Summary: Boquete, Panama


1,200 meters above sea level but just a few hours from the Pacific and Caribbean Coasts, Boquete is a mountain getaway and favored expat home with a pleasant climate, low cost of living and a high availability of goods, services and leisure activities.

Pros: Inexpensive, picturesque, wide grocery selection, comfortable climate with consistent temps, world class coffee, expanding tourism offerings, large and active expat scene with numerous organized groups and activities,

Cons: Cool dampness encourages mold, nearby Baru Volcano presents some risk of eruption (4 times in past 1,600 years), rainy season lasting May to November inconveniences some

Distortions: The many micro climates mean that weather can vary greatly between houses 1,000 yards from each other, we visited for 2 months during the rainy season

Surrounded by misty green mountain peaks, this high altitude town is home to an active and well organized population of older expats.  The cost of living is low relative to other popular Panamanian towns, though higher end goods and services are available for those who wish to make use of them. Boquete is a very comfortable transition from first world life with a wide variety of imported goods, a high standard of construction and a fresh, comfortable climate.

Boquete probably has a larger expat community, as a percentage of the local community, than anywhere else we’ve sampled.  The crowd is older, slightly conservative and members are usually from Texas or Florida.  They are much more politically active than other expat communities we’ve encountered and seem to want to benefit the area for gringos and locals alike.  During our time in Boquete we volunteered with a monthly spay and neuter clinic which not only provides free sterilization but actively traps strays in order to provide them with veterinary care (as well as sterilization).  As a result, Boquete had far fewer packs of stray dogs roaming the streets than most other places we’ve visited.  Granted, the locals seldom seem concerned with the presence of strays, but gringo-organized opportunities for a wide variety of community services abound here. A younger transplant scene has coalesced around the staff and students at the Habla Ya Spanish School and backpackers  are lured in significant numbers by the region’s hiking trails.

Romero, the major supermarket in town, boasts the impressive array of imported goods that we’ve come to expect in Panamanian.  While not on the scale of an El Rey, one of the major chains in Panama City, you’ll find just about everything you need.  The one glaring exception is produce, so it’s convenient that the Municipal Market is just across the street.  Fresh, local produce is available amongst 10 or so indoor market stalls at very reasonable prices.  Romero makes a decent loaf of bread, but we preferred the loaves of egg bread from a seemingly nameless bakery just down the street from Romero on the ground floor of a prominent pagoda-like building.  We also did a fair amount of our shopping at a nearby convenience store which offered all of our staples and more.

The longstanding Supermercado Mandarin, opposite The Central Park from Romero, was recommended for better prices, though we didn’t see a significant difference.

Espresso machines abound in Panama, though most of my joe was coming out of giant urns (huge percolators, as best as I can tell) or the occasional Nescafe machine.  The Nescafe cappuccino is well worth a try and a good place to sip one is Central Park, located, predictably enough, along the Central Park.  Like many simple Panamanian restaurants, the menu is overpriced but none of the locals order off it anyway.  Ready made lunches and dinners (“Comida Corriente”) cost between US$2-3 and include chicken, fish, beef or pork and sides. Sabroson is the mecca for affordable plates in town, a buffet layout with plenty of options and modest prices.  When backpackers ask their respective front desks where they can get a cheap meal, they’re directed here.

A quick option when neither of us were ready for a full meal were the US$0.25 empanadas at the bus stop near the fire station.  I recommend a dozen with an envelope of ranchera sauce from the store; there will be leftovers.

Our only upscale dining was at The Rock, which didn’t disappoint. We also heard excellent things about Machu Picchu and Bistro Boquete.

Pizzeria a mi modo (across from tacos y mas) made a solid pizza though expats unanimously voted Papa Riccos the best local pie.  His place was a little far, so we never tried the pie.  Cafe Baru also offered great pizza as well as a lively, popular backdrop and a convenient location on the central square.

Hot water is a necessity if you’re not going to shiver your way through your shower (and beyond). The air temperature is usually comfortable, but the mountain water being piped in is frigid.  We had dependable internet with decent speeds, though power blipped often and occasionally stayed out for 30 or 45 minutes. David, Panama’s second city, is less than an hour by bus and offers good shopping (people come from as far away as Bocas del Toro for goods) and will (supposedly) have an international airport soon.  We had our laundry done at Lavamatica Genesis (near the fire station and next to Tacos Y Mas); no complaints, US$4.50 for a large load (wash, dry and fold).

We spent a lot of time exercising in Boquete.  I joined Pilo’s, a reasonably well equipped weight room with yoga and aerobics classes alongside.  The Girlfriend joined a predominately cardio joint called Getsemani.  Both were easily accessible in town and each ran US$25/month, though Getsemani added a US$10 fee to join.  The Girlfriend also attended the occasional yoga session led by Linda Day.

There are a few notable hiking trails in the area, though we didn’t attempt any of them.  The pipeline trail was recommended as an easy few hours of beauty, the Quetzal trail was accessible or not, depending on who you talked to, as were the nearby hot springs.  We visited the springs twice and enjoyed it, though without access to a 4wd it’s an long and potentially irritating trek.  If I had my own capable vehicle I’d be there at least once a week.  Hiking Volcan Baru (The Volcano) is a popular reason for people to visit Boquete, though we were repeatedly told by experienced hikers that it was considerably more difficult than they’d been led to believe.  No one complained, but they were surprised.

The Panamanian bars, especially the Indian bars, can get annoying due to stumblingly drunk locals who want to converse; much of the mumbling and slurring would be incomprehensible to even a native speaker.  Baru is a good intersection between cost and quality of room.  Zanzibar is overpriced (especially the poorly packed hookahs) but popular with a young crowd. Tica’s, just across the bridge near the community theater, was my favorite middle ground but could be empty with no apparent rhyme or reason. Cabana was always loud and so-so, though they did host some large and potentially fun events that we didn’t attend.  We made it a local dance hall Bar Coca Cola, but it was empty when we arrived and never really picked up; probably just an off night.

Our hunt for rentals was varied, but ultimately the second place we saw was the place we decided on and we didn’t have to look at too many more to know that it was what we wanted.  We got a very nice one bedroom with internet, cable, gas, electric and water included.  We had hot water, window screens and better furniture than we have at any other private rental.  We had a king sized bed and plenty of towels, sheets and blankets, all for US$400/month.  After 8 months of Nicaragua, we were a little in awe. We understand there to be another comparable place nearby for about the same price, so this wasn’t just a one-off, but you have to dig to find these deals.  We saw a lot less for a bit more all over town.

On the upscale end, we saw nice lofts in town, US$900 for a single month w/o balcony, US$1000 with.  Prices go down with longer term rental. These were across the street from Sabroson.  AIP, Boquete Forums and Craig’s List are all useful resources, but the best deals are likely to be word of mouth.  Gringo pricing is in full effect, so you’re encouraged to bargain or find a local (Panamanian or expat) to tell you what’s what.

We brought in our 30 days at US$875.68. As always, that covers two people’s day to day expenses including rent and utilities.  46% (US$400) of that went to rent and the included utilities, 26% (US$228.97) went to groceries and sundries, 10% (US$85.03) went to booze, more than half of which was at bars.  We ate 24 meals out (each person’s meal counts as 1), which came to 6.74% of our spending (US$59.05).  Half of those meals were breakfasts, which come cheap and hardy in Panama.  Dig in to the numbers and do with them what you will.


7 Responses to “Summary: Boquete, Panama”

  1. Trent Says:

    Thank you for taking the time to compile this list…gives us wana-be expats something to daydream about while at work.

  2. Jenn Says:

    Thanks so much for all the great information – I love your blog. My husband and I just arrived in Boquete and are planning to stay for a little over a month. Would you be able to give us any additional information (location/contact) on the apartment you stayed in? It sounds really nice! We are starting apartment hunting today, so any advice would be appreciated. Thanks!

  3. Andrea Cook Says:

    We live in Boquete and here are a few more expenses. Our house is over 1800 sqft on a half acre of property in Volcancito which is about a 5 minute drive into town.

    Health insurance – 46.00 a month for me and 55.00 a mo. for him.
    Car insurance – 175.00 a year (flat rate, doesn’t matter make/model)
    Propane/Gas – 5.37 for a 5 gallon tank. We use about 1 a month (stove, hot water)
    Water – 6.00 a month (we pay by year)
    Trash pickup – 12.00 a year (I think)
    Electric – 22.00 – 29.00 a month
    Landline/DSL – 28.00 a month (Cable/Wireless)
    Gardener – 14.00 a day (twice a week)
    Housekeeper – 10.00 a day/hours (once a week)

    Great Blog!!

    • cgearhart Says:

      Thanks Andrea!

      Does that electric include AC or a dehumidifier? Just curious.

      Thanks so much for adding to the blog.

      • Andrea Cook Says:

        No A/C or heat as it’s not needed. The temperature year round is a low of 60 and a high of 80 (no more/no less). Average during the day is 75 so it is always comfortable. We do have fans running and haven’t had any mold or mildew issues here, so no dehumidifier…yet I think it is much much more humid in the DC area than here.

      • cgearhart Says:

        Yeah, I was really surprised to see some of the newer construction included AC. It seemed so unnecessary.

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