If it's a Pacific coastal retirement lifestyle you're in the market for, your search will lead you to options in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador, and Mexico. Where is the best choice?
As with all retire overseas decisions, the best choice depends on your priorities, your preferences, and your budget.
Pacific beachfront can be dramatically more expensive in Costa Rica than it is in Nicaragua or Ecuador (two to four times as costly, depending where in each country you're shopping), more expensive than in Panama, and probably on par with the cost of Pacific beachfront in Mexico.
If cheap is your priority, therefore, focus your search in Nicaragua (where prices are not only lower but also highly negotiable, as this market has been as hard hit as any by the downturn of the past five years), Ecuador (where prices have never spiked and remain super low), or on Panama's Azuero Peninsula, which boasts some of this country's most affordable stretches of Pacific coast. In Las Tablas, for example, a small colonial town on the east coast of the Azuero Peninsula, you could retire comfortably on a budget of $1,200 per month or less, including rent.
Life on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, Ecuador, or Panama could be affordable and comfortable, but I wouldn't describe it as luxury, not anywhere in any of these countries. These are all still emerging destinations, especially Nicaragua and Ecuador.
Meaning that, if you're looking for a more fully appointed Pacific coast lifestyle, you should look elsewhere. If that is your objective, my top recommendation, specifically, is Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Puerto Vallarta is neither the cheapest retirement choice in the world nor the cheapest option within Mexico. You aren't likely to find it a bargain compared with the cost of living Stateside... unless you compare it (as you should) with the cost of living in top Pacific coast locales north of the Rio Grande. Puerto Vallarta could be called a bargain compared with the cost of living in Newport Beach, for example. And, in this case, that comparison wouldn't be extreme or inappropriate.
I heard someone recently compare the Pacific coast of Ecuador with the coast of Orange County. That's silly. Comparing the California's coast with the Pacific coast of Mexico around Puerto Vallarta is not. This stretch of Mexico's Pacific coastline has already been developed to a high level. Life here can be not only comfortable, but also fully appointed.
This is a place to come to enjoy a world-class Pacific coast lifestyle. Note that I didn't say that this is a place to come to enjoy a world-class Pacific coastline. A coastline, no matter how beautiful, is not a lifestyle; these are two different things. You can find beautiful stretches of Pacific coastline in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and Ecuador. What you don't find in those places is a developed lifestyle to support the views. Sure, someday, maybe, there will exist international-standard infrastructure, services, and amenities in places like San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, for example...but it's not there today. And I wouldn't bet on when someday might be or hold my breath waiting for it.
In Puerto Vallarta, you aren't buying for someday. In Puerto Vallarta, you have the opportunity to buy a world-class lifestyle in a region with world-class beaches and ocean views that is supported, right now, by world-class golf courses, marinas, restaurants, and shopping.
This is a lifestyle that is available only on a limited basis worldwide, a lifestyle that is truly (not metaphorically) comparable to the best you could enjoy in southern California...if you could afford it.
And my point is that, in Puerto Vallarta, this enviable lifestyle, some might even call it a lifestyle of the rich and famous, is not some property developer's vision or speculator's dream.
I was first in P.V. about two decades ago. Back then, developing this coast into a world-class destination was the talk of so many developers and speculators, as it is along so much of the Pacific coast in this part of the world.
I returned recently, more than a decade-and-a-half later, to find that this region is one place in the world where the developers and the speculators have actually succeeded in creating something.
The Pacific coast in and around Puerto Vallarta has been invested in, over decades, not only by developers and speculators, but also, importantly, by the Mexican government. The government has supported private investment in this region over time, and now it has refocused its attention here, specifically on the stretch of coast running for about 100 miles north from Nuevo Vallarta.
As a result, this isn't a place to plan for a fully appointed retirement at the beach someday. This isn't a place to invest based on the pretty watercolor drawings of a savvy marketing group. This is one of the best places I can think of to embrace a fully appointed Pacific beach retirement lifestyle right now.
And the best part is that, here in P.V. and farther along the Riviera Nayarit, not only can you plug into a fully developed retirement lifestyle...built, furnished, landscaped, and within minutes of the fairway, the yacht club, or the marina if those pastimes interest you...but, unlike in southern California, you can also afford it.
No, probably not on a Social Security-only retirement income. But if your retirement budget is a bit bigger, and you've dreamt your whole life of retiring with a view of the crashing Pacific from your terrace, I'd say this could be your number-one right-now choice.