Now is a good time to buy in Boquete, Panama if you’re looking for a second or retirement home. The market slowdown is throwing up some nice discounts and deals. A dozen years ago it was little more than a sleepy mountain town. But its cool climate and low cost of living attracted expats and retirees. Word got out and Boquete boomed.
Located in Panama’s Chiriquí province, the town is also known for its expat community. Rated by the AARP as one of the world’s best retirement destinations, Boquete blipped onto the expat radar around 2001 when International Living first started writing about it.
Its artsy social scene has been growing ever since. You can fly an hour to the Chiriquí capital of David (then take a 45-minute bus ride to Boquete), or the drive from Panama City takes six hours.
Boquete, with its Swiss-style cabins, magenta and coral bougainvillea spilling over their walls, is known as Panama’s flower capital. It’s a land of super-fresh produce, colorful blooms, and some of the world’s best coffee.
The expats in Boquete will tell you their health has improved…not because they’ve done anything special, but because the place lends itself to healthy living. What to do? It’s easier to walk here than to drive. Everything is close and everyone is on foot. There aren’t fast-food joints on every corner. But the market carries fresh ahi-grade tuna and sea bass and shrimp every day. And they’re a mere fraction of the price you’d pay back home. Baked with juicy tomatoes or slices of fat Boquete oranges, dinner for four will run you under $10.
Local expat Louise Orr lives a charmed life here. She enjoys the cool climate and the bird watching, which is out of this world. But she’s also found an outlet for her creative side. You’ll meet painters and photographers and jewelry-makers here. The expat community has helped infuse Boquete with the arts. This quiet village now has a yearly jazz festival and an English-language theater troupe (Louise has been in seven different productions).
There’s much to do for lovers of the great outdoors, too. This is the kind of place where you can go white-water rafting or hiking or birding…every day. You can have your own farm and livestock…grow rare orchids and bromeliads…pick limes and bananas from your very own trees. The land is rich and fertile, the climate is perfect, and the men still wear hats and ride horses.
It all seems to make it well worth living here for those who stay. And then there’s the cost of living. If you buy a home (anywhere from $70,000 for a simple, local-style home to $175,000 for a U.S.-style one), you can live here on as little as $600 a month, including utilities, transportation, groceries, household goods, and entertainment. I’ve met people who’ve rented a home here for $300 a month. You can eat out for $4, get a glass of wine for $3, and take a taxi for $1.50. Here, paradise comes at a price…but it’s low.
Boquete was always a niche market that attracted fewer buyers than Panama City or the Pacific beaches. And most of the construction in the boom years was aimed at well-heeled U.S. buyers. The economic woes in the U.S. hit the Boquete market hard. The pool of buyers dried up.
Latin buyers kept the Panama City market ticking over. Not so in Boquete. The market ground to a halt. Projects stalled or never got off the drawing board. Yet Boquete is still a great place to spend time. The boom years brought some nice additions to the town, too—a modern supermarket, chic cafés and restaurants, and boutique hotels.
Here’s an example of the kind of deal you can find here today: A 2,700-square-foot, four-bedroom house five minutes from downtown Boquete. It’s got two bathrooms and an open-plan kitchen with plenty of cabinets. Outside, there’s a big patio overlooking the yard. The yard’s a good size and planted with coffee and orange trees. The owner originally listed it for $280,000. Then he cut the price to $250,000. I hear he will now take $200,000. That’s only $74 per square foot. Expect to pay $100 or more per square foot in the newer projects. That’s still up to 50% off what you could have paid before.
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