Panama is a haven for American travelers – a magnetic Spanish culture, a reputation for safety, a thriving expat scene and lack of currency conversion all make for a hassle-free destination.
The vibrancy of Panama City and the beach allure of renowned Bocas del Toro more than warrant a significant monopolization of most itineraries. 100% include both of these destinations on your Panamanian journey!
However, if you have an affinity for lush green mountains matched by a ‘laid back kind of style’ you might be missing Panama’s less talked about destination gem. Located in the Province of Chiriqui, just over 35 miles south of Costa Rica, lies Boquete, Panama. At 3,900 feet above sea level, you can expect a cooler climate and a tranquil mountain setting to clear your mind and engage your senses. Boquete is a perfect spot to disappear from the daily hustle into the welcoming arms of an indigenous culture made up of artisans and farmers. AND LOTS OF RAINBOWS!
My favorite adventuring partner Kristi and I visited in November which is at the tail end of rainy season. Being from Oregon and Colorado respectively, we both have an attachment to mountains. Along with visiting Bocas and Panama City, the biodiversity and peaceful vibes of Boquete rounded out our complete Panama adventure.
So why give this little mountain town some attention on your itinerary?
Panama boasts some of the best coffee in the world and was the first country to start commercially growing the elite Geisha varietal. Due to its high elevation, volcanic mineral rich soil and micro-climates, Boquete exhibits a ‘perfecto’ growing environment. There are no shortages of coffee plantation tours and coffee tastings in Boquete, making this a coffee lover’s sanctuary.
100 Percent Fun Fact: Coffee grown in high altitudes and lower temperatures result in slower growth which further develop flavor and aroma.
Admittedly, I am a ritualistic tea drinker but what better place to have my first cup of coffee than in Boquete at Finca La Milagrosa or ‘The Miracle Farm’. This 100% organic coffee farm is one of the most respected producers in the country and for very good reason. The taste of the coffee is as revitalizing as the story behind the farm’s success. Mr. Tito took over the farm from his father more than 30 years ago without any coffee plants or machines and little knowledge about coffee production. But with a dream and dedication he built roasting machines out of old car parts and transformed the farm into an award-winning small plantation. His Geisha coffee is one of the finest delicacies in the world.
Because Flora and Fauna
Calling all ornithologists and bird enthusiasts. Boquete is home to almost 1,000 species of birds including one of the world’s most elusive birds, the Resplendent Quetzal. The Quetzales Trail offers hiking and birding through the stunning mountain rainforest of the Talamanca mountain range. This unique formation harbors many of the highland bird species of Chiriqui. The trail is full of ancient trees including the aguacatillo which is the Quetzal’s main food source. Ferns, mosses and native flower species are also abundant, making this trail a one-stop cost-effective nature cleanse.
Empanadas for days! A year before leaving for Panama I remember my sister raving about a bakery in a small mountain artist community. After inquiring further I learned that little reputable bakery is called Sugar and Spice – and of course it’s located in Boquete. The artisan baked goods at Sugar and Spice are undeniably some of the best savory treats I have encountered and being from Portland, I would say my standards are higher than the average indulger. Utilizing tried and true European techniques, this world-class bakery serves up fresh breads, pies, omelets, empanadas, quiche, muffins, cakes and the list goes on. Pair any of these with a cup of Panamanian coffee and congratulations, you have just made your trek to Boquete WORTH IT.
Panama’s population of around 20,000 people consists of a melting pot of artisans, farmers, expats and the local indigenous group, Ngobe-Bugle. The community boasts a lively music and art scene with hand crafts, music festivals and even theater productions. You can expect to find chaquiras (bead necklaces), baskets, hammocks, woven bags and other hand-sewn garments. And, don’t miss the Boquete Jazz & Blues Festival taking place annually in March.
All the things: Canopy Tour, White Water Rafting, Horseback Riding, Hiking and so much more.
The tallest mountain in Panama, Volcan Baru, is an active volcano totaling 11,398 feet in elevation. Guided hiking treks, including sunrise hikes, are available through many tour operators including Boquete Outdoor Adventures and Habla Ya Panama. Prices start at $85 per person. Experienced hikers are welcome to create their own experience while only paying a $5 park fee.
The Chiriqui Province is a paddling paradise with more than 25 world-class whitewater runs. Remote villages, riverside lunches, serene rainforests, and a mixture of Class II and Class III rapids make this an excellent choice for all skill levels. Prices start at $65 and reputable tour operators include Habla Ya Panama and Boquete Outdoor Adventures.
Who doesn’t love horseback riding? <hand-raise> Actually me…horrendous experience at 13 years old, but that’s another story. Nevertheless, thanks to the support and patience of my friends at Habla Ya Panama I gained a new appreciation. After taking a jeepney (read: truck with two benches in the truck bed) to the Caldera highlands and a detailed briefing, we saddled up and rode into the mountainside. What you can expect: Breathtaking views, roaming cattle and a riding lesson from a local “caballero.” If you are an experienced rider like my friend Kristi, you have the opportunity to kick (figuratively) your horse into full speed should you so desire. This isn’t one of your snail’s pace disheartened horse excursions you find on most beaches in the United States, thankfully. Prices range from $35-$75 and recommended tour operators include Habla Ya Panama and Adventures Panama.
100 Percent Experience Stats: 14 platforms, 12 zip lines, 3.5 kilometers
Want to try a ziplining adventure? Boquete Tree Trek is the perfect combination of nature and adventure. Gliding through the jungle canopy while witnessing the lush rainforest, birds and even a monkey if you are lucky is totally invigorating. Not a fan of heights? Don’t worry, the professional and compassionate staff at Boquete Tree Trek have you covered. With a complete safety briefing and equipment tutorial, the instructors provide a best-in-class experience and we felt nothing but excited and completely at ease as we approached our first platform. Do not miss this attraction.
Convinced yet? Great! Have a lovely trip. I’d love to hear about your Boquete travel experiences, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
100 Percent Tip: Bring a rain jacket shell so you are prepared for micro-climates around the area.