Coronado, Panama, is a relaxed community. Only an hour from Panama City, this coastal town—now popular with expats—was once a vacation getaway for Panamanians, who came from miles around to sun themselves on the black-and-white-sanded beach and swim in the Pacific Ocean.
But as easygoing as this growing town is, there’s more to do here than you might initially expect. American Ellen Cook, who has lived here for three years with her husband, John, says that they are never at a loss for something to do.
“I can’t really pin it down but we’re always very busy,” she says of her days here. “It’s really weird because you just seem to have no time.”
A brief look at Ellen’s typical week, however, sheds a lot of light on where her time goes. To start with, she and her husband can indulge their hobbies and interests like never before. Where before, they were working up to 16 hours a day, their days are now wide open for recreation.
That time is not being spent watching TV—Ellen and John haven’t bothered to get cable TV installed… and they don’t miss it. On the rare occasion they want the news, they look at CNN or Fox online; if they occasionally want to watch a certain show, John simply downloads it.
Instead the couple takes advantage of the extra space in their three-bedroom house—bought for $135,000—to pursue hobbies. Ellen has turned one of the unused bedrooms into an art room; John keeps a ham-radio station upstairs, too.
“My husband is a ham-radio enthusiast,” Ellen explains. “He also plays guitar. And he gives guitar lessons.”
Ellen grows herbs and spinach in her garden and holds a weekly meditation group for other like-minded people.
Outside the home, there is even more to do. Coronado has always been one of the most well-developed resort towns in Panama, but in the last few years, Ellen says, she has seen it flourish beyond expectation.
“It’s grown so much it’s ridiculous,” she says. “There used to be just one supermarket and now there are three 24-hour supermarkets.
“One is a general store, as well. There are three malls going up and we have another department store that’s very popular, a Novey (a popular Panamanian home improvement chain). And there are five huge hardware/tile stores in about a 10-mile radius.”
No matter your income, Ellen says, you can afford to enjoy yourself in Coronado. Unlike many of the popular beach towns in the U.S., the cost of living in Coronado is very manageable.
“There are a lot of people here with a lot of money. And then there are people like us who come here because they don’t have a lot of money. But you’ll see both kinds.”
Currently, Ellen and John live on an income of just $1,100 a month. But Ellen insists they’re not eking out an existence. The couple pays for groceries, household help, water and power, gas for their car, and Internet within that budget. They even manage to get out to a restaurant at least once a week, taking advantage of Panama’s pensionado program—a program that mandates discounts to all qualified retirees. A good-quality meal sets them back about $25.
The growing Coronado community, made up of both expats and Panamanians, provides plenty of opportunity to socialize. Residents here will find themselves mingling with a wide blend of nationalities, including Canadian, British, American and various South Americans.
“You can be as social here as you want to be,” Ellen says. “Or not.”
Not content to just enjoy the area, John and Ellen are happy to give back to the community that warmly welcomed them.
“We both volunteer,” Ellen says. “My husband keeps a mailing list for the Coronado Social Association, which has about 500 members. It’s a big, big organization. They do charity work as well as things like picnics, Christmas parties and coffee mornings. And then when they have an event, we always volunteer to help: to tend bar or check people in, get their money, that sort of thing.”
The canines of Coronado also benefit from Ellen and John’s attention, with Ellen working with an organization that places homeless street dogs.
“And we also help with spay and neuter clinics for the Spay the Strays (low-income-family spay/neuter clinics). My husband is a vet tech and I assist cleaning tables.”
Though Ellen will tell you she can’t pin down where her days go, to an outsider it’s incredibly clear.
“There’s not enough hours in a day,” she says cheerfully—and speaking to her you realize she wouldn’t have it any other way.
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