Is This Panama’s Best Beach Town?

You might not “get” Coronado, Panama’s fastest growing beach town, immediately. There’s no main square or plaza, and at a glance it looks rambling and unremarkable. But trundle down its mansion-lined lanes, and you’ll find there are many hidden gems.

It’s the kind of place where word-of-mouth is the preferred method of communication. It takes a little time here to truly understand the appeal that has hundreds of expats trickling in. Talk to residents at hangouts like Picasso—an eatery that doubles as a community center—and you’ll hear they are happy and relaxed.

That’s not to say they live boring lives. It’s a busy community with different activities every week, and the average resident is social and active. Tennis, golf, mah-jongg, myriad philanthropic pursuits…it’s all here.

And then of course, there’s the water. Just an hour by car from Panama’s capital, Coronado’s is a Pacific Coast beach. It’s long and clean and usually uncrowded. During weekdays you can often have a mile-long stretch all to yourself.

Unlike many of Panama’s Caribbean beaches, it’s not 100% white sand. Black, swirl-like patterns along the waterline betray the land’s volcanic origins. When the sun is shining—nearly every morning, regardless of season—it glitters like diamonds. The water is a deep, potent blue, such as you’ll see off the coast of New England when the weather is fine.

Though white-sand beaches sell more postcards, Coronado attracts more homebuyers, both local and expat. It’s chiefly because the overall value is hard to beat. Much of the town (and its homes) is only accessible via a guard-posted barrier. Residents have permits that allow them to zip through.

It’s a very open, casual community. When I visit, I simply say I want to go to one of the restaurants inside. But I like that all visitors must stop and be allowed entry by the polite on-duty guard. It’s a benign sort of vigilance…just a bit of added awareness.

Coronado feels safe…and friendly, too. People are laid-back and generally happy to be there (even the workers). You’re greeted by smiles and nods or choruses of buenas, the catchall greeting.

And you can live very affordably here. You can rent a house in Coronado long term for anywhere from $900 to $2,000 a month (condos can be less). Or if you decide to buy, you will find a lot in the $195,000 to $350,000 price range for a house of between 800 to 1,000 square feet.

It’s also extremely convenient, and not just because it’s so close to Panama City. Coronado has its own small hospital. The clean plazas are filled to the top floors with banks, cafes, retail and more.

Good restaurants abound, too. On a recent trip, I had a gorgeous Italian meal in a restaurant by the beach. Called Luna Rossa, it’s a hidden gem—a small house-like building inside the community gates, where it is easily missed. Those in the know go for hand-made pasta and romantic patio seating.

For about $40 two can dine sumptuously, sharing fresh-baked bread, a large salad, two mains (pasta, pizza, pesci…take your pick), dessert, and after-dinner coffees. Add a bottle of good Italian wine for $18 to $40 if you want to toast your good fortune. And the matron, a slim, smiling lady from Florence, will likely visit your table to say hello.

Panama‘s Tocumen International airport is close enough, in the capital’s eastern sector. But, exciting news: a brand new airport has just opened in Rio Hato, about 25 minutes west of Coronado. Connectivity is not a problem here. And not just in terms of getting around. The telecommunications are among the best in the entire region, meaning that high-speed Internet and reliable landlines are the norm.

Coronado is immediately off the Pan-American Highway—the most important artery in the nation. The highway connects the Americas from north to south…but for a gap in the notoriously dense jungles of the Darien.

So, even though the private roads within Coronado are old (though perfectly passable) the Pan-American is always beautifully maintained. Overall, Coronado’s infrastructure is rock solid.

And fun destinations…like the mountain hamlet of Sora and the cool crater town that is El Valle…are less than an hour away.

If you visit Coronado and talk to its homeowners, you’ll find that climate is the clincher for the expats who choose to move here. The region, known as the Dry Arc, gets about 69.4 inches of rain annually. Compare that to some 129 inches on the Caribbean, for example. Most every morning is sunny in Coronado, and during the May through November wet season, rain tends to be limited to afternoon showers lasting an hour or two.

Coronado is more than just livable. It’s positively cheerful. Add comfort and convenience and you’ve got a winning package for a great retirement destination.

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