The much-lauded expat haven, otherwise known as Boquete, is tucked 1200 meters above sea level in the scenic Chiriqui Province. The Caldera River dissects this small town, nestled in its green mountain valley. Only 60 km from Costa Rica’s border and 45 minutes from hot and sultry David, Boquete enjoys a much more pleasant climate than that of the lowlands. Its scenic location, temperature, and natural environment make it extremely popular with expats, Panamanians and tourists from all over the world.
Boquete, the surrounding villages and communities are a series of mini microcosms. A beautiful sunny day in the nearby community of Volcancita, can be a much colder and wetter day in Boquete itself, especially when the bajareque–a very fine but wet mist, quite common at certain times of the year—rolls in. If you do encounter the bajareque do not despair, within a few minutes’ drive you should be able to find blue skies and gentle breezes. If considering living or buying here, be sure to ask the local community about the seasonal variations for your specific area of interest.
The Central Square or Plaza is a hub of activity as it is close to supermarkets, produce markets, restaurants and a great place to people watch.
There is a growing number of expats, primarily from North America with a mix of Europeans and South Americans thrown in too. The indigenous people are the Ngobe Bugle–the women & girls wear bright colourfully trimmed dresses in eye catching solid shades—some live in Boquete year round. Their numbers swell during the coffee berry-picking season, as they come in from the Comarca to add their deft fingers to harvesting. Farmers & fisherman ply their wares from the rears of beat up old jalopies. Literacy is high in Panama, some English is spoken, although Spanish is the official language and having at least the basics will be needed if you want to shop here.
Tourists, including those toting backpacks abound, attracted here by the hiking, the scenery and to climb Volcan Baru–the highest point in Panama–on a clear day, the view from the top includes both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.
The Boquete Community Players (BCP) Community Center is a major hub of activity, both for its exceedingly talented productions, its importance as a community meeting area and the Tuesday morning market, where visitors find fresh organic produce, spices, coffee, artisan and indigenous crafts, along with fresh made snacks and the second hand bookstore.
Boquete is solidly established with all the necessities a expat could need, banks, doctors, dentists, supermarkets, a wide range of restaurants ranging from those serving a hearty plate of comida tipica for a few dollars, to those serving world class cuisine at prices closer to those found in the states. Nearby David, has a private hospital, lawyers for obtaining your hubliado status and big box stores aplenty.
The water is classed as potable–although some people challenge that opinion–the delivery system is somewhat fragile and breaks in the line can allow contaminants to enter. Most homes have large storage tanks to offset the annoyances of what can be frequent shutoffs, especially during the construction of the new 4-lane highway connecting Boquete to David.
Rumours of international flights flying direct to David abound, it would make access easier and reduce costs—passengers currently have to fly into Panama City then travel across the city to the domestic airport to catch a flight to David–the runway extension is complete and patiently waiting to welcome international flights.
The only way anyone could be bored in Boquete is if they chose to lock themselves up at home!
Volunteer activities include the Rotary Club, the humane society, the centre for the disabled or the BCP (Boquete Community Players).
There are a multitude of other groups and activities in which to get involved–bird watching, photography, hiking, painting, yoga, tai chi, feldenkrais, cooking classes–and the very popular Habla Ya Spanish School.
The list is not complete without a visit to a coffee farm, zip lining, white water rafting and hiking the multitude of trails in search of Quetzals or stunning views.
A Balboa local beer in a restaurant is about $1.25
Case of 24 cold Balboa from a supermarket $9.50
Restaurant meals $2.75 to $16 and up
1 kg Boneless chicken breasts $4
Dozen Eggs $1.75
1 kg Tomatoes $2.00
5 Bananas $0.50
Current Property Prices (October 2013)
Small basic house on 1.75 acre flat lot with development potential, price $60,000
|Alto Boquete, 3 bed, 2 bath, 2,152.8 ft2 with Volcan Baru view, price $280,000El Alto Boquete, 2 bed, 1 bath, 1,205 sq. ft. Lot 4,843.76, views, price $95,000|
Volcancito 1 bed, 1 bath 650 sq. ft. fully furnished apartment, per month $550
Alto Lino 3 bed home, TV internet and maid included per month $1,000
Alto Boquete 3 bed, 3 bath, with views, per month $750
What’s to love?
The community is what makes Boquete so special, expats and Panamanians alike are proud of their community and rightly so. Many expats although officially retired, are busier than they ever thought possible doing what pleases and interests them the most.
We especially loved the Tuesday market at the BCP followed by a visit to Sugar and Spice for fresh coffee, pastries and a wide range of bread to go.
There are comfortable temperatures year round, allowing residents to make the most of their outdoor living areas and enjoy the areas stunning views. Plentiful fresh produce is readily available, with a perfect climate to grow your own.
Low cost of living, allows a few extras such as a weekly maid $15, or a massage $20. Panama’s pensionado program makes life here even more affordable with discounts on meals, flights, hotels and medications for those that qualify.
What’s not to love?
Boquetes long popularity equates into higher property and commodity prices in the area. Property prices have been slowly correcting themselves with some motivated sellers now selling at below pre-boom prices. Living expenses remain higher here than other areas of inland Panama, however with those higher prices come the amenities that make Boquete so popular.
The Caldera River, although delightful to see and hear, floods regularly, be aware if considering buying or renting nearby. Although Boquete boasts spring like temperatures year round it does have both a wet and a dry season. Typically, strong northerly winds occur during the dry season–sometimes gusting with considerable force–as we discovered when the barbeque was blown off the patio.
The area as much of Central America does have a few species of poisonous snakes be aware when gardening or hiking. Note: In the 3 months we were there, we saw only one small snake.
Our Perfect Abode Checklist Comparison
A stable government and economy √
Affordable properties with foreseeable appreciation √
Sunny and warm climate √
Friendly locals √
Ease of obtaining residency or buying property √
Affordability, total living costs have to be less than $2000 per month √
A home with a view, either mountain, lake or ocean √
Close enough to the ocean to fulfill our SCUBA urges X
Prefer a small village or town rather than a big city √
Readily available fresh produce and/or room to grow our own √
Some expats nearby, especially in a non-English speaking country √
A vibrant community spirit that we could be involved with √
Boquete scores high on our checklist, however after spending a few months here we were craving the ocean. We are not yet convinced it is right for us.
How would this list compare to your own?
Note: We spent 10 weeks in Las Brisas a small community in Alto Boquete, 15 minutes from Boquete.
As always we recommend spending a minimum of a month, in anyone place. Unless you have already decided that, it is not for you. If you are planning on investing or re-locating there we recommend at least 6 months.
Useful contacts, links