Standing on a bridge over the Calderas River, watching it bubble and tumble down the valley, it’s easy to see why the Swedes and Swiss who arrived in this sheltered spot in the early 20th century felt so immediately at home. Pure mountain air and forest-green hillsides are something you expect of Scandinavia or the Alpine foothills…not tropical little Panama.
But at around 4,000 feet up in the Chiriqui Highlands, Boquete is not humid or jungly. It’s best described as “spring-like.” And it’s clear that those first European settlers stayed for the year-round mild weather. They left behind them names like “Landau,” along with well-tended coffee farms. And you’ll see their influence in the steeply sloped roofs on the chalet-style homes that nestle among towering pines.
Boquete has grown a lot since the Landaus and their friends arrived. In the last two decades a new wave of expats have discovered the benefits of life here…many of them retired folks from the U.S. and Canada.
Any Tuesday morning, walk from town across the Calderas River bridge and you’ll find the spot where expats gather from all over these lush forested hills to trade and talk.
These “retired” folks have found plenty to do. There’s the lady from Florida who sells vitamins and health supplements. Another writes and sells bilingual children books. David Feinstein and Kersti Landeck offer up their locally famous fruit wines, and other expats bake bagels and bread, or make jewelry. One is a qualified chiropractor who offers his services. There are folks from coffee fincas with gourmet beans, people selling jams, cigars, hand-woven clothes and baskets…
But most are here to meet friends, share news, and sample some of the delicacies on sale. (It’s just $6 to have a stall for the day, and the market runs from 9 a.m. until noon.)
I like the market but one of my favorite places in town is the library—a new building with a good range of books in English and Spanish. And other developments around town promise to make life here even more attractive, such as the new fruit market set to be completed this year.
And I like the cost of living. A couple can live well in Boquete for around $1,700 a month.
You’ll find plenty of small, comfortable rentals in the $400 to $600 range, and the farther from town you go, the cheaper they are.
The affordability of life here means folks have funds to travel and explore. And Boquete is a great base for it. Many expats spend a few days on the Pacific coast enjoying the miles of sandy beaches. It’s only 40 minutes’ drive to the provincial capital of David and from there a 45-minute flight to the bright lights of Panama City. Or you can get the daily 8 a.m. bus from the central square that crosses the mountains to the Caribbean archipelago of Bocas del Toro. It’s worth it for the views and the drive through the cloud forest alone.
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