Beachfront properties you can afford (prepare to travel)
Location: Not the Hamptons (or Malibu or Palm Beach)
What, you thought it was 1950? No matter. If you're willing to fly to Managua, Nicaragua, and make the two-hour trek to lovely San Juan del Sur, you will find your dream vacation house (or land on which to build it). High prices on home turf lured legions of American, Canadian and European buyers to this low-priced Pacific Coast town and other Central American destinations during the real estate run-up earlier this decade. When the bubble burst, investors stayed home, agents and developers say. Now, prices are in oh-my-god territory, and buyers are trickling back. In San Juan del Sur, you can build your own vay cay getaway for $85 a square foot. Compare that with $625 per square foot in Malibu last month. The median price of a home there was $2.1 million in October, according to San Diego-based MDA Dataquick.
"You can turn the clock back to 2001," said San Juan del Sur developer Ken Ross, co-owner of Paradise Development Holdings. The contractor and avid surfer moved there in 2000. Among the many things he likes about this dot on the map is that it's not Costa Rica, where that whole gated-community-and-spa scene evolved a decade ago. San Juan del Sur is still a fishing village with neither shopping malls nor many tourists. You can, however, get a mean cup of Joe at four coffee hangouts, including El Gato Negro---the Black Cat---a popular bookstore/cafe where burros are parked out front. Sometimes, the town's power goes out and the roosters don't know day from night, but who cares when you're staring at the ocean.
If you don't love the tiny-village ambience but do like watching monkeys cavort in the jungle, you can buy a slice of paradise in Costa Rica --- in the southern part of the country---far from the madding upscale crowds. At Mirasol at Punta Dominical, condos from 1,030 square feet to 1,462 square feet start in the high $200,000s. Ocean views included. Three-bedroom "tropical" homes in Guanacaste, on the northern Pacific Coast, start at $269,000. Pool included.
For those who need a Vegas vibe, there's Trump Ocean Club International Hotel & Tower in Panama City. Set to open next year, the complex has everything you'd want from the Strip, plus a marina and the ocean. Small condos start at $375,000 and climb, with the floors and square footage, to $1 million. They would be way more on any U.S. coast. The bonus: You can see the Panama Canal from the top floors. Take that, Malibu and East Hampton!