There is often a sense of competitiveness between Panamanians and our Tico neighbors in Costa Rica. Costa Rica has long enjoyed top billing as an eco-tourist destination, but increasingly that reputation is being challenged by Panama. Panama’s economy is thriving while Costa Rica’s is challenged. Most expats looking for a warm, tropical Central American spot to retire still compare Costa Rica and Panama. Pretty much the welcome mat has been rolled up in Costa Rica and there are a lot of folks who’ve lived for years as expats in Costa Rica who, if they can sell, are picking up and moving to Panama.
All that being said, I found the following article by Lindsay Fendt, an expat living in Costa Rica, to be very interesting. It appeared on Tico-Times.net . . .
The Cutest Town In Panama
The mountain town of Boquete features tasty restaurants, adorable accommodations, abundant flowers and frequent rainbows.
Call me spoiled, but sometimes living in Costa Rica, I get sick of the same beautiful beaches, the same incredible volcanoes and the same wildlife-ridden jungles. No one back home in the U.S. will summon even an ounce of sympathy for overfamiliarity with paradise, but seriously, monkeys just aren’t that interesting anymore.
This Semana Santa, in an effort to cure myself, I hopped the border down to Boquete, Panama. Unfortunately for me, Boquete’s cool climate, ridiculously beautiful mountain views and overabundance of flowers did little to help my problem. Instead, I just sort of longed to move to Panama. I’m not alone.
Nestled in a valley next to the country’s highest point, Volcano Barú, the town of Boquete has become increasingly popular among backpackers, outdoor enthusiasts and retirees. With its spectacularl scenery and multitude of activities, Boquete also makes the perfect getaway for the permanent vacationer living in Costa Rica.
What to do and see
To put it simply, Boquete is adorable, and we easily spent an entire day just walking through the beautiful parks and gazing at the river. While the town of Boquete is in itself a destination, it also serves as the perfect base to explore the rest of Panama’s Chiriquí Province.
For the avid outdoorsmen, the surrounding mountains provide a number of sites and hiking trails. The 5- to 7-hour Quetzal trail is one of the most traveled in the country and is known, as its name suggests, for the quantity of rare Quetzals that nest in its trees. For a more strenuous experience, there is also a trail to the top of Volcan Barú, but the 8- to 14-hour hike is only for the physically fit.
The region also has some of the best river rapids in the country. With everything from baby Class II rapids to terrifying, un-raftable Class Vs, the region’s most rafted river, the Chiriquí Viejo, a 2-hour drive from Boquete, has a little something for everyone. Boquete Outdoor Adventures offers a wide variety of rafting and kayaking trips.
Another more relaxing option is the Caldera Hot Springs, a short drive or a $30 cab ride from town. These natural hot springs, heated geothermically by Volcano Barú, are both a little bit weird and a little bit amazing. The springs are smack in the middle of a farm replete with animals; chickens and goats litter the front lawn, and keep an eye out for a water buffalo and a mischievous monkey that might just steal your lunch.
Where to eat and drink
Finding a real sandwich in Costa Rica is about as likely as spotting a jaguar walking down a jungle trail, so the thick-cut deli meats and perfectly baked breads at Sugar and Spice were a welcome surprise to my Tico-ized taste buds. The cute café also has a variety of desserts, fruit shakes and coffees on its menu.
For dinner, we checked out the popular Argentinean steakhouse La Posada, which serves up some great steak and trout. Bar Barú was another good choice for its classy Italian food. As a small town, nightlife is limited in Boquete, but certainly not lacking. Our top pick is Zanzibar, a relaxed, African-themed bar that often features live music.
Where to stay
As a backpacker town on the rise, Boquete is full of cheap hostel options as well as high-class cabinas. For the best of both worlds, check out Refugio del Rio, a cute lodge where for $33 a night, you can get a private room with a terrace overlooking the river. Dorm beds are also available for $11.
For a more high-class option, there is the Los Establos boutique hotel. What it lacks in amenities (no pool, spa or restaurant), it makes up for in amazing views, free wine and soup and general cuteness.
Boquete is located in Panama’s Chirquí province and is easily accessible through the transit town of David. From Costa Rica you can fly or drive to David, or catch the 7:30 a.m. Tracopa bus. Once in David, busses leave approximately every 45 minutes for Boquete and take about an hour.
Speaking of David . . .
For those of you reading this from around the world, David is our nearest major city. Panama City, 6-7 hours drive or 50 minutes by air, dwarfs everything with about 2 million of the 3.3 million inhabitants of Panama. David is either the third or second largest city in Panama depending on who is counting and how they count. Some folks claim that because of the Colon Free Zone [second largest in the world, second only to Hong Kong] the numbers get skewed in favor of Colon as #2. Be that as it may . . .
When we came to Panama eight years ago you could get some things in Boquete, whatever you needed in David, and anything you wanted in Panama City [locally just “Panama”]. Now ou can get most things you need in Boquete and everything in David. Yes, still “anything” and “everything” you might want in “Panama” [i.e. Panama City] and probably a whole lot that you don’t want, like traffic, hassle, congestion, yada yada.
It used to take 45-50 minutes to drive to David but a new 4-lane highway, under construction it seems forever but really for less than two years, Boquete to David is about 30-35 minutes, depending . . . Construction abruptly halted the 4th Q of 2012 leaving us with partially completed roads with light poles in the middle [something which became known as the “Boquete Slalom”]. The poles are down, but two little challenges remain . . . snaking 4 lanes of highway traffic down a curving road into the two lane local Boquete main drag, which by the way involves cutting away a mountain. And cutting away another mountain and curvy road through Dolega. So depending of what traffic and detours are in effect – right now it’s the not-so-scenic tour of Dolega – my house to David can take 30 minutes or 40 minutes.
David is hot, hot, hot . . . muggy hot . . . and not perched on the Pacific with sea breezes, so we go to David as little as possible. Dentist, doctors, labor board [if you have employees you’d better make a friend in the labor board], Price Smart [similar but a far cry from Costco or Sam’s Club], and a growing number of bigger stores and suppliers. You are always building a list for things that must be done when you go to David. Usually, on a good day, you can gt half of your list accomplished. On a remarkable day . . . maybe two thirds. And a day when you get everything you want to accomplish in David accomplished it’s like winning the Powerball Lottery! Well, yesterday was a remarkable day when I got a whole lot accomplished in David in just half a day!