Dear Live and Invest Overseas Reader,
I just got back from the beach, and I wish I could turn my car around and go back to where I just came from. Coronado, only about an hour outside Panama City, is what I'd consider the most turn-key, most expat-ready ocean-front lifestyle available in Panama. Foreign retirees living in Coronado have already paved the way, leaving you little to do for yourself to create a familiar, comfortable, English-speaking atmosphere.
It's fear of the unknown that keeps many people from making the move overseas. In Coronado you can rest assured you'll find like-minded folks, all living out their dream retirements on the beach, ready to mingle and welcome new neighbors.
I arrived in Coronado on a quiet Friday afternoon. Residents of the area were out at lunch, busy shopping in the new El Machetazo (the closest thing to a Walmart here in Panama), or lounging by the beach. The sun was shining, not yet allowing the dark, rainy season clouds to push their way into town. Four vendors had set up shop at the entrance to the community, selling everything from bunches of assorted flowers to plantains, tomatoes, pineapples, and garlic. Trucks were loaded with fruits and vegetables.
I'd hoped for a weekend like this, calm and quiet. Holiday weekends can see loads of families from Panama City flocking to their vacation homes on the beach, crowding the grocery store parking lots and filling up the restaurants. For many years, that was Coronado's main purpose, to serve as the vacation getaway and weekend home for those who could afford a retreat outside the capital. Over the past few years, though, as Panama City has grown busier, dirtier, noisier, and generally harder for many retirees to take day-to-day, Coronado has transformed into a full-time retirement community.
I've driven past Coronado many times this past year on research trips for past Panama Letter destinations, so I knew that the town had grown by leaps and bounds, but I had no idea by how much. On the Pan-American Highway at the turnoff to Coronado, three new shopping centers have sprung up, along with a number of restaurants. This area today has everything the retiree could want or need, from a medical clinic to a brand-new gym, from three major supermarkets to a dry cleaner, from a Mailboxes Etc. to a golf course, even an equestrian school and three international schools. And, remember, you're only an hour from Panama City, with its Johns Hopkins-affiliated hospital, 18-screen movie theaters, nightlife, shopping, and casinos.
The entrance to the central neighborhood that is Coronado is guarded, which provides security to all those living on the other side of the gate. Plus, right next to the guard shack is the Coronado police station.
Residences in Coronado range from small, cozy single-family homes to million-dollar mansions and high-rise condos. While I was in the area, I heard a couple of people say that Coronado is like the Miami of Panama. I'd argue that the Cinta Costera and Avenida Balboa areas along the water in Panama City are more like Miami. I grew up in South Florida, and I'd say that Coronado is more like the Las Olas, Fort Lauderdale, of Panama.
Some of the homes on the beach are magnificent. Some are old-fashioned and have probably been around for many years, while some others are modern, fancy, even slightly futuristic-looking. Something for everyone, including smaller homes in the US$250,000 range. If you're willing to look on the outskirts of town, even right across the street in the hillside town of Las Lajas, homes can be found for less. I met a couple living in the beautiful hillside community of Altos del Maria, which is probably about a 20-minute drive from Coronado. They were in Coronado, spending their day enjoying all that the beach town has to offer. Karys, our bed-and-breakfast owner, is selling a three-bedroom house she owns in Chame, probably 15 minutes from Coronado, for US$165,000.
You could rent here for maybe US$750 per month. In Las Lajas, that hillside community right across the street from Coronado I mentioned already, I found a two-bedroom house for US$900 per month. In nearby Chame there's a four-bedroom home that will set you back only US$650 per month.
Something that I've always appreciated about Panama and that I noticed is common in Coronado is growing many of your own fruits and vegetables. Mango and papaya trees are everywhere, as are plantain and banana trees. Many people grow their own spices, fruits, and vegetables, in their back yard gardens. The owner of our bed and breakfast, Morgan's Paradise, grows many of the spices and vegetables she cooks with. At the home she's selling in Chame, she has yucca, ginger, papaya, mangoes, aloe, and many other valuable plants and vegetables growing on the property. It's a way of life here.