It’s summertime in Panama, and we here at Live And Invest Overseas have been thinking about beaches a lot lately. The Pacific Beaches… Bocas del Toro… the Azuero Peninsula… San Blas… and countless others… It’s hard to focus on work where there’s soft sand, umbrellas, and mojitos in easy reach.
I’m partial to my corner of coastline on the Azuero Sunset Coast, but I understand that different people have different criteria for judging a beach. Time and again my expat friends here in Panama tell me that I should be giving the Pacific Beaches just west of Panama City more credit—not only because of the quality of the shoreline itself, but because of the standard of life overall for residents.
To find out why some people are partial to Coronado, Gorgona, and the other popular City Beaches, I put a call out to expats in the area.
Here are the five things people told me they love about their communities (along with a couple things they hate).
What We Love:
1. The Beach Itself
Locals say the uncrowded sands of Coronado are perhaps its biggest appeal. The water is calm, the sand is fine, and it varies from white to salt-and-pepper to greyish volcanic depending on the area. Jo Anne and Al Burrill settled in Coronado in 2010 after touring several residential options in Panama. They’ve been commuting between here and New York ever since.
“We absolutely love walking the beach and we strive to walk at low tide every day for approximately 5 miles,” Jo Anne told me. “This is our main workout goal to stay in shape.”
Suzi Jensen and her husband Bob moved to Nueva Gorgona permanently last year after going back and forth between here and landlocked New Mexico for about three years.
“We found ourselves drawn to the beach,” Suzi says. “Something about the 24/7 sound of the waves, the salt air, the peace and tranquility, and walking the beach every morning…”
“The salt and pepper sand is so soft and great for walking,” Suzi explains. “I collect sea glass and shells and have started drawing on the shells and making pictures with the sea glass.”
2. The Easy Access To Panama City
The City Beaches are as popular among Panamanians as they are among expats, and there’s a good reason for that—they’re convenient. You can be sitting in a beachfront bar about an hour after crossing the Bridge of the Americas outside Panama City. Try that late on a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, though, and the trip can be twice or three times that because of traffic.
Jo Anne and Al live in Coronado without a car and rely on local buses and chivas (vans) to get to and from the grocery stores and around town. Both Jo Anne and Suzi use buses to travel to and from Panama City—for less than US$10 for Jo Anne and her husband, and US$2.50 in Suzi’s case.
3. The Community
It’s only been about a decade since Coronado and the City Beaches started popping up on the annual lists of great places to retire. In that short time, a thriving community of English-speaking expats has formed, and there’s no shortage of things to do and people to meet here.
Suzi and Bob Jensen live in a condo directly on the beach (they take an elevator down to the sand) and, when they’re not relaxing at home, they’re hanging out with other expats.
“There are several happy hours scheduled weekly to mix and mingle, art classes, card and domino games, and anything else we could want,” Suzi says. “Everyone—including the Panamanians who live in and visit the area—is friendly and helpful.”
Jo Anne and Al have found a spiritual home (and lots of friends) at the Coronado Bible Church and have also taken up volunteer work to keep busy and give back to the community. “There are several organizations offering plenty of opportunities for those inclined to altruism,” Jo Anne says.
Cari Collins and her husband settled in Coronado nine months ago after drafting a long list of criteria and doing lots of homework. She wanted to be near the ocean and golf courses, have access to great health care, be close enough to the States for trips home, have decent (and affordable) shopping and other amenities nearby, and have plenty of opportunity for socializing. Panama’s City Beaches, she says, haven’t let them down. They’ve had no trouble settling in.
“I like that everyone here is in the same situation,” Cari says. “We’ve retired but still want an active life. Because we have that in common, it’s been easy to make friends. It’s easy to find things to do and it’s a great place for friends from home to visit.”
4. The Amenities
Cari wasn’t the only one who named Coronado’s amenities as one of its main draws. Until recently, the area had few options for modern retail and grocery shopping. Now, new malls seem to be sprouting almost every month and there are at least four clean, modern grocery stores minutes from the beach communities.
Your options include a Riba Smith for high-end and imported goods, El Rey and Super 99 for everyday needs, and a Walmart-like Machetazo that sells groceries, home goods, clothes, and other essentials.
“We love all the new stores that have popped up in Coronado,” Jo Anne says. “When we first moved here, we only had El Rey to shop at. Now we have several choices.” She and her husband like to go old school every now and then—”We love the produce trucks where we buy our fresh fruits and vegetables,” she shares.
5. The Sunrises And Sunsets
A couple folks said the sunrises and sunsets in this corner of the Pacific are worth writing home about.
“I have to mention that I get up early every morning to see the spectacular sunrise and quite frequently go to the rooftop of our building to see the awesome sunset,” Jo Anne says. “We feel truly blessed living in Coronado and spending our retirement years here. When we can no longer physically travel, Coronado will be our year-round residence.”
Suzi says that if there was one thing she could change about Coronado it would be the rising and setting of the sun. There’s not enough daylight to do everything she wants to do.
“I would sure like it to stay light later,” she says. “Because we are only nine degrees north of the equator, the sun rises and sets at the same time all year. Sunrise is 6:30 a.m. and sunset is 6:30 p.m. I sure would like longer daylight.”
What do people who live here dislike about the City Beaches? The answers were universal—the litter and the roads.
1. The Litter
It’s not unusual to be driving along Panama’s highways and see passengers chucking fast food wrappers, soda bottles, and other litter out the windows of their cars. And, as anyone who has gone for a stroll along the beach after a long holiday weekend knows, beaches don’t get treated much better.
“We can see an effort has been made to clean up the beaches and the area but it still has a long way to go,” Jo Anne says.
2. The Roads
As for the roads, there seems to be little hope. Because it was conceived as a private beachfront community in the 1940s, the government isn’t responsible for maintaining the roads behind Coronado’s gates. The homeowners are, and they don’t seem to take that responsibility seriously.
Some of the roads look like they haven’t been improved in decades and sport potholes large enough to swallow a Subaru. “There is an apartment we considered living in but taxis won’t even go there, the road to it is so bad,” Suzi says.
There you have it. Now that you’ve heard the reasons why everyone is talking about Coronado and Panama’s City Beaches, why not come down and see them for yourself?