Get a Cool Mountain Retreat in Panama’s Highlands

As the bus winds its way up into the mountains of Chiriquí province, you feel the heat of the lower elevations easing off. A cool breeze seeps through an open window, tempting you to close your eyes and envision the kind of laidback life that awaits you. But in Boquete, it can be quite hard to keep your eyes closed.

This town in the highlands of Panama’s Chiriquí province has been attracting expats for over a decade. And for good reason. Walled in by towering mountains covered in lush forest, the natural beauty of this region is simply staggering. Nature-lovers are well served here: among many other delights, the forests around Boquete are home to the famous resplendent quetzal, and avid birders travel from far and wide to catch a glimpse of its long, silky tail plumes.

The 3,000 feet between here and the city of David make a big difference. David is constantly hot; Boquete is pleasantly cool, and more prone to the occasional shower. But when you see the jaw-dropping rainbows that result, you certainly won’t complain.

Not only that, but the good-value real estate I found, too, makes this location even more attractive.

The beauty isn’t confined to the skies and mountains surrounding Boquete. The town itself is a visual delight. All about you are flowers nourished by rich soils, blooming in brilliant shades of pink, yellow, purple, and red. The homes in Boquete, reflecting the characters of their owners, are similarly bright, and in the town center you’ll find an eclectic park where (among other things) a little green windmill rubs shoulders with a pair of elegant flamingos and an exquisite flower display.

Expats from around the world have made Boquete their home, and have had a positive impact on the community here. Among other things, expats are heavily involved in local theater groups and charitable efforts, and are eager to share their town with others who might like to call it home. In Boquete, you’ll find the locals friendly and welcoming. On arriving in town, I was almost lost for words when a local let me get a taxi ahead of him and even offered to direct me to my hotel, despite the driving rain. A few days later, another local man crossed the street to return the sunglasses that had slipped out of my pocket without my knowledge. Small gestures like that can earn a place a home in your heart. Everywhere I went in Boquete, I was greeted with a smile. It’s just that kind of place.

Due to its popularity, prices in Boquete have been rising. But it’s still perfectly possible to live affordably here, as many expats do. Expats told me that $2,500 is enough for a couple to live well, including rent. Eating out is certainly affordable, too.

While in town, I enjoyed a delicious three-course dinner of lentil soup, fresh, pan-fried trout on a bed of vegetables, and a sumptuous scoop of ice cream all for only $12. Elsewhere in town, a refreshing cup of local iced coffee was only $2.30.

For $199,000, you could have a 3,200-square-foot, two-bedroom home with two Jacuzzis and enough parking space for six cars. A furnished, two-bedroom apartment in the downtown area, ready to move into, can be had for $189,000.

While $175,000 will get you a quaint, one-bedroom house with great views of the surrounding mountains and forests.

Rentals get higher the closer you get to the town center. In Alto Boquete (less than a mile from the town itself, with taxis in costing less than a dollar) you can rent a cozy, fully furnished, one-bedroom apartment for $500 a month.

On the whole, Boquete real estate is not as cheap as it once was. But there are still some bargains to be found, both in the town itself and its surrounding hinterland.

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