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“I returned to Boquete reluctantly,” writes Panama Letter Editor Rebecca Tyre. “After a handful of visits, I concluded that I didn’t much like the town. Too many expats, and the temperatures seemed too chilly.
“Not that Boquete doesn’t have its charms–like a morning cup of locally grown Duran coffee or an afternoon snack of locally grown strawberries. But I couldn’t help but think I might appreciate them better from afar.
“So I have to admit that I wasn’t thrilled when Publisher Kathleen Peddicord suggested I put Boquete on my Panama Letter editorial schedule. ‘It’s time for another look at this much-ballyhooed retirement haven,’ she said.
“Boquete is six hours by car from Panama City. The option is a 45-minute flight from Panama City to David, where you can rent a car, take a bus, or hire a taxi to take you the remaining 45 minutes to Boquete. The town is closer to Costa Rica than to the Panamanian capital.
“As I pulled into Boquete last week on the David-Boquete highway, Volcan Baru, Panama’s highest point, stood prominently in the background, nestled between lush green, coffee-covered mountains, its tip hidden by billowy white clouds. Ngobe Indians, Panamanians, backpackers, and dozens of expats walked the curvy main street, going about their morning errands.
“European, American, and Canadian expats began moving to Boquete more than a decade ago. As a Canadian, I’ve always felt at home in Boquete. There must be more Canucks here than anywhere else in Panama. The year-round spring-like temperatures and stunning mountain views are the main draws for foreigners. The local government estimates that 1,000 expats reside in the Boquete area full-time and another 1,000 part of each year.
“In other words, in season, there are maybe 2,000 foreigners in residence in a town with a total local population of just 5,000. The gringo presence is apparent. As I said, when I first visited the town a few years ago, the gringo factor seemed not only apparent but overwhelming.
“The big gringo population has not only changed the face of Boquete, it’s also changed the cost of living in this part of Panama. Over the past several years, the cost of real estate in and around Boquete has spiked, with values jumping 200%, 300%, and more, shutting many out of the market. Finally, maybe 18 months ago, prices peaked, and, in the past year, they have fallen (slightly, not significantly). It was hard for me to get a read on current pricing during my visit last week. Some say the market is slowly perking up again. Others insist it’s red hot. My impression is that it seems stagnant. I’m continuing my research.
“Boquete is one of the few regions in Panama where you can almost get away without speaking any Spanish. Local Panamanians here are used to living among expats, and they have learned over the years to speak at least basic English. Businesses geared toward expat residents and tourists dot the streets of downtown. Real estate offices, tour companies, cafes, bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops sit alongside dozens of hotels and bed and breakfasts.
“A fan of hot and steamy, in the past, as I mentioned, I’ve usually find Boquete to be a little too chilly for my liking. Not this trip. The temperature was perfect. The sun shone every day, and a gentle breeze blew through town. Each afternoon, a mist fell as the clouds crossed over the mountains of the Continental Divide.
“The mercury falls in the evenings, meaning a sweater or light jacket is a nighttime necessity. The Panamonte Inn and Spa has a wood-burning fireplace in the bar area, making it the perfect place for a drink with friends in the evening. The restaurant offers a varied menu, and the service and prices are unbeatable. A fireside dinner for two, including a couple of glasses of wine, costs just US$30.
“Boquete residents previously had to travel down the mountain to the city of David to buy groceries or seek medical care. That is changing. A Romero supermarket sits just a block off the town square now, and a large building site has been designated for the new home of a big U.S.-style grocery store. Hospital Chiriqui is constructing a modern clinic in Boquete to provide primary healthcare, with a laboratory, radiography, pharmacy, and 24-hour ambulance service.
“Getting around Boquete is easy and inexpensive. Old U.S. school buses travel between Boquete and David every half-hour and charge just US$1.45 for the 45-minute trip. Wherever your own two legs can’t take you within town you can travel by taxi. These are plentiful and cheap.
“Boquete offers activities from social gatherings to coffee farm tours, from hiking to whitewater rafting. Foreign residents fill their days sitting at outdoor cafes sipping coffee and chatting about local politics. The nightlife is lively and diverse.
“After this return trip to Boquete, I think I understand better why so many expats have chosen to settle in the area. It’s beautiful, friendly, and full of amenities. I think I crossed it off my list too hastily a few years ago.
“I’m already planning my next scenic mountain Boquete getaway.”
P.S. Rebecca’s full report on expat living in Boquete, including a complete budget and an overview of the property market with current listings, both for sale and for rent, will be featured in the next issue of The Panama Letter. If you’re not already a subscriber, get on board here now.
“My wife and I have lived in Spain for eight years. We have bought and sold several properties without any problems at all. Our area is Orihuela Costa.
“So many people who relocate here, especially from the UK, are a disaster waiting to happen. Yes, of course, there are problems within the housing markets in Spain right now, as your Correspondent has reported, and many properties are being demolished as illegal builds.
“The average foreigner who arrives here does not bother to carry out the correct checks at the ayuntiamento (town hall ) or to find a reputable lawyer who speaks English or a good estate agent (this is probably the hardest part).
“Corruption in Spain is and always will be prevalent, but people who invest in just a little thought and planning can overcome or avoid it. None of our circle of friends, which includes British, Germans, Norwegians, and Spanish, has ever had any problems buying property or retaining it (that is, not having it demolished) in this country. Check, check, and check again.”
— Tony H., Spain
“Kathleen, do you have any extensive information on living in Chiang Mai, Thailand?”
— Aquam T., United States
Yep…our Correspondent’s full report is here.