Why You’ll Never Leave Boquete, Panama

In the Highlands of Panama, near the border of Costa Rica, there are mountains and valleys velveted in deepest green.

Bougainvillea scampers up the hillsides, most often in shocking, bright contrasts of magenta and coral. Meandering roads take drivers past greenhouses, coffee plantations, and orchid farms. And round-faced Ngöbe-Buglé tribal women still wear cheerful robes of turquoise and fuchsia, decorated with traditional geometric patterns.

While Panama’s cities and beaches enjoy average year-round temperatures in the high 80s F, the highlands are often 10 or 20 degrees cooler. The cloud forest climate and the fertile land make for a tantalizing combination. Everything grows here—from cacti to rare tropical orchids and pineapple to coffee and more. The local market features organic produce, catch-of-the-day tuna and shrimp, and even fresh botanicals.

The place just feels good for you. People comment on it all the time, particularly the expats, many of whom will tell you their health improved after moving here.

It may be more than the pure mountain air, the constant mist called bajareque, and the rainbows that appear over the town church almost daily, though. There are no fast food chains here… and walking is the preferred form of transportation when visiting the local shops and cafes.

And, if you need something that you cannot find in Boquete, the city of David—with its major hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, malls and more—is just a short drive away. Right now it’s a 45-minute drive—but the road is currently being widened, and the journey will soon be just over 20 minutes.

David is the capital of the Chiriqui province, and home to the Enrique Malek Airport. Flights arrive to and depart from this airport to different parts of Panama, as well as San Jose, Costa Rica. You can hop a flight from David to Panama City, and you can be there in an hour. Spend a few fun nights on the town…or do what you need to do and come back the same day. It’s easy, convenient, and hassle-free.

And if you want beaches, they’re also close by. Drive as little as 45 minutes along the Chiriqui coast or as much as two hours, depending on which particular stretch you’re after.

All of these amenities and conveniences make Boquete an ever-more popular expat destination. But perhaps the best thing about Boquete—what really sets it apart—is its friendly, gracious community. This community makes Boquete one of the most welcoming places in Panama.

“People who leave here miss Boquete,” says expat resident Penny Ripple, a slim, stylish woman with a penchant for networking and fun. “And then they come back to Boquete.”

And she should know. Penny first moved to Boquete in 2004 but left in 2007 for a stint in Cuenca, Ecuador. Though she made some wonderful friends in Cuenca and found the setting beautiful, she missed the lively pace and social life she’d left behind. About 14 months later, she was back in Boquete, so busy no one would ever dare call her a retiree.

Being busy is a recurring theme around here. During my latest visit, just days ago, everyone I met could gab for hours about all the great clubs, organizations, activities and events. I’d stop by to see a property and find myself being fed fresh-baked banana bread, or being invited to a family dinner.

No matter how many expats arrive, it seems there always some new niche to fill…some way to become a part of the community.  Long-time residents like Penny have thrown themselves into local life, helping dozens upon dozens of new projects get off the ground, including the photography club, the “underground dinner” club and the annual Boquete Jazz Festival.

As a result, the town has grown—but for the better. The new library, the new community theater, the center for people with disabilities, and the eclectic Tuesday market are enriching the lives of Panamanians and foreigners alike. So much so that city dwellers from David are even moving here.

“Anything you want to do, you can come here and do it,” says Penny. “People give of themselves and their talent.” And these days, it seems there’s nothing the Boqueteños go without.

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