Exploring Boquete, Panama
Boquete is a beautiful mountain town, with some great sights to see and some interesting people to meet. The town is building up fast. Known for its spectacular coffee, Boquete draws in more tourists, expats and retirees each year. There is a lot to see and do in Boquete, I have visited Boquete a couple times now and have yet to do many of the exciting things the town has to offer. When starting your trip in Boquete, the tourist office is a great place to start. They can offer you information on what is happening in the community, throughout your stay, as well as maps of the area. The tourist office is located right at the entry to Boquete. Take in a beautiful view of the valley from the Ketowa Coffee patio, which is located just beside the tourist office.
Getting there by Car
If you are driving to Boquete, either from Coronado, or from Panama City, you will drive west towards David. It is a relatively straightforward drive to David.
Coming out of Coronado, make a left at the Mcdonalds, on to the Panamerican Hwy. You will travel along the hwy though Santiago (2hrs from Coronado) and onwards on to David. David is about a 5 hour drive from Coronado.
Once you are in David, make a right at the TGIF Fridays. Right as you come into the town of David you will see a big plaza with a Panaphoto in it, the TGIF Fridays is on the corner, there is signage indicating the turn to Boquete.
Right now there are several detours on the route up the mountain. Detour in Spanish is desvío, look out for orange desvío signs and follow them though the alternative route. It’s about a 50km drive from David to Boquete.
Click here for driving directions from Santa Catalina to Boquete.
Getting there by Bus
Buses leave from Panama City to David frequently throughout the day, you can flag these buses down in Coronado. The bus is cheap, MUCH cheaper than the flight, and it’s relatively painless. There are express buses available as well which will get you there in about 5 hours. Buses have AC, prepare for the cold!
Once you are in David, you will need to transfer buses to continue on to Boquete. The bus that will take you up to the mountains will cost $1.50, the ride will take longer than in car, as they will stop frequently to pick up passengers along the way. The view is great, sit on the left side of the bus for a view of Volcan Baru.
Where to Eat
The food in Boquete is great! There are tons of restaurants I have yet to explore in the area, but here are a few that I was able to experience.
The Rock is my favorite restaurant in Boquete. The food, the atmosphere and the people make for a wonderful dining experience. On our first Boquete visit, Jeff and I stayed at the riverside Inn (the adjacent hotel), and we got a good taste for the food… there Onion soup was on my mind for months after the trip. Returning to Boquete only a month later, the Rock was first on my list of places to eat.
The restaurant offers intimate dining areas, both inside and out. There is a small lounge area by a fire place with a few couches, a good spot for drinks or dessert. They have a pretty good wine list, and a great menu. If you are in Boquete on a Thursday, The Rock has all-you-can-eat baby back ribs!
The rock is well priced for the quality of food and service you receive. Two people can eat appetizers, mains, desert & drinks for around $60.00. Appetizers from $5.00 for the three onion soup with blue cheese croutons to $9.90 for the fried sea bass ceviche. Large salads are available from $6.50 for the cob salad, to $10.00 for the chicken Cesar salad. A couple of my favorite mains are the Boquete trout for $15.90 and the beef tenderloin with wild mushrooms for $16.90. There is also an option to get it with crispy onion rings. Desserts include Crème Brule and Tiramisu.
To get to the Rock, make a left just before main square and go straight towards the bridge that crosses the river, and then make a left. Go straight past the botanical gardens and coffee fair grounds, over another tin bridge. The rock will be on your left hand side.
Panamonte is a beautiful historic Inn located just out of town. We ate lunch at their fireside lounge because their outdoor terrace was quite full. It ended up being a great choice, we got to explore the garden while out meals were being prepared. We opted to sit outside, but there is also the option of dining in their 1940s style formal dining room. The outdoor area is cottage like, offering the breeze of the mountain air, and sounds of the caldera river rushing though.
Their lunch menu is large, serving appetizers including light menu items but there are also more filling options which include a variety of sandwiches and pastas. We ordered a raw tuna appetizer that was very good, and gourmet burger. Menu options range from $9.00 - $16.00.
Panamonte is located after the park. If you keep going straight on the main road until you come to a Y, you will see a sign for the Inn & restaurant.
Big Daddy’s Grill
Big Daddy’s is located right on the main road coming into Boquete, just before the park in the heart of town. Big Daddy’s offers casual dining and affordable prices. Specialize in fish, both fried and grilled, offering fish tacos fish and chips as well as a variety of sandwiches including a beef tenderloin sandwich.
Jeff and I both opted for fish, he the fish taco and myself the fish and chips. We both really enjoyed our meals. The batter was unique different than a typical beer batter. Lunch was well prices, for two large servings and drinks our bill came to just over $20.00.
Eating on the cheap is also a great option in Boquete. Fresh produce is available everywhere for great prices. The local market we hit up on our last trip sells fresh fruit and veg.
Where to Stay
Whether you are looking for a luxury hotel, hostel or something in between, you can find it in Boquete. Using a OfteraSimple (a Panamanian equivalent of Groupon) I was able to book a night in Valle Escondido resort for around $130.00. Their rooms normally start at $280.00 for a deluxe room, and go up to over $400.00 for a suite overlooking the golf course.
Valle Escondido is a beautiful place. Sitting in a large valley, the development feels a lot like resort. There is a beautiful spa, golf course, mini golf course and restaurant spread out nicely over the land. There are houses towards the back of the property and villa throughout the valley that serve as hotel rooms. Our hotel room opened up to an outdoor pool area shared with neighboring rooms.
Breakfast was included in our stay. The Pina juice was the freshest option, fresh fruit and Boquete coffee. We followed up breakfast with a round of mini golf, for cost of $5.50 per person.
Our first time in Boquete, we stayed at The Riverside Inn. For a night in their deluxe room equipped with Jacuzzi and terrace we paid the same price as our reduced night in Valle Escondido. For the same $130.00 we found we has more amenities available to us, also the homestead feel was preferable to that of a large resort.
Click To read more about The Riverside Inn in a previous article.
Refugio Del Rio is a great hostel overlooking the river. With several dorm rooms as well as private rooms available, this hostel makes living on the cheap easy. The hostel is equipped with a kitchen and a constant flow of vibrant travelers. It is clean and well maintained.
A private room for two people for one night was available for $27.00. The room was located upstairs beside one other private room. The two rooms shared a bathroom. Dorm rooms are available for $11.00 a night.
Trying to Find the San Ramon Waterfall
On our last trip to Boquete we hiked to several waterfalls. Since there are many, we thought we would try and find some new ones. We set out to find San Ramon, a well known waterfall in the area. We were losing light when we came to a turn in the road. To the right there was a bridge and a wooden sign that said waterfall in blue cursive letters. It was the sign that had led us to the waterfalls we has seen on our last trip. To the left was more or the same windy road. Straight was a dirt road seemingly leading to nowhere of interest. We decided to see what was down that dirt road since we didn’t have much daylight left.
We didn’t walk long until we came to a group of kids playing in the mud. A young boy, probably around 6 years old came to ask us where we were going. We told him we didn’t really know. He told us that we could hike to a waterfall - it would cost us $6.00. I asked him how long the hike would take, he said about 30 minute. Since it was getting dark I told him that 30 minutes might be too long, he replied, it’s only 15 minutes…walk fast. The kid had a great attitude and shine about him, wearing a size 9 running shoe on his right foot and an even bigger rubber boot on his left, he was prompt and direct in asking us our intentions. We were taken back by how awesome the kid was, so we gave him $10.00 knowing well that we would not make it to the waterfall. We embarked on our hike to the waterfall that was probably not event the San Ramon Waterfall. About 5 minutes in, as dusk approached, we met two girls and their guide heading down. They said the hike would take at least 45 minutes. We continued to walk at a more leisurely pace back down.
We reach the entrance just at darkness hit. Both still pretty taken back by out encounter with this kid, we decided to turn back to find him. Jeff wanted to give him his fresh pair of Nikes. While they probably wouldn’t fit him, they might have served him better than what he was currently working, or at the very least make him smile. The small hut covered with corrugated metal, where he and his family lived was hidden by a small hill. We could vaguely make out his mother and sibling standing outside. We walked over and they came over to greet us. We introduced ourselves to his mother, and explained that we had met her son earlier. We asked her if we could speak with him again, his mother called for him to come. Jeff handed him the shoes, with a huge smile he said thank you. We watched as each of the 5 children able to stand stable tried on the shoes. He toddler stood by holding her puppy like a raggedy Anne doll.
As we were turning to leave, I snapped a couple pictures of our new friend and his family. His mother asked me if she could see the picture. The family gathered around the small screen of my camera to see the picture, the faces lit up with excitement. It was then I realized that may have been the first picture they had even seen of themselves. I told them I was leaving the next morning traveling onwards, but I would be back to Boquete soon, and when I returned I would bring them copies of the photos.
The Thermal Springs in Caldera
Caldera is only 20 minutes outside of Boquete. The turn into Caldera is easy to miss since it’s not well marked. From Boquete head south towards David, after about 7 minutes of driving you will see a green sign for Chiriquita, turn left here.
Drive through the town of Caldera until you come to the sign that points right to the thermal springs. Follow the dirt road until you come to the aqueduct. Depending on what kind of truck you are driving you might want to stop here. We decided to continue on foot. It was about a 15 minute hike down to the river.
When we reached a farm, a man came over and gave us directions to the springs; there was a $2.00 entry fee per person. His directions were unclear and we had some trouble finding the springs. We took a wrong turn right towards the river and dipped our feet in some stagnant luke-warm water, we were hardly impressed.
We screamed up to the same guy on a bridge over head and asked him to reiterate his directions. We headed back up towards the farm, and took another wrong turn. This time we saw a monkey, so the wrong turn paid off. Hot from making wrong turns we headed back to the river to cool off. We walked along until we stumbled upon some Panamanians enjoying a hot bath in the brush along the river, we dipped out feet in their tub and were amazed at how warm the water was. We headed back to the river to cool off again. The locals were friendly, that gave us better directions to the springs we had paid to see. Continue past the farm until you get to a bamboo fence, Right will take to the hot springs, and left will take you to the river.
It’s a good idea to go on a cool day. Since it was so hot outside we preferred the refreshing cold river to the hot thermal baths.
If you are planning on heading to Bocas Del Toro from Boquete the springs are your way.
Driving onward to Bocas Del Toro
Rather than driving back to David, drive though Caldera. You will reach a freshly paved road; this road will take you past a large development and some great views. Stay on the road until it ends. Make a left towards Frontara. In 5 minutes, or so, you will reach a gate where you will be expected to show passports and a drivers license.
You will stay on this same road through the mountains for about 2 hours until you reach a gas station. The gas station is a popular stop for buses and travelers, a left will take you to Almirante. From the gas station it is 65 miles to Almirate. The road is curvy and scattered with small towns, so drive cautiously.
When we got to Almirante we drove right though town, following signs to the main port. This was not the port from where the water taxis to Bocas leave. However the route took us to the Fire Station, where conveniently we could park our car for $4.00 a day. From there we were able to get a taxi to the water taxi dock for $1.00 each.
Traveling to Bocas Del Toro by bus
To prevent back tracking to David you will have to take a shuttle from Boquete rather than a Bus. A shuttle will cost around $40.00 and will cut though Caldera, saving you a bunch of time. Alternatively, you could head back to David and catch a bus to Almirante from there which would be cheaper than the private shuttle.