Boquete

OK, it’s my home, so I’m more than a little biased!

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Boquete:
oquete is a small town on the Caldera River, tucked into the green mountain highlands of  Panama, in western-most Chiriqui Province about 60 km from the border with Costa Rica. Chiriquí Province, about 60 km. from the border with Costa Rica. Because of its altitude, some 1,200 metres above sea level, its climate is refreshingly cooler than that of the lowlands. Its scenic location, temperature, and natural environment make it extremely popular with Panamanians, and with tourists from all over the world.

In Spanish, the word Boquete means ‘gap or opening’ or ‘hole’ (as in the mountains!).  It was through this gap that curious gold seekers trekked, looking for a cheaper and quicker way to the Pacific. Farmers began settling the region near the end of the 19th Century. By the early 20th century, several villages had been populated: Lino, Quiel, Bajo Mono, Los Naranjos, and Bajo Boquete, which now is the districts’ town center.

In addition to tourism, its main industry remains agriculture, especially the growing of coffee beans.

Some of its landmarks include nearby Volcan Baru, a dormant volcano and at some 3,475 meters, the tallest point of land in Panama.  Hikers enjoy a relatively easy hikeike[Richard: This guy never hiked it!] hike up and over the volcano, along the Sendero de los Quetzals, which runs from Boquete up to Cerro Punta and Volcan [Richard: Or vice versa, and it is easier coming from Cerro Punta to Boquete], on the other side of the volcano. [Richard: Unfortunately right now the trail has been closed to the public indefinitely.]  Boquete is known for its coffee, judged to be among the finest in the world.  The Caldera River runs through the town, a river that has shaped much of its form.

The district of Boquete has approximately 19,000 inhabitants (2008).  More recently, Boquete has become the second home to many North American and European retirees. Some 14% of its population are of foreign origin, according to La Prensa, a national newspaper. Ex-pats are attracted by the comfortable climate, excellent potable water, and clean air, by the tranquility, and by Panama’s relatively low cost of living.

It’s a little dated, but it’s a good glimpse into life in Boquete …

How to Get to Boquete

Getting to Panama

Copa (Panamanian Airline), United, Delta and American all have flights from the US and Canada to Panama City.  Spirit has direct flights from Fort Lauderdale – ungodly hours, but 3 hours and low prices if you don’t mind paying extra for everything!   I’d much rather enjoy the comfort and traditional old-style Fort Lauderdale-Panama flight on Copa.

Copa is my favorite airline once you are in the air [everything on the ground … Internet site, reservations, check in, etc., pretty much sucks] with new planes, nice seats, more legroom, free onboard entertainment, free drinks, and an old-style “airline food” meal, but at least it’s something to eat.  Copa flies direct to Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Washington, New York, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Toronto and Montreal.  Because Copa code shares with United, you have to be careful that your flights are actually operated by Copa or you may land up in the “friendly skies” (or is it the “unfriendly skies” of United) where you’ll be nickle and dimed like all the other carriers, and get a stale sandwich for dinner.

KLM, Iberia, Air France, and United have flights from Europe.   It is best to arrive in Panama City in the early morning and to schedule departure flights in the late afternoon if possible.  This will eliminate the need for an overnight hotel in Panama City.

Usually the international flights all arrive at Tocumen International Airport, about 45 minutes from downtown Panama City, depending on traffic.

Driving

The Pan American Highway from Panama City to David, and thence to Boquete takes 6-7 hours and while not an Interstate, isn’t a bad highway.  It is four lanes for almost half the trip, and then two or three lanes, much of which is hilly (beautiful scenery!)  You do not want to make this drive a night because sections of the highway that are not well-marked by US standards.

Santiago is the half-way point and there is a Mc Donald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken which the locals use as rest stops because they have nice bathrooms (generally with toilet paper).  (Hint: Always travel with a small roll of toilet paper tucked away.)  There is a cute Mexican-themed hotel there as well as a brand-new hotel called Myknos.

I figure 5 ½ to  6 hours Panama City to David, and another 35-40 minutes from David to Boquete.  (Hint: A Panamanian would never be so anal about driving time!)

Getting out of Panama City will be your only major challenge.  Your goal is to drive THROUGH the city without getting lost.  Before leaving the airport get detailed directions.  You’ll take Corridor del Sur (toll road) into the city from Tocumen.  You will come out on to the new Cinta Costera a parkway skirting the city on one side and the Bay of Panama on the other.  You bear right at the end which will take you on a elevated causeway over part of the city and empty out onto a jammed road called the Avenida de los  Mártires  which you will creep along following signs to the Bridge of The Americas.  Driving in Panama City is horrendous (that from an ex-New Yorker, ex-Californian!) and it is easy to go in circles.  (Hint: If you get lost, hire a taxi to lead the way.)

Update: There is major, major construction going on all over Panama City: new sewers, freeways, subway so it is more than the usual zoo.  If you are going to attempt the drive, I recommend leaving around 4:30AM at the latest to avoid traffic.

Rental cars are also available at the airport in David, if you choose to fly to David. Given the state of construction in Panama City that would be my recommendation.

Good maps are essential but hard to find in local bookstores.   The National Geographic Panama map map is well-worth it and if you’re thinking about moving to Panama or just visiting it is a good investment.  The other good map, more just a good map without all the facts,  is International Travel Maps: PANAMA.  The scale of this map makes it easy to read and to use.

By Air 

Panama City has two airports.  You will arrive at the International Airport, Tocumen, which is about 35 km from downtown.  Domestic flights leave from Albrook or Gelabert Airport in the old Canal Zone.  It’s  a $35 cab ride between airports, plus tolls if you use Corridor del Sur  (Hint: As in any country, ask the fare and establish the price before getting in the cab, but $35 IS the official price between airports.  $30 plus toll is the official price between the International airport at Tocumen and downtown Panama City.

Air Panama has flights www.flyairpanama.com but their system never seems to accept US credit cards, and they don’t publish schedules more than a few months in advance.  Typically they want you to email them requesting a reservation and them they may email you back.  Is this any way to run an airline?  I think not, but . . . hey, welcome to Panama!   We’re hoping that Panama’s major airline, Copa, will start flying this route, and more importantly start flying direct between David and the US.

My suggestion: See a little of Panama City on the way to Albrook.  Negotiate with a cab driver to hire him as a driver for about $20 an hour.  Have him show you the city: the causeway, the canal and locks, then have him drop you off at the Albrook Mall.  It’s a nice, Miami-style mall with an enormous food court.  Relax.  The Albrook airport is 15 minutes away.  Show up at least an hour early for your flight.

There is a better way if what you really want to see is Boquete and the Chiriqui Highlands.  Copa now flies from Tocumen International Airport in Panama City to David, which is the nearest airport for Boquete (45 minutes away).  Using the Copa flight PTY-DAV avoids the hassle of commuting between the International and National airports.  And, even better, you can book your trip on Copa or United from your home city to David.  So for example from Denver you’d book DEN-PTY-DAV, and while you still may need an overnight, you should be able to book your luggage through and avoid paying Air Panama’s excessive extra luggage charge.  [My two 50 pound suitcases that go free on international flights usually cost me $65 extra on Air Panama!]

The flight to David is 30-45 minutes depending on the aircraft.  When they use the 737 jets you are barely at cruising altitude before starting your descent.  You’ll see the Canal and Centennial Bridge from the air, fly over gorgeous mountains and jungle, see the Pacific islands off David, and generally the afternoon flight is an E-ticket ride (warm air currents rising off the lowlands), but relax, these guys do this every day!

It’s a $35 cab ride from David airport to Boquete (again, arrange fare first), or just rent a car.  All of the major car companies now have outlets at the David airport.

Panama City Hotels

If you do end up with a forced overnight in Panama, here are some hotels I like.  Riande Airport Hotel is right outside the airport and they provide free shuttle too and from Tocumen.  They have a delightful pool area and the hotel has been nicely renovated. A little pricey, but very nice.

If you plan to stay downtown in Panama City shop around for hotel rates.  Panama City is overbuilt with hotels so you can come up with some really good rates..

The Casco Viejo is the old, colonial, historic area of Panama City and if you’re staying a few days in Panama, there are some fantastic boutique hotels in this area.  A little pricey, but a fascinating area to explore.

If you are staying overnight in Panama City, you might as well just spend a few days and see something of Panama City.  The City-sightseeing.com Hop On Hop Off bus is a great way to see Panama at your own speed and is only around $30.

If you want to see a little of Panama City you can hire a taxi driver and you should be able to negotiate (of course in advance!) for about $20-25 an hour.  Many locals do just that when they go to Panama City to conduct business to avoid the hassles of driving in Panama City.

Pacific Queen is a small boat that actually offers a day-trip transit of the canal.  Pricey, but cheaper than a full canal cruise on Princess or Holland America! http://www.pmatours.net/

If you have a day you can take a never-to-be forgotten trip deep into the jungle to an Embera Indian village. Embera Village Tours offers a guided tour from Panama City that includes transportation from your hotel, ride by dug out canoe to the village, lunch, and commentary by a knowledgeable guide.  Cost runs from $90-$190 per person, depending on the number of participants.  ($190 is for a solo tour.) On our most recent trip we saw amazing birds, turtles, even a monkey and a huge alligator!  The Embera have spectacular baskets and carvings that they offer for sale at the village.  You will be amazed to learn of the many plants the Embera use for natural healing and to hear the stories of modern pharmaceutical companies who have visited to learn the secrets of jungle plants.

There are whale watching tours in season and year round dolphin and snorkel trips to the Pearl Islands from Panama City.

By Bus

Express buses leave the main Panama City bus terminal at Allbrook for David.  $15.  Takes 7 hours with a rest stop halfway.  Be sure you pay a little extra for the express bus! They arrive in David and you can get a cab to Boquete for about $30.  Buses are big tourist-type buses, air-conditioned (sometimes to a fault).  Some of the buses are even equipped with wi-fi.  It’s a good way to see the scenery without the hassles of driving unfamiliar roads.  I know a lot of expats use the bus: I tried it once and NEVER again.

What is there to do in Boquete for tourists?

Chiriqui River Rafting is a family operation  located in Boquete using US-style river rafting equipment and offering a variety of adventurous river rafting experiences on the rushing Chriqui rivers, offering class II, III & IV adventures. http://www.panama-rafting.com

In addition there are coffee tours, mountain tours, rock climbing, horseback riding, ATV rentals, bike and scooter rentals, zip lining at Boquete Tree Trek, hiking and bird watching tours.  You’ll find several offices on Avenida Central offering a wide variety of tours.

Property Tours & Seminars

Property Tours & Seminars are a big business!  You may find them helpful, particularly if you are hesitant to visit an area for the first time.  However, take everything with a grain of salt.  These are generally expensive, far more expensive than hiring us to show you Chiriqui, and you are a “captive audience”.  So, if you want to spend your money, fine, just go it with eyes wide open.  It’s not quite as bad as, but a little like, time share tours.

The Panama Relocation Tour is different from the rest.  It is designed to give you an overview of life in Panama, to cover practical things like visas, bank accounts, shopping, and give you the opportunity to meet real expats living in Panama and pick their brains to receive unfiltered answers.  It is not about selling you real estate, but about giving you an overview of possible areas of the country where you might want to live and helping you understand how things work.  My book THE NEW ESCAPE TO PARADISE: OUR EXPERIENCE LIVING & RETIRING IN PANAMA is the “textbook” if you will.  Interested?  We’d love to have you visit! 

Maps

Click on thumbnails

Panama:

Panama

Topographical – high point is Volcan Baru, above our little town of Boquete and our coffee finca in Palmira:

Topographical

Chiriqui – This is the state or province in which we live:

Chiriqui

Chiriqui Detail – We live in Boquete and do most of our shopping in David and David is where the hospitals are located:

Chiriqui Detail