Visiting Boquete, Panama's highland haven

There has been a lot of talk about Panama as a top retirement/tourist destination this year! Recently, Panama was featured in Time Magazine; the article written by Joel Stien made American Airlines in flight magazine’s cover story. (Newsroom Panama) Panama was also included in International Living’s “The World’s Top Retirement Havens in 2012.” Many of these recent publications mention Boquete, located in the Chiriquí region of panama. Boasted by International Living as “Panama’s highland haven”, Boquete has become an interest to not only tourist, but also retiree’s and families. Having never visited the Chiriquí region before, a friend and myself decided to take the drive from Coronado to Boquete to see if it would live up to our expectations.   It surpassed them…

For several reasons:

1 – The Food

The food in Boquete is fresh, it grows throughout the surrounding mountains. The local market sits on a small park in the heart of town and sells fresh fruits and vegetables. Before leaving to head back to Coronado I stocked up on fresh produce. Under $10.00 USD bought a full cooler of fresh fruits and veg.

Having gotten to know the staff at the Hotel, The Riverside Inn and the hotel’s restaurant the Rock, we recognized our server at the market stocking up on fresh fruits for breakfast.

A couple weeks before leaving for Boquete I asked some friends for recommendations on places to stay. I ended up choosing the hotel based on how highly people spoke about The Rock, the hotel’s restaurant.

Both the hotel and the restaurant were great choices. The Riverside Inn offered a cottage-like environment, but was far from rustic. With under ten rooms, each spacious and luxurious, the Inn felt like home away from home. The Rock, located footsteps away, had some of the best food in Boquete.

Menu items were creative, fresh and delicious. The cost of appetizers, main meals, drinks and desert for two came to under $60.00. Breakfast was included in the cost of the hotel, and was served daily at the restaurant.

No matter how you choose to live in or visit Boquete, great food is available - In the local markets or at the best restaurants.

2 – The people /the coffee

Having been in Boquete for over 24 hours I had yet to try a cup of the best coffee in Boquete, which I was told came from the geisha coffee plant. Only after meeting a local waiting for a bus down the mountain did I know I was looking for the geisha bean of Mr. Daniel Peterson.

We had driven up a windy mountain road in the rain and were on our way back down, when I rolled down my window to ask for directions. Our new friend seemed to know what he talking about; he also looked like he needed a ride. On the ten minute drive down the mountain, we learnt about several coffee plantations. We also learnt that the Peterson family had a farm located on the other side of town called Hacienda la Esmeralda. We said goodbye to our friend, he thanked us for the ride into town, and we continued our hunt for the best coffee in Boquete.

Our search took to us an area of Boquete called Jaramillo. We drove up another windy mountain road to a large white house across from a dairy farm. It was pouring rain so I made a dash for the door. A woman named Susan answered. She laughed, as I’m sure this had happened to her before, and continued to explain that they do not sell their coffee in Boquete. Rather, mostly all of the coffee beans they roast are exported out of the country.

After some googling, I discovered Susan was Daniel’s mother. She was understanding and helpful in offering me some advice on where to find the geisha bean in Boquete.

We stopped at Café Kotowa on our way back into town, one of the places Susan said the bean could be found. Unfortunately, they did not sell Geisha coffee by the cup, only by the half pound. I asked our barista where I could get a cup, she said in David (a neighboring town). I settled for a great cup of regular coffee and had a laugh at how inaccessible this bean was in it's birthplace. 

From a brief conversation later in the day we determined that the best geisha coffee in Boquete could be found at a little café called Café Ruiz. We were told that since the daughter of the Ruiz family had recently graduated with her doctorate in botany, specializing in coffee plants, their plants had become some of the best. We bought a small pot of geisha coffee for $9.00, about 2 cups each. 

After getting some friendly advice on the geisha bean, it was clear that Boquete was full of friendly faces and top-notch coffee!

3 – The views

The views in Boquete were spectacular! The Riverside Inn looked out to mountains and the Caldera river that hid behind some hills. When we visited the sun was shining and the rain held out until around 4:00 pm every day. We lucked out since our trip took place in rainy season, when Boquete sees a lot of rain.

Little rain made for great exploring. We asked around for some of Boquete’s best sights. Things that caught my interest were waterfalls, coffee tours, and the Volcan Baru climb.

The Waterfalls
Boquete is home to several beautiful waterfalls. We chose to explore a group of three waterfalls referred to as the “mysterious waterfalls”. We hiked to the waterfalls without a tour group; since it was day time and the entrance was well marked this wasn’t a problem. After crossing a suspension bridge we came to a hand-written sign that said “Cascada $5, $5, $5” with a blue arrow pointing up. We followed the sign and climbed at a small incline upwards, until we reached a bench and a small house at the top.

At this point we had no idea where to go. We were lucky enough to stumble upon another couple at the top who had done some investigating. They passed along the message that we were on the right track and should continue to the house up ahead. We paid the woman who lived there $5 each and carried on.

The first waterfall was about 10 minutes from her house; it was the largest of the 3. The second located about 20 minutes up was smaller. The final waterfall, which was about a 30 minute hike away, had a great swimming hole and cave. It was well worth the hike. The terrain was friendly; paths were well marked and maintained.

A tour of the waterfalls is about $30.00 per person, however it includes a ride. If you have a car when visiting it is fairly easy to explore this area without a tour group. For only $5.00 you can spend the day enjoying and exploring some of Boquete’s most beautiful views.

Coffee tours
There are several coffee tours to choose from in Boquete, each offering a unique experience. Most tours will let you take part in whole process - from cherry to cup!

While I didn’t end up taking a tour, here is some information I gathered:

The coffee tour that came most recommended was the Finca Dos Jefes tour. The tour begins with a walk through the plantation, where they talk about the plants. After this, the group moves on to the roasting house where samples are given out for tasting. After tasting is completed, you are able to roast your own pound of custom flavored coffee.

The cost of a coffee tour is around $30.00 per person. This cost seemed reasonable since the tours last around 3 hours and are said to be informative and interactive. You also walk away with a half pound of coffee roasted how you like it!

Volcan Baru
The Volcano, sitting at 14,500 ft, is Panama’s highest point. On clear days you can see both oceans from the top. This spectacular view is only a 6-8 hour hike up mountain. That’s in dry season, in rainy season the trip can be longer due to poor climbing conditions.

It is highly recommended to do the hike with a guide. In the rainy season it’s usually cloudy making it difficult to navigate. There is also no access to drinking water, so bring lots!


Like the most of Panama, Boquete continues to grow. In three days I was only able to scratch the surface of what Boquete had to offer. Needless to say, I left with an urge to go back.

More on the area...

Places to eat

Panamonte’s Restaurant – Dining at Panamonte is an experience. Choose to fireside lounge or the formal dining area and enjoy one of the best meals you can get. ($$$$)
The Rock – Their motto is: “Food without Pretenses.” The Rock has great food; they cooked with the freshest ingredients and serve artisan beer. The atmosphere is relaxed. ($$$)
Barú Restaurant Bar – Baru sits in the heart of town, on the main square. They serve pub food, and cold drinks. They also do American breakfast. ($$$)
Local vendors and the market – The cheapest option is buying food and preparing it yourself. Pick up some fresh veggies from the local market in the heart of town. Vendors sell meet on a stick for only fifty cents. ($)

Places to stay

Panamonte Inn & Spa –The Inn is the oldest bed and breakfast in Panama, open since 1914. It is luxurious, offering 25 rooms each with private bath. ($$$$)
The Riverside Inn – The riverside offers a gorgeous cottage atmosphere and is located right on the river. ($$$)
Hostel Mamallena Boquete – If you are looking for a cheaper option, there are lots of hostels in Boquete! Mamallena is located on the main square in Boquete. Dorms are available at $11.00/ night ($)

Places to play

Boquete Mountain Safari – ATV adventures, Jeep tours, rafting trips, coffee tours, wildlife excursions and horseback rides through the cloud forest are all available here. Tours range from $30.00 for the cloud forest safari to $250.00 for an ATV trip to the summit of Volcan Baru ($$$)
Boquete Tree Trek mountain resort – 3.5 miles of zip lines across 14 different plantforms using 12 cable lines to fly over the jungle. 65.00 per person for 4 hours. ($$$)
Go explore Boquete – There are many well marked trails to hike and waterfalls to explore! ($)
Boquete Jazz & Blues festival - Next year (2013), Boquete will host the 7th annual Blue & Jazz festival from February 28th - March 3rd, 2013. 
The International Flower & Coffee fair - Playacommunity was in Boquete in 2009 for the fair.