The 5 Best Tropical Destinations for Young Families
When people think about U.S. citizens living abroad what comes to mind is probably retirees, or the super wealthy, or maybe even a bunch of backpacking college students. People who don’t have to worry about things like maintaining a job or finding a good orthodontist.
What seems like a bit more of a stretch, to many, is the idea of moving overseas with children, particularly young ones, and having the need to educate, protect, and support them. But the reality is that living abroad, even in a developing country, has never been easier for young families.
The Latin tropics, for example, offer a ton of locales where parents can earn a living for their families, send their kids to a bilingual international school, sign them up for afterschool art and sports programs, and never have to give a second thought about their safety.
Improved technology and infrastructure make things like telecommuting, homeschooling, and communicating with friends and family a virtual breeze. Cities with established expat communities can help to make the transition easier.
On the flip side, there are also more remote destinations that offer the opportunity to cut out all the distractions and focus on what really matters to your family. Where your children can learn to become students of the world, rather than spending their days cooped up in a classroom.
In fact, it’s been observed that living abroad helps children develop a certain skillset and adaptability that their homebound counterparts lack, making them particularly qualified for leadership positions.
Every tropical destination has its own set of pros and cons. Not every young family will share the same opinion about a certain city. But there’s no denying that each of these places has a unique appeal that families with children will likely find intriguing.
Best City for Culture – Cuenca, Ecuador
A longtime favorite of expats of all demographics, Cuenca, Ecuador, is still a fantastic option for families with children. It offers an established expat community with lots of English-speakers, as well as expats of many other nationalities.
Cuenca has a high level of amenities, with easy access to all the necessary goods and services. Yet it’s also surrounding by an incredible natural environment that offers plenty of options for outdoor enthusiasts.
For all it delivers, Cuenca is also quite affordable. It’s big city convenience with a small town feel, right down to the cobblestone streets and charming historic architecture.
Because it’s home to a number of universities, residents of Cuenca also place a high value on education. The high concentration of students also makes Cuenca a cultural and artistic hub. It’s a great place to get a true taste of what makes the local culture so incredible.
Best Expat Community – Boquete, Panama
Another destination that’s popular with young expat families is Boquete, Panama. Tucked into the highlands of the Chiriqui province, Boquete is smaller than Cuenca (and quite a bit more expensive). Yet it too offers an incredible level of services and amenities.
A longstanding expat presence has led to the establishment of everything from “Gringo Night” at local restaurants all the way up to an expat theatre group. In fact, Boquete is so expat-friendly that some complain it’s almost just like being in North America.
But understand that, even though Boquete might be full of people who look and talk like you, there’s still plenty of authentic culture to experience. Not to mention the incredible natural surroundings like cloud forests, whitewater rapids, and an abundance of flora and fauna.
Between its near-perfect climate and its welcoming residents, Boquete is a great option for newcomers with children.
Best Beach Town – Nosara, Costa Rica
Those who think all tropical beach towns are way too heavy on the party scene for young families need to think again. Introducing…Nosara, Costa Rica.
Rather than loud dance clubs and dreadlocked drug peddlers, what you’ll find in Nosara is more like yoga studios and organic smoothie stands. It has great surfing, some of the best in Costa Rica, but it also has great schools. It’s a win-win for young families.
The abundance of health food stores, fitness centers, and sports teams make Nosara the perfect place for those looking to lead a healthy lifestyle. However, all the excellent consumer options and extra-curricular activities do tend to tip Nosara a bit towards the expensive end of the spectrum.
Nosara is clean. It’s safe. Its residents are a closely knit community, and they flock to the beach in droves each evening, just to see the sunset. Its four miles of white sand beaches are protected from any kind of encroaching development, and the many conservation efforts help keep it pristine.
Young families looking for the beach lifestyle without the stereotypical beach culture should definitely give this place a closer look.
Best Island – Boca Chica, Panama
If island living is the scenario you had in mind for your family, then forget the overcrowded, touristy places like Roatan or the Belize Cayes. There’s nothing authentic about seeing a cruise ship dump its hordes of travelers onto your shores for a quick romp.
Instead, may I suggest the tranquil forests of Boca Chica Island, where the only other residents you’ll likely see and hear are the howler monkeys and toucans perched just outside your window?
Boca Chica and its surrounding islands offer the same natural wonders as their busier counterparts (e.g. pristine beaches, ancient forests, excellent fishing, and mangroves packed with marine life). But in Boca Chica those can be explored on your own, not on a chartered tour with a dozen other strangers.
Although it feels remote, Boca Chica Island is only a 10 minute boat ride from the mainland where you can also access attractions such as Volcan Baru (the nation’s highest peak), the aforementioned town of Boquete, and the bustling city of David (the country’s second largest) where you can find any and all of the amenities you could possibly need.
Best on a Budget – Granada, Nicaragua
While affordability shouldn’t be your biggest factor when choosing an expat destination, for some young families it’s a necessary concern. Enter Granada, Nicaragua.
This charming colonial town boasts many of the same features as Cuenca. Yet with a noticeably lower price tag.
The tradeoff is that some of the amenities aren’t quite as good. Consumer options are a bit more limited. The infrastructure isn’t as top-notch. In fact, some may even see Granada as a little gritty.
But that authentic vibe is exactly what a lot of parents want their children to experience. The ability to take in your surroundings and feel almost as if you’ve stepped back in time 100 years. Except for the internet cafes and ATM machines.
All in all, Granada is a great compromise for those who want to experience Latin America for what it is, not a North American version of it. And not for the same amount you’d pay to live in the States.
So, if you’re looking for a place to relocate your family, or even if you just want to try a gap year to see if this whole expat thing is right for you, these top destinations are a great place to start!