Side trips around Coronado / Gorgona

Authors experiences Panama Travel

While staying in the Pacific Coast Coronado area of Panama, we wanted to explore some of the surrounding areas and towns. We were actually based in Nueva Gorgona for a one month snowbird stay, and explored Gorgona mostly on foot as per this article. We rented a car for three days, and explored the following areas:

  • Coronado – Expat central, Golf centric gated communities with a Marina
  • Nueva Gorgona – Small town, Beachfront lifestyle
  • San Carlos – Small surfing town
  • El Valle de Antón – Mountain / Volcano town
  • Altos del María – Mountain, gated community
  • Punta Chame – Wind surfing small town
  • La Boca de Chame – Beachfront lifestyle gated community

Driving Considerations

The Pan-American Highway goes from the bottom of South America, all the way up North to Alaska and is a VERY BUSY highway. Coronado is located on this 4 lane highway, which has the center median blocked so you can’t cross it. They don’t seem to use “clover-leaf” ramps to get off the highway. Instead a few places have an extra “return lane” in the center between the two directions, where you can do a legal U-turn. Since we were headed North, this was challenging because every time we wanted to turn left to get to the beach communities, we had to go PAST our turn, do the U-Turn 1-2 km past it, then drive south back to the town exit road. THEN, to get back to the North lane, we had to join the south bound traffic for 1 KM, then do the U-Turn to head North. Makes for a much slower drive when we are following our nose with no real plan…

Tricky to exit to the beach shore when headed North on the Pan-American highway.

Gated Communities

Gated Entry at Vista Mar

It can be challenging to explore many of the areas listed above, because so many of them are gated communities, that prevent random people from entering and driving around. This is obviously good from a safety and security perspective, but difficult if you are trying to just get a feel for an area that you may want to move to in the future. In some cases we were able to talk our way past the security guards, probably since it was obvious that we were not from Panama and we could speak some Spanish. In other cases we learned that explaining that we want to speak with a sales agent could get us through the gate and sometimes going to a restaurant would work.

Coronado Communities

For us, Coronado has a bit of a split personality, in that all the town resources like grocery stores, banking and other shopping is centered all around the highway, which is totally separate (3 km / 2 miles) from the popular living areas near the beach. Thus you really need a car to be able to live in that kind of separation situation. I was surprised that the use of golf carts instead of a car was not common here. We prefer to live in a town where we can walk to deal with our basic daily shopping needs like we can in Neuva Gorgona, supplemented with an occasional taxi ride to the bigger town.

Lots of amenities for locals and ExPats. This is the older strip mall.

We explored two of the Coronado sub-communities. There is a clear separation between Coronado and Neuva Gorgona with no connecting roads between the two adjacent communities. Even walking the beach from Gorgona you encounter a natural barrier in the form of a river stream that probably could be walked across if you were inclined.

Small stream separating Gorgona from Coronado

The first community is clearly centered around the Coronado Golf course. There are some very beautiful large homes here, each with protective security walls, which also make it hard to “see” the area. Plus a few tower condos located in the beach area. We have no interest at all in golf, so this area is not for us, but was fun to see. We also found a less travelled dirt road in the middle which had more basic housing scattered along it, combined with a sub-community for locals.

Photo Gallery (click images for full sized version with slide show)

The second community, Vista Mar Golf, Beach & Marina, is about 7km from Coronado town, so again it emphasized the need for a car. It has a much more open space feel than the Coronado community, with a mixture of nice high end homes, with condo building towers. Plus a busy marina and a few nice restaurants.

San Carlos – Small Surfing Town

You can see the fishing boats on beautiful white sand beaches, from the Marina in Vista Mar Coronado sub-community.

It is also known for the surfing schools that are located there, that accompany the good big wave surfing conditions. The small town is split into two main sections, plus a third one for the solo tower condo development (El Palmar). The main town is typical small town Panama fishing village with the basic amenities. The second part is a little more oriented to residences and a few beach resorts with restaurants, and technically is called El Palmar. There were a few apparently abandoned resort developments on the beach side towards Coronado.

The El Palmar Tower Condo development has its own entrance from the highway, with walking access to the main town via a beach pathway. It appears that there may have been lofty plans for housing along for the main route to the tower. Sadly, the building went bankrupt during covid but was recently acquired by a new developer “GesproBan Inmobiliarios”, who has started a five story add on development in front of the original El Palmar building, which will include a restaurant beside the pool on the beach.

Photo Gallery (click images for full sized version with slide show)

Playa Corona (like the beer)

Just a bit further down the highway are a number of small residential beachside communities like Playa Corona. The other places were larger gated communities.

Altos del María – Mountain, gated community

We wanted to experience driving up the mountains behind Gorgona, and decided this would be a good route to take for our drive inland to El Valle. The route inland passes through many small Panama villages, with schools and mini bus transportation. The biggest seems to be Sorá with a police station is just before the route to Alto del Maria. It turns out that Google doesn’t know that the road at Altos del Maria is a private gated community route only for guests, so we ended up re-tracing our route backwards to get home. After we were home, we read indications that there may have been a way to purchase a $10 pass with our ID, but the security guard did not mention that.

Once we reached the top at Altos del Maria, we stopped into the very impressive sales center, and learned about the amazing development there, that is particularly popular with the wealthy Panamanians who work in Panama City, and want to escape to the cooler mountain vistas on weekends. The development is actually comprised of a dozen separate mini mountain villages (including a high end campground), with hundreds of homes in each, with basic support systems like a community center hall. Some of the paved roads are very steep (30 degrees?), particularly the climb to the pyramid gate. Our rental car just barely had enough power in low gear to make the climb.

Photo Gallery (click images for full sized version with slide show)

Punta Chame – Wind surfing small town

After noticing a finger point of land nearby, we explored that direction, which turned out to be a small fishing village, which was also popular with Wind surfers. The few restaurants that are there were closed when we were there, except for one very basic bohemian style one. The windy white sand beach there has long stretches of abandoned beauty.

Photo Gallery (click images for full sized version with slide show)

La Boca de Chame – Beachfront lifestyle gated community

While driving back from Punta Chame, we took a side road and seeked out another huge master planned gated community development that Cathy was familiar with, built around the beachfront lifestyle of the beautiful flat white sand beach. The public access area includes a good basic beach bar restaurant.

The Beachfront lifestyle community is comprised of a dozen separate communities, ranging from single family to a hotel, and condominiums. Only a few buildings were complete at the time of our interesting sales tour. Future plans include a grocery store and pharmacy.

Photo Gallery (click images for full sized version with slide show)

El Valle de Antón – Mountain / Volcano town

It was fun to drive UP the mountain, then down again into the valley that holds the town of Anton. It is actually in the center cauldron of a volcano (extinct for 300,000 years). The temperature at the top of the mountain is very nice 26C, and even in the valley at 1000 meters elevation we stopped using the Air conditioning in our vehicle. The road route took us in a zig zag path through of variety of small villages, each with their own school – and related speed bumps.

Town in the volcano’s center caldera!

The Nispero Zoo was definitely a highlight, and included spider monkeys, a Jaguar, colorful macaw parrots and Toucan plus much more. There is a popular butterfly park which time did not allow for us to visit. The buildings are all stone style construction set in a beautiful red pine tree forest.

Photo Gallery (click images for full sized version with slide show)

Wikipedia link


There is lots to see if you look beyond the neighborhood you reside in. Beach or mountain lifestyles each have their benefits


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