NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Thirty years ago, Coronado, Panama was a sleepy, unknown beach town where wealthy Panamanians had their second homes. Located roughly 50 miles from Panama City, it was close enough to provide access to the conveniences of the city, but far enough away to enjoy an un-crowded, relaxing holiday.
Then about 10 years ago, the Americans and Canadians discovered Coronado.
The result has been a building boom, with housing and condo developments, resorts, restaurants and other amenities now spanning more than 30 miles to include other beachfront cities and towns.
What is so desirable about Coronado, and what is it like to live there? Best Places In The World To Retire surveyed more than 400 expats about living in Panama, Belize, Nicaragua and Mexico, collecting more than 6000 answers. Below is a summary of what those living in Coronado have to say about it, both the negative and the positive.
Coronado is probably not for you if:
- you don't like temperatures that average in the high 80s during the day.
- you don't like being around wealthier Panamanians on a weekend getaway or North American retirees.
- you want an authentic Panamanian experience, because Coronado is more like North America than other parts of Panama.
- You don't want a completely authentic Panama experience. Panama has its own culture and way of doing things, which might mean the cable repairman showing up two hours late.
A Gentler Version of Hawaii
With its rapidly improved infrastructure and amenities, many people see Coronado as providing a less expensive, more desirable beach lifestyle than they could have in the U.S. Roberto Diaz, who has lived in Southern California and Hawaii, said that Coronado was a less costly, more "wholesome" alternative to Hawaii.Must Read: 5 Stocks Warren Buffett Is Selling
Most of the expats in Coronado are retirement age and enjoy a rich, varied social life. Sarah Booth, who moved to Coronado from Canada, said that many expats walk their dogs to the beach in the morning. She added that expats "have all kinds of groups: there's a poker group, a group of people playing golf, and so on."
Ideally Situated, Great Weather
Coronado is ideally suited for different lifestyles. If you tire of the beach and higher temperatures, you can drive 30 minutes to El Valle de Anton, which is in the mountains and 10 degrees cooler. If you want access to big-city culture, shopping and even opera, Panama City is about one hour away on the Inter-American Highway.Daryl Ries, who has lived and worked on four continents and now divides her time between New York and Coronado, said that buses to Panama City cost only $2 for seniors. She said that she attends cultural events, "an art opening or an organization's social event." At night, Ries loves returning to her terrace "over the Pacific, seeing the sea and mountains and the moon, listening to the waves and birds."
Ries is one of many "snowbirds" who divide their time between Coronado and another place. Alexandra Vallarino said that many houses in Coronado come "furnished because many of the people who rent here go back and forth between Coronado and their home countries and don't bring furniture with them."
Rich Novak, who moved from the US in 2007, said one of the benefits of Coronado's location is that it is in the Arco Seco ("Dry Arch"). "It rains less than in other parts of Panama," he said. "There are times when you can actually see that it rains in the Pacific Ocean or in the mountains but the rain does not get here."
One of the prime draws of Coronado is that it now has enough expats to support new restaurants, shopping, and healthcare.
The availability of good healthcare is a big draw for expats. Kevin Painter said that "The San Fernando Medical Clinic is right in the center of Coronado, literally 12 minutes away from where I live. The facility in that clinic is as good as any good hospital that I have been to in Sarasota, Fla., where I used to live."
Lower Cost of Living, Real Estate
Living in Coronado is less expensive than living in a comparable North American beach town. For example household help costs much less.
Rafael Alvarado, a Panamanian lawyer said, "A housekeeper or maid should cost you around $300 a month, or if you prefer once a week, it should not cost you more than $20 for a full day."
How much you spend on food depends on your selections. Corrin Skubin said that her food bill is about a third of the cost of what she would pay if she lived in North America. She said that was because she eats "a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables grown in Panama," and seafood "directly from big seafood markets or from fishermen." She said that "if you buy North American products from the North American-style supermarkets, you will pay North American prices, or maybe even a bit more."
Real estate in Coronado is no longer as inexpensive as it was just a few years ago, but it is still cheaper than in North America. If you want to build a house, Cecilio Saenz Fisher said, "The land should cost you about $65,000 for an eighth of an acre. Construction costs for a 2,000 square foot house will be around $170,000 or more, depending on your design."
If you would rather buy new, Nitrzia Chifundo said a 1,100 square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath condo that is just 10 minutes from the ocean would cost $250,000. "At the luxury end of the market, self-contained communities such as Buenaventura rival anything you could get in the US, at much lower cost," Chifundo said.