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Panama vs. Mexico
Old 08-07-2009, 04:31 PM   #1
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Panama vs. Mexico

I am seriously considering Panama or Mexico for my next residence. And, I am hoping to draw on the experience of this group to help me make the decision.

I know there are many places to find information about either country as well as specific regions within each country. And, I have read a great deal as well as doing some vacationing in both countries. But, I am hoping someone (or several people) here have spent extended periods in both countries and would not mind comparing and contrasting the experience for me.

Initially, I would be looking for a place that I could rent fairly inexpensively within walking distance to a decent beach, easy access to an international airport, ideally within easy reach of a nice snorkeling/diving area (ideally, with some coral and diverse, plentiful, colorful fish). I do not need many of the common US amenities (air conditioning, washers/driers, etc.); but, I do need easy access to reliable high speed data.

I give anywhere bonus points for having all of the above as well as being on a bit of a hill, cliff, etc. rather than being at sea level. (Storm surges scare me; and, I love nice views of the water, area, etc.)

Basically, I am just looking for some assistance shortening my short list of potential towns/areas to something manageable. And, I will be very appreciative of an assistance, guidance, etc.

Thank you in advance,
CC
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Old 08-07-2009, 09:30 PM   #2
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ideally within easy reach of a nice snorkeling/diving area (ideally, with some coral and diverse, plentiful, colorful fish)
I don't think you will find either one in Panama. Try Cancun or Isla Mujeres on the east coast of Mexico.
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Old 08-07-2009, 10:27 PM   #3
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I have definitely been considering the area along the coast on either side of Cancun.

I'm not sure I would want to live within the greater Cancun area now. I am afraid that I would quickly turn into one of those old codgers that keeps reminiscing to everyone who will listen about how things used to be. (I have too many memories from 12-15 years ago when Cancun was a smaller. While it was not necessarily better by any quantitative measure, it sure was in my memory that has been modified by the years.)
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Old 08-08-2009, 03:41 PM   #4
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Initially, I would be looking for a place that I could rent fairly inexpensively within walking distance to a decent beach, easy access to an international airport, ideally within easy reach of a nice snorkeling/diving area .. I do not need many of the common US amenities (air conditioning, washers/driers, etc.); but, I do need easy access to reliable high speed data.

I give anywhere bonus points for having all of the above as well as being on a bit of a hill, cliff, etc. rather than being at sea level.
HI Cool Change,

Billy and I have never been to Panama, so we can’t speak from first hand experience. However, we have lived and traveled in Mexico since 1993.

If you want to be within walking distance to a beach along with easy access to an international airport, those two things together pretty much spell ‘tourism’ along with higher pricing, if you know what I mean.

If you have never lived in Mexico, you might find that renting there first and then decide which area would work for you would be a good choice. Some people live in one location cheaply and then bus to the beach for months at a time for a break.

For instance, in Chapala, Mexico (near Guadalajara international airport) people will live in the mountains there and then take months to visit the west coast of Mexico while renting out their places in the meanwhile. If Chapala doesn’t suit you, there are many other towns that have the same sort of convenience and pricing. You don’t have to rush it. The towns along the Michoacán coast are lovely if you don’t want to live inland.

Good luck.

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Old 08-08-2009, 09:42 PM   #5
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I don't think there is too much diving on Mexico's west coast, although Puerto Vallarta has some kind of diving scene. SCUBA and Snorkel Tours

The Pacific Ocean ain't so pacific.
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Old 08-09-2009, 10:10 AM   #6
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Yeah, you could be right, Ed.

I don't dive - Billy does - and Billy has not done any diving yet in Mexico. But we do know about living there, and traveling there...

Ooops.

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Old 08-09-2009, 10:44 AM   #7
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CC, I went Playa del Carmen which is about 45 minutes south of Cancun last year for my honeymoon. The area is pretty flat so it would be tough to find a place high above sea level. There are either resorts or super nice apartments along the beach so it doesn't seem like there are many inexpensive living options near the beach. Inland seemed real run down, so I personally wouldn't want to live there. However, I have heard that the downtown area of Playa del Carmen is kind of neat.

Also, it gets extremely hot and humid. We went towards the end of September and would be dripping with sweat after playing ping pong for 10 minutes. I live in North Carolina and feel like I can handle the heat well but it felt like 10-20 degrees warmer down there.
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Old 08-09-2009, 11:02 AM   #8
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Billy and Ed, thank you so much for your replies.

I have spent a bit of time (one or two weeks a year) for the last few years along the Pacific coast of Mexico, usually flying into Puerto Vallarta and heading out from there along the coast one direction or the other.

Billy's pictures from The towns along the Michoacán coast look very much like some of the places I've been when traveling south from Puerto Vallarta; and, I do really enjoy the topography of the area (beautiful mountatins coming all the way down to the ocean) and the people of the region. I actually even enjoy being in Puerto Vallarta itself; although, I probably would not want to live in the city full time.

The down side to this area, for me, is exactly what Ed mentions: The ocean in that area is just not fun (for me) to dive/snorkle. The water is cold (again, to me) and the visibility and variety is nothing like that of the Atlantic/Caribean side of the country.

I realize that many many here may think that I am placing too much emphasis on the qulity of (and, proximity to) a dive/snorkle location. But, I probably enjoy being under water as much as some on this board enjoy being on a long board, being on a road bike, etc. I realize this may change over the years; but, I am likely to be ready to move on again before that ever happens.

I am thinking about taking some time off at the end of this year or early next year, flying into Cancun, and then heading north along the coast since I have never been in that region. (I have probably seen 50% the coast from Cancun to Belize City; I do like that area; but, I am still searching for my One Particular Harbor.)

I am also toying with the idea of flying into Mazatlan since I have never been there and then heading north a bit to check out that part of the country. But, that has the serious drawback (to me, both from a time and expense perspective) of having to fly through Mexico City for all (at least most) of the proffesional travel I would likely be doing until I put my consulting shingle away for good. (I have a serious case of that one more dollar/do I really have enough syndrom.)
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Old 08-09-2009, 11:08 AM   #9
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Billy and bank5,

It looks like our last posts crossed in the ether. Thanks for your feedback.

bank5,

Your observations and impressions of the Playa area are similar to mine. Although, I have been there during the summer; and, even though many people find it oppresively hot and humid, I never seem to mind. Actually, much like some who live in the Miami area, I might actually enjoy that time of year more since there aren't nearly as many people crowding all of the places that I want to be (beaches, dive sites, resturants, etc.).
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Old 08-10-2009, 11:41 AM   #10
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On the Pacific coast of Mexico there are only a few decent snorkeling spots and they are lame compared to the other side, but you'll find a lot of the other things on your list.

Up and down the coast from Puerto Vallarta the best snorkeling is Tenacatita, near Barra de Navidad and Melaque. Tenecatita isn't easy to get to and I wouldn't live there, too isolated and buggy.

There is some decent walk-in snorkeling along the calm edge of the bay that Melaque sits on, go to google maps and enter "19.216795, -104.713724" and zoom in. Melaque is a small tourist town that is a bit more affordable than major resorts like PV

You should also look at Zihuatanejo, Playa los Gatos can be reached on foot. On google maps the coordinates are "17.621134,-101.552762".

I have heard that Huatulco has the best snorkeling on Mexico's Pacific coast but don't know much about the place. It's supposed to be cleaner and quieter that most of Mexico.

A good place to go for more Mexico info and forums is tomzap.com
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Old 08-11-2009, 08:49 AM   #11
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AzDreamer,

Thanks for the location notes. That is just a bit farther south along the coast than I have made it via the local buses out of PV and hiking. It looks like I'll be renting a Jeep the next time I'm in Puerto Vallarta to check out some of these spots.

Also, thanks for the web site. I had not run across it before; and, it does look useful.
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Old 08-11-2009, 02:25 PM   #12
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There is pretty good bus service from PV to Melaque. It takes about 4 1/2 hours and it's a lot easier than driving. Let me know if you need more info, like where the buses heading South pick up passengers.

You can buy advance tickets but it's easier to just go the the right corner and let the guys there sell you a ticket on the next bus out. The tomzap site is also a good place to ask about bus info. I forgot to mention you need to register to see the Melaque forum. There was a problem with spammers.

Dr Roberto Woo is a good person to contact for budget accommodations, you'll see his postings on tomzap. We stayed in one of his properties and it was great. There were a couple other families staying in the compound and Dr Woo would come by and visit when he had some time. On my wife's birthday he brought over his guitar and some tequila, I highly recommend renting from him if possible.
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Old 08-14-2009, 08:51 PM   #13
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Panama's NW area (Bocas) is a big snorkeling zone. I'm not sure of the quality as it's not my thing but I know there are a gazillion snorkeling/dive/guide shops in the area.

My experience in Mexico is limited to right near the US border but I've wandered thru most of Panama (at least West of Panama City to Costa Rica, haven't gone Darien) if you have any specific questions about it shoot. Note I've not lived there so couldn't give good answers on cost of living etc. but mostly just traveling hanging out.
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Old 08-14-2009, 09:04 PM   #14
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Also = You said you like cliffs/hills Panama has very dramatic elevation changes (not Nepal/Peru dramatic but pretty dramatic) so if flat bothers you you're good there.

El Valle might almost fit your needs except it's not within walking distance to the beach, but not too bad a car ride to Pacific side. There are plenty of nice big houses there and it's relatively close to Panama City so you've got your intl airport. It's not as Westernized service-wise as Boquete but almost as beautiful and definitely not primitive by any means.
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Old 08-19-2009, 03:33 PM   #15
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Seems Panama has a good retirement residency program which even includes the possibility of "economic citizenship", if that interests you at all. I don't think Mexico offers the "economic citizenship option.

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Old 08-23-2009, 08:46 AM   #16
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Boquete, Panama has tons of gringos, either living or scouting around for a place to live. The town itself has definitely become gringo-centric with pizza places, Mexican restaurants, etc. Of course you pay the same prices at those types of restaurants as you do in the US, but the local style places are way cheaper you can get a meal of chicken w rice and beans for $2.

Despite it being somewhat of a real estate hot spot (with associated price increases) it's still a deal compared to the US for what you get, with usual nod to places like rural Kentucky that run counter to that claim. There were some nice folks we talked to who were buying a good-sized house for $160k... yeah that might not sound that cheap but if you saw the beautiful view of the valley from their patio, wow.
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Old 08-30-2009, 01:58 PM   #17
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Have spent time in both countries, but am not a diver. We live full time in Chapala, Jalisco, Mexico.

I second the recommendation to rent for at least a year whatever you choose. I love every place I've visited in Central America, and Panama is particularly beautiful. Plusses vs. Mexico (for me): cleaner, more pristine in the highlands around Boquette. Negatives: vs. Mexico: the food is bland (Mexico will spoil you for any other country in Latin America in that regard) and less infrastructure in some key areas (e.g. reliable internet service, English TV stations and newspapers - things that sound trivial but may become more important if you are a full time expat).

Above all, make sure you live through a full rainy season anywhere you choose before you sign a lease, let alone buy a place. The beach may sound nice, and is six months out of the year, but there is a reason why the vast majority of the population of these countries lives in the central highlands!


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Old 12-03-2009, 07:44 PM   #18
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Does anyone have experience with the area around Veracruz in Mexico? If so, I'd appreciate any thoughts, commentary, etc. as well as any links with reliable information (inexpensive accommodations, food, etc.) about the area.

I am hoping to take a few weeks for personal travel early next year and am considering spending a week or two in the area.
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Old 12-03-2009, 07:53 PM   #19
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Our best friends bought a home in Panama and moved there. Even though they had been there many times, moving there ended up being a disapointment. Now they can't sell their place. The housing market tanking in the US coupled with many people postponing retirement has taken a big hit on the real estate market there. I suspect Mexico may be the same.

My advice: don't buy any property. You said you intend to rent and that's a good idea. Stick with renting until you are sure. My friends wish they had done this.
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Did someone mention Veracruz?
Old 12-03-2009, 10:46 PM   #20
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Did someone mention Veracruz?

CoolChange,

You may find these links interesting.

John Todd, Jr. Experiences around Veracruz, Mexico
I have been reading John Todd's web site for years. He is a history buff and has uncovered things about the city and state that were lost for years. He offers or arranges tours of the city himself but also has instructions on "Organizing Your Own Trip to Veracruz" (see link on his home page).

A friend of mine once worked in Xalapa (Jalapa), Veracruz for a year and raved about the city to me. As it happens, Roy B. Dudley is resident expat who offers guided tours of the city and environs. He is a moderator on Mexico Connect and comes recommended.
Jalapa Roy
Xalapa, Veracruz: city of flowers : Mexico Travel

There are also a couple of forums on the area. Here is one:
Viva Veracruz :: Index

Enjoy!

Gypsy
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