Winters in Wisconsin can be cold…cold enough to want to escape them. For Christine Kunert and her husband, Dan, this was their motivation to start looking for a vacation and potential retirement home someplace a bit warmer. Doing their research on locations, prices, and proximity to home, Panama seemed to tick all the boxes.
Christine and Dan were intrigued by the idea of living there, if only for part of the year. So in late 2008, their first move was to check it out in person. Their first stop was the highland town of Sante Fé, about 190 miles west of Panama City. Though it offers beautiful scenery and a rustic lifestyle, it was simply too small a town for the lifestyle they had in mind.
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Next on the list was Pedasí, on the country’s Azuero Peninsula, which they liked, but found to be too hot. To find somewhere cooler, they drove up to Volcán, which was also not quite right.
But the trip to Volcán wasn’t in vain. Leaving the town, they drove through the expat favorite of Boquete…and knew they had hit gold. On getting to Boquete, they both knew that this was it, even before they’d inhaled the soft mountain air and experienced the deliciously cool mountain evenings.
They were hooked. In March 2009, they returned for Dan’s birthday and after that, the Kunerts started making a habit of it. They spent their next seven winters in Boquete; investigating, exploring, researching, and falling more and more in love with the highland town and its inhabitants.
Gingerbread houses framed by rainbow-hued flowers.
In 2011 they stayed for an extended period of time, setting up a “home” at the Isla Verde guesthouse (see: islaverdepanama.com) where they had reliable internet. That meant that Dan was able to continue working as an environmental planner and Christine as a medical transcriptionist. That setup suited them perfectly—renting a casita for the winter at Isla Verde meant that they didn’t need to commit to a property purchase, or even feel that they needed to go down to Panama every year.
And it’s what they’ve been doing ever since— getting the best out of an international life, skipping the cold winters, and not having to deal with visas, residency, or home ownership in Panama.
“I find that Boquete is the perfect size to provide for the necessities,” says Christine. “All the day-to-day needs are covered: food and groceries, adequate and affordable housing, functional infrastructure— they’re all here. Plus, there’s a variety of excellent restaurants, a well-stocked library, and a range of enticing activities for any budget or skill level. Especially eco-adventures. I’m an avid hiker, and Boquete has a dozen or more interesting choices for hikes right from town, without even having to do any research about where to find them.”
There’s also the all-important weather—it’s pleasant all year round in Boquete, especially during the U.S. winter months, when Christine and Dan usually visit. Temperatures hover in the 70s F during the day, dropping to the 60s F at night.
But sometimes the reasons to fall in love with a location are something that isn’t so easily explained. When you feel it, you feel it.
“I just found the physical ‘look’ of the town charming,” says Christine. “Gingerbread houses framed by rainbow-hued flowers, meandering rock-strewn streams, traffic jams caused by herds of cattle, cowboys maneuvering their steeds over hilly inclines…”
But there’s an interesting variation to the Kunerts’ story. Last winter, Dan felt that he really missed skiing during the winter months at home. (Panama offers a lot to the expat or long-term traveler, but one thing it doesn’t have is ski resorts.) Again, the flexibility of not being committed to a full-time home in Panama worked in their favor.
While Dan chose to stay in Wisconsin and enjoy the ski season, Christine went ahead with the annual trip to Panama, knowing that she’d feel confident and safe enough in their established routine to go ahead and do it alone.
When winter comes around, whether Dan is with her or not, Christine has plenty to keep her busy. She happily rejoins her chosen activity groups in Boquete; knitting, the Chiriqui Progressives, The Unitarian Universalists, volunteering with the Boquete Health and Hospice organization, and regularly hiking, where she makes new like-minded friends. Some of her new hobbies include painting, calligraphy, and writing.
“I feel like Alice in Wonderland,” she says, “getting to enjoy a fulfilling life in Wisconsin with my husband, friends, a beautiful home and garden…and a second glorious life in Boquete.
“I simply cannot tolerate the winter cold in Wisconsin, or the dangerous icy roads, so that is when Boquete beckons… and my second life awaits.”
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