Panama's Israeli Mecca

Beach Town of Pedasi Is Developed by Sabras

Just Beachy: Israeli developer Avihai David is building a beach town in Panama.
Courtesy Dekel Development
Just Beachy: Israeli developer Avihai David is building a beach town in Panama.

By Lomi Kriel

Published January 08, 2013, issue of January 04, 2013.

It’s a five-hour drive from Panama City, over patchy roads and confusing highway turn-offs, but once you reach Pedasi, you realize the spot everyone raves about lives up to the hype.

The tiny fisherman’s village emanates tranquility. There is no concept of “hurry” here. The green hills roll on forever, and the best surfing break in the country is just minutes away.

Driving through pastures where cows meander up to a rickety fence and the only traffic is on horseback, you suddenly reach endless white sands and blue waters. It’s one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever seen — in no small part because practically no one else is there. There are just three beachfront hotels and one backpacker’s hostel. It is, you think, truly paradise, a secret you want to hush up and hide.

Then the surprise: Most of the foreigners here are Israeli; many are relatives or friends. The only restaurant offers Shabbat dinners, which are packed. In fact, the chef was recruited from one of Tel Aviv’s hottest restaurants, Kimel. The hostel is crammed with Hebrew books; in the calle, Hebrew is almost as common as Spanish. Just how, you wonder, did a Central American Garden of Eden become a tiny Israeli outpost?

“Whenever there is good opportunity, Israelis are there,” says Avihai David, the 35-year-old, blue-eyed, tattooed and deeply tanned part-owner of Dekel Development, which owns much of the beachfront property here.

The story of the Israeli presence in Pedasi begins circa 2004 with Daniel Rudasevski, who went surfing in Costa Rica after serving in the Israeli army. Through a mutual Israeli friend, he met Rafi Museri. The two hit it off, shared the same vision, and saw the opportunity in Costa Rica. Museri called David, a childhood friend working in Namibia at the time, and said: “Let’s do something that’s ours. If we succeed, we succeed. If we lose, we lose.”

Family and friends in Israel invested, and the trio flipped land and made money. But they had grander ambitions, and there was no space for that in developer-saturated Costa Rica. They had heard good things about neighboring Panama, which surfers — so often the first to know — were touting as the next, but better, “pura vida,” pure life.



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