We recently took a trip to one of Panama’s top tourist destinations, Boquete – “the land of flowers and coffee.” Boquete is nestled in the mountains of the Chiriqui Province and is a nice break from the heat and humidity of most of the rest of Panama.
Boquete is set amidst mountains with rivers running through the town – it’s very picturesque and from some vantage points you almost think you are in a quaint Swiss Alps village.
The Caldera river runs through the town and numerous restaurants line the river. The locals live off the land (and very well by the way – everyone seemed happy and the level of poverty found elsewhere in Panama is not as prevalent here). Coffee plantations, fruit and vegetable farms as well as cattle farms make up the bulk of the Boquete hillsides. We were told by a guide that the Chiriqui province (where Boquete is located) makes up over 70% of the food production for all of Panama.
Many retired expats have made Boquete their new home – you will see quite a few in town and they are very organized in helping new expats settle in Boquete. Boquete has consistently ranked high in “best international destinations to retire.” If you are curious about moving to Boquete, check out Dianne Hedke’s book, The Insider’s Guide to Surviving Life in Boquete: The Boquete Not for Tourist Handbook.
Where to stay in Boquete
By far the best hotel in town is the Panomonte. We were lucky enough to stay there through a great deal on JetSetter.com. The Panomonte is part of the Small Luxury Hotels brand and you will not be disappointed. From the spacious rooms with porches to the nice bedding and large bathrooms. The best part is the restaurant (see below) and the wonderful bar and fireplace area. We were told kids weren’t allowed in the bar area due to Panamanian law but we easily sat outside where there was additional covered seating and another beautiful fireplace (it rained one of the days we were there so we spent lunch by the fire and then reading and playing games). The staff is very friendly and accommodating.
There are numerous other hotels and resorts around the area. Boquete is also known as the “health” and “wellness” area of Boquete so you will enjoy comfortable accommodations there.
If you are on a budget there are several hostels, most notably, Hostel Mamallena.
Restaurants in Boquete
Probably the best and most highly regarded (some say the best restaurant in Central America) is at the Panamonte hotel’s restaurant. You will find local ingredients with an international flair and excellent service. Highly recommend trying their pumpkin soup!
The Rockalong the river is also very good and highly regarded. It is very modern and has a nice aesthetic. The menu provides sufficient variety for everyone in your party and if you have kids they will love playing in the yard and throwing rocks into the river.
Restaurant Nelvis is a hidden gem we were told about via our local tour guide. Great fried chicken and Panamanian food served cafeteria style. It’s a bit hidden off the main drag but you’ll see tons of expats, locals, and students studying Spanish frequenting this establishment.
Macchu Pichu is a great Peruvian restaurant with an abundance of seafood options. If you are ready for something different then this is your place. All of the ceviches are outstanding.
You’ll see several sweet shops and ice cream shops along the main drag and side streets. We stopped for a Sunday afternoon ice cream cone ($.50) at Anna’s Sweets. Seemed like all the locals had the same idea as car loads came through for an ice cream fix while we were there.
If you are looking for a sports bar (and to catch your team’s game) check out Restaurant Baru. They have several TV’s, indoor and outdoor seating and American food (tried the nachos and pizza – both were fine).
Boquete is definitely a nice spot for some good food. Check out Trip Adivsor’s recommendations for the latest on the best restaurants in the area.
Shopping in Boquete
If you are coming from Bocas and don’t want to go into David for shopping (many people make the journey just to shop in David for unique or more difficult to find items, clothing and home goods that aren’t readily available in Bocas). In town you will find numerous stores, including a department store called “La Reyna” that is similar to a JC Penny’s type store you may find at home.
You will find several nice pharmacies in town as well with a variety of offerings in a clean, organized, air conditioned environment.
A large grocery chain, Romero’s, can also be found in town with a wide selection of items and we were told a great bakery – we didn’t try it but it smelled delicious.
There’s also an organic store that stocks a lot of hard to find items that you may miss from home – gluten free, vitamins, acidopholus, oils, even Canadian Maple syrup. The store is called Organica and can be found behind the HSBC in town.
The Muncipal Market in the city square is a nice colorful (and fresh) assortment of the local bounty.
The Tuesday Market put on by the expats is more of a craft sale than anything else but we did pick up some real cilantro (hard to find in Panama) and bird chili peppers as well as a couple of Spanish/English books by a local expat author, Pat Alvarado – a great gift or souvenir for children.
There are also several souvenir/local craft stores as well along the main drag.
What to see/do in Boquete
There are tons of things to do in Boquete whether you are an outdoor enthusiast, into coffee and food, want a “spa” retreat or simply sit back and do nothing.
We took a half-day tour while in Boquete with Mountain Safari Tours. The tour took us around Boquete and up into the hillside showing us beautiful scenery, the cloud forest, waterfalls, unique rock formations where Baru Volcan erupted over 500 years ago and a stop at a coffee plantation, Finca Lerida, where we enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and some hot chocolate – as well as sampled some of the fruits and herbs on the property. We of course picked up some coffee and some of their homemade strawberry jam.
For those interested in hiking (unfortunately with small children we weren’t able to do this) there are hikes through the cloud forest, a six hour night hike up the volcano to the highest point in Panama for an early morning sunrise view from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
You can even hike from Boquete to Bocas just like in the old days when gold miners made the same journeys.
There is rock climbing, kayaking and white water rafting options as well.
If you are interested in learning Spanish while you are Boquete there are several Spanish schools, including Habla Ya.