I first moved to Panama nine years ago with my fiancée Ana. We explored most of the country before deciding to build a home and settle down in what was then a rather wild and woolly region of the country… the Caribbean Coast of Colón Province.
What drew us to the Caribbean side of Panama, instead of the more developed and touristy areas along the Pacific Coast? The bottom line for us was a combination of several factors: price, livability, convenience, potential for growth, and peaceful living.
When we first came, the Pacific Coast areas of Panama were very comfortable, with developing high-end communities such as Gorgona, Coronado, and Playa Blanca attracting expats, with quite a few more luxury projects under construction.
The Pacific Coast was being developed as the darling of Panama and “the place to be.” That was all well and good for many people, but not so well and good for Ana and me.
My background was that of a real estate investor and broker. I had made a good living discovering places that were off the radar but had potential for development. We wanted to find a great area of Panama that had not yet been discovered and where values and prices would begin to rise in the near future.
The search brought us to the Caribbean Coast, the north side of Panama, specifically to the province of Colón. Venturing out to this part of the country was not easy… All the big action was happening on the Pacific side of the country, but we were headed in the opposite direction.
Driving to this region from Panama City was a small nightmare with only a two-lane highway connecting the two oceans that Panama bisects. Other than a short portion of the four-lane highway out of Panama City, the main road to the Caribbean side, called the Transistmica, was full of potholes and loaded with bus and truck traffic.
(The new toll road from Panama City to Colón makes the drive a breeze, these days, bringing us from our home to the big city in just over an hour.)
Upon arriving at the small town of Sabanitas, we turned right at the Rey grocery store and began heading down the Caribbean Coast toward Portobelo and Isla Grande. There’s a huge contrast between the two sides of Panama. Few people back then (especially expats) knew that Panama had a beautiful and inviting Caribbean Coast.
It was clear that this was a place people should be looking into, and I could envision great imminent potential for this coast of Panama. I wondered how property prices would compare to the Pacific side…
Along the coast we came to a small, private, oceanside community located about halfway between María Chiquita and Portobelo called San Marino Oceanfront.
Although it was a small community, the homes were newer and more modern than other construction we had seen along the coast. San Marino Oceanfront seemed to be out in the middle of nowhere, but there was something about the community that caught our attention.
San Marino has miles of ocean and beach. Two coral reefs come right up to the shore and are easy to stroll on during low tide. It’s a shell collector’s dream… we’ve found hundreds of sea shells washed up on shore. The area is perfect for snorkeling, scuba, fishing, and boating.
We learned that people from all over the world bought property at San Marino. Americans, Canadians, Italians, Spanish, Chinese, Ukrainians, Swiss, Chileans, Argentinians, Uruguayans, and Panamanians… This community attracts all types.
We talked with one of the developers who showed us around and told us about the many advantages of living in this exclusive resort community on the Caribbean. We saw several new homes under construction and vacant lots available for sale. The best part? The homes and lots were priced much lower than those we had seen on the Pacific side.
After much thought and conversation, we decided San Marino Oceanfront was the place for us. Everything we would need for comfortable living was available within easy reach, from shopping to doctors, dentists to pharmacies.
Plus, Panama City is only a little more than an hour away. San Marino is just far enough away from all the hustle and bustle of big-city living to make for a tranquil getaway. The area also holds great potential for growth once this coastline begins to be developed in earnest.
To help us make the decision, we made another visit a few days later for Thanksgiving Day dinner. The food was delicious and we met many of our future neighbors. To avoid driving back to the city at night, we decided to spend the night. Put up in a house on the beach, we felt instantly welcomed to this friendly community.
We decided to purchase a lot and began the design of our new house. We now have a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom home in the development where we have lived for nine years.
Recently things have begun to change along the coast where we live…
Within the past couple of years this area has really begun to boom. Many good new restaurants and other stores have opened in Sabanitas, which now has a second large grocery store and a third one under construction.
Down the coast closer to us, construction is well underway for a new deluxe community, Playa Escondida Marina Resort, offering residents condominiums, villas, clubhouses, restaurants, and a marina.
Two new resort hotels are going up at the shore near Río Piedras. One (well under construction) is on the ocean, and the other is right next to Playa La Angosta (a very popular local beach), only a seven-minute drive from San Marino.
A new zoo was built in María Chiquita, named Safarick’s. The zoo now hosts cruise ship groups, schools, and other tourists and people from all over Panama. A new high-rise condominium and restaurant named Balla Beach is open in María Chiquita.
Things are happening so fast now in our area… it is hard to keep track of it all. We believe the next few years will see a complete transformation of this sleepy little region and community. This stretch of Caribbean Coast is quickly becoming more known and popular… In my opinion, this is “the place to be” in Panama.