If you have done any reading about where to live in Central America, you are probably familiar with Boquete, Panama. In our research before leaving the USA, it was one of our top choices, and we had pretty much decided to retire in Boquete Panama.
But 3 months before I was scheduled to retire, my boss made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and I took the offer. I had to think about it for 1.5 seconds before I said yes. That change gave us 3 months to check out Roatan, Honduras, and it was a very memorable 3 months. Much better than working.
But I digress. In fact, because we read so many positive articles, we wanted to visit Boquete just to make sure it was as good as its press. So we took a week of vacation and flew to Panama. What an amazing country!
Our Initial Visit
In April 2015, we flew to Panama for an 8-day visit. Although Boquete was our ultimate destination, we wanted to have other places for comparison purposes. By the time we returned to Houston, we had seen everything we needed to see to make a decision. But keep in mind that we weren’t looking for somewhere to live the rest of our lives. We wanted adventure and the flexibility to leave and try some other places. For us, that was the right decision. You may have other needs or desires. Hopefully, my articles will help you with your decision.
Areas close to Panama City
Before heading to our first choice, we decided to check out other places in Panama. We rented a car and explored Altos del Maria, Anton Valley and the Coronado area for 3 days. Altos del Maria and Anton Valley are in the mountains a short drive from Panama City. The mountains were beautiful. The weather was comfortable, and the Expat community was very welcoming. In fact, on our first day, our hosts invited us to a party at their lovely home. The biggest downside for us was that there were no stores or restaurants in Altos Del Maria. If you wanted a carton of milk or a cheeseburger, you had to drive 30 minutes back to the Pan Am Highway. And that drive was not easy, especially at night. And the Expat community wasn’t very large. So we decided to keep looking. We knew that the area wasn’t right for us.
The Panama Pacific Coast is very popular with Expats. There are lots of high rise condominiums right on the beach. And with so many Expats, the infrastructure is there for a nice retirement lifestyle. Coronado is close enough to Panama City for day trips to go shopping, but there are plenty of shops and services close, so it’s not necessary to drive to Panama City.
Rentals are hard to find in Coronado
If you are looking to buy a condo unit, it looked pretty easy to get into the best places. But the best advice you can get is “Don’t buy anything for at least 6 months, or better, for 1 year”. And so we were looking for a rental apartment. It was very tough to find such places in Coronado.
Also, there aren’t many public access points to the beach, so that was a downer. When we did finally find the beach, the dirty gray/black color of the sand was not attractive to us. After visiting Cozumel and Roatan on cruises with their beautiful white sand, Panama’s Pacific Coast just never appealed to us. And being at sea level was going to be hot and humid. We still had not found our retirement destination.
We headed back to Panama City for our flight to David. Panama doesn’t look very big in comparison to most other countries. It is shaped like an S on its side. But the drive from Panama City to David can take all day, while the flight takes less than an hour. That time we flew Air Panama from Albrook Airport near downtown Panama City. We took a morning flight so we had most of the day to get to Boquete, check-in, and start our exploration.
David is the 2nd largest city in Panama. But it bears no resemblance to the booming metropolis of Panama City. The elevation is close to sea level, so it is also hot and humid. We had just left hot and humid in Houston, Texas so we wanted something different.
Boquete, on the other hand, is in a small valley at about 3,000 feet. The area ranges from 3,000 to 6,000 feet. And on the drive up from David, you get amazing views of Volcan Baru which rises to 11,000 feet. We never got tired of that view.
Our Visit to Boquete, Panama
While in Boquete, we stayed at the Inn at Palo Alto. This is a beautiful place with lush, colorful landscaping and next to a fast-moving mountain stream. There are coffee farms next door and across the street. Justin and his mom, Judy were terrific hosts and we couldn’t have been more pleased with our choice. Breakfast was included and excellent, and we could purchase cocktails in the evenings while sitting on their deck.
A Retiree Gave us a Guided Tour
Before we arrived, I had read many articles about Boquete, and several of the best were written by a man named Lee Seltzer. I contacted him to see if he would be our tour guide, and he agreed. He only charged $100 and spent about 6 hours talking with us and driving us all over the Boquete area. We learned so much that day, especially about the world-famous coffee. The next day we took a coffee tour and got to see their operations and taste some of that coffee. I highly recommend a coffee tour when you visit. Unfortunately, we later learned that Lee had passed away.
We were amazed at the beauty of the whole area. The tropical plants and flowers are everywhere. Boquete is called “the breadbasket of Panama”. Everything grows there because of the abundant rainfall and perfect growing conditions. The fruit and vegetables taste wonderful, are available everywhere, and are really cheap! We had definitely decided to retire in Boquete.
We move to Boquete
After making our decision. we did many things to get our house ready to sell and started making plans to dispose of all of our stuff. We had to get rid of all the clutter in our house in order to sell it anyway, so we got a head start. Fortunately, our house sold fairly quickly, and the buyers moved in shortly after we left. We arranged to sell both our cars to a dealer and dropped them off on our way to the airport.
Southwest Airlines had started some international flights and one of their cities was San Jose, Costa Rica. We learned that we could fly nonstop Houston Hobby to SJO, land there and spend the night, and catch a bus the next morning to David, Panama. The cost for that entire trip was about half what United/Copa charged. Boquete was only about 45 minutes from David so we decided that would be our first adventure in Panama.
Our First Home, The Perfect Outdoor Living Space
During our first visit, we noticed a very cute house right across the street from the hotel with a for sale sign. Although we were not planning to buy, we asked the realtor if we could see the home during our visit. He made the arrangements and we went to see it that afternoon. It was yellow with three bedrooms and an office, an enormous beautiful kitchen, and then we went outside.
All we could say was wow! The landscaping was breathtaking, and the outdoor living space was right out of a magazine. Flowers were everywhere, one of those mountain streams was within earshot of the porch, we could see the mountains and Volcan Baru, and hummingbirds and other species were in the surrounding trees.
A year later when we were getting ready to move to Boquete, I looked on the internet and the home was still for sale. So I called the owner, told him we were moving to Boquete and asked if he would rent the home to us until it sold. It was really more than we wanted to spend, but it was absolutely perfect for our needs, and we decided to splurge a little. They agreed, and we had our first place to live. We also purchased their 2010 Toyota Rav 4.
The Expat Community of Boquete
Boquete is a very small community. The total population is only about 30,000. But due to all the articles published by International Living, Live and Invest Overseas, and others, there are about 6,000 US, Canadian, and European expats residing at least part of the year there. So Expats make up a substantial percentage of the total population. Everyone, it seemed wanted to retire in Boquete Panama. This is one reason why you don’t really need Spanish.
The Expat community is very evident. We had heard about their weekly market, so we made sure to be there on a Tuesday. On that day, like most Tuesdays, there was a speaker to talk about some local topic. The market was well-attended by locals, with lots of interesting food, coffee, fruits and vegetables, and services like knife and machete sharpening. After we moved to Boquete, we visited that market often. It was more than just a place to buy things – it was a weekly social event.
Our Second Home
The yellow house sold shortly after we arrived, but the buyer wasn’t ready to close for a few more months. So we ended up getting to stay for 6 months. Then we had to find a new home. We still weren’t ready to buy anything. A friend wanted to go to Southeast Asia for a year or more and he had a beautiful home in Valle Escondido, which is probably the most well-known gated community in Western Panama. Again, it was more than we wanted to spend (do you see a pattern here?), but there were so many advantages. We moved on October 1, 2016.
This house was red, the only red house in the gated community known as Valle Escondido. This neighborhood had one of the two golf courses in the Boquete area. The home was beautiful inside and out, but our favorite part was again the outdoor living. The covered porch was huge. We once had a party for the ladies of the church. We were able to set up 8 tables and accommodate about 35 women on the porch! Our back yard was nice, and we had a mountain that provided security for us and habitat for lots of animals. But the mountainside needed a lot of work. There were weeds and bamboo everywhere. With the help of our gardener, we cleared a large portion of it and began to make it beautiful. But we needed the help of an experienced gardener.
Our Back Yard Paradise
Enter Roger! I found our gardener from the yellow house, and he was available. He is very smart, and he knows the plants and what will look good together. I took him shopping and he picked out all the plants, and got much better deals than the places would have given me! Long story short, he created beautiful landscaping for our enjoyment. We spent hours outside every day. Here are our favorite pics.
The Rainy Season
If there is one thing that makes it hard to live in Boquete, it is the rainy season. It starts in mid-April and doesn’t end until the end of November. In most months it just rains in the afternoons. Some times this can be a very hard rain.
We had a mountain at the end of our back yard. During those rains, the water would come pouring off that mountain, creating a brown waterfall. That water would then come roaring off the mountain, through our drainage ditch or down our driveway to the river at the bottom of our valley.But during parts of April, and most of October and November, it seemed like it was raining virtually 24 hours a day. It was a dreary time of the year, and at one point our beautiful garden required “major surgery”. We pretty much decided we didn’t want to go through another October/November. But rain is what makes everything grow, and the excess water runs off really fast.
We ended up staying in Boquete for 17 months. We found an excellent church, made some wonderful friends that we still talk with frequently, had many excellent adventures, and became permanent residents. I played in a weekly bridge game, walked everywhere, learned the local bus system, and learned a heck of a lot about gardening.
We ate at almost every restaurant in Boquete. I hiked alone and with friends to every waterfall within 20 miles. We white-water rafted with our granddaughter, visited Costa Rica several times, and even drove twice round trip to Panama City.
Boquete is a wonderful place to retire. In fact, it is our second favorite place so far. You must have a car, and housing is more expensive than many other places. This makes Boquete quite a bit more expensive than larger cities with good mass transit.
Do not believe the articles that say a couple can easily live in Boquete for $1,000 per month. But if you are prepared, it is an easy place to live. And it is an easy place to make life-long friends. We highly recommend you check out Boquete.
We moved on
Eventually, we got “itchy feet” and wanted to travel. (This is another very good reason to rent!) Our friends Eric and Wanda were planning a month-long trip to Peru, Argentina, and Ecuador, and we asked if we could tag along. Eric sent us his Excel spreadsheet! Fortunately for us, they said yes. So off we went to South America.
Next stop – Machu Picchu. Please leave a comment with your thoughts about this article. And let us know about other topics you would like to see here.
Thanks for your visit.
Steve and Paulette