By now there is a good chance that you have heard some of the buzz that has made Boquete – bow-keh-tay, Panama a top destination for nature lovers and eco-tourists as well as a highly-rated retirement destination. As it appears that a period of economic uncertainty may be looming in some parts of the world and rising land prices in Panama may be taking a brief pause, this may be the perfect time to plan your first visit to explore this beautiful little town and check out the real estate offerings. Now the question arises … How do we get there?
The country of Panama is located between Costa Rica to the west and Colombia to the east. The capital, Panama City and the Panama Canal is located closer to the eastern end, while Boquete and its airport hub, David – dah-veed – is at the opposite end, not far from the border with Costa Rica. This location gives Boquete much of its quiet charm, but requires a little extra planning to make the trip. More information about your travel options will follow.
Best Time to Visit
There are two seasons in Panama and especially Boquete. The green season is September through December, with the heaviest rains in October. Often mornings are clear with rain coming in the late afternoon. The dry season begins in January, making the best months to visit from January through August. Don’t forget, even in the green season daily temperatures are in a very comfortable range from the high 60’s to high 70’s. Nice!
Getting to Panama City
There are indications that a major expansion of the David airport near Boquete is about to begin, bringing with it many more direct flights from the U.S. and other countries. Even as these options increase it is a good idea to spend at least a couple of days in Panama City at the beginning of your adventure. We like SideStep.com for airfare comparisons and TripLister.com for hotel reservations.
There are two airports that serve the Panama City area. The international airport Tocumen – airport code PTY, is located about 20 miles outside of the city center. This is probably where you will enter the country. The smaller, regional airport located just outside of downtown is Albrook – airport code PAC and is where you will connect to flights to David. Departure times are somewhat limited out of Albrook. Another good reason to spend a night, or two, in Panama City. Note: There is another airfare alternative that skips Panama City. You can fly first into San Jose, Costa Rica -airport code SJO then take Air Panama from there to David. This is not recommended unless your schedule from home fits nicely with the limited connecting flights on Air Panama. Once you’ve arrived at Tocumen International you will need to take a taxi or shuttle into Panama City unless you are renting a car there – beware, the city center is traffic madness. Current price for a taxi is about $27 each way.
It is highly recommended that you make arrangements with a local tour guide to pick you up at the airport. This guide can get you to your hotel, and even take you on a personalized tour of shopping, cultural, canal, scenic areas, so you can get comfortable with the city with a minimum of worries. After that, taxis are just a few dollars to almost anywhere in the city. Although surprises are few, always verify the fare before getting into the cab. A little Spanish practice will be helpful at this point, and all along your journey. Some places to visit while in Panama City might be Casco Viejo, the historical center, the city center – watch out for heavy traffic, the Amador Causeway – walking, bike riding, ocean and canal-ship views, great restaurants, casinos, and, of course, the Panama Canal and its museum. While Panama has a relatively low crime rate there are a few areas to avoid, especially at night. Check with your hotel for advice before heading out on your own.
Heading for David and Boquete
There are three ways to get to Boquete from Panama City. The first option is to take a bus to the city of David, then rent a car there for the 45-minute drive to Boquete. Buses depart from the Albrook airport several times daily for the 7-8 hour ride, with prices about $25 each way. Check with your hotel for details. The second option is to rent a car either at Tocumen Airport or in Panama City and drive to Boquete. Outside of the city, the drive is actually quite easy and the roads are good – Pan-American Highway, four lanes part of the way. The trip will take 6 to 8 hours depending on weather and stops. A side trip to Coronado on the coast or El Valle in the mountains, along the way is a nice break. Most travelers prefer the scenic one-hour flight from Albrook Airport to David. Your two choices are Air Panama or Aeroperlas. You can then rent a car at the David airport from companies like Dollar, National, etc. Here’s a tip: Luggage weights are strictly controlled – about 30 pounds per person – on the regional airlines, and you may be charged for overweight bags. Consider leaving some items in a spare suitcase at your hotel in Panama City and pick them up on your return trip.
This city, the capital of Chriqui province, has a population of about125,000 people. While not much for scenery it will be your source for almost all purchases besides groceries, banking and restaurants while living in Boquete. Here in David you will find hardware stores, auto dealerships, most attorneys, government offices, Price Club – Costco, and even that famous American hamburger chain. If your schedule allows it is a good idea to have a look around town at either end of your trip into the highlands.
Beautiful Boquete, Panama
By this time in your journey you will probably be ready for the peace and beauty that is unique to Boquete. The turnoff from the Pan American Highway in David is clearly marked, but anyone can give you directions. The drive is about 45 minutes as the highway gently takes you to the cool elevation of over 3000 feet – 1000 meters – above sea level. Allow a little extra time in the event you get behind a slow-moving truck or bus. The road to Boquete has been approved for widening to four lanes, and construction will begin shortly. As you climb upward the stunning Volcan Baru will come into view. Later, dropping into the little valley of Boquete is a sight you will remember always. That being said, here is a little warning about your first visit: If you have been doing research on Boquete and have pictured a quaint, fairy-tale town out of the Napa Valley wine country, prepare for a little reality check. Boquete, although charming and constantly changing, is still a sleepy Latin-American town. Fear not! Everywhere you go, and everyone you meet, will make you come to understand what a special place this is. Slow down, breathe in the pure air, exchange the local greeting Buenas several times, and you will begin to feel the vibe.
What to See in Boquete
Once you are settled into your hotel – Panamonte Inn, Boquete Garden Inn and Los Establos Inn are all good options, start with a walking tour of downtown Boquete. Practice your Spanish while wandering in and out of the various shops. Visit the Romero Supermercado behind the central park to get an idea of local grocery prices and selection. Coffee, vegetables, fish, rum and chicken are very cheap, while American products like Kraft cheese are not. Also bordering the park is the local indoor farmer’s market offering produce at great prices. Next, explore your dining options – Boquete Bistro, Panamonte Inn and Delicias Peru are highly recommended. Now it’s time to take a driving tour of the area. There are three main loops to explore, all of which eventually bring you back into town. The first, Volcancito begins at the large visitor center at the top of the hill before heading into the valley, skirts the base of the volcano, and brings you back into town via El Salto Road. For the second loop, bear right at the fork at the top of town, pass the Panamonte Inn, drive up to the Palo Alto coffee-grow
ing area and then back into central Boquete. Don’t miss the Mi Jardin gardens just before you re-enter town. The third loop takes you across the bridge at the fairgrounds, near the central park again, up into the Jaramillo area, and then back into civilization passing the Los Establos Inn toward the end of the journey. Your hotel can give you many helpful ideas for activities including a hike up the volcano, coffee plantation tours, white-water rafting, nature and canopy tours, A.T.V. or horseback rides, and many other excursions.
Enjoy your visit to Panama!