Las Tablas is a small town not far from the coast on Panama’s Azuero Peninsula, which sticks out into the Pacific Ocean. Four hours from Panama City, it is a nice rural area, farmland and ranches surround the town of barely 10,000. The laid-back city is famous for its folk traditions and street celebrations, with many great cultural festivals throughout the year. While it has the day-to-day quiet small-town feel, only half an hour away there’s the larger town of Chitre with an airport and some bigger hospitals and markets. Las Tablas is a perfect place if you’d like to settle down somewhere authentic with rich local culture, not flooded with tourists or even other expats (there are just a few dozen in the area of the town). Very few locals speak English so you’ll have to be up to scratch on your Spanish.
The town has several restaurants and bars, even a McDonalds if you think you might miss that. Local restaurants include La Maestra, Dolce & Sladito, and Restaurant Mama Pina. For groceries Super Carnes is a grocery store similar to one you might find in the United States. For fresh fruit and vegetables, you can get them cheap and fresh from local vendors selling out of their trucks. There’s hardware stores and internet cafes. Basically, all your basic necessities can easily be met within the town and you don’t even need a car to get around. If you don’t fancy walking, taxis are plentiful and cheap.
Generally Las Tablas has more sunny days than the rest of Panama and less humidity as well, so if you want a drier sunnier climate it may be the place for you in Panama.
Cost of Living:
Altogether the cost of living in Las Tablas is around $500-$700 a month for a person or $1000 for a couple. A three-bedroom apartment is $350-600, a cell phone will be $17, groceries around $200 a month. A couple can dine out for about $25. At the supermarket you can get a beer for 55 cents or a bottle of wine for $4.
Things to do:
The Azuero Peninsula has many beautiful locations to visit. Many beautiful beaches within a short drive of Las Tablas can be found all-but deserted most of the time. The road over the mountains to Tonosi leads to remote beaches in an area called Cambutal that can be reached on an easy day trip. A twenty minute boat ride will take you to Isla Iguana, which is a beautiful National Wildlife Refuge. This island is an important seabird nesting area, you can snorkel with the sea turtles in the crystal clear waters, and maybe catch them laying eggs on the white sand beach. And yes, there are thousands of iguanas.
The Cerro Canajagua Mountains are only 35 minutes away with beautiful views of the entire peninsula and the surrounding ocean.
In July there is the Pollera Festival, in which hundreds of women dance to traditional music in the street wearing elaborate handmade dresses. The country’s most famous Carnival festival also takes place in Las Tablas, during the four days prior to Ash Wednesday.
Las Tablas has a beautiful plaza on Avenida Belisario Porras street, and a nice museum dedicated to the same Belisario Porras. The museum is the former home of this three-time president of Panama, who is often regarded of one of Panama’s founding fathers. . Also along that same street is the Parque Porras, in which you’ll often find locals relaxing and socializing. A beautiful baroque church, the Iglesia Santa Librada was originally build in 1789.
In conclusion, if what you’re looking for is living abroad in Central America to experience a truly authentic relaxed life “like a local,” without the fast pace, crime and traffic of a big city, nor the tourists of a popular destination, Las Tablas is for you. There’s plenty adequate amenities to make daily life comfortable and convenient, and there’s beautiful places within a short drive in every direction to satisfy that wanderlust that took you abroad, There’s festival days that turn the town into a significantly happening place a few times a year and then the rest of the time it returns to a nice quiet pace.