I recently passed through the airport hub, Panama City on a tour of South America. I was looking forward to spending some time in the touted #1 best country in the world to retire, only to be blown away by what a dump it was.

I live in Phuket Thailand, a tropical island. I’m climatized to the tropics, but I was miserable walking around in the Panamanian heat and humidity and it’s like that all the time.

Think LA rush hour for the traffic around Panama City. The supposed, 20 minute ride to the hotel from the airport took more than an hour at 5 PM. The traffic out of the city was backed up for miles. The infrastructure looks third world, crowded, poor and dirty.

High razor wire fences enclose private residences. Security guards with shot guns are everywhere. I felt uncomfortable walking around during the day, forget about going out at night. Crime is a problem. You’re buzzed into most places, everything is locked down. I get the same paranoid vibe in Panama that I get in the Philippines.

If you’re retiring to Panama, you absolutely must speak Spanish. I found very few people who could speak English. The front desk people at the upscale hotel I stayed at didn’t speak English. Out on the street, you’re out of luck with English only.

Everyone is fat. It’s maybe the fattest country I’ve ever been. Coming from America, that’s saying something. I went on to Colombia from Panama, where the women were beautiful. I didn’t see one beautiful woman in Panama. It’s the diet. The food sucks. It’s rice and beans, basically Mexican food. Imagine living on that diet for the rest of your retired life? Certainly there are some nice restaurants, but everyday food is bland.

The #1 retirement destination is unbearably hot, crime ridden, with bad food. Panama is a shithole. Who would go there and say, “I love this place. I want to spend the rest of my life here?” People with a canal fetish?

How does a shithole like Panama get to be the #1 retirement destination in the world? I think it’s marketing bullshit. The references for the “#1 retirement destination” come out of a small number of sources. Anyone who spends any time here soon realizes (like that first second you step out of the air conditioned hotel) that this may not be the retirement mecca it’s cracked up to be.

There is a steady stream of articles praising Panama as an ideal investment opportunity and retirement home. The problem is, these articles are coming from the same authors, paid to write this. The articles are then picked up by the many bastions of information integrity, like the Wall Street Journal. It’s all bullshit. They’re just selling the over-built condo projects.

I’m heading back to South America, but I won’t be spending any time in Panama City if I can help it.