A Quick Guide to Panama’s Popular Mountain Towns

The two best things about mornings in Volcancito are the coffee and the view. I’m at the heart of Panama’s coffee-growing highlands—there’s even a bush of red “cherries” in my garden. (They’re surprisingly sweet when you suck one.) And for $600 a month, including all utilities you get a stunning view of the town of Boquete, Panama.

I’m renting a comfortable casita in the hills above Boquete (that’s the town in the photo), one of Panama‘s most popular expat havens. A lot of my neighbors are expats who bought property here in years gone by. They greet each other by name, know each other’s dogs and cats, and warmly welcome recent arrivals like me.

There are plenty of us all over the valley. Folks renting for a few months—trying out life here and making the most of the moderate climate (at this time of year many have escaped the snow). I’ve met people from Wisconsin, Idaho, New York, Hawaii, Florida, Canada…everyone’s got a story and time to tell it. Making friends is easy.

There are a few ways down to Boquete town from Volcancito. I often walk the 20 minutes downhill and catch a $3-dollar cab back. Butterflies dance across the trail, and the views of the valley change at each bend. My neighbor here lost 40 pounds when he first moved to Panama through such a regime.

With a lower cost of living I have more money in my pocket and eating out regularly doesn’t dent my budget. I can eat a slap up meal in Restaurante Las Orquideas near the central park for just $3.25. I often have breakfast in El Sabroson, which usually costs around $2. And the other night I had a delicious meal in a French-style café for around $10.

That’s not all that’s affordable: the haircuts at Barberia Lasso are so cheap I’ve never looked so neat. For just $3, I had a barber who knew his business trim my hair, clean my neck with a cut throat razor, and give me just as much conversation as I looked for (very little; it was early).

There are rentals all over the valley. Some of them are home-from-home for part-timers who come every year, often keeping one eye on the real estate market with a view to buying. Others are farther out of town necessitating a car. There are chalets, casitas, apartments, and grand bungalows; I even saw a yoga studio in the hills for rent at $600 a month.

But there’s a catch… Many rentals aren’t advertised online. There are ways to find them of course. You need to know who to talk to and where to look. It’s something I’m researching right now—it’s one of the reasons I’m here.

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