An Active Beach Community in Panama with $800 Rent

Active Retirement in Coronado
Do you dream of escaping your busy working life for something much more relaxing?|©iStock/GeorgePeters

Twelve years ago, Diane Maxwell left the crowds, traffic snarls, and expense of life in the Houston, Texas suburbs to try the quiet, calm, and affordable beaches of Playa Coronado in Panama—and she has never regretted it for an instant.

Playa Coronado is the general name for an area of the Panama Pacific coast about an hour and a half southwest of Panama City. There's a business center nearby, along the Pan-American Highway with at least six large stores for groceries and household goods, plenty of services, movie theaters, restaurants, banks, fresh produce vendors—everything you might need.

Just a few miles down the Avenida Roberto Eisenmann, however, the scenery quickly changes from urban to suburban to beach living. Once you are past the guard station checkpoint, you enter the Playa Coronado community proper, full of vacation homes and estates, a golf course, the Bosque Seco hiking area, and finally, a few high-rises on the beaches.

The view from the rooftop social area of the Coronado Bay building, where my wife and I spent six weeks, is just stunning. You have the beautiful and ever-changing colors of the Pacific Ocean, lush green foliage running right up to the beaches, and beautiful forested mountains in the distance.

I caught up with Diane during our visit, and interviewed her for my "Travels With Jim and Rita" podcast. "I found the Coronado area in Panama very friendly," she told me. "People were willing to help me with anything. I was very happy I came down here."

She didn't just pick this location out of a hat, either. Despite being a mother of three and a nurse working in acute care and emergency departments, she has always found time to travel. She has visited 48 of the 50 United States, China, Japan, Russia, Europe, South America, and various Caribbean Islands.

Diane has traveled the world, but found her adopted home in Panama
Diane has traveled the world, but found her adopted home in Panama

When Diane first arrived in Coronado, she became a part of the community in an interesting way. She met a local "critter sitter" who was double-booked, and he asked her if she would be able to house-sit for a pair of parrots. It was in a lovely home, right on one of the golf courses, and she enjoyed the experience so much that she started pet-sitting more often. "Word of mouth really spread fast. I think there was one year I was only in my own home for about six weeks!"

She also has taken time to explore most of Panama. She speaks glowingly of an archeological dig near Penonome, the rainforest restoration efforts in Darién Province, the white sand beaches of San Blas, sailing trips around Bocas del Toro, and of course Panama City and its historic Casco Viejo neighborhood. But she's always happy to return to Coronado.

She loves the sense of community in Coronado, as the area has a large and growing presence of North American expats. They're an active group as well. Diane is a member of CASA, the Coronado Area Social Association, which sends out a newsletter every week with all of the myriad things to do in the area. I saw one of the newsletters, and it is page after page of options. Live music at local taverns, poker clubs, a hiking group, art classes, trivia contest, bingo nights, volunteer projects—and don't forget the local golf courses.

Diane definitely enjoys Coronado's and nearby Gorgona's expat social scene, but she also spends time indulging in her life-long love of writing. She is a published poet, and wrote a memoir about her experiences moving to Panama. She's also just finishing up another book in a fiction series following the adventures of Kathy Vallory, a former nurse and international pet sitter who becomes involved with mysteries. As you might have noticed, Kathy's background and travels closely mirror Diane's.

Life is also very affordable in the Coronado area, "I have friends who are paying $800 a month for a condo just a block from the beach." She says even the larger beachfront condos are usually under $2,200/month. If you are looking to buy she tells me she knows several people who have two-bedroom beachfront units they purchased for less than $200,000.

As a former nurse, naturally Diane keeps a close eye on the healthcare industry. She pays just $110 each month with no deductible, that covers 70% of all medical expenses, and those expenses are also very affordable. Diane told me she had a bout with pneumonia a few years ago, and her bill for ambulance service, x-rays, exam, medications and hospital stay came to only $100.

For Diane, the best part is not necessarily the low cost. The personal quality of care is also exceptional. "Usually if you go to the doctor he will give you his cellphone number and say if you have any trouble, call me. When I had my eyes operated on, the doctor came to the house afterwards to do a check Instead of having me drive to see him. They're very good with house calls and personal care. They will spend time with you. They will take the time, talk to you. See what's going on. It's very different from the rush to see 30 patients an hour like doctors in the States."