, and if you've already been then you know you want one for yourself. So, Ezra, what's the skinny? Well, Las Lajas is still a farming/ranching community at heart. So, if you're one of those guys who wants Panama properties for 75 cents/m2 property, well it ain't here. But $4 m2 property is here. The catch? Well, you're going to have to buy a large chunk, like 100-800 hectares large, and if you do the math, well that's a whole lotta money. So, if you're not ridiculously rich then you're looking at $30 - $80 for beachfront, if you can find it. But because of the sandy nature of the beachfront area, buildings are currently limited to two stories, so, for now, beach view property will actually be able beach view.

Las Lajas isn't completely undeveloped. A subdivision project has been here for 20 or so years and you will see signs for it on the way to the beach. It started with somewhere close to 80 lots and has sold all but about 11. The thing about them is that they probably have a total of 7 lots built on. Another, more comprehensive, project has been undertaken in the last 4 years by some fellas from Alaska which includes all underground utilities, a golf course, etc, etc and is a huge undertaking. They have had trouble convincing buyers to build and have begun building three model homes in order to twist arms. But, again, there are variables, like charging buyers $150 per m2 for beachfront can affect your selling ability.

In March, I talked to a guy from California that has a beachfront property. He came and put in four feet of fill and dug a well, the beginnings of his upscale resort, and then left until... well, he didn't say. I talked to a couple that has had a subdivision lot walled for the last 5 years with nothing inside that wall. They said something that I have heard repeated several times. They want to build a motel 6 type ground level motel, but they are scared. Why? "Well, we're scared because there's nothing here". Hmm... ok, I'm trying to understand this thinking. You have invested in the Panama property but you don't want to build anything cause you think there is nothing to draw people to the beach. Well, doesn't it have to start sometime? I mean, Las Lajas is no Jaco, Costa Rica, but in five years the place will be well on its way. So, you'd rather have someone else do it and then come in on the band wagon. This, to me, makes no sense and actually hurts the development of the place. It's called speculation, and if you've spent any time in Panama City, you know what I'm talking about. Panama property values do not increase because of improvements, but only because the amount of available property has shrunk. Well, they are right on one hand, the price of ocean front/view property isn't going down any time, ever, so you can always get your money out. And part of the draw for Las Lajas (I hear this from a lot of tourists) is that it is quiet and under populated. But at an hour from the second largest city in Panama, this could be THE tourist beach destination in Panama. Panama properties are increasing in price and popularity so fast, that these kind of places are slowly becoming obsolete.

So, is Las Lajas a unique combination of speculation and lack of consumer confidence? Well, it's definitely under marketed. There are no travel magazines devoted to Las Lajas. The Lonely Planet mentions it only briefly, and as far as I know, there are no full page color ads for these development projects. I think it definitely is suffering from speculation investment, which is not unique. I guess it's not so much a lack of consumer confidence as a lack of vision.

Like most of Panama, a deal can be had. It takes leg work, persistence, and definitely vision. The beach is 14kms long, so some has to be available. There are also highland areas with breathtaking views of the entire beach, Isla Secas, and the protected areas of Isla Coiba. There are three very large reforestation projects in the area, which take care of large parcels of land and helps with oxygen, or something.

If you make it to Las Lajas beach in Chiriqui, the best place to stay is La Palmera Beach Hostel. Tan up, hammock out, surf it up, fish, kayak, trek through the mangroves to a huge lonely petrogliph rock, eat local seafood, go for a boat ride, or my personal favorite, do a lot of nothing on the beach. And by all means, if you like the place, stay. But for Pete's sake, build something! You won't be disappointed.