Breaking Down the Cost of Living in Boquete: Cheaper Than You May Think

I just recently returned from a visit to Boquete in the Highlands of Panama. Located in the province of Chiriqui, Boquete is known to many as Panama’s most popular retirement destination.

Interestingly, though, Boquete has been getting a bad rap. As more and more websites pop up touting luxury property in the area, one can’t help but wonder: has the cost of living in Boquete skyrocketed over the past few years?

What I found on my visit to Boquete, however, was very encouraging indeed. As it turns out, real estate prices in Boquete have started to come down, and there is still as much bargain property available as ever.

Though doomsdayers called Boquete’s real estate market “a bubble about to burst,” those who know Panama a little better said: “wait and see.” Markets in Panama don’t tend to fluctuate drastically; there’s a history of stability.

The cost of living in Boquete is still very low

Yes, the real estate market suffered a great deal, particularly in 2009. Buyers from North America dried out…they were dealing with too many problems back home to invest in Panama real estate.

Builders in Panama that targeted locals seemed to continue to do ok. Those that were targeting foreigners…not so much. But this year, two things happened: (1) buyers from abroad began to trickle back, and (2) property prices in Boquete began to stabilize.

My last visit to Boquete was one of the most relaxing trips I’ve had in a long time…the low stress environment and low costs put me at ease.

On day one I started my morning with a free breakfast—cereal, coffee, toast and fruit were included in my stay at Boquete Garden Inn, where rooms and small cabins range from $79 to $109 a night. The inn is surrounded by flower-filled gardens and bordered by a small river.

Later, at a roadside stall in the neighborhood of Los Naranjos, I just had to stop for strawberries and natilla, a thick, syrupy cream that tastes to me like melted cheesecake. For $2 the pudgy lady behind the counter will pile a generous cup high with good, fresh strawberries. It’s like eating a McDonald’s sundae without the guilt!

The strawberries—and blackberries and raspberries and all the produce—are among my favorite things about this region.

Go to Boquete and you, too, will be tempted. At a stall I found outside the town center, I stopped to ogle: sweet Boquete oranges, four for $0.25, fresh cucumber and chayote, a local green squash, were just $0.35 a pound, and the ripe Roma tomatoes were fiery red…and just $0.90 a pound. But with meals being so cheap, I was too lazy to chop vegetables for my lunch.

Noontime found me at a new Israeli café called Tammy’s, where a huge falafel sandwich, with homemade falafel and pita bread was just $5 (my friend went for a quarter of a chicken for $2.75). We each had a cerveza—at $1 a pop, how can one refuse? And the restaurant was very pleasant; Indian mirrored cushions adorned plush sofas and in one corner, a stage (complete with instruments) awaited the evening band.

And it’s not just the food prices that are low…no matter where you’re originally from, you’re likely to save here on everything from gas for cooking to hired help to power costs (thanks to the perfect climate). One expat named Richard Detrich says that his cost of living in Boquete has ranged between 30% and 40% what it was back home, on the California Gold Coast.

Boquete real estate: homes for less than $100,000

Later it was time to check out the property listings. A lot of about 2,000 square meters (that’s nearly half an acre) was on offer for $25,000 in one of Boquete’s prettiest areas, called Caldera. The lot is titled and bordered on one side by a brook. It’s accessible via a paved road and the area already has power and water service. I saw a slew of properties listed in the $30,000 range; the sizes vary from 7,500 square feet to over 20,000 square feet.

One two-level home on offer for $75,000 is located in the district called Alto Boquete, about 10 minutes from the Boquete town center. The three-bedroom, two-bath home features a covered terrace and balcony on the second level. The house itself is just under 1,000 square feet and sits on a lot of approximately 4,300 square feet…plenty of room for the kids (or grandkids) to play. And by the way, the mountain views are the best part of the house.

I found several homes on offer for $100,000. One of these is a two-bedroom, one-bath home with a covered terrace. The home is over 1,100 square feet and the lot is a spacious 4,800 square feet. It features a covered carpark and laundry area.

Another home on offer for the same amount seems to offer better value, as it features two bathrooms. The three-bedroom home is over 1,500 square feet and the lot is nearly 6,500 square feet. The property features a two-car garage, kitchen with breakfast nook, enclosed laundry area, and large terrace. The owner is willing to help finance.

But you don’t have to spend $100,000 to enjoy Boquete’s spring-like weather, eye-popping flowers, and uber-fresh produce. Look at property along the Boquete-David highway and you’ll be amazed at the variety of nice homes available in nice neighborhoods 10 to 30 minutes by car from the Boquete town center…and the prices, from $60,000 (and sometimes even lower), will appeal to anyone on a budget.

You may want to take some time to rent in Boquete before you buy, though. It’s a great way to test-drive an area and make sure it really is for you, before you plunk down thousands of dollars. I found a lovely powder blue home with white trim around its French windows. It’s a three-bedroom, two-bath home with a large living room, light-filled formal dining room, and spacious kitchen with hardwood cabinets (fully stocked with appliances, cookware, dishes, and utensils).

The home is available to rent for $850 a month. This is a good price considering that the home is just five minutes from the town center and fully furnished. Plus, the monthly rent includes water service, gardening, garbage collection, Internet and satellite television.

Another home for rent is just $600 a month. The turnkey home features two bedrooms with hardwood closets and two full bathrooms. It comes furnished, with gas hot water heater and gas fireplace, as well as major kitchen and laundry appliances. The kitchen features some rare extras for these parts: a dishwasher and a disposal in the kitchen sink. Rent does not include utilities, but the home is already hooked up for broadband Internet and cable television. Another plus: this is a pet-friendly rental.

But you don’t have to spend $600-plus a month to rent in Boquete. I spoke to expats in the know who have found rentals for $350 a month. Anyone who tells you it can’t be done, just isn’t looking hard enough.

Naturally, you can’t expect a palatial home for less than $400 a month. The units I saw were quite small, generally featuring one or two small rooms, one bathroom, and a nice front or back porch. Most properties in this area come with terraces or balconies and boast incredible mountain views…so it’s no wonder people spend a lot of time outdoors.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about Panama and other countries in our daily postcard e-letter. Simply sign up for IL’s free postcards and we’ll send you a FREE REPORT — Panama: First World Convenience at Third World Prices. This special guide covers insider advice on real estate, retirement and more in Panama. It’s yours free when you sign up for our IL postcards.

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