Boquete and Chiriquí Province
The Land of Eternal Spring
Have you stepped into a surrealistic Henri Rousseau jungle painting? Or are you just traveling through the highlands of Chiriquí? In the land of “Eternal Spring” where flowers grow on the edge of the road, the traveler is rewarded with surreal images of striking beauty.
Chiriquí is the furthest most western province of Panama bordering Costa Rica. One feels that magic happens here as rainbows arch over the region. Horses freely roam the fincas or farmlands below the majestic mountains. Sublime landscape surrounds you as you climb higher up to the mountain town of Boquete. Sunlight reflects on the streams, rivers and waterfalls running through the canyons.
The Chiriquí highlands is adorned with rainforests, volcanic peaks, coffee plantations, orchid farms and a flower-filled towns which truly seem to be enchanted.
Lush green mountainsides flank the vibrant town of Boquete, which is host to the largest expat community in Panama. AARP magazine named Boquete the fourth best place to retire in the world or the number one destination in Latin America. The assessment was based upon their criteria for the cost of living, natural beauty, access to health care, and ideal climate.
Restaurants, coffee shops and handicrafts are enjoyed in Boquete as well as eco-tours, hiking and bird watching or to visit a local fair. For the more adventurous there’s the canopy zip line, river rafting and river kayaking with class IV and V rapids..
Many Panamanians turn into weekend vacationers and travel up the roads to this bio-diverse region to stay at their choice of fine or rustic hotels. Locals and tourists alike escape hot and humid temperatures to relax in Boquete or Volcan where the climate is pleasant at this 4000 feet elevation above sea level.
Highland Mountain Towns above Boquete
In the highlands above Boquete there is a series of mountain villages–Bambito, Volcan, Guadalupe, and Cerro Punta– with spectacular mountain scenery and superb bird-watching. Bambito is home to the landmark Bambito hotel; Volcan offers coffee tours at the Jansen Family Coffee Farm. Jansen coffee is known in Panama as one of the best.
There are Pre-Columbian Indian petroglyphs and artifacts. Guadalupe is home to Finca Dracula, an orchid botanical garden with over 1200 species or orchids as well as home to Los Quetzals Ecolodge, where the resplendent bird may be spied. Cerro Punta is home of what some call the best organic restaurant in Panama–the Valley of the Moon.
Chiriquí Highlands and Boquete Highlights
Attractions of the Chiriquí highland area are the natural beauty, outdoor leisurely and adventurous sports, quaint villages, friendly locals, a reasonable cost of living, all in an ideal spring climate.
Boquete is well known in Central America as both a tourist town and an expat community surrounded by forested mountains. Valle Escondido is a premiere residential and resort community on a former coffee farms offering a challenging golf course, villas for sale and rent overlooking the river. There are restaurants, shops, tour operators, a community theatre, bilingual schools, a medical center and other amenities catering to tourists and residents alike.
International Airport in David, Chiriqui Province
A one hour flight from the international airport Gelabert in Panama City to the international airport in David in Chiriquí is one transportation option. You’ll then need to rent a vehicle for the 30 minute drive up to Boquete. If you drive from the capital city, it takes about 7 hours along the PanAmerican highway to cover the 500 kilometer( 330 miles ) distance.
Towering over Boquete is the sleeping giant, the grand Volcano Baru, Panama’s highest peak at 11,400 ft in elevation. This landmark is usually visible in the mornings but may be mysteriously cloaked in clouds in the afternoon. From its peak on a clear day, it is possible to see both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
There’s a 28000 acre Volcan Baru National Park along with La Amistad International Park is situated partly in Panama and partly in Costa Rica. The Panama side itself contains 500,000 acres of cloudforests, diversity of plants, birds and animals. Several monkey species of primates are located here as well as being one of the last refuges for cats like the puma, ocelot and jaguar. Tours are available from the mountain town of Volcan providing guides and transportation.
History of Boquete & Migration Wave
Arriving in Boquete may feel like you’re traveling to another world. This population arrived in the early 19th century from Europe and North America with people who decided to cultivate coffee, fruit orchards and flowers. Boquete is known as the flower capital of Panama.
The indigenous tribes on the region are mainly Guaymi now referred to as Ngöble-Buglé. The women, adorned in brightly colored flowing dresses with embroidered waist banks and neckline decoration, sell their handicrafts and jewelry from roadside stands. They live with administrative autonomy in camacas or a designated territory in the mountainous terrain. Men wear homemade bell bottom pant, straw hats and rubber boots. The Ngöble-Buglé provide most of the labor for harvesting the coffee or vegetables in Chiriqui.
During the past decade, there’s been a wave of migration to Boquete primarily for retirement or a second home. A second wave of migration is happening now which includes younger individuals and families with children.
One development project in particular was the main attraction for this first wave: Valle Escondido, meaning Hidden Valley. Residences are built to high standards of exceptional quality.
There is a Country Club that offers nine hole golf course, a club house with fitness center, indoor heated swimming pool, sauna, jacuzzi, racquet ball and tennis courts, game room with billiards and card tables, event rooms for meetings or parties.
One such expat is Ellen, who arrived as a single woman in her late 30’s from Austin Texas and ended up falling in love & marrying a Panamanian gentleman. She opened a relocation consulting business to assist others who want to make the journey.
The Bliss family moved to Panama over six years ago with four children ages 2–11. They bought 40 acres, divided it into several parcels and sold them to like-minded people. The proceeds were utilized to build their residence, a workshop, and an experimental greenhouse complete with an aquaponics system for growing food.
Steve and Jenny Bliss are giving back to the community by founding a non-profit organization called Contextual Solutions. They provide simple yet effective tools to resolve some of the health problems of people living in extreme poverty. They help the Indian tribe of the Ngöbe Buglé Indian tribe by designing a sustainable solution for clean water, sustainable farming techniques and the rocket oven, a tool to prevent smoke inhalation from cooking over open fires. Check out csglobal.org.
Lauretta Bonfiglio owner of the Bistro Boquete on the main street has lived in Boquete for the past decade and has seen many changes. She’s seen people come and go. She’s raised her son, Julian, in Boquete. He’s an 18 years old high school drama student who just starred in the local community theatre. He is a haute couture model (discovered in Panama City and going to Milan soon!) to earn money for his true passion which is film-making.
The Boquete expat network is strong even offering an orientation for expat “rookies”. There are splinter groups for writers, readers, and those with special interests of hiking, bird watching or social events. There are two golf courses in the area.
If you like yoga or want to take salsa lessons, these activities are available in a community center where locals and expats socialize together. If you prefer more adventurous outdoor activities, there’s river rafting, river kayaking, canopy zip line, horseback riding, mountain biking where you can relax in thermal hot springs afterwards.
Two hours over the jagged mountains from Boquete are the beaches and chain of islands of Bocas de Toros in the province of the same name. This Caribbean tourist destination offers all kinds of aquatic sports including snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, fishing and sunbathing. Dine on Sopa de Mariscos or seafood soup or fresh fish, beans & rice, fried plantains and similar Afro-Caribbean and Cuban cuisine in this laid-back group of communities on several main islands.
Capital City of David
Chiriquí is not only mountains as this province has practically every type of eco-system and micro-climates of any place in the world. This territory is home to beaches and coast line on the Pacific side.
David is the capital city with a population of 145,000 and it’s where you have an Enrique Malek International airport. The city is a prosperous industrial and agricultural center as well. David sports a casino of the Grand National Hotel, hospitals and clinics, manufacturing plants, communication offices, shopping and some nightlife and cuisine.
David enjoys a relatively affluent local middle class economy living primarily in single family homes with reasonable infrastructure. There is a sprinkling of expats living here or operating a small business. David is a center of trade between Panama and Costa Rica because it sits at the foothills of the Cordillera de Talamanca mountain range only 25 miles from the border.
Many expats of Boquete drive to David to shop at the El Rey supermarket or Furniture City for furniture and the Do-It Center for hardware and housewares. There’s the Chiriqui Mall for clothes and a Price Mart.
David is in close proximity to the white sandy beaches on the Pacific side with a variety of lifestyle options from integrating into the local community or selecting an upscale gated community.
Pacific Beaches of Chiriquí
If it’s beaches your looking for near David, there are quiet beaches in Chiriqui compared to those of Bocas Del Toro and the Pacific beaches near Panama City. . Las Olas (The Waves) Beach Resort at Playa La Barqueta is only 20 minutes from David. The resort offers sport fishing trips and local tours to a sea turtle sanctuary, or mangrove forests.
Many of the locals like a beach called La Lajas, a little further, yet within a one hour drive east on the Inter-americana highway. This beach is highly visited on weekends and ideal for those who love to swim, take in the sunshine or walk the beach and explore nature.
Another option is Boca Chica, a scenic coastal area with beaches and nearby islands. There are 4 attractive hotels including the Seagull Cove, Gone Fishing Panama Resort Boutique Hotel Cala Mia, and Boca Chica Plantation Resort. .
Some of these rather quiet beaches have weekend cottages as well as larger Spanish style second homes, grand hotels and resorts along the water that bring vacationers, retirees and deep sea fishing sportsmen. World Class fishing waters continue to gain more recognition.
On one hand, it seems rather unfortunate for those wanting a low-key seaside lifestyle because as these quiet beaches are slowly becoming more popular, some of the beach homes are being purchased for development of resort communities. On the other hand, change is inevitable and as these beautiful scenic places are discovered, people have visions of making them into destinations for more to enjoy. Hopefully, there will be a respectful balance between pristine natural coastal scenery and oceanside development.
Chiriquí beach is known for its nesting populations of hawksbills and leatherbacks. An established preservation foundation called the Sea Turtle Conservancy works to protect and restore these sea turtles.
At Pedregal Port, there is a small refuge of several yachts and small vessels. This is the starting point for excursions directed to the islands in the Gulf of Chiriquí. Chiriquí Marine Park is the most popular of the archipelago of the Paridas Islands. In season observations of hunchedback whales, orcas, sharks, manta rays and dolphins may be experienced.