Panama Mountain Towns: Bustling Boquete or Peaceful El Valle

Panama’s size can be deceptive. In a tiny territory about the size of South Carolina you’ll find tremendous diversity. From the sultry Caribbean with its turquoise waters to the palm-lined beaches of the Pacific…from the Chiriquí Highlands to the smaller mountain havens just outside Panama City…Panama offers every landscape imaginable.

At sea level Panama averages about 88 F during the day, with evenings around 78 F. In the mountains, temperatures can be 10 to 15 degrees cooler. If that sounds perfect to you, then you’ve already narrowed down your search—you can nix coastal Panama from your list and focus on the mountains. But there’s still a lot to choose from…

Will you be happier in Western Panama’s popular Chiriquí region? Or should you stick to the eastern mountain towns closer to the cosmopolitan capital of Panama City?

To help you decide, we’re pitting world-famous Boquete, in Chiriquí, against the lesser-known crater town of El Valle, just a two-hour drive from Panama City.

As always, we recommend visiting to ensure your chosen destination is a good fit. Use this infographic to help you decide which town deserves a spot on your shortlist.

infographic on boquete and el valle

Quotes

Boquete: The mountains and the vegetation of Boquete called to us. The vistas are amazing: lush green mountains, rivers and waterfalls; coffee plantations; farms growing onions, cabbage, tomatoes, and potatoes. Our backyard today is home to dozens of beautiful birds. Boquete had the perfect climate for us. “Eternal spring” is the expression used by expats living here. – Cloe Thomas

El Valle: When the sun comes up in El Valle, the light streams in through our open windows. We have our coffee on our terrace, so we can watch the birds and butterflies. There is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful fresh fruit…mango, bananas, and papaya. Since moving we’ve both lost weight, and we feel better. We’re breathing much better air, drinking better water, and eating better food. – Bobby and Gayle Williams

Overview

Population:

Boquete: A large district, Boquete is home to over 21,000 people. This includes a large, highly visible expat population that lives in various communities, spread out across the district.

El Valle: El Valle is part of the Anton district, which is home to just under 55,000 people. However, most expats in this region live in the crater of El Valle, population 7,600.

Cost of Living:

Boquete: Most expat singles and couples here live on budgets of about $2,500 a month, including rent. If you own your own home, you can live on as little as $1,600 a month.

El Valle: An expat single or couple can live well here on as little as $1,800 a month, including rent.

English or Spanish?

The official language of Panama is Spanish, and it’s a good idea to learn at least some basic Spanish.

Boquete: With a large population of English speaking residents, Boquete is an easy place to navigate if you don’t speak the language.

El Valle: Though tourists get by just fine, you will need some basic Spanish if you plan to live here.

Renting versus Buying:

Boquete: It’s easy to rent or buy in Boquete. Rentals are plentiful and range from about $600 to $1,500 a month. There are plenty of desirable houses to buy in the $135,000 to $250,000 range.

El Valle: Expats rent small homes in El Valle from as little as $600 to $1,200 a month. The cost of real estate in El Valle is high for Panama—prices in the cool crater area are typically over $300,000.

Geography:

Boquete: With elevations of about 3,500 feet, Boquete is one of Panama’s highest, coolest, and breeziest regions. Average annual rainfall is about 126 inches. The nearest beach, on the Pacific, is about a 70-minute drive away.

El Valle: At about 2,000 feet El Valle is generally five to 10 degrees cooler than Panama City. Annual average rainfall is about 119 inches. Coronado beach is just a 45-minute drive from El Valle.

Healthcare:

Boquete: Most expats in Boquete visit the provincial capital of David, a 35-minute drive away, for healthcare. David boasts two modern hospitals and multiple smaller clinics and dental offices.

El Valle: There is a new modern clinic in the hub town of Coronado, a 45-minute drive away. It offers a popular membership program for discounted care at the clinic and its affiliate in Panama City, the prestigious San Fernando Hospital.

Getting Around:

Boquete: Boquete is well served by Panama’s bus system and local taxis. But as it is hilly and often rainy, most expats here prefer to have a car.

El Valle: El Valle’s village center, in the flat crater bottom, is easy to bicycle and walk around. Buses to Panama City are frequent and reliable. Most expats still choose to have cars here, to facilitate exploring/road trips and rainy weather errands.

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