Abuelo at Zanzibar’s–You Won’t Get Bored Or Lonely in Boquete
“One of my original complaints about Boquete, Panama’s most popular mountain town,” writes Panama Letter Editor Rebecca Tyre, “was that there are too many expats and tourists in the region for my liking. Why move to a new country if you aren’t going to experience the local lifestyle as much as possible?
“I revisited Boquete last week for the first time in a couple of years, though, and I came to appreciate the upside of having so many expats around. Speaking with the wisdom of hindsight, I can say that, the truth is, living among expats when I first moved to Panama nearly five years ago, maybe my transition would have been easier.
“The estimated expat population of Boquete is around 2,000. This has created pockets of opportunity that entrepreneurially inclined expats and Panamanians both are capitalizing on. Though picturesque Boquete has just 10,000 local residents in total, the services and goods available in this hinter-region rival those of the country’s capital, Panama City. Those 2,000 expats-in-residence are an eager and hungry market.
“My favorite afternoon hangout in Boquete is Amigos bar and restaurant, run by a Canadian couple. Here you can enjoy typical pub fare, live music in the evenings, US$1 Balboa beers, and a friendly conversation with other expats or tourists. Next-door to Amigos is Hostal Mamallena, a favorite among backpackers.
“While some areas of Panama seem to cater to a more mature crowd of expats and tourists, in Boquete you find young and old alike. Hikers in their 20s cross the town square with overflowing backpacks, young couples push their children in strollers, and retired expats share an afternoon coffee. Also in Boquete, you’ll find not only Americans and Canadians, but English-speaking expats from around the globe.
“A number of European transplants own gourmet coffee farms in the tree-covered hillsides of Volcan Baru. Others have invested in the cafes, ice cream shops, restaurants, bistros, and snack shops that line Boquete’s main street. Romero’s grocery store is located a block off the town square and caries many North American brand name goods. You won’t find these kinds of services in other small towns in Panama. In many Panamanian small towns, you’ll be lucky to find an English-speaking waitress to take your order.
“Zanzibar, a trendy bar on main street, is my preferred nighttime hangout. The proprietors are South African and Greek, and the décor hints at their different backgrounds. Enjoy a glass of Abuelo, Panama’s best rum, perched atop the back of a wooden tiger stool. The music is tribal and played at a perfect volume for carrying on conversation with friends.
“You can’t get bored in this charming village. You could eat out in a different restaurant every night of the week. Or attend a play put on by the Boquete Community Players…attend one of the weekly expat meetings…or participate in one of the expat-organized community-improvement projects.
“Boquete boasts a high level of amenities and services already, but better and better things are planned. Construction is to begin soon on a large U.S.-style grocery store (of Super99, the chain owned by Panama’s president), and Hospital Chiriqui is building a medical clinic on the highway leading into town.
“Boquete’s expats are close-knit, yet there are so many that you could be in Boquete for a couple of days and not see the same face twice. My friend Jim has lived in Boquete for three years and says that he meets new expats almost every day, many of whom have lived here as long as he has.
“Boquete is not necessarily the place to move if you want to immerse yourself in local life and live like a Panamanian. There are other small towns where you could be more successful at that.
“On the other hand, Boquete could be right for you if you want to become part of an established community of English-speakers, keep very active, and enjoy most of the amenities of back home.
“It’s also one of the few places in Panama where knowing Spanish is not imperative. The welcoming group of expats here could make the transition to your new home easier than it might be otherwise. Moving from North America to Boquete, you might experience no culture shock at all.”
P.S. Panama Letter Editor Rebecca Tyre will be among the expats addressing the group assembled here in Panama City for our Live & Invest in Panama Conference, which kicks off tomorrow afternoon. Rebecca will share further details of her recent visit to Boquete, first for attendees at this week’s event and then, next month, in the March issue of the Panama Letter, which will feature a complete guide to expat life in Panama’s best-known and most-developed expat community. If you’re not yet a Panama Letter subscriber, get on board here now.