“You’ll never find rainbows if you’re looking down.” – Charlie Chaplin
Rainbows mean many things to many people. To some they are merely a meteorological phenomenon. To others, who subscribe to certain ancient myths, they serve as a bridge that connects humans to the gods. To still more they represent the promise of God’s preservation. In Irish folklore, the rainbow marked the hiding place for the leprechaun’s pot of gold. It was a mythical place that, since the rainbow is an optical effect that depends on the location of the viewer, could of course never be found. Or could it?
To residents of Boquete Panama, frequent rainbows are the product of the bajareque, a delicate drizzle that sometimes accompanies the north winds that blow down from the mountains. The rainbows arch, often in multiples, over the Valley of Flowers and Eternal Spring, aptly named due to the town’s vast array of exotic flora and its balmy weather that rarely registers above 80 or below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Situated in Panama’s highlands, Boquete is nestled into the lush mountains less than 40 miles from the border the country shares with Costa Rica. Located in the Chiriquí Province, the town (actually a group of six smaller districts) sits on the Caldera River approximately a half hour drive from the capital city of David and 340 miles from Panama City. Its elevation of almost 4,000 feet above sea level helps to alleviate the sweltering humidity experienced by some of its coastal neighbors.
Instead Boquete enjoys perpetual spring-like temperatures and breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. With a population of less than 20,000, about as many as New York’s Madison Square Garden can seat, residents of Boquete enjoy the small-town atmosphere that so many expatriates seek when leaving their native lands.
Just in case you need any further convincing…
For the thrill-seeker, the mountains around Boquete offer opportunities for hiking, such as the Sendero de los Quetzales trail or the ascent to the top of the Volcan Baru, a dormant volcano that is also the nation’s highest point. Rock climbing, zip lining, whitewater rafting, and horseback riding round out the list of other available action-packed adventures.
For the slightly more faint of heart, the above areas can also be explored by vehicle, although the country’s push for ecotourism would encourage exploration that leaves the least impact on the natural environment. Also offered are more leisurely tours of the local coffee plantations and rain forests, as well as trips to the hot springs of the nearby Caldera River.
No matter what your preferred method of sightseeing, you needn’t venture far to enjoy the spectacular flora and fauna of Boquete. The mountains and forests boast an array of flowers: lilies, hibiscus, roses, carnations, sunflowers, and orchids. The region is also home to over 900 species of birds, including the Resplendent Quetzal which was regarded as sacred by the ancient Mayans.
Repeatedly named as a top retirement destination by groups such as AARP, Boquete, Panama, enjoys spring-like weather all year round. Perhaps the only thing that differentiates the seasons is the rainfall that occurs during the summer (roughly May through October) and ceases during the winter months (November through April). The combination of the moist climate and fertile, volcanic soil results in a rich agricultural bounty of coffee beans, strawberries, oranges, and much more.
The mountains around Boquete are home to the Ngobe-Bugle people. This indigenous group is comprised of farmers and artisans. They fashion chaquiras (bead necklaces), baskets, chacara (woven bags) and nahua (the garments of their native dress). Likewise the Kuna people are famous for their bright molas, a colorful textile art form.
Boquete is home to a vibrant music and art community. The Boquete Jazz & Blues Festival is the largest in the province of Chiriquí. The Boquete Community Players, an expat theater group, was started to promote an appreciation of the arts and foster a sense of community among the expatriates. The group recently opened its new venue alongside the Caldera River. The organization also hosts the annual Chiriquí Art Expo.
Panama’s Pensionado (Pensioners’) Program offers a lifetime visa for retirees, with little expense or hassle and no minimum age requirement. Pensionados receive discounts of up to 50 percent on entertainment, 30-50 percent on hotels, 25-30 percent on transportation, 30-50 percent on hotels, 25 percent on restaurants, 25 percent on power and utilities, and 15 percent on hospital and private clinic services.
Panama is pro-business and pro-investor. The country also has favorable corporate and personal tax laws. Foreign-earned income is not taxed, and new home purchases can be tax exempt for a certain number of years.
Due to an already-established community of expats, newcomers to Boquete will find many of the same conveniences they enjoyed back home. Essentials such as cellular phone service and high speed internet are readily available.
Organizations such as Rotary International and Lions Club International have established chapters in the area. These and many other philanthropic initiatives have been started by local expatriates. Through Animales de Boquete, they strive to control the animal population and improve overall animal health. A group called Amigos de Boquete feeds hundreds of local school children each day. Another organization called Buenos Vecinos collects food and monetary donations to assist the hungry and elderly.
It goes without saying that, no matter how spectacular the perks of a particular destination, it may not be everyone’s answer to the question “If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?”
While still far less than the cost of living in the United Sates (60-70 percent less per some expats), the cost to live in Boquete, Panama, is higher than that of living in other mountain villages. However the old adage that ‘you get what you pay for’ may hold very true in this case. The prevalent amenities and luxurious accommodations available in Boquete do not come without a price.
That being said, the cost of living is STILL quite low. A modest 3-bedroom/2-bathroom home on a decent lot can be purchased for under $150,000. To rent the same property would run you in the neighborhood of $800 per month. A taxi will drive you across town for $1-2. A haircut costs around $5, and dinner for two with a bottle of wine will set you back a mere $30.
While Boquete is not ON the beach, it is near it. Panama is an S-shaped country that borders the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Slightly smaller than the state of South Carolina, the country is 110 miles across at its widest point. Boquete’s location lends itself to a view of both oceans from atop the Volcan Baru. So what you sacrifice in proximity, you regain in panorama.
The mountainous terrain also makes Boquete somewhat of a difficult place to access. Buses from David, the capital of the province, leave every 45 minutes. Flights from Panama City to David range from $80-$100. Taxis are available for local travel. However, the city of Boquete itself is very pedestrian-friendly. Also to be considered is the fact that the abundance of local businesses, such as grocery stores and even shopping malls, eliminates the need for frequent travel outside of town.
Those wanting to immerse themselves in the local culture, learn the language, and dress in authentic garb would have much preferred Boquete a decade ago. Today there are almost as many expatriates as there are Panamanians. Recent years have seen the addition of 1,000 homes, and the area now features over 10 gated communities.
On the flip side, this could also be regarded as a benefit to those who want to relocate to paradise without losing too many of the things to which they’re accustomed back home. For instance, the dollar is the national currency of Panama.
So now, over 100 years since the city was first founded on April 11, 1911, Boquete, Panama, has become a mecca for international tourism and a magnet for refugees from all across the globe. A bowl-shaped valley tucked into the mountains of Panama’s highlands, it is a true cultural melting pot and, until recently, one of the region’s best-kept secrets. With a name that means “gap” or “opening” in Spanish, perhaps it’s no coincidence that the town was first founded by gold-seekers who were hunting a shorter and faster route to the Pacific. Who knows? Maybe those leprechauns were onto something.
Whether it’s best suited for you or more appropriate for someone else, there is no doubt that Boquete, Panama, is indeed a treasure. If Boquete is the home away from home of which you’ve always dreamed, we look forward to seeing you. If your search for the destination of your dreams must continue, we wish you the best. May the road rise up to meet you…
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Photo Credit: Acnur Las Americas When it comes to exploring Central America, Panama’s Darien province marks the end of the road for most travelers. Located