People come from all over the world to enjoy life among the paradise islands of Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean coast of Panama. They come for the surfing…for the deserted islands…and for the turquoise sea.
Justine and Jeff Catalano also came for the sense of community.
“Our favorite thing about living in Bocas is that it is a small community where everyone knows your name. It’s a melting pot, a place where people gather from all over the world. Lots of good friends, great waves, and beautiful sunsets,” says Justine.
Prior to moving Justine and Jeff lived in San Diego. Justine worked in marketing for a healthcare company and ran a family home-care business, while Jeff worked in design and manufacturing. Both worked long hours and had little energy left for their hobbies: surfing, salsa dancing, and the beach lifestyle.
“What motivated us to move to Bocas was the change of lifestyle. We wanted to get off the hamster wheel and stop chasing ‘The American Dream’.” The big house, the fast car, and the brand names didn’t have any significance to use anymore.
Bocas was the perfect place for us to slow down and have more freedom to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.”
Once they decided on Bocas, Justine and Jeff considered how they could create a business to sustain their lifestyle in this tropical paradise.
“There was a real hunger for quality, fast dining in Bocas…plus being from San Diego we missed good Mexican food. So we decided to bring a taste of it to Panama.”
They had never owned restaurants before, but they knew they could cook delicious Baja style cuisine at home. With Justine’s marketing background and Jeff’s design background, they were well equipped to handle the business side.
In 2014 they opened Taco Surf, which quickly gained a following. The food is fast, and affordable, and the place is popular.
The business keeps them busy, but Justine and Jeff have found a balanced lifestyle that they love.
Jeff usually rises with the sun and goes surfing in the morning. “During the afternoon siesta, we usually spend a couple of hours at the beach, doing yoga, or chilling on a hammock,” says Justine. On our days off we go island-hopping.
Jeff and Justine live for just €2,000 a month in Bocas del Toro and that gives them a comfortable lifestyle. You can live on less there.
Their best advice for someone considering making a similar move?
“Follow your dreams, throw caution to the wind, and make it happen for yourself.”
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