The Top Beach Address in Panama

Great boulders in the distance, half wet, half dry…cobalt-blue waters scrubbing sands of downy gray…white seabirds soaring above, their cries for fish occasionally audible above the sounds of the surf. This is Coronado Beach, Panama’s most popular Pacific coast destination.

If you were to describe Coronado as a lady, she’d be more Elizabeth Bennet than Scarlett O’Hara. While Panama’s Caribbean beaches are garbed in bright turquoise with sparkling white-sand trim, Coronado has a quiet, unassuming beauty—the kind that grows on you, rather than hitting you over the head. It reminds me of East Coast beaches back in the States. The colors evoke, for me, the coast of Maine…or Nantucket Island.

The attitudes do, too. There are a lot of friendly people living here, and they’re prone to smiling and greeting you as they pass… More often than not, people walk or ride golf carts; cars stay in their sheds until it’s time for a trip to the city.

Some are expats who have come here to live, start businesses, or snowbird away the winter months. Some of them are members of the Panamanian upper crust. Their homes are watched over by trusted caretakers (and their families) during the workweek.

The growing community here has become extremely active… in business, social and philanthropic circles alike. Five or more years ago, a ghost-town quiet settled over Coronado after weekends or holiday seasons. No more. Now the restaurants are open every day of the week. You can always find a crowd at Cholo’s Mexican restaurant for lunch. The same goes for Picasso (a bar, restaurant, and something of a community center) during daily happy hours or at dinnertime.

Many of the hundreds of expats living in and around Coronado enjoy the area’s excellent infrastructure…high-speed Internet, banks, shops, and more. But there are other good reasons to choose Coronado over any of its Caribbean counterparts.

Coronado is located in the region known as the Arco Seco, or the “Dry Arc.” The region is highly accessible—the Pan-American Highway will take you straight to Coronado’s doorstep, just an hour’s drive from the nation’s capital. None of the popular Caribbean beaches are that close to a major city.

And the Arco Seco gets half the average annual rainfall of the Caribbean Coast… typically about 69 inches (that’s versus nearly 130 inches on the Caribbean).

That means that in Coronado, you tend to see the sun every day. Even during the May-through-November “rainy season,” mornings are typically very sunny. Afternoon showers can start anytime between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., but they rarely last over an hour. The locals say: “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” There are few days (I mean really few and far between) that are truly gray.

Maybe that’s why everyone here spends so much time smiling…We all know the effect a sunny day can have, and when you string a whole bunch of them together, good feelings abound.

Considering Coronado’s popularity, one might expect property prices here to be positively prohibitive. Not so. Prices are currently very reasonable, and a little digging can reveal true bargains. A savvy researcher will consider property both inside and outside the “gates” (and the pros and cons of being close to the epicenter).

Before heading this way, you should know that Coronado has grown into a town, but it wasn’t always one. When first developed by Panama’s celebrated Eisenmann family, it was little more than a vast gated community. Today, the “gate” is a checkpoint where a guard lazily vets the cars coming in. Residents have stickers on their cars and take the “fast lane.” Others must announce where they are going…to a friend’s house, a hotel, or one of the restaurants is the typical answer.

The closer you get to the epicenter (the area inside the gates), the more you can expect to pay for property. The best deal I found listed at time of writing, in Coronado proper, is a four-bedroom duplex with three bathrooms and a terrace. On two levels, construction is about 2,780 square feet and the lot is about 1,620 square feet. Attractive tile and brickwork throughout gives the home a clean, polished look. Asking price: $220,000.

If you’re happy to be a 15- to 20-minute drive from the Coronado gate, you can find even better deals. Look to neighboring Gorgona, where many upper- to middle-class Panamanians have weekend getaways. You can often find more square footage for your buck.

Listed here is a single-family home of about 1,800 square feet, with a large lot about 10 times the size of the home. Built just four years ago, the home has all new tiles, an open kitchen, and large terrace. There’s only one full bathroom but, as is common in these parts, there’s also an outdoor shower for washing off sand from the beach. Still, there’s plenty of room to build another bathroom or add an entire annex. The property is gated and features a well-maintained lawn and fruit-bearing trees. Price: $135,000.

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