Boquete is one of Panama's Top Expat Havens

The district of Boquete (pronounced boh-KEH-theh) is nestled in the highlands of western Panama, in the fertile province of Chiriquí (pronounced chee-ree-KEE). Home to just over 20,000 people, it’s a retirement haven for expats looking for a simpler lifestyle.

Boquete is a microcosm of bliss. The mountain region offers breathtaking vistas, with lush greenery and flowers blanketing the hills in a kaleidoscope of colors. In the distance you can see the stunning Volcán Barú—Panama’s one sleeping volcano—rising up through the clouds. The Caldera river flows through the main village—like the district, the town is called Boquete, though its full name is Bajo Boquete, or “lower Boquete,” as it sits in a verdant valley.

With elevations of 2,600 to 4,000 feet, the Boquete region’s cool climate draws Panamanians and expats alike, with many choosing to retire here. Daytime temperatures are generally in the 70s or low 80s F, with nights typically above 60 F. The spring-like weather makes Boquete the ideal place for its active, outdoorsy population.

Boquete is only 40 minutes from David, Panama’s third-largest city, via a well-paved four-lane road. David is the commercial hub of the region, with shopping and all the services you might need, from government offices to medical providers. Two top-rated private hospitals offer affordable and accessible healthcare to residents of Boquete and all of Chiriquí Province.

Boquete’s privileged location is only about an hour’s drive from the nearest beach. The Gulf of Chiriquí forms the province’s southern border, and there are several beach areas along this stretch of Pacific coastline. It’s easy to grab your swimsuit, pack up your cooler, and head out for a day of fun in the sun.

Mountains, beaches, national parks…the Chiriquí region truly has it all. And that includes acres and acres of fertile farmland. Known as Panama’s breadbasket, this province grows some 80% of the country’s produce. Orange trees dot the slopes and rich, aromatic coffee beans grown here consistently rank among the world’s best. From the spiky tops of its sweet juicy pineapple to vines heavy with heirloom tomatoes, Chiriquí is a land of plenty.

With so much to offer, it’s easy to see why Boquete has a well-established, active expat population. Expansive mountain views and a springlike climate…abundant fresh produce, fish and everything else you could want for a healthy lifestyle…a near-endless variety of social events and activities…it may well be perfect for you.

Retire in Boquete, Panama

Retire in Boquete, Panama

Boquete has long been considered one of the top places in the world to retire…and rightly so.

Thousands of contented expats already enjoy a laidback, low-cost life in the area—surrounded by abundant wildlife, brightly colored orchids, and fertile farmland.

Resting in a bowl-shaped hollow, the main village is small yet well-served by grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, bakeries, hardware and clothing stores, a library, and a gym. Nature-lovers and outdoor enthusiasts will find this region has everything to offer. There are numerous trails and national parks, and the cloudforest is rich in wildlife…you can spot countless colorful birds, massive old-growth trees, and pristine waterfalls. The very fit and adventurous undertake the grueling hike to the freezing top of Barú, Panama’s one volcano and highest peak, it’s over 11,000 feet tall.

One of the biggest benefits of living in Boquete is being able to take advantage of Panama’s Pensionado program—the best program of its kind in the world. The main requirement is that you have verifiable a pension of at least $1,000 per month, and the application process is quick and easy. Become a member and you’ll gain acess to a host of discounts on all kinds of daily living expenses.

Pensionados get 15% to 20% off hospital visits, consults, and medication; 25% off domestic airline fares and meals at local restaurants; 30% off bus, boat, and train fares; and 50% off entertainment, including movies, plays, sporting events, and concerts.

The discounts make a real difference for many retirees, who see their retirement income stretch farther and can enjoy a higher quality of daily life—like eating out regularly at Boquete’s wide range of restaurants. For a bargain lunch, stop at a family-owned eatery where you’ll fill up on a plate heaped with meat or fish, rice, beans, and salad for about $4.

If it’s music, art, and culture you’re looking for then this little town certainly won’t disappoint. In recent years, Boquete has become the cultural hub of western Panama. Retirees looking to get creative can enroll in one of the many drawing and painting classes, join a photography club, or check out the frequent art exhibits at the Boquete Public Library.

Civic groups, social organizations, and volunteer services have a huge presence in Boquete as well. Locals and expats work side-by-side in the Rotary and Lions Club, and to raise funds for groups that help children, families, and animals in the community.

You can also relax with some golf at the luxurious Valle Escondido Resort or Lucero Country Club. For some personal pampering, choose from several world-class, full-service spas that offer therapeutic massages, fitness programs, and beauty treatments.

Many retirees say they feel better after living in Boquete for a time. For some, their less stressful lifestyle means lower blood pressure and less medication. For others, being active year-round… living in an area where it’s customary to walk and there aren’t fast food restaurants on every corner…means losing weight is easy. It just happens, often without your noticing.

Another reason is all the fresh food available in the Chiriquí highlands, known as “Panama’s breadbasket.” Fruit and vegetables are abundant and inexpensive at local markets, and dairy farms and ranches produce farm-fresh eggs. Fish and meats for your table come fresh from the sea or the butcher, not filled with preservatives. Strawberries from a local street vendor, topped with delicious fresh cream, are a bargain at $4…

Lifestyle in Boquete, Panama

Lifestyle in Boquete, Panama

Painters, musicians, photographers, actors, artists, and crafters will all feel welcome in Boquete and the rest of Chiriquí thanks to pristine natural surroundings and a variety of cultural offerings.

Villages like Bajo Boquete, Alto Boquete, Los Naranjos, Jaramillo, Caldera—and many more—retain a relaxed, small-town feel. Everything is more cheerful and natural. Local men often wear traditional guayabera shirts and handcrafted sombreros or hats. Women of the populous Ngäbe-Buglé tribes—they have autonomous rule over vast reservelands abutting Chiriquí province—wear colorful shifts adorned with traditional geometric patterns. They mingle comfortably with expats and tourists, typically ready to offer or respond to a buenos días when you pass them on the sidewalk.

During the summer months (December through April), festivals include the flower and coffee fair known as La Feria de las Flores y del Café or simply La Feria de Boquete, and the Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival that brings in performers from around the world. The music festival is a lively event that usually sells out. It takes place in various indoor and outdoor venues, including the Boquete Community Players Theater, which also hosts a busy weekly market.

Activities in this part of the world are more pastoral, making for a relaxed lifestyle in Boquete. You can tour the coffee plantations, take a ride on horseback, go white-water rafting or rock climbing, or relax with a spot of birdwatching. Hiking is a favorite activity, and trails range from very easy to the very challenging Barú Volcano trail (you should only undertake this with a local guide). Many who choose to live here report that their health improves as a result of their active lifestyle and outdoor pursuits, which they enjoy all year-round.

The highland town has also become a focal point for foodies and alternative health aficionados. Numerous small businesses offer delicious delicacies, such as European-style breads, hand-made chocolates, locally-sourced honeys, organically produced smoked sausages, and more. There’s even a micro-brewery in town.

To help maintain your healthy lifestyle you may visit one of Boquete’s spas for a massage, facial treatment, or another personal pampering session. You’ll find classes of all types, from yoga, Pilates, and Zumba to tai-chi and balance training. Those seeking spiritual experiences, life coaching, or other forms of personal guidance and enrichment will find plenty of options within the Boquete community.

And while you can manage without speaking Spanish in this part of Panama, there are two full-fledged Spanish schools in Boquete as well as private tutors and classes. Making the effort to communicate in the local language and being able to have a simple conversation can enhance your life experiences greatly.

Boquete has long been a popular destination for nationals and foreigners, and so there are plenty of places to stay and eat out. Quaint hostels, boutique hotels, local and international cuisine…there’s something for everyone. You can fill up on hearty comida típica (typical food) of roasted chicken, with rice, beans, and a salad for a few dollars. A number of mid-range choices offer burgers, pizza, sandwiches, and soups. For a special occasion, you’ll find dining rooms serving French, Peruvian, international, and fusion cuisine with excellent wines.

What many retirees soon discover about Boquete is that your lifestyle choices are almost unlimited. Maybe you prefer quiet days at home, away from the noise, looking out at the lush scenery. Maybe you love to be busy, taking part in events and activities every day. Or maybe your sweet spot is somewhere in between. Whatever it is, you’ll find it in Boquete.

Real Estate in Boquete, Panama

Real Estate in Boquete, Panama

Although prices have risen here over the years, real estate in Boquete remains relatively affordable. Because it is a popular location there is an excellent variety of real estate available. The town has both modern housing and traditional wooden cabins, as well as a smaller range of apartments. With the help of a reputable realtor and a willingness to explore, you can find just the thing to suit your wants, needs, and budget.

For instance, a three-bedroom, two-bath house in one of Boquete’s most desirable areas can be found for $187,000. A house here will offer views of the volcano and a nice backyard patio. A similar sized property at a higher elevation, with half an acre of land overlooking the town, will set you back about $350,000.

If you prefer a low-maintenance option you’ll find nice condominium selections here, too. Just outside of town in a desirable neighborhood there are two-bedroom, two-bathroom, fully furnished condos that can be bought for between $116,000 to $130,000, with monthly fees of just $50.

Keep in mind that many household expenses are low in Boquete, so your cost of living is low, too. In the highlands you won’t pay any heating or air conditioning bills. Many newer homes are exempt from property taxes for a few years or subject to new low taxes of 0.6% or less. Homeowner’s insurance is affordable, as is household help, such as a gardener or housekeeper.

Many newcomers prefer to rent for a time, and the good news is that you can rent a house for as little as $650 a month in and around Boquete.

Of course, there are many luxury homes in the highlands, too—custom-built homes with all the extras you could possibly want. For $540,000 you can own a four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in one of Boquete’s most prestigious gated communities, complete with a golf course, tennis and spa.

When it comes to finding a place to live, there’s something for every budget in Boquete.

Climate in Boquete, Panama

Climate in Boquete, Panama

One of the best things about living in Boquete is the climate…just ask the people who live there. Some call it “eternal springtime,” while others just call it perfect.

Elevation is the key to Boquete’s exceptional climate. Situated on the eastern-facing slope of Barú Volcano, it’s one of Panama’s sought-after highland destinations. Several towns located along the Cordillera Central mountain range share cooler temperatures and abundant rain, resulting in lush, colorful foliage. Another feature of these highland hamlets is the bajareque—a gentle mist that regularly floats down to the hills, often followed by a rainbow. Lower elevation towns such as David may be 10 to 15 degrees warmer and noticeably dryer than Boquete and her sister highland locales.

The temperature range in and around Boquete is stable throughout the year. The average low temperature hovers around 60 F. High temperatures range from 79 F to 87 F yielding an average of 83 F. These comfortable temperatures are the reason so many expats and retirees settle in Boquete. A blanket may feel cozy on chilly nights, and a ceiling fan will keep the air moving on warm days. But most homes have no heating or air conditioning, keeping utility bills low.

This lack of extremes is a real benefit in Boquete. Of course there’s no snow, freezing rain, or ice, so there’s no need to worry about bursting pipes or blizzards. While rain is common, the most severe weather likely to occur in Boquete is a thunder and lightning storm or flooding of low areas near the river. Most days here, you see the sun.

The Barú Volcano in Chiriquí province of western Panama is the country’s highest peak at 11,400 feet, and its only volcano. It last erupted some 500 years ago and has been quiet ever since. Being along the Pacific Rim means the country does have seismic activity including tremors, mostly centered off its southern or Pacific coast. To date serious documented earthquakes have been rare.

Rather than having four distinct seasons, in Boquete the year is divided into just two seasons. Summertime, here known as the dry season, starts in December and runs through April and is characterized by low rainfall and high winds. The wet or green season, from May through November, brings frequent rain and cloud cover. Heavy downpours tend to occur from August through November.

Even during the rainy season there’s plenty of sunshine. Many days start out bright and clear, with crisp, blue skies and clean, white clouds. Morning is the time to get your chores and errands done. Later in the day the clouds gather, the light fades, and the rain arrives. It may last for hours or for minutes…it may be a drizzle or a deluge…but it cools the air and nourishes the fertile earth, keeping Boquete lush and green.

Cost of Living in Boquete, Panama

Boquete, Panama
You can live comfortably in Boquete for very little. Life here is naturally inexpensive. Here is a sample of prices in Boquete:

Item Cost in USD
Rent (two-bedroom apartment in a central area)  $800 to $1,200
Electricity (depending on air-conditioning use)  $60 to $150
Water (bundled with trash pickup)  $0 to $25
Gas for cooking, hot-water heater, dryer, etc.  $0 to $10
Supermarket (mix of local and imported food/household items)  $400 to $500
Entertainment for two (movies twice a month, including snacks/drinks, and dinner four times a month)  $15o to $400
Phone (landline, mostly local use)  $13 to $20
High-speed internet  $20 to $45
Cable or satellite television  $35 to $50
Transportation (taxis or fuel/maintenance on a compact car)  $75 to $200
Total $1,553 to $2,600

No matter where you’re originally from, you’re likely to save here on everything from low electricity use (thanks to the perfect climate) to healthcare. Expats here frequently find their cost of living in Boquete is 30% to 40% lower than it was in the U.S. or Canada.

Video Tour of Boquete

Things To Do in Boquete

By Nanette Witmer

Boquete lies in a small highland valley shadowed by Panamas only volcano, Baru. Picture perfect and spring like weather have made Boquete a tourist destination for people from all over the world. Backpackers love the trails and outdoor activities here, while others visit to unwind in luxurious small hotels and sample the fine dining that Boquete offers. There is a long list of things to do in this area. Some of the most popular include the following:

Coffee Farms

Coffee Farms in Boquete
©Markpittimages/iStock

Known worldwide for growing excellent coffee, Boquete is home to dozens of small coffee farms. If you come to Boquete, you owe yourself a coffee tour. Many of the farms have tours where you can learn about the growing process, harvesting, and even taste some samples. Most tours are around $30 or under. Many of the tour companies in town provide transportation for the tour but it isn’t necessary. Most farms are only a cab drive away.

The Loop Drive

For a developed appreciation of the surrounding lush hillsides above Boquete, you should not miss an opportunity to take one of the few loop drives that circle the upper rim of the valley. Each only takes about 45 minutes to an hour and gives you stunning vistas of the area and the volcano. The loop road with the river is a personal favorite of mine. Beginning at the church at the end of town, stay to the left. You will be going up in elevation surrounded by coffee plantations and even further up you will find yourself driving through dense lush jungle areas. The road curves to the right and as you begin to descend you will see the Caldera River on your right. The San Ramon waterfall is on your left and there is room to pull over and take a photo. Further along you will come upon Los Ladrillos. This is a basalt rock formation formed over 500 years. It is amazing to see, and rock-climbing enthusiasts love to test out their skills here.

The Tuesday Market

The Tuesday Market in Boquete

To get an idea of just what Boquete offers, there is nothing better than experiencing the Tuesday Market. At the BCP Theater every Tuesday, a farmer’s market of sorts sets up for the morning. From 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. you can find everything from organic produce, handmade jewelry, soaps, cheese, tasty treats, handicrafts, and more sold by locals and the expats. It’s a way to get together to socialize and support each other. Each Tuesday at 10 a.m. the small theater hosts a speaker for an hour long talk. Subjects are varied and interesting usually having to do with topics expats would like to hear about. Admission is free.

Los Cangilones de Gualaca

About a 45-minute drive from Boquete is one of the best swimming spots around. This beautiful location is where locals hang out on hot summer days. In the small town of Gualaca lies a portion of the Esti River which flows through a narrow canyon and opens into a calm swimming hole. Locals and some visitors try jumping into the narrow canyon. Other visitors prefer just lazily floating in the refreshing natural pools in the river. The spot is perfect for a picnic with large flat rocks shaded by beautiful tropical vegetation. There are no facilities here. The entrance fee is $1.50 per car. It’s best to get to by car and easy to find. Find out more here Los Cangilones de Gualaca.

Getting to the Highest Point in Panama

the Highest Point in Panama
©Anorak_Studio/iStock

Leaving around 4 a.m. one tour company will take you in a 4 x 4 jeep for a two-hour, eight-mile drive to the top of Panama’s only volcano, Volcán Baru. The trip is extremely bumpy on this unpaved rough road. The road is steep and rocky but when you reach the top at around 6 a.m., you will witness the most spectacular sunrise and see both the Pacific and the Caribbean.  This is a once in a lifetime experience. At an elevation of 11,398 feet, the top of Volcán Baru is the only place in the world where you can see two oceans in the same spot. Bringing along your camera and a warm coat are the two necessities on this trip.  Beyond Adventure Tours also provides you with breakfast at the top with hot beverages to warm you up.

Spa Day

After your trip up Volcán Baru, you might find it nice to take advantage of one of the spas in Boquete. As Boquete has become a wellness retreat for many visitors and locals, there are a few wonderful spas in the town where you can relax and get a day’s pampering. Some of the best places to check out are Spa Boquete, Boquete Massage, Valle Escondido, and The Haven.

Ziplining

Ziplining in Boquete
©Wattanapong Plymat /iStock

A new popular experience to try in Boquete is ziplining. The Boquete Tree Trek offers ziplining as part of their eco park. It’s a great way to experience the nature of the area seeing the jungle like setting up close and personal. And, if you are lucky you might encounter monkeys, native birds, including the elusive quetzal. They also offer guided tours on their hanging bridge hike with views of the surrounding rivers, waterfalls, and flora and fauna.

Boquete Bees Tour

Recently, Boquete Bees a coffee and honey producing farm has started to give tours. There are a few tours to pick from but the most popular is the Bee and Butterfly Tour. You are led through the gardens full of flowers and butterflies. The educational walk will introduce you to the history of the bee keeping of Panama’s stingless bees as well as being able to taste several of the honeys the farm produces. And of course, they have lots of goodies in their shop for sale. It is located just outside of Boquete. You can easily drive or take a taxi from town.