Folks, Below are comments from my good friend Sam Taliaferro. Sam is an American, long time Panama resident and the pioneer of residential tourism with his superlative Valle Escondido in Boquete. Before Panama, Sam was a long time resident and businessman in Costa Rica, so Sam knows what he is talking about.
(Before this comment, Sam explained why Costa Rica has had far less deforestation than Panama, giving it an big advantage over Panama as an eco-tourism destination.
If you want to see Sams whole post: http://primapanama.blogs.com/_panama_residential_devel/2008/05/which-is-better.html )
The Panama advantage
Yes there is no doubt that the advantages of the Costa Rican environment is strikingly different from that of Panama, but there is the other side of the coin that needs to be addressed. Panama has some significant advantages over her neighbor to the west. We have a number of foreigners who live in Costa Rican who cross the border and stay in our resort in Chiriqui. They are amazed at how civilized Panama appears to be over the country they chose to live in. The roads are much better and they can buy just about anything here at much lower prices. From the moment they cross the border into Panama they are not thinking about how we have cut down all the forests. They are thinking about how great our four lane highway is and how nice to see shopping centers and hospitals along the road way. They wonder why they have such very high duties on their goods and vehicles in Costa Rica while we have very little. They are amazed that our home prices here are less than half that of their country. Crime is a growing concern in Costa Rica as they have become a victim of their great success at attracting foreigners to vacation and live on their shores and mountains. Another great advantage they see in Panama is the corporate and tax structure. Many of them cross the border to open bank accounts and form Panamanian corporations to protect their assets in Costa Rica.
So the facts are that Panama can never really compete with Costa Rican as an ecological tourism destination. Panama has the advantage of a well documented and incredible history of transformation from a 1500’s backwater to the center of the universe in transits for goods and services in the 21st century. It is in her unique combination of modernization, infrastructure, history and culture that make Panama a major attraction as a place to live and live well rather than just to visit. Panama cannot afford to spend millions in marketing to be something she will never become, but she can and should focus on her strengths and attract people to her shores to live here rather than just pass through along with the containers in the canal and money through her many banks.
There are many foreigners who long to live among the forests and monkeys and are willing to share that world with the many visitors that come to gawk at the incredible world of nature. If you can afford to pay for it and are willing to sacrifice some of the many comforts of the first world, then Costa Rica may be the right place for you. If on the other hand you want access to all that natural beauty on a few hours away, but still want to live where goods and services are reasonably priced and in abundance, then Panama may be the right choice. After having lived in both countries I find Panama to be more to my liking.