Altos del Maria – Country Solitude in the Panamanian Highlands

I was recently given a tour of the upscale gated community of Altos del Maria by a Panamanian friend and knowledgeable attorney. It took us about an hour, heading west, to reach the turn-off at the Pan-American Highway from Panama City, then another 30 minutes up the road to the subdivision. It is a beautiful drive with breathtaking views on a well maintained road.

58 -road to altos del mariaAltos del Maria, which was developed by the Panamanian conglomerate Grupo Melo, starts at about a 1400 foot altitude and reaches over 3600 at the top. Because of its location, being on the drier side of the mountains, the not too humid temperature hovers around a very comfortable 75 degrees year-round. The entire area covers over 7000 acres, of which about 1400 of the 2500 planned lots have been sold. Most of these are owned by Panamanian executives who want a retreat from the city, and US and Canadian expats, mostly retirees.

The infrastructure is first class. There is a guard at the entry, lighted and well maintained streets, parks, and road signs (don’t see a lot of those in Panama!). Grupo Melo has done a great job of preserving the ecology of the area by designing large open spaces and common areas around the valley and Maria River. There is a feeling of being part of the natural environment throughout the entire development.

The homes in the area are mostly American Southwestern and Colonial Spanish designs. I toured a few of the pre-built homes for sale, which ranged from about 1500 – 1900 sq. ft. and were priced in the mid $200,000’s. The majority of residents purchased lots and built custom homes. Lots are currently ¼ – 2 acres and costs from $50 – 170,000, depending on location and view. I was told that building costs in the area are around $80 – 100 per sq. ft. There are some magnificent luxury homes to be seen and I didn’t spot anything smaller than the model homes we visited. This is upscale Panama!58 - altas home 2

I was informed that there is high speed internet and satellite in the area and the water and electric companies are privately owned. The H.O.A. fees average $50 per month, which includes maintenance of common areas, security, and use of an Activity Center that includes a pool table and fitness room. There is also a tennis court for the residents. Security is a big benefit for those who only live in the area part-time.

As far as amenities, there are few. It is heaven for nature lovers, with hiking trails galore, beautiful waterfalls, quiet parks, and natural swimming holes. One could explore the mountains and valleys for years! There is only one restaurant in the development. It has a nice view, of course, and good food. I was told that the neighbors have regular get-togethers and there are yoga classes at the Activity Center now. The closest supermarket, golf course, hospital, and beaches are in Coronado, which is about a 30 minute drive. There is also a private, paved road between Altos del Maria and the neighboring highland town of El Valle de Anton, where there are more restaurants and a Farmer’s Market.

58 - Altos home1What I really liked about the Altos del Maria community was the peaceful country feel of it, as well as the modern and well maintained homes and infrastructure. The views are spectacular! One gentleman said his electric bill is only $35 per month because there is no need for Air Conditioning here. I only saw a couple of other people the entire day that I spent there and, for me, there was a feeling of isolation.

A person could get into the community for a cost comparable to homes in the US, but this is not a cheap area by Panamanian standards. It is a bit too far for me to drive for a carton of milk and something to do, although for lovers of solitude, it is not really that far to drive to Panama City for the occasional cultural outing. When the Rio Hato Airport starts scheduling international flights, there will be a nearby airport as well.

If this sounds like a community you might enjoy living in, I would suggest renting for a while to try it out. Homes in Altos del Maria rent for an average of $800-1200 per month. There are quite a few snowbirds and part-time residents. If you are considering renting or purchasing, email my friend Maritza Ellis for more information about this development. She is a local attorney and realtor who speaks fluent English and loves introducing people to one of her favorite highland escapes. She can even show you some of the ‘secret’ swimming holes way up at the top! If your goal is to “get away from it all”, Altos del Maria may be your paradise in Panama.