My $450-a-Month Mountaintop Rental in Boquete, Panama

Five years ago I was living quietly in a small 1,100-square-foot home just outside my native hometown of Austin, Texas. I was doing my utmost to live simply in contrast the rapidly increasing consumer culture of America.

The mortgage on my home was $1,100 per month. Two years later I purged around 70% of my possessions and downsized to a 450-square-foot apartment in the center of Austin for the same $1,100 monthly. That was the first step toward a simpler way of life.

All my utilities and internet were included in that $1,100 and I no longer carried the added burden of a yard to maintain and all of the additional responsibilities of home ownership, as well as the endless list of things that could go wrong on an 80-year old home. I still owned a car, which ran me $425 per month before insurance and gas, equaling roughly half of my housing expense.

In 2019, I took a leap into the greater unexplored world by moving to Kyoto, Japan for a year. In 2020, with the advent of the pandemic, I returned to the U.S. For 15 long months I spent my days tirelessly trying to plug myself back into the "American way" of doing things. Seeking meaningful work became my full-time job, as well as searching for a very small and simple place to live in a city that had seen a 43% rise in housing prices in one year.

It became abundantly clear that this was a recipe for living that would no longer work for me and the simple way of life I had now grown deeply accustomed to.

When I learned of the mountain town of Boquete in Panama, it felt like fate. This expat haven seemed to meet almost all of the elements I had distilled down over the years when searching for a place where I could live simply.

I decided to explore Boquete for one month. It has now been three months. I have lived here for a season, and my visa is good for six months.

During this season, I have discovered a place where one can live on less than $1,000 monthly with some lifestyle and comfort adjustments along with the underlying desire to live a much simpler way of life.

Here are some ways I have done just that:

A Mountaintop Rental for $450 per Month

After living in town for the first month after my arrival, I knew I needed quieter surroundings, away from traffic and where I could also immerse myself in nature.

I now live atop a mountain in a fully furnished casa, surrounded by all variety of native flowers, coffee plants, and citrus trees. The rent is $450 per month with all utilities and internet included. Heating the house for a month with a propane tank will run $5.67.

I also live surrounded by the beautiful indigenous Ngábe Bugle peoples of Panama and I am less than a mile from the entrance to Volcan National Park, which offers scenic hiking and birdwatching.

As I write this article, I am looking out my window where a late afternoon rainbow extends across the valley of Boquete.

A rainbow over the valley. ©Kirk Miller
A rainbow over the valley. ©Kirk Miller

Renting an apartment in town, one can find fully furnished options with utilities included, for $350 per month.

Living Without a Car

Boquete is a very walkable city surrounded by numerous hikes and walking paths and trails. Groceries, restaurants, the library, and coffee shops can be accessed easily on foot.

Recently, I sold my car in the U.S. which was costing me the equivalent of what I now pay in rent for a month in Boquete. Living without a car is not for everyone, but if you are seeking a much simpler and healthier lifestyle as well as less impact on the environment, this can easily be done in Boquete.

Healthy Home Cooking

When I was living in the U.S., my monthly food budget was equal to what I am now spending for my monthly rent. I was surrounded by easy-access restaurants, most of which were not healthy.

In Boquete, due to the international expat population, restaurants are abundant. My weekly go-to favorite is the Panamanian buffet where most of the locals eat daily. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, I can generously load up a plate of food and pay $3. The patacones (fried plantains) alone are worth the $3.

I have also enjoyed learning to prepare my own food. Recently, I picked up a 50 pound bag of vegetables for $10 and prepared enough soup to last me for months.

Embracing Nature

Living in Boquete, those of us from modern cultures are removed from most forms of "entertainment" as we have come to know it. In Boquete, long walks, hikes in nature, waterfalls, and watching birds and rainbows over the valley serve as daily entertainment and are absolutely free. There is plenty of time to read, write, and contemplate the clouds drifting across the mountains.

Grow and Process Your Own Coffee

When I came to Boquete, I discovered that I was now living in one of the most ideal coffee growing climates in the world. Boquete is world-famous for its quality coffee and its highly-prized Geisha variety.

On the mountain where I live, I am surrounded by coffee farms as well as coffee trees just outside my door. As a result, one of my hobbies has become processing my own coffee. Growing and processing coffee amidst the elements is truly its own art form and the steps from ripened bean on the vine to your cup take about two months.

The view from my mountaintop casa. ©Kirk Miller
The view from my mountaintop casa. ©Kirk Miller

I am now on my fourth round. My coffee costs me nothing and tastes more intoxicating than any I have ever experienced in the world. As I slowly enjoy my morning cup, there is the added richness and reward of knowing I have personally taken that coffee all the way from the tree to my cup, all for free.

In the U.S., my monthly spending averaged $2,750. Here in Boquete, it's $745. As you can see, with a desire to embrace a much simpler way of life, one more in alignment with nature and its rhythms, you can live well and create a beautiful way of life in Boquete on less than $1,000 per month.

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