Veracruz: A Secret Beach Spot Close to Panama City

The waiter sets down a steaming pot of mussels. We’re ravenous, and this fresh, simple fare is perfect. We enjoy the tantalizing smell of garlic butter sauce…the salt tang in the ocean breeze…the sights and sounds of the Pacific. A man wanders along the shore with an old-school metal detector. The water’s warm and the waves are calm—just right for the stand-up paddleboard lessons unfolding before us.

Fried calamari, spicy ceviche, and succulent red snapper arrive on chipped plates, and we gorge ourselves. This is a “beer in a bucket” kind of place, but there’s also good white wine—and white-glove service to boot.

I’m spending my Friday afternoon with expats who’ve chosen to live in this little-known part of Panama. Several hail from the U.S., but Europe and Asia are represented too. It’s an eclectic bunch, but they were all drawn to the beach sector of Veracruz for the same reasons. Just 12 miles from downtown Panama City, it feels a world away. In fact, it could pass for any number of fishing villages along Panama’s sinuous coastline…

Veracruz is a large district, with good and not-so-good areas. Every expat I’ve met has chosen the upscale neighborhood of Majagual, also home to well-to-do Panamanians. This beachside barrio shouldn’t be a secret…but it is.

Why do these few prefer Majagual to the cosmopolitan capital? You won’t necessarily spend less on a property in Majagual than you would in Panama City, but you will get an entirely different bang for your buck.

To get an ocean view in Panama City, you’d likely have to live in an apartment in the busiest downtown area. Fine for those who love the city bustle (and don’t mind forgoing garden space).

Majagual, on the other hand, is quiet and verdant, its soft hills offering expansive ocean views. You can buy or build a dream house on a large lot for what you’d spend on a luxury apartment in the city. A five-minute drive gets you to Veracruz beach. And you’re close enough to zip into the cosmopolitan capital for dinner, shows, shopping, or whatever you like.

Earlier today I visited one of these dream homes with a serene ocean view from the spacious upstairs terrace. Here, a large dining table was decorated with limes, mango, kinnip, and avocado—all grown on the property. We sat for a spell, enjoying the breeze. The property sits at about 300 feet above sea level, on a gently sloping hill. Though the house is equipped with air-conditioning, it’s scarcely needed.

“Spacious,” is an oft-used term in Majagual, and with good reason. There’s no call to squeeze your life into a thousand-square-foot box when space is so affordable. This particular house has three bedrooms and two bathrooms, along with a living and dining area with an open beam cathedral ceiling. Downstairs, an independent guest apartment features a full kitchen and its own patio. Nearby is a laundry room, a work shop, and covered parking area.

There’s a swimming pool and cabana, a fish pond, and a rock patio where you can spot monkeys, iguanas, and, of course, a variety of colorful birds and butterflies. The fenced garden is more than a third of an acre. There are lavender orchids and spiky red ginger plants…too many varieties to list here. And it can all be yours for $380,000.

Another home features four bedrooms on over three quarters of an acre for $295,000. No ocean view, as this home faces a forested mountain. But remember, the beach is minutes away. Again, everything is spacious, from the bedrooms to the kitchen. There’s even a wine cellar, a billiards room, and a boat shed.

Perhaps “home” is the wrong term, as Majagual’s fenced properties are more like estates. Places where life is lived outdoors…be it quiet mornings spent gardening or evenings entertaining friends. Expat residents Kent and Cecilia find they are constantly busy. “We have neighbors over. Cecilia does yoga and charity work. I paint and spend time at the pool or enhancing the property. There’s always something to do when you have a good chunk of land,” says Kent.

They enjoy Panama City’s fine restaurants, and drive into town often. With a large property, a home they built to their own liking, and a sweeping ocean view, they have the best of all worlds. “We get to be close to the city and still live in tropics, overlooking the Pacific. I can’t imagine getting anything like this anywhere else…not for these prices,” says Keith.

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