A Trip to Boquete in Panama’s Agricultural Province – Chiriqui

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.

Agricultural Hub of Panama - Boquete

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.

Enjoying the Fire during a rainy day at the Panamonte Inn & Spa, Boquete

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.

Restaurant Nelvis Boquete Panama

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.

Municipal Market Boquete, Panama | Fresh Produce

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.

Waterfalls Boquete, Panama

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.

 

 

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    A Hike to “Up in the Hill” and “Mantis”

    This past weekend we had a great trip to “Up in the Hill” on the island of Bastimentos. You can read all about Up In the Hill and how to get there here.  “Up in the Hill” is an organic farm shop selling coconut oils (scented for your body or cooking), balms, shampoos, soaps, etc. as well as crafts,  seasonal fruits and vegetables and of course chocolate!  They also have a selection of drinks to cool down with after your hike up the hill including homemade chocolate milk, noni juice (good for whatever ales you – I went up with an earache and tummy ache and came back feeling great after a tall noni juice with chocolate and honey), lemonade, etc.

    They also serve up delicious brownies and truffles along with a few other menu items.

    We also stopped in at Mantis – a famous restaurant about half way up the hill.  More details on Mantis coming soon!

    Up in the Hill Cafe & Store

     

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      We Have Raised Enough For TWO Tanks For Operation Safe Drinking Water (Going For A 3rd)

      We just wanted to write a quick update about the fundraiser for Operation Safe Drinking Water that we are doing.  We started this fundraiser over the Memorial Day long weekend (in the US), and as of this morning we are excited to announce that we have raised enough money for not 1, but TWO (2!) water tanks.  THANK YOU!

      Our fundraising deadline is this Friday, June 1st, and now we are looking to raise enough money for a 3rd tank.  If we don’t raise enough for the 3rd tank, we’ll simply use the extra money to buy school supplies for the children of the school where we’ll be installing the 2 tanks.

      We just wanted to send out a huge thanks to all of our friends, family members, and business colleagues who very generously donated to this cause.  The mantra “every little bit helps” is so true, and even when people donate a couple of dollars, it all adds up.

      If you can skip Starbucks today, or drink a glass of water (a given for you but a luxury for these kids) instead of ordering a beverage the next time you’re at a restaurant, you can make a huge difference with your small donation:

       A lot of feedback that we’ve received from friends and family has been that they are happy to donate because they know that “we’ll be on the ground overseeing the project” and that their donation is being used to it’s fullest.

      To give you an idea of what exactly we’ll be doing on June 28th, I’ve cut and pasted from the email exchange between ourselves and Joe Bass, the Founder & President of Operation Safe Drinking Water.

      This is what Joe wrote to us after we had hit our goal of 1 tank, and told him that we were going for 2:

      ******************************************************************************************
      From:
      Joe Bass <XXXXXX@gmail.com>
      To: Dreama Lee <dreama@XXXXX.com>
      Subject: Re: Your Plans

      Schedule for the day.

      Meet you at dock of Barracuda restaurant in Bocas
      at 9 AM.  We will discharge our departing group there a
      8-30.

      We’ll be in Almirante  ( the mainland port city ) by 9-30, load two tanks, tools, supplies on two pick up trucks and be at the school by 10:30.

      Installation should be complete by  2 PM, followed by
      “meet the village” and the school ceremony of thanks.

      We should be back in Almirante by 4PM and back
      at Red Frog by 5 or 5:30  Our boat will take you directly
      to Red Frog

      This will allow plenty of time to inter-act with the
      teachers, students and community.

      We would like you to sign the tanks with permanent marker pens.

      You’re welcome to video all you wish as well as take photos.

      Our installation team will go to the school on the 11th to take
      necessary measurements and list all the parts an equipment
      needed to install two tanks..  

      The installation team will be headed by David Miner, an American builder and engineer based in Bocas and his assistant Luis Morgan.  Local PTA fathers will help throughout.You’re welcome to pitch in and help to the extent you wish.

      My congratulations to the Lee Family.
      You will change many lives and
      have a remarkable day yourselves.

      Your tanks will provide safe, disease-free water
      for years to come.

      I hope to meet you sometime next week.

      With best regards,

      - Joe
      ******************************************************************************************

      After we told Joe we were going for a 3rd tank, here’s what he wrote back today (please read this to get the best idea of how your donation can really help):

      ******************************************************************************************
      From: Joe Bass <XXXXXX@gmail.com>
      To: Dreama Lee <dreama@XXXXX.com>
      Subject: Re: Couple of questions and next payment

      Hi,

      A third tank would be great.

      A little info: Your school and the school for a third tank, if you are able to do a third, are along a dirt road that was once a small-gauge train track, hauling bananas to the nearby seaport.  You will still see remnants of the old train tracks embedded in the dirt road.

      It’s an extremely poor backwater, abandoned area, with populations of indigenous people with no jobs due to the cutback in banana plantations.

      The kids are under-nourished.  When the schools can’t serve their normal school lunches due to lack of usable water with which to cook, it impacts the health of the kids.

      The reality is, if the kids don’t eat at school they often don;t eat that day.
      Your tanks will ensure they are able to eat, as well as have safe water to drink..

      This long “road to nowhere” has several bare-bones schools with names like “Seven Mile School & Five Mile School.”  This area is a priority for us.
      We have already installed tanks at Seven Mile Shool, and on May 23, we installed tanks # 100 and 101 at Five Mill School.

      The biggest first-aid clinic my wife has ever had was at Seven Mile School. The lines of sick, diseased or people with cuts, sores and infections nvert seemed to stop or come to an end. Herclinic, planned for an hour lasted 3 hours and people were still coming for help..

      They’re far too remote to go to a govt. medical clinic.

      Our #100 tank will be the cover story in “The Bocas Breeze” on Friday, the 1st.  The “Breeze is the expat monthly newspaper for the Bocas area, with a wide online readership.

      Miraflores school is along this road, as are two other schools in need of help.  We could pick one of them for the third tank, if you have the donations to do so.

      The schools need pencils, crayons, colored pens, notebooks & simple, one-piece pencil sharpeners, stuff like that.  We present them to the principals and they see the serious students get them. Artistically inclined students get the colored pens so they can put their talents to use.

      One school we went to had nothing. The teacher moved hsi class under a tree where the kids did  2+2 = 4 in the dirt.

      The schools need all the supplies they can get.
      Miraflores alone has 240 students.

      School supplies are relatively expensive in Bocas, due to it being an island — and a tourist center. They are cheapest and most plentiful in Changuinola the provincial capital and main market town.

      You can make the trip to buy them, or we can get them in Chanquinola for you from the major suppliers and bring them along on the 28th.

      If you allocate how much you want to spend on school supplies, we’ll
      get them and bring them along with the tanks..  Whatever you wish to spend can be sent via PayPal, earmarked for school supplies.  We’ll bring you the receipts.

      Thanks again for opening your hearts to those in need.

      - Joe
      ******************************************************************************************

      Even if you’re not in a position to make a donation before Friday, at a minimum, please share this post on Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin, or at a minimum, “like” Operation Safe Drinking Water on Facebook, or send them a Tweet!

      Alternatively, you can make your donation here, using paypal (or your credit card):

       

       

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        Yoga in Bocas Del Toroa

        I’ve had the pleasure of taking a few yoga classes with Laura Kay at Bocas Yoga!

        Bocas Yoga Owner Laura Kay and Dreama Lee at Bocas Yoga

        Laura provides a pleasant and fun hatha yoga experience.

        She can be found in the Big Purple House, Positively 4th Street, Bocas Town, Isla Colon, Parallel to Main Street.

        I’ve been told there are a few other yoga classes outside of town for the locals but if you are visiting Bocas or Red Frog Beach then Bocas Yoga is your place.

        You can find a full schedule at Bocas Yoga’s website.

        You can also find Bocas Yoga on Facebook.

        Bocas Yoga Beautiful Studio Sign-In

         

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          Fundraiser for Operation Safe Drinking Water

          We wanted to let you know about an exciting endeavor we are taking on as a family while we are here in Panama.

          On June 29 we will be installing a rain catchment system through Operation Safe Drinking Water for an indigenous school in the Bocas del Toro island area.  Many children here do not have clean drinking water and as a result get very sick or die.  UNICEF reports that bad water is the # 1 killer of children in developing countries.

          As I think about our children having the stomach flu for a few days this past year and the weight they lost and how terrible I felt as a mother as there wasn’t much I could do for them, I can cannot even imagine how the mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, etc. must feel watching their children get sick and sometimes die because they do not have safe drinking water – causing same but worse symptoms as the flu.

          Right now we are living in the middle of a jungle.  It rains a lot however there is no clean water to drink for many villages only a short walk or boat ride from our home.  So what Operation Safe Drinking Water has done is to simply catch and share the same rainfall that creates the polluted puddles thirsty kids drink from.
          Operation Safe Drinking Water installs rain catchment tanks for indigenous schools in remote parts of Central America and as I write this are installing their 100th tank today!

          School principals report sickness rates plummet after they get safe water.

          The tanks are simple, low-tech, last for years — and refill with safe, disease-free water every time it rains.

          Operation Safe Drinking Water
          is a 501 (c) (3) charity run by all unpaid volunteers.  No one receives a salary or compensation.  The volunteers live among the people they serve.  And they are donors themselves, because they see what happens to children without safe water.

          Between today and June 1 we are going to begin to raise $975 – the total cost of an installation of one water catchment system, including the tank, other materials, wood base,  labor and transportation.

          We hope to raise more then $975, all extra funds will go towards buying school supplies, etc. for the school and village children.

          Our children will be helping to bring the tank into the village, hiking up to meet the children and even painting the tank with the village children in celebration.

          If you feel inclined to donate simply click on the donate button below.   Even if you can just donate a dollar or two, it would make a huge difference and allow us to reach our goal.

          Thank you for your support!

          -The Lee Family

           


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            The Perfect Day At Red Frog Beach Villas In Bocas Del Toro, Panama

            Today was an absolutely perfect day and the reason why the villas at Red Frog Beach in Bocas Del Toro, Panama, are such a magical place.  After waking up and enjoying an early morning workout, we were able to get some work done because of the high speed internet and Vonage that we have set up in our villa.

            After a morning swim, and closing on a real estate deal in Burbank, Ca, we had a great lunch followed by a lazy afternoon of swimming, reading and even a nap for the children.

            After naps we headed over to our neighbors who has an abundance of lemongrass growing outside of their villa.  Here was the “expedition” to grab the fresh, organic lemongrass that’s growing:

            After picking the fresh lemon grass, we headed off to “Punta Lava”, our favorite happy hour spot on the beach.  Ice cold Balboas, beautiful sunsets, and playing in the ocean, or some time to play in the sand for the children:

             

            After returning to our villa, Dreama had made the perfect stir fry using this recipe, and our fresh lemon grass:

            All in all, it might have been a typical day, but it certainly was a great one! perfect day and the reason why the villas at Red Frog Beach in Bocas Del Toro, Panama, are such a magical place.  After waking up and enjoying an early morning workout, we were able to get some work done because of the high speed internet and Vonage that we have set up in our villa.

            After a morning swim, and closing on a real estate deal in Burbank, Ca, we had a great lunch followed by a lazy afternoon of swimming, reading and even a nap for the children.

            After naps we headed over to our neighbors who has an abundance of lemongrass growing outside of their villa.  Here was the “expedition” to grab the fresh, organic lemongrass that’s growing:

            After picking the fresh lemon grass, we headed off to “Punta Lava”, our favorite happy hour spot on the beach.  Ice cold Balboas, beautiful sunsets, and playing in the ocean, or some time to play in the sand for the children:

             

            After returning to our villa, Dreama had made the perfect stir fry using this recipe, and our fresh lemon grass:

            All in all, it might have been a typical day, but it certainly was a great one! perfect day and the reason why the villas at Red Frog Beach in Bocas Del Toro, Panama, are such a magical place.  After waking up and enjoying an early morning workout, we were able to get some work done because of the high speed internet and Vonage that we have set up in our villa.

            After a morning swim, and closing on a real estate deal in Burbank, Ca, we had a great lunch followed by a lazy afternoon of swimming, reading and even a nap for the children.

            After naps we headed over to our neighbors who has an abundance of lemongrass growing outside of their villa.  Here was the “expedition” to grab the fresh, organic lemongrass that’s growing:

            After picking the fresh lemon grass, we headed off to “Punta Lava”, our favorite happy hour spot on the beach.  Ice cold Balboas, beautiful sunsets, and playing in the ocean, or some time to play in the sand for the children:

             

            After returning to our villa, Dreama had made the perfect stir fry using this recipe, and our fresh lemon grass:

            All in all, it might have been a typical day, but it certainly was a great one! perfect day and the reason why the villas at Red Frog Beach in Bocas Del Toro, Panama, are such a magical place.  After waking up and enjoying an early morning workout, we were able to get some work done because of the high speed internet and Vonage that we have set up in our villa.

            After a morning swim, and closing on a real estate deal in Burbank, Ca, we had a great lunch followed by a lazy afternoon of swimming, reading and even a nap for the children.

            After naps we headed over to our neighbors who has an abundance of lemongrass growing outside of their villa.  Here was the “expedition” to grab the fresh, organic lemongrass that’s growing:

            After picking the fresh lemon grass, we headed off to “Punta Lava”, our favorite happy hour spot on the beach.  Ice cold Balboas, beautiful sunsets, and playing in the ocean, or some time to play in the sand for the children:

             

            After returning to our villa, Dreama had made the perfect stir fry using this recipe, and our fresh lemon grass:

            All in all, it might have been a typical day, but it certainly was a great one!

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              Celebrating a Birthday in Bocas del Toro or Red Frog Beach

              Made to order cakes at John's Bakery, Bocas del Toro

              If you find yourself trying to prepare and celebrate a birthday in Red Frog Beach or Bocas del Toro here are a few things you may want to know.

               

              Where to buy a cake in Bocas del Toro:

              We were able to pre-order two beautiful cakes for our son’s third birthday at Johnny’s Bakery in the heart of Bocas town near the center square and park.

              Birthday candles can be bought at Johnny’s and at a few other grocery stores.

              John's Bakery Bocad del Tora, Panama

              Made to order cakes at John's Bakery, Bocas del Toro

              Gifts:

              For children you can find assorted toys (balls, sand toys, water guns, plastic toys, barbies, cars, pens, crayons, markers, paper, etc.) in most of the grocery stores (or “chinos” as the locals call them – which means “Chinese-Owned”).

              You will also find some small little clothing, etc. stores that have a few toys and children’s clothing along the main and side streets.

              There are a few craft and artisan stores that have nice wood carving & jewelry as well.

              For adults birthdays you can also find nice things at the artisan and craft stores and numerous spas that you could purchase a gift certificate from.  You can see a list of spas here and stores here.

              One store even had pinatas if you want the party to be extra special!

              Parties:

              Many of the restaurants are accommodating and if you wanted to plan a special party you can organize ahead of time.  To see a great list of restaurants click here.

              Be sure to communicate your needs well and check back several hours PRIOR to your party time to be sure that everything is as you had intended.  In Panama things move at a much slower pace and as a result you may have to wait a bit longer than you may have hoped to have everything completed.

              If you are staying at Red Frog Beach you can arrange for a private chef to cook dinner in your villa for you!  They provide a nice menu to choose from and have a mix of local specialties.

              There are numerous bars in Bocas del Toro as well for an after dinner party!

              ying to prepare and celebrate a birthday in Red Frog Beach or Bocas del Toro here are a few things you may want to know.

               

              Where to buy a cake in Bocas del Toro:

              We were able to pre-order two beautiful cakes for our son’s third birthday at Johnny’s Bakery in the heart of Bocas town near the center square and park.

              Birthday candles can be bought at Johnny’s and at a few other grocery stores.

              John's Bakery Bocad del Tora, Panama

              Made to order cakes at John's Bakery, Bocas del Toro

              Gifts:

              For children you can find assorted toys (balls, sand toys, water guns, plastic toys, barbies, cars, pens, crayons, markers, paper, etc.) in most of the grocery stores (or “chinos” as the locals call them – which means “Chinese-Owned”).

              You will also find some small little clothing, etc. stores that have a few toys and children’s clothing along the main and side streets.

              There are a few craft and artisan stores that have nice wood carving & jewelry as well.

              For adults birthdays you can also find nice things at the artisan and craft stores and numerous spas that you could purchase a gift certificate from.  You can see a list of spas here and stores here.

              One store even had pinatas if you want the party to be extra special!

              Parties:

              Many of the restaurants are accommodating and if you wanted to plan a special party you can organize ahead of time.  To see a great list of restaurants click here.

              Be sure to communicate your needs well and check back several hours PRIOR to your party time to be sure that everything is as you had intended.  In Panama things move at a much slower pace and as a result you may have to wait a bit longer than you may have hoped to have everything completed.

              If you are staying at Red Frog Beach you can arrange for a private chef to cook dinner in your villa for you!  They provide a nice menu to choose from and have a mix of local specialties.

              There are numerous bars in Bocas del Toro as well for an after dinner party!


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