With a spring-like climate all year round, tree-covered mountains sloping to the warm waters of the Pacific, and a great sense of community, Panama’s Chiriquí region, and particularly the town of Boquete, has attracted savvy expats for decades. Constant sunshine, small-town values, and a relaxed, tropical lifestyle tick all the boxes for a dream retirement destination.
Newcomers to this area, though, have to deal with something pioneering expats did not: higher real estate prices in town and in the most popular areas right around it.
Nowadays, plenty of large, high-end homes and condos are available for top dollar, including those in guarded, gated communities. In that way, Boquete town is a victim of its own success.
But if you’d prefer to walk out your door each morning and be surrounded by forest and farmland, with local farmers and a smattering of expats as your neighbors, nearby Alto Boquete and Palmira are worth a look. And you won’t be out in the “boonies.”
Luckily, you’re not too late to take advantage of the region’s many benefits. There are still plenty of opportunities to snap up good-value real estate—homes and land—in serene and peaceful locations…if you know where to look.
On my recent trip I visited areas, including Alto Boquete and Palmira, where you can find homes starting at $140,000 just 10- to 20-minutes’ drive from the town center. Compare that to $357,000 for a two-bedroom villa in city limits, or $295,000 in the popular neighborhood of Volcancito.
So if budget is a concern for you, this is the time to buy, while prices are still low.
This mountainous region of the Chiriquí province is known for its microclimates—it’s said to have 13 distinct ones, although year-round temperatures don’t get above the low 80s F and rarely go below the 60s F at night. This is the tropics, after all. But the elevation, which hovers around 4,000 feet, keeps things cool. In Alto Boquete, temperatures are generally about five degrees higher than in the village center. It’s warmer and drier overall but can also be windier. Palmira is one of the sunnier spots.
Boquete is in the heart of one of Panama’s most fertile agricultural areas. It’s known for coffee, citrus, and other crops, as well as dairy farming. Strike out into this area on the main road to the city of David, and you’ll soon hit Alto Boquete. It’s a quiet district in the countryside, but still a quick five- to 10-minute drive from the restaurants and shops in town. There are also convenience stores and eateries right as you come onto the main highway.
It’s mostly a local neighborhood with a sprinkling of expats. Homes are on large lots, so there’s plenty of privacy. You could develop your own garden or hobby farm, or go crazy with tropical landscaping (everything grows in the rich volcanic soil).
Plus, you can get uninterrupted rural views.
One home, a three-bedroom with views of Volcán Barú looming above, is listed at $189,000. A few minutes down the road is a two-bedroom home surrounded by a mature tropical garden for $99,000.
Another bonus to living on Boquete’s south side, and close to the relatively new four-lane highway, is that you’re closer to David, Panama’s third-largest city and capital of Chiriquí province. It’s just 30 minutes down the road.
David has a small airport, with regular flights to Panama City and onward to many U.S. and Canadian destinations.
David also has good-quality medical care at well-regarded hospitals—Boquete has only small clinics. And this metropolis of 150,000 or so has great shopping, with larger stores than Boquete, including a warehouse, Costco-style shopping club that offers many items you may miss from home. There’s even a mall with a movie theater showing films in English—tickets are a couple of bucks. So, in a way, you have the best of both worlds.
You live in the quiet countryside, but with “big-city” conveniences nearby. Most expats in Boquete make the trek to David a few times a month.
In addition, you have the beach. Boca Chica is a favorite spot; it’s a tropical island setting with virtually nobody there, just 45 minutes from David. Many deserted islands in this archipelago are reachable by boat—and they offer great sport fishing, too.
Definitely doable as a day trip from Boquete if you get an early start. Being able to go to the beach, and then be back at their mountain getaway in less than two hours, is one of the big perks for expats here.
Another home in Alto Boquete, newly built in a modern style, with vaulted ceilings, is available for $140,000. Also available is a three-bedroom home on a half-acre lot. It comes fully furnished and is listed for $169,900.
Closer to Boquete but heading west off the main highway, you’ll find Palmira. As in Alto Boquete, the main roads are paved, with back roads and access roads to homes and properties more likely to be gravel. You don’t need a four-wheel drive, but having an SUV with high clearance and strong suspension is recommended.
You’re definitely off the beaten path in Palmira: Rolling hills, thick forest, and wide, verdant pastures surround you. As you pass through the little clusters of farm houses and tiny villages, the local people are quick to wave and smile. This is coffee country, and you’ll often find the beans drying at local facilities, where workers process them for export and sale around the world—at least, what doesn’t stay in Boquete. You can enjoy some of the world’s best coffee here—it may even have been grown in your backyard.
This is a working farming community, with a large dairy operation and a tradition of coffee cultivation. But among the forests and fields, you’ll also find very affordable lots running $13 to $15 per square foot ($139 to $160 per square meter). And water and electricity hook-ups are available.
In Palmira, many are focused on land right now. It’s plentiful and cheap, at about half what you’d pay in better known districts of Boquete, and you get a chance to build a home to your specifications. Most folks don’t go opulent. They build small-scale but still comfortable homes. Many expats here are ready to downsize and cut construction and maintenance costs, rather than replicate the house they had back home.
If you wanted to have your own little farm or horse ranch, you could get a 9.88-acre parcel, just 15 minutes from Boquete (but worlds away), for $299,900.
When you consider that a 0.29-acre lot in downtown Boquete recently sold for $110,000 and a one-acre parcel in Volcancito is listed at $129,000, you can see you’re getting a bargain. Scott Weaver and Julie Hartzog have lived in the Boquete region for almost eight years and recently completed construction on their new home.
They chose Palmira for its affordability and location, paying $20,000 for their quarter-acre lot. Their home, which cost $80,000 for labor and materials, they designed themselves. It’s 1,200 square feet, with high ceilings, a separate garage, and a large storage room.
“We don’t have any neighbors, so it’s quiet up here and sunny all the time,”says Scott.
Much of the property is taken up with mature coffee plants, which are harvested every year. There are also fruit trees, tropical foliage, and towering tropical hardwoods.
It’s right off a recently paved road (you can be in Boquete in 15 minutes), with water and power ready to hook up. It’s listed at $279,900—that’s $1.41 per square foot, right in the sweet spot for this area.
There are completed homes to buy in Palmira, too. A luxury three-bedroom home of 2,125 square feet, with views of the distant Pacific and eight minutes from Boquete, features touches like granite countertops, Jacuzzi tub in the master bedroom, and walk-in closets. It’s on offer for $219,000.
Editor’s Note: This article was taken from a past issue of International Living’s monthly magazine. Delivered straight to your door each month, we delve into the details you need to take action. We share our contacts. We lay out the pluses and minuses. And we keep you up-to-date on the latest developments with the best havens abroad, including…7 Great Retirement Towns You’ve Never Heard of…
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