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Best Place to Live in the World: Power Rankings

If you are one of many North Americans searching for the best place to live in the world, but don’t know where to begin, then these rankings are for you.

In this inaugural retirement power rankings, I have put together a comprehensive grouping based on the most important criteria for living a happy overseas life.

While most of Central America has a warm tropical climate and a relatively low cost-of-living, each country, city, and town is different and will have something unique to offer you.

To help narrow your search, I have ranked 15 of Latin America’s top destinations based on the combined criteria of value, beauty, ease of access, and healthcare, and quality of life. The number one selection meets the most of the chosen criteria.

Bonus: Get in depth research on each of these countries and how they compare to each other. Click here to get access to the free report.

So move through the ranked cities and towns, determine which attributes are most important to you, and begin compiling your own list of possible destinations as you search for the best place to live in the world and the perfect spot to call home.

1) Cuenca, Ecuador

Cotacachi Ecuador

Photo: Bill Grenn


You can’t beat this place right now, fantastic value in an easy to live city.

Nestled in the Andes and surrounded by four sprawling rivers, the friendly city of Cuenca, Ecuador has become the best place to live in the world for many expats. Cuenca is the ideal retirement spot for expats who like having large city amenities like bars and shopping malls at their fingertips, while living in a tropical environment.

The cobbled streets and historic architecture make Cuenca look like a snapshot straight from a European postcard and the vibe of the city allows expats to live like they would in Paris or San Francisco, but at a fraction of the cost.

A city of 500,000 respectably, Cuenca locals are extremely welcoming of North American expats and many of the people and store owners speak English, making it easy for expats to settle into Cuenca life.

The perfect place to retire or even to raise a family, this artisan community promotes education (there are 8 universities in Cuenca) and has a good health care system comprised of 18 hospitals and medical centers. Time will tell if Cuenca can last atop the ratings or become a passing fad.

2) Boquete, Panama

boquete panama - best place to live in the world

Rita Willeart

Boquete is the old Cuenca, and other than being slightly more expensive and a bit smaller, it’s still an incredible option and one of the best places to live in the world.

Known as the valley of flowers and eternal spring, Boquete makes its home in the Panama highlands at an elevation of 4,000 feet, which allows it to avoid some of the humidity that can be found in other areas of the country.

Bursting with exotic flora and accented with rainbows that appear frequently as a result of the bajareque (light rainfall that comes down from the mountains with the north wind) the scenic beauty of the surrounding area of Boquete is truly a sight to be savored.

A town of 20,000, but only a 30 minute drive from the Chiriquí capital of David, in Boquete you can relish in the small town life. The downtown area is not the most attractive place in the world, but its good food and ease of living make up for it in spades.

Hike, rock climb, horseback ride, and experience the culture of the local Ngobe-Bugle people as you learn to enjoy what several others have already learned: this is a great place to live.

3) Nosara, Costa Rica

Nosaara Best Place to Live in the world

Photo: Jason Ewa

A small town located in the Nicoya Peninsula, on the northwest Pacific coast, Nosara is a well-known surfer’s and Yoga paradise.

Nosara is the highest ranked beach area on the list, and it has a fighting chance to be a contender with all its offerings, but its Achilles Heel is that it can be a little expensive. Comparable to the cost of living in many U.S. towns, Nosara is not for the budget-minded.

People come to Nosara to soak in the small beach town vibe, and with a two and a half hour drive to Liberia, a four hour drive to San Jose and an undeveloped road leading into town, the town remains remote.

Yet, despite its remote location, Nosara is filled with expats who think of this as a benefit. There isn’t much for local culture and Nosara can actually feel like an English-speaking town.

But what Nosara lacks in local culture, it makes up for in natural beauty.

With four miles of white sand beach of Playa Guiones and access to Playa Pelada (a bordering neighborhood of Playa Guiones), for many expats, Nosara is a little slice of heaven.

4) Roatan, Honduras

Roatan

Photo: Matteo Tarenghi

Not everyone wants to live on an island, but this place is well worth it even with the negative headlines often received by the country of Honduras.

Retire in Roatan, Honduras, and spend each day enjoying the unspoiled beaches and crystal blue ocean without having to worry about the crowds like you do in other parts of Central America.

The largest bay island in Honduras, Roatan is only a 2.5 hour flight from Houston, Texas, making it beautiful, as well as convenient.

And while it isn’t yet choked with tourists and expats, it may not remain a retirement secret for long. In 2011, Island Magazine named Roatan the number one island in the world to retire to and with so many amazing islands out there, that is definitely a bold statement. Because of this it comes as no surprise that many expats consider Roatan to be the best place to live in the world.

There is an established expat community in Roatan and getting residency is quite simple. You can be granted a retirement Visa as long as you can prove an annual income of $1,500 a month, which makes settling down in the paradise of Roatan, a very achievable dream.

5) Granada, Nicaragua

Granada Nicaragua

Photo: Soul Surfer

Described by some as one of the world’s best retirement destinations, in Granada, expats can set out the welcome mat in a luxurious and affordable colonial home that would have cost them an arm and a leg back in the states.

In fact, a couple can live well in Granada on a budget of around $1,200 a month.

With temperatures that hover in the 80s throughout the year and the cool breeze that blows in from Lake Cocibolca, the weather in Granada is ideal and definitely a huge draw for many North American expats.

Granada also has one of the safest communities in Nicaragua, around 1,000 expats already living in town and best of all, it will only take a two hour plane ride from Miami, Florida, to make the trip down. The only knock on Granada is that it can be perceived as a little gritty, the streets are not pristine as are other colonial cities of the region. This shouldn’t stop you though, Granada is really good value and not a huge compromise.

6) Ambergris Caye, Belize

Ambergris Caye, Belize

Photo: Viv and Jill

Belize is gaining popularity with expats and tourists alike, not only for its tropical rainforests and Caribbean beaches, but also because it’s a democratic and English-speaking nation that is very welcoming of visitors.

You may know already that John MacAfee, the notorious software developer, chose to live here and could have chosen anywhere else in the whole world. (Look it up on Google if you missed this story.)

Ambergris Caye is the largest island in Belize and the island’s only town, San Pedro, is known as the dive and water sport capitol of Belize.

The island is also home to the second largest coral reef system in the world and this magnificent reef lies a half mile east of Ambergris Caye and runs along its entire 25 mile length.

Retirees that come to Ambergris Caye will enjoy the mild climate, the beautiful beach setting and the colorful blend of cultures, from Creole to Mayan, as they kick off their shoes and sink into island living.

7) Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Lake Atitlan

Photo: Simon and Vickie

Let’s just get this out of the way, I know the lake is polluted but this still doesn’t change the fact that this little town is an awesome place to live. The area is completely unique in terms of what is offered combined with the incredible opportunity to live around an amazing indigenous culture.

The deep basin of Lake Atitlan was the product of one of the strongest volcanic eruptions in history.

This vast, blue body of water is set against a backdrop of three volcanoes and is surrounded by twelve indigenous villages, many of which are still inhabited by the local Maya.

Expats come to Lake Atitlan to get away from it all and with a two and a half hour drive to Guatemala City and Antigua, life in Lake Atitlan can definitely feel tranquil and remote.

Like many areas in Central America, expats coming to Lake Atitlan can expect to live comfortably on a small budget, but with so many villages and each with a different standard of living, prices will fluctuate, so be sure to shop around.

If you choose life on the lake, get ready to enjoy the simple things in life. Take a walk to the local market to stock up on fresh food and hand-made crafts, hike the mountain trails, or simply stretch out in a hammock and watch the sun set on the water.

8) Escazu, Costa Rica

Escazu, Costa Rica

Photo: Alex Centeno

Costa Rica remains, without a doubt, the most popular Central American destination, and for many, it’s considered the best place to live in the world. After one visit to this tropical paradise, it isn’t hard to see why.

This suburb of the capital city, San Jose, can be found tucked in the Central Valley and is the best place to retire in Costa Rica for expats that want every service available.

Encompassed by lush mountain views and several choices for living and eating, Escazu can offer expats the best of both worlds, gorgeous weather, while living in an urban environment.

While Escazu is more expensive than other areas in Costa Rica, it remains cheaper than urban life in North America and a couple can still live comfortably on a budget of around $2,500 a month.

And with a strong expat community and big city amenities like great restaurants, shopping malls, and an excellent and affordable health care system, it’s no wonder many expats are choosing Escazu.

9) San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua best place to live in the world

Photo: David Amsler


This popular small town is where you go to surf, fish, whale watch, and practice yoga and is popular with locals and visitors alike.

Because of this popularity, the town has experienced some economic development in recent years and improvements have been made both to the waterfront and to the central park area.

In San Juan del Sur expats can live the beach town life complete with great restaurants, exciting bars and even language schools. There is also a growing alternative scene that does appeal to people who care about the environment and values things like creating your own solar power.

To make your way down to San Juan del Sur, you can hop on a bus from Managua to the municipal markets of Rivas and then board another bus that will take you on to your possible retirement destination. Nicaragua is a very poor country, but don’t let this get in the way of at least exploring it as an option. If you do, you might miss out on something great.

10) Antigua, Guatemala

Antigua Guatemala best place to live in the world

Photo: Michael Swigart

Picturesque Antigua is a modern city that is rich with history. This 16th century city was founded by Spanish colonists and is filled with colonial style homes and cobblestone streets that simply beckon you to get outside to enjoy the city’s charms.

One hour from Guatemala City, Antigua has a population of 30,000 and while the cost-of-living here might be considered high for Guatemala, the prices are cheap compared to anything you might find in North America of a similar caliber.

Of course, the costs again will vary depending on what you are looking for.  While a large, fully restored colonial home near the city center might cost anywhere from a few hundred thousand to a million, there are many lovely smaller homes that can be purchased for under $100,000 or even $50,000.

And with clean, well-preserved streets (the government makes preservation a priority) and no serious crime problem, in Antigua you can feel safe and comfortable as you explore your new home.

11) Panama City, Panama

Panama Best Place to live in the world

Photo: WLT

If you like Miami but feel like there are not enough people who speak Spanish, then Panama City could be the perfect solution. With its ultra modern skyline and true metropolitan feel, Panama City offers a unique lifestyle only compared to a Miami Vice breed of Miami.

Hailed as Central America’s most affordable capital city, Panama City is definitely a city on the rise.

With an excellent business climate, Panama is the prime location for expats looking to put their money and live an urban life. Panama’s renowned privacy laws are no doubt a draw for individuals who value privacy but want to live in a very modern city. The established expat community and many expat-run businesses can provide the comforts of home, in a unique and modern tropical setting.

12) Cotacachi, Ecuador

cotacachi ecuador

Colleen Taugher

Slow down and live the small town life in Cotacachi, Ecuador, a town of only 9,000 that continues to be relatively undiscovered by expats.

This remote mountain village is hidden between a pair of volcanoes, but is only two hours from busy Quito, Ecuador’s capital city.

In Cotacachi, you will have the unique opportunity to really immerse yourself in the rich culture of the Quichua people, who live side by side with expats and continue to dress in their traditional garb. You can even walk along Lake Cuicocha and witness local Quichua shamans performing cleansing rituals on the serene shores.

Known for hand-crafted leather goods and local markets, Cotacachi is for expats who really want to live and experience authentic Ecuadorian life, but still have a great leather hand bag.

And while there is a medical clinic in town, most residents will make a trip to the nearby towns of Otavolo or Ibarra, or even Quito for any major medical procedures.

13) Playa Papagayo, Costa Rica

Playa Papagayo-Costa Rica

Photo: Josie MacDonagh

Bar none, the greatest option for the ultra-wealthy.

In the province of Guanacaste on Costa Rica’s northwest Pacific coast there is a retirement spot that not many know about.

If you are looking to retire in a luxury beach location, the community of Peninsula Papagayo just might be your best option.

This area is the country’s highest profile development and will cover 2,300 acres with 15 miles of coastline.

Currently in Papagayo, there is a Four Seasons Hotel frequented by Brad Pitt, and over 300 condos. Playing 18 holes on the local course has been compared to a life-altering experience.

14) Boca Chica, Panama

boca chica-panama

Photo: David Curry

If you crave the serenity of island living, without the bustle of large scale beach resorts, look to Boca Chica to find your perfect match.

Boasting some of the most pristine beaches in Central America, Boca Chica can offer retirees many private island settings with a growing expat community that is not yet overly congested with tourists.

Resting against the Pacific Ocean, in Boca Chica you can live out your golden years fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, and taking advantage of the outstanding national marine park in the near vicinity.

The Chiriquí Gulf National Park is comprised of islands and sea and is filled with white-tip sharks, rays, and sea turtles. You can also visit a white sand, palm-lined beach and expect to see no one else.

15) Canoa, Ecuador

Canoa-Ecuador best place to live in the world

Photo: Patricio Lopetegui

Located along the dry looking northern coast, Canoa, Ecuador is the ideal spot for expats that small town living in place with personality.

Recognized as a water sport hot spot, in Canoa you will spend your days surfing, paragliding, kayaking or simply walking along the stretch of unspoiled shore.

A burgeoning expat community can be found in Canoa (made up of more residents than investors) and the town is steadily continuing to expand as more westerners learn what South Americans already know about this Ecuadorian gem.

The town now has a bilingual elementary school and more expat-run restaurants and businesses, but despite this development, the prices are low and the adventure is high.

So where is the best place to live in the world?

With so many amazing spots to choose from, it might take some time before you make a final decision on the best place to live in the world.

Don’t rush into buying, rent around and test the waters in a couple different areas before settling down for the long haul in your own personal paradise.

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23 thoughts on “Best Place to Live in the World: Power Rankings

  1. 1

    I like your picks. I have been to several of those places: Honduras, Costa Rica, Belize,
    Panama; have not visited Ecuador yet You and others have high praise for it. Am curious, now.
    I live in NE Wash, so Jan-Mar ar a nice time to get relief from the cold and snow. I have heard some good things about Nicaragua too, but I tend to avoid places with bad govt history; don’t
    know how they are now, tho. But, I did like reading your comments on Ecuador.
    KR

    • 2

      Ken: Thanks for the support. Nicaragua, along with Panama and Ecuador, was just named the the safest place in Latin America by Gallup Poll. Be sure to scroll about half-way down for the listing. That might help you see how far Nicaragua has came since its turbulent times. Thanks for reading!

    • 3

      Hi Ken;;
      I used to live in Seattle. I have spent the last 3 months in Ecuador most of the time in Cuenca which is really nice but with 500,000 people it can be overwhelming to me I have traveled to Quito, Cotacachi and several cities and my favorite is Cotacachi. It is small very friendly and if you like mountains the view is fantastic. I have to move out of Cuenca as the altitude her is 8,202 feet and it bothers me. I also like Santa Domingo. I have considered going to central America but love the people in Ecuador and that is a big plus. There are pretty coastal towns but for an older guy they aren’t appealing because of the surfing crowds and wild parties that last to wee hours. I don’t last till wee hours anymore.

  2. 4

    The Belizean Gov. and business practices are questionable wouldn’t you say?

  3. 5

    Great website! Diverse and packed with information. I agree with most of your picks, having visited most of them and live in upcountry Chiriqui, Panama. Escazu I have to question tho, in light of traffic and crime and prices……..but thats ok, nobody agrees on everything……..I just got back from Nicaragua where I made the rounds from San Juan del Sur to Rivas to Omotepe, (where I may have discovered the oldest person on earth, 116yrs old) to Granada and Masaya. I see the potential there, and also saw a slew of Chinese engineers, topgraphers and biologists taking samples, doing studies for the proposed canal. I have a 3.5 hect finca with a small artistically designed home for sale in Boqueron, Chiriqui. How much would you charge me to publish it on your site? Thnks for the good work and reporting…….

    • 6

      Hey Al, thanks for the comment and for the support on our site. Fill out the contact form at the top of the page and mention that Park said you could have a free listing for a month. We’ll get you setup. =)

      Happy New Year!

  4. 7

    Seriously looking at Ecuador! Originally thought about Salinas, but it doesn’t sound like what I’m looking for. With that said, Canoa does. Locals as well as expats, a few tourist surfers etc. In addition Cuenca also. Live in Tucson,AZ. and thinking about heading down in May or June.
    Can anyone give me some additional clues? I’ve read Insight Guide Ecuador it has a lot of info.

    • 8

      Was in Cuenca last November/December. Beautiful city — just one thing — air pollution is bad in the city center. There is a light rail system under construction, and vehicular traffic is about to be banned from about 10 square blocks of the city center. I hope that improves the air quality.

      Since I’m about 5 years out from leaving the US, the Cuenca situation should be a lot better by then. With all that I’ve said, Cuenca — belaboring the ONE bad point — Cuenca is certainly worth a look.

    • 9

      We are also living in Tucson and thinking about Cuenca. Looking forward to hear if you went and how it is.

  5. Carol Daniel-Winget
    10

    My husband and I have been very interested in Ecuador, but recently have read that crime is somewhat out of control there. A woman who lives in Quayaquil (spelling?) told us that she’s been six times on buses that were held up at gunpoint. We’ve also read on one expat blog that crime is all over the country, buses aren’t safe, etc. though not as bad as in the two biggest cities. I don’t want to feel like I have to be on guard every time I go outside. Comments?

  6. 11

    Would love to speak to other Americans, especially those living abroad in Boca Chica or Equador. I’m interested in finding others who’d like to live nearby (within a mile or so?) to be able to help each other. I may even be interested to find someone who’d like to have help from someone as a PT cook (although alot I prep is raw). I’m a SWF who’s a health consultant and CSS. You’re welcome to email me at feminineathlete@gmail.com. Thanks. Roxi

  7. 12

    Your comment on McAfee picking Belize was exciting at first until I took your advice and googled it. He is no longer there – had to sneak out of the country because the police/govt had him as a “person of interest” in the murder of his neighbor. He claims he refused to give the police a $2 million bribe and that the place is very corrupt.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/05/12/john-mcafee-portland-belize-mysterious-murder/2135255/

  8. 13

    Interesting picks. I see there are no picks for South America (Chile, Brazil etc) Honduras looks beautiful, but isn’t it the murder capital of the world? It’s phenomenal to see the scenery and beaches that it affords, but you may only enjoy it for a few weeks as a gringo, then get whacked.. Lol.. Good with-ups. Thanks.

  9. 14

    The word back from expats in Vilcabamba, Ecuador, are reports of home invasions, and murder. A worsening economy, jealousy towards privileged expats, bad real estate deals and so forth, Be careful about the locale you pick, Expats are leaving because of this turn of events. This all via a friend of mine who lived there and is in contact with local expats. Of course Vilcabamba is not Cuenca, Even if you just consider this “hearsay” its worth your investigation.

  10. 15

    I find it interesting you posted a picture on #1 supposedly of Cuenca, but anyone who has been there, and also Cotacachi, knows that you have posted a picture of Cotacachi, and Serendipity restaurant. Maybe a hidden message to go to Cota instead of Cuenca, but to each his own.

  11. 16

    We are considering a move to Nosara. No doubt that it is a beautiful place with lots of appeal in terms of the surf, school yoga etc. 2 concerns for me are Mosquito borne illness and crime. I have dealt with a long term struggle with lyme disease, and so the prospect of a high risk exposure to anything related to the nervous and immune system are particularly scary for me. (Also, I have young kids.) In regards to crime/safety, I have been hearing conflicting things. Any insight from people who live there will be appreciated.

  12. errol cabral
    17

    I have been reading your comments for some time now. It’s a pity you haven’t include countries like mine (Brazil) and Uruguay. In spite of the fact that crime is high in the big brazilian cities now, in the small hinterland towns you can sleep with your windows open. The country is so big that you can find many ‘Brazils’ in Brazil. If you need more information I can lend you a helping hand.

  13. 18

    Bonus: Get in depth research on each of these countries and how they compare to each other. Click here to get access to the free report.

    Link is dead

    • 19

      Hi John, thanks for taking the time to comment, I would like to direct you to the link again, it is not dead but rather a form you need to fill out in order to receive our free report. But I am happy to direct you to the link.

  14. 20

    You know, it is really, really amazing and irritating that you guys don’t take the trouble to answer any of the comments and questions. In particular, the comments do what you guys studiously avoid doing, namely honestly writing about the real pros and cons about the place that would concern people who are trying to learn about it. You write like more like sales people, which means you write what will help you sell not what will truly educate your readers. So, why do you bother having a box for comments?

  15. 21

    I’ve been to Costa Rica several years ago, and more recently have been looking at places to retire. To add some observations:
    -Cuenca is high altitude. for those loking for a ‘tropical’ retirement, you may not like lows in the 40s and highs in the 60s (Fahrenheit) year round that you’d find in Cuenca.
    -Crime rates are indeed pretty high in central and south America, in part becuae the avergae income is so low.
    -Nobody here seems to talk about Malaysia. The costs are lower there than in many of the cities mentioned here, the infrastructure, education levels, and income levels of the local population there are higher. Crime is low, and English is widely spoken. It is about half way around the world, but people here might be interested in doing some research on it online.

    • 22

      Really want to move the first of 2017 when my lease in the States is up. Having a hard time narrowing down where to go, though. I’ve heard Penang (Malaysia) is awesome. Any thoughts? The reports of frequent crime in Central and South America scare me, as a woman who’d be living alone. Even just visiting there, I met people affected by it. I’d like to be near the ocean and I need to bring several cats. It’s easy to get pets into Costa Rica. I need to do more intensive research, I know, but even having my choices narrowed down to several countries would help. I have about $1600 – $1800 a month to live on. Thanks for any thoughts.

      • 23

        I am a big fan of Thailand, depending on your age and income it can be a mere formality to get long term visas, if over 50.

        Also, the algarve in Portugal is very safe, very sunny, very peaceful and as tourism is the only real industry in this region of the poorest country in western europe, they all speak English, as the British have been coming here for the sun and brilliant seafood for years…

        Portuguese is a very lovely language to learn, far more elegant gramatically than its near cousins Spanish and French.

        It also has the lowest percentage of muslim people of any country in Europe; so far this has translated to no fanatical Islamist events, so far.

        I’d be very careful before committing to Malaysia, unless you know the country well already, I’m anglo american ( born in the UK, lived most of my adult life in USA) I’ve been to Penang and mainland Malaysia, I was not impressed. Non mainland Malaysia(borneo) is a no go for a woman on her own.

        I learned Portuguese when I bunked off after university in my twenties in Brazil, I loved it, but it is very dangerous nowadays, and it was then. Especially in the north East cities of Fortaleza/Natal and all along the coast…

        I learned Spanish in Argentina at age 57, and I have to say I met the most wonderful people there.(It is safe compared to Central America, Colombia Peru Venezuela and Brazil) Uruguay is also very safe( probably the safest of all the latin countires, along with Chile.

        These countries are safe because they have large, well educated middle classes, with good income distribution and thus less poverty and social tension, most latin countires dont have a middle class, do have massive poverty and terrible education systems…The results are plain to see.

        Argentina has free university education for all, including foreigners who become resident! Many Brazilians and Colombians, not to mention paraguayans and Bolivians move to Argentina to get an education for free.

        It goes without saying that petty theft is endemic in all latin countries, Its part of the inherited Spanish culture. Barcelona and Madrid currently rank as the number 1 and number 2 cities in the world for petty theft from tourists. My own personal experience of Spain is that it is very likely indeed that you will be robbed and cheated repeatedly, it is their way of life, and there is nothing new to this aspect of Spanish society, it’s in their blood.

        Same goes for the Philipines, in my very limited experience their

        I am also a huge fan of Budapest, its not tropical, but it has great reliable summers and the architecture is just stunning… Your budget will go a long way in Hungary, but winters are cold… No worries, after Japan and Korea Hungary has the worlds most thermal baths and they are just glorious in winter and in summer. Just one drawback, the language in incomprehensible and unlearnable! But the kids are increasingly getting better at English, as everywhere. Folks my age use german as their second language, as in fact German culture, from austrohungarian empire days is the dominant foreign influence there.

        So for a quiet, safe sunny life by the sea, Algarve Portugal is hard to beat.
        For wonderful warm people vast panoramic geography and every climate zone you can think of Argentina, Chile and Uruguay

        For a sophisitcated european, safe, charming city, at knock down prices Budapest

        And for the truly tropical and exotic, Thailand remains the best bet, where, as a single woman you will feel fine and so will your (siamese?) cats!

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For Sale
0 beds
0 bath
Land Size:1 acres
$149,900
Boca Chica
Panama
Perfect for people looking for something different.This parcel (Parcel 11) is located on Boca Chica Island in Panama and it includes over 10 acres.Boca ...
For Sale
0 beds
0 bath
Land Size:10 acres
$289,900
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