I lived in Panama for a couple years. Was stationed there.
The good: Upcountry – the Panamanian highlands – is beautiful and not too hot.
The bad: When I was there last, 1996, it was literally the Wild West. If you had money, you could literally buy anything… drugs, guns, police protection, even human beings. Yes, I am talking about chattel slavery. It still exists, just under another name. Plenty of bandits upcountry, and it always helps to carry a full ice chest/cooler full of beer with you – when you get stopped by bandits, pretend you’re ecstatic to see them (Ahh! My friends! So good to see you!) and start handing out icy cold beers. Chances are they’ll leave you unmolested. I know, I’ve done it.
There’s two seasons in Panama. One where it’s hot and rains once a day. The other is where it’s hot and rains once a day – all day.
On Day 1, I was given a briefing. I quote: “There are 100 things in Panama that can kill you. 99 will kill you, and the last one will kill you and eat you.” It’s true. Plenty of sharp, poisonous things down there – including the trees. The Black Palm tree is notorious.
The Panamanian system for building roads is thus:
1.. Mow a hole through the jungle with a bulldozer.
2. Pave what you just mowed.
3. Wait for it to rain.
4. Mark where the rains flooded your “road”.
5. Dig up the floody bits and put in drainage.
If you own a vehicle, it would be a good idea to invest in the best 4X4 vehicle you can find, and then install a breather kit – also known as a snorkel. It is entirely possible for you to hit a flooded bit of road and have the water wash over the top of your vehicle.
Cops are notoriously corrupt and it is an outstanding idea to buy yourself a couple when you first get there. This is simply buying yourself protection. In addition to payoffs, providing the local cops – especially the ones who are working for you – with gifts from time to time, like good Maglite flashlights, duty gear, food such as canned ham, bottles of good alcohol, beer, etc, will pay dividends in the future if you get into a situation. Let’s say some scumbag breaks on to your property in the night and mysteriously somehow gets himself shot dead. Having a few cops in your hip pocket can be damn handy…
If you go there, you will see great beauty and soul-destroying poverty. It is entirely possible to live a good life there, as the cost of living is very low – in what used to be the Canal Zone, you will find plenty of expat Americans, etc. The Chinese are building “another” canal – one that can handle bigger, modern ships – so they’re probably going to overrun the country sooner or later, much the way the Americans did 100 years ago, the French before us and the Spanish before them… they’ll find out it’s a devil’s bargain, probably too late.
If I were going to live anywhere, I’d live in the Highlands.
The wicked flee when none pursueth..." - Proverbs 28:1