Boquete – Panama – Information

Boquete - Walk - 22

APRIL 2018:


Why not read our Retirement Reviews.


OVERVIEW:

PLEASE NOTE: The official exchange rate at time of writing was US$1 = P$1 (Panama Balboa). Panama uses US$s and only uses Balboa as coins for small change.

I stayed a total of 3 weeks in Isla Bastimentos and Bocas Town, Isla Colon.Bocas Town - Sea View

Throughout Latin America, hotel costs can go crazy in Easter / Holy Week / Santa Semana … with some hotels tripling their prices. So, I decided to leave Bocas Town and get back to the mainland to take refuge in Changuinola for a few nights (before moving on to Boquete).

Changuinola was the only place that I could find (within easy striking distance of Isla Colon) that had a GRANDPAcking Double Room available for under US$35 / night … in Bocas Town, my only option was a tent.


GETTING THERE – CHANGUINOLA:

A Water Taxi from Bocas Town to Almirante (on the mainland) takes about 30 minutes and costs US$6. You leave from 1 of 3 boat docks in Bocas Town. I chose to leave from the dock nearest my hostel – which was next to the Police Station.Bocas Town - Boat Dock QueueBocas Town - Boat Dock Boats Bocas Town - Boat Seating

Hostel Hansi told me that, even though the Almirante Boat Dock is only 1km away from the Bus Terminal, it wasn’t a safe town for tourists to walk around in.Almirante - Approaching the Boat Dock

They advised me to catch a taxi and that the taxi should cost me only US$0.75c from the Boat Dock to the Bus Terminal.Almirante - Boat Dock

However, when I looked on Google Maps, I saw that there was a Bus Terminal only 200 metres from the Boat Dock – so, I walked. I felt perfectly safe.Almirante - Bus Terminal

A microbus leaves from this Almirante Terminal to Changuinola about every 45-60 minutes and costs US$1.45.Almirante - Bus to Changuinola

My Hostel was, actually, 2kms south of Changuinola in Torres Bluff.


ABOUT CHANGUINOLA:

Changuinola is a city in the Bocas del Toro Province of Panama and is the ‘seat city’ of the Changuinola District.Bocas del Toro to Changuinola Map
Changuinola is surrounded by Changuinola River and extensive banana plantations. 
Changuinola is divided into small farm communities called “Fincas”.

Changuinola has one main road that crosses town from north to south.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH – CHANGUINOLA:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


MY ACCOMMODATION:

I booked myself into at Twin Room at the Hostal Saguime for 5 nights at US$22 / night. I thought that it had a Private Bathroom …

On arrival, I was given a Triple Room with Shared Bathroom (the Owner had already rented out my room to some other people). This ‘Triple Room’ was designed as a 3-bed dorm room (at US$10 / bed).Changuinola - Hostal Saguime - Triple Room EntryChanguinola - Hostal Saguime - Triple Room BedsThe shared bathroom was ‘tired’ and, when someone had a shower, it leaked and formed a deep puddle on the bathroom floor.Changuinola - Hostal Saguime - Triple Room ToiletChanguinola - Hostal Saguime - Triple Room Shower

For my last 2 nights, the Owner moved me into the room that I had actually booked. These 2 rooms shared the same bathroom.Changuinola - Hostal Saguime - Twin Room Beds Changuinola - Hostal Saguime - Twin Room Entry Changuinola - Hostal Saguime - Twin Room Furniture

The Twin Room was much nicer.

The accommodation may have been ‘below par’ but the Owners were lovely people and very friendy.

IN SUMMARY:

Why anyone would want to stay in Changuinola is beyond me. Being so ‘off-the-beaten-path’, you would expect to get reasonable value for money – you do not – the hotels are over-priced for what you get. I met another foreigner who couldn’t find a room anywhere in Changuinola Town for under US$28 / night – even with a Shared Bathroom.

Changuinola offers absolutely nothing for tourists. I was hoping to see some ‘real’ Santa Semana in Changuinola … it rained all day Easter Friday and Saturday … everyone stayed home … nothing happened.

The only PLUS is that there are some cheap eateries around … and, you get to know what the ‘normal’ price of things are in Panama (once you get away from the Tourist Spots). For example, a Typical Panama Breakfast with Coffee was US$2.10:Changuinola - Local Cafe - Breakfast US$2.10

A Meat Soup was US$2. A half Chicken Meal with Rice and Beans was US$4.

A small bottle of beer in the Supermarkets is US$0.55c (plus 10c deposit on the bottle) – the shops in Bocas Town charge $0.85c (plus 10c) for the same thing.

The only reason why you would stay in Changuinola is because you got stranded there whilst in transit. One night is ENOUGH.


GETTING THERE – BOQUETE:

To get to Boquete, you have to go via Almirante and David.Changuinola to Boquete Map

Many budget ‘Do-It-Yourself’ travellers crossing into Panama through Saxaola, Costa Rica (making their own way by public transport) will travel via Changuinola. Likewise, those coming from the Bocas del Toro Islands will join the trip in Almirante. So, this route works for these people too.

At 7am I left my Hostel and took the 2km, US$75c taxi ride to the main Bus Terminal in Changuinola Town. This is the one on Google Maps named ‘Terminal de Transporte Changuinola-David’.


Changuinola Bus Terminal Map

Changuinola - Bus TerminalThe Microbus was waiting.Changuinola - Microbus to David $9.70

The driver advised me to buy a ticket at the ticket office. The ticket to David costs US$9.70.

Please Note: From this Bus Terminal you can also catch a luxury bus to Panama City. The bus leaves at 7:30am (US$22) and 6pm (US$27).

Our Microbus to David left at 7:30am and slowly crawled through Changuinola for 15 bminutes picking up as many more passengers as possible. We dropped off / picked up more people along the way. We arrived at Almirante at 8:25am.

We stopped in Rambala at 9:45am for 15 minutes at a roadside cafe – so that people could buy breakfast and use the toilets.Changuinola - Bus Mid Way Break

We arrived at the main David Bus Terminal at 12:30pm.David - Bus Terminal

I quickly found the bus to Boquete. Again, these leave regularly. Mine left at 12:40pm. The price to Boquete was US$1.75. We arrived in the Central Park of Boquete at 1:40pm.


ABOUT BOQUETE:

Boquete is a small town on the Caldera River.Boquete - Walk - 18

It is located in the western-most Panama province of Chiriquí, about 60 kilometres from the border with Costa Rica in Panama’s green mountain highlands. Because of its elevation (some 1,200 metres above sea level), its climate is cooler than that of the lowlands. Its scenic location, temperature, and natural environment attracts tourists and retirees from all over the world – most of whom drive around in SUVs.


Boquete Town Map

In Spanish, the word Boquete means ‘gap or opening’. It was through this gap that curious gold seekers trekked, looking for a cheaper and quicker way to the Pacific. Farmers began settling the region near the end of the nineteenth Century. By the early twentieth century, several villages had been populated: Lino, Quiel, Bajo Mono, Los Naranjos, and Bajo Boquete. Bajo Boquete is, now, the ‘town centre’ of the district. Boquete was founded on April 11, 1911.Boquete - Surrounds - 10

The district of Boquete has approximately 19,000 inhabitants (2008). Boquete has become the second home to many retirees. There are over 3,000 foreigners permanently living in Boquete from over 30 different countries. Although Americans and Canadians comprise the majority of the foreign community, there are also large groups of immigrants from Colombia, Venezuela, and Europe.

This increase in immigrants has stimulated the growth of new industries and businesses (owned both by locals and foreigners). There are, now, over 50 accommodations in Boquete ranging from 5 star resorts to backpacker motels. Many new restaurants have opened.


PHOTO GALLERY:

My walk-about starts at the north end of Boquete Town looking up the road heading north.Boquete - Walk - 2

As you turn and enter town from the north …Boquete - Walk - 3

They are putting in a new sewerage system and re-sealing the road into town.Boquete - Walk - 4

From the top of the main street …Boquete - Walk - 5

You walk 100 metres to the central park.Boquete - Walk - 6 Boquete - Walk - 7

And continue down the main street heading south.Boquete - Walk - 8

You pass Big Daddy’s Grill.Boquete - Walk - 9

And pass the Artisan Village.Boquete - Walk - 10

Before exiting town to the south.Boquete - Walk - 12

This area is where you find places like Mike’s Global Grill.Boquete - Walk - 13

Boquete - Walk - 11

ONE BLOCK FROM MAIN STREET:

I returned along a side-street to the east of the Main Street.Boquete - Walk - 15

And headed back north.Boquete - Walk - 16

Towards the central park.Boquete - Walk - 17

I crossed the main bridge across the river.Boquete - Walk - 22

To find a little, picturesque park on the riverside.Boquete - Walk - 21

TWO BLOCKS FROM MAIN STREET:

If you go two blocks east or west of Main Street, you hit unsealed roads …Boquete - Walk - 30Boquete - Walk - 32Boquete - Walk - 33

… and you find some top quality housing.Boquete - Walk - 31


WHERE TO STAY:

Accommodation-wise, this is typical of what you find online … this is for 1 night in mid May 2018 (‘Shoulder Season’) …

HOTELS & HOSTELS (Nightly Rates):

BOOKING.COM:

Boquete Booking 1 Boquete Booking 2

AGODA.COM:

Boquete Agoda 1


PLEASE NOTE: Hotel and Hostel search sites usually display prices EXCLUSIVE of TAXES. You may have to add up to 10-15% to the displayed price to get the final price. Also, some of the cheaper rooms have a Shared Bathroom … so, check the details first.

VACATION RENTALS (Weekly Rates):

If you plan to stay a week or more, another good option is to use AirBnB or TRIPADVISOR.COM to book a Holiday Rental / Vacation Rental.

Due to additional ‘service’ and ‘cleaning’ charges, Holiday Rentals are usually best rented by the week. A comparable search reveals the following … Please Note: these prices are in US$s

TRIPADVISOR:

Boquete Tripadvisor 1

AIRBnB:

Boquete AirBnB 1


PLEASE NOTE: Vacation Rentals are usually displayed INCLUSIVE of TAXES but EXCLUSIVE of any ‘Security Deposit’ (if required). BUT, the displayed price may also be EXCLUSIVE of the host site’s Extra Fees (which can add as much as 16%).

In S.E. Asia, I wouldn’t touch AirBnB with a barge pole … in my opinion and experience the accommodation that you find is an absolute rip off. However, here, they are worth a look.

IN SUMMARY:

Boquete is a mature, modern, and westernised location. There are only a couple of accommodation options that are not on the internet. There are very few GRANDPAcking options to choose from.


ACCOMMODATION SEARCH:

Have a look yourself:

Booking.com


MY ACCOMMODATION (SHORT TERM):

I booked myself into a Double Room at the Hostal Valle De Las Flores for 4 nights at US$27 / night plus 10% ‘tax’ (the total should have been US$118.80). This hostel is 1 block east of the main street.Boquete - Walk - Hostal de las Flores - Street

I checked in, provided my Passport details, and handed over US$120 in cash. He only charged me US$108 (he didn’t charge me the 10% ‘tax’ listed by BOOKING.COM).Boquete - Walk - Hostal de las Flores - Frontage

The Double Room was quite nice.Boquete - Valle de las Flores - Room Entry

It came with in-room wifi, a small cable TV, and a built-in wardrobe.Boquete - Valle de las Flores - Furniture

BOOKING.COM listed the room as having Aircon. It did not. It only had a fan. This wasn’t a problem because Boquete’s high altitude means that the nights are very comfortable … and a fan is perfectly adequate.Boquete - Valle de las Flores - Bed

The ensuite was clean and tidy with a hot-water shower.Boquete - Valle de las Flores - Ensuite Entry Boquete - Valle de las Flores - Ensuite Shower

There was a good shared kitchen.Boquete - Valle de las Flores - Shared Kitchen

And, there was a washing machine and drier available for guests – which I took advantage of. They will do your laundry for you for US$5 – but, I was happy to just do mine myself.

The place was OK but the receptionist wasn’t very friendly with anyone. I would say ‘Good Morning’ to him in Spanish and most of the time he didn’t bother to reply … strange.


WHERE TO STAY:

I decided to stay in Boquete another week. But, I decided not to extend my stay at the Hostal Valle de las Flores. This extra week, later, extended to 2 weeks.

I went down to the Sugar & Spice for Breakfast (see below) and got online to search for all of the budget hotels in town. I made a short list. I also noted other hotels that would be on my route – that might be worth a look.Boquete Where to Stay Map

Please Note: The prices, below, are for Single Occupancy which is almost always cheaper than the price of Double Occupancy.

Above the Sugar & Spice is the …

Town Inn Boquete: A good sized room with double bed, single bed, fan, hot water ensuite, cable TV, and access to a shared kitchen. Discounted down from $60 to $36 / night.Boquete - Boquete Town Hostal Frontage

From the Sugar & Spice, I worked my way north between the main road and the river.

Pension Topas: A small room with double bed, fan, and hot water ensuite with a small outside balcony with small fridge. Discounted down from $38 to $25 / night.Boquete - Pension Topas Frontage

I skipped past the Hostal Garden by Refugio del Rio which was too expensive at over $40 / night.Boquete - Hostal Garden Frontage

And, I skipped past the Hotel Rebequet which wanted $86 / night including Breakfast ($66 without).Boquete - Hotel Rebequet Frontage

Arte Hostal: A small room with double bed, fan and separate hot water bathroom (shared with the downstairs lounge area) with breakfast. Non-discounted price of $30 / night.Boquete - Arte Hostal Frontage

Hostal Doraz: A room with 3x single beds, fan, hot water ensuite, and cable TV. Discounted down from $40 to $23 / night.Boquete - Hostal Doraz Frontage

Hostal Mamallena: A very basic room with double bed, no fan, hot? water ensuite, and Breakfast (pancake mix that you cooked yourselves). Non-discounted price of $38 / night.Boquete - Hostal Mamallena Frontage

Hostal Boquete: A river-side room with double bed, single bed, fan, nowhere to hang your clothes, and hot water ensuite. Shared access to a river-side balcony. Non-discounted price of $25 / night.Boquete - Hostal Boquete Frontage

Suenos del Rio: A riverfront room with double bed, fan, hot water ensuite, cable TV, and shared kitchen discounted down from $55 to $38 / night. A street-side room with double bed, fan, hot water ensuite, cable TV, and shared kitchen (shared with 1 other room) discounted down from $?? to $25 / night.Boquete - Suenos del Rio - Frontage

From here, I cut across to the western side of the main street and continued my search.

I didn’t like the look of the Hostal Boquete Green.Boquete - Hostal Boquete Green Frontage

Hostal Polilla looked OK and had a nice view out over the valley – but, I wasn’t able to enquire about a price.Boquete - Hostal La Polilla Frontage

I had already decided that I didn’t want to be in these dusty backstreets so, I by-passed the Hostal Gaia.Boquete - Hostal Gaia Frontage

And by-passed the Casa Azul B&B.Boquete - Casa Azul Frontage

And stopped my search.


MY ACCOMMODATION (LONG TERM):

I returned to the Hostal Suenos del Rio … the overall package with the river-side setting (for me) beat all of the other options hands down. I agreed to take the Double Room facing the street … the Owner didn’t require a deposit, we proceeded on trust (that I would turn up the next day).Boquete - Suenos del Rio - Room Entry

It came with in-room wifi and cable TV.Boquete - Suenos del Rio - Room 1

It didn’t have a wardrobe – so, out came my washing line again!Boquete - Suenos del Rio - Room 2

The ensuite was a reasonable size.Boquete - Suenos del Rio - Ensuite Vanity

And, it came with a hot-water shower.Boquete - Suenos del Rio - Ensuite Shower

The room shared a lounge / kitchen area with a river-side room.Boquete - Suenos del Rio - Shared LoungeBut, I never saw those people – so it felt like I had my own 1 bedroom apartment.Boquete - Suenos del Rio - Shared KItchen

It was the river-side setting that attracted me here with its view out over the bridge to the park …Boquete - Suenos del Rio - View of Bridge

And its view of the river.Boquete - Suenos del Rio - River View

I extended my stay at the Suenos from 1 week to 2 weeks. For my 2nd week I tried to negotiate a better price without success … the Owner indicated that I was already paying the ‘monthly rate’ of $25 / night.

There were only 2 things wrong with my room at the Suenos:

  • The hot water in the shower alternated from being hot for 1 minute to cold for 1 minute … a bit ‘inconvenient’ but easy to work around
  • The depot entrance to a supermarket was immediately across the road … sometimes a noisy truck would turn up early in the morning

Otherwise, the Suenos was well located and within easy walking distance of my favourite restaurants and bars (see, below) …


INTERNET / WIFI:

Your accommodation should provide reasonable free WiFi. My Hostels’ was fast enough to stream video but it could be a bit ‘variable’ – specially late morning / in the middle of the day.Boquete - Walk - 1

I bought a +Movil SIMcard in a Supermarket in Bocas Town, Isla Colon. The SIMcard was US$3.55, I topped up with US$15, and I bought a 2GB 1-Month Data Plan for US$14.99. In Boquete, I needed to top it up again. I went to a Store at the Central Park and bought a US$15 top-up card; they charged me $16.50 (I assume that 10% Tax was added).

Alas, I missed the SMS message from +Movil that told me that my data plan had expired (if I ever got such an SMS). The per MB rate was expensive and my $15 went within a few days with very little usage. I topped it up again with another $15 and made sure that I bought a 2GB 1-Month Data Plan.Boquete - Backstreet Stream

I had a good 4G signal everywhere around town.


TRANSPORT:

You can walk everywhere.Boquete - Walk - 14

For a taxi, budget 70c per km (which is DOUBLE what it costs in other rural towns).

If you are not staying in Boquete Town, itself, you will most probably find that you need your own transport.


EAT:

There are many restaurants around town to choose from.

CHEAP EATS:

EL SABROSON #1:

El Sabroson #1 is said to be the cheapest / best value for money place in town. It was, also, the closest restaurant to my first hostel. I had a meal there on my first night for US$3.25.Boquete - El Sabroson - Meal $3.25

A simple Breakfast with scrambled egg, cheese, and bread costs US$2.35.

EL SABROSON #3:

El Sabroson #3 is located next to the Central Park. I tried a beef stew with savoury rice and coleslaw for $6.Boquete - El Sabroson #3 - Beef Stew Meal $6

BOQUETE SANDWICH SHOP:

Located south of town centre near Mike’s Global Grill. Open 8am to 5pm. Known as one of the best ‘cheap eats’ in town. I went for ‘Taco Tuesday’ – you can get a nice taco for $1.50 +10% tax. You can choose between Chicken, Beef, Pork, Fish, and Vegetarian.Boquete - Sandwich Shop - Frontage Boquete - Sandwich Shop - Taco Tuesday $1.65 each

They also do a Chicken Wings Wednesday (which is said to be very good) with wings $0.50c each (plus 10% tax). I have seen and had better value for money.Boquete - Sandwich Shop - 50c Wing Night

I went back for a Bacon & Egg & Onion Ring Burger on their ‘Burger Sunday’ ($8.05 including tax).Boquete - Sandwich Shop - Sunday Burger $8.05

CAFE BOQUETE BY BIG FOOT GRILL:

Another cafe said to be ‘cheap eats’. I asked for a Tipico Panama Breakfast. I got this for US$2.20:Boquete - Cafe Boquete by Big Foot Grill - Tipico Breakfast $2.20

CASUAL DINING:

BIG DADDY’S GRILL:

Said to have the best burger in town. Their standard burger is $8 or a vegetarian is $9. Add an extra $1 if you want double cheese. Add 10% tax.Boquete - Big Daddys Grill - Burger $9.90

SUGAR & SPICE:

Open 8am to 6pm. Said to do the best ‘Casual Breakfast’ in town … so, I tried quite a few!Boquete - Sugar & Spice - Frontage

They have a selection of Breakfasts for $5.50 and specials for $6. All include a free (proper) coffee or tea and 1 free topup. Refills thereafter are $1 each. They also provide free water. I tried their Breakfast (bacon & egg) Burrito for $5.50.Boquete - Sugar & Spice - Breakfast Burrito $5.50

And their Melted Cheese & Green Onion Scrambled Eggs over Crispy Potato Special for $6.Boquete - Sugar & Spice - Cheese Omelette on Potato Special $6

Their Huevos Migas was $5.50.Boquete - Sugar & Spice - Huevos Migas $5.50

Their Ranchero was $5.50.Boquete - Sugar & Spice - Ranchero $5.50

MIKE’S GLOBAL GRILL:

One of my expat friends recommended the Junior Breakfast at Mike’s ($3.99 plus 10% Tax).Boquete - Mikes - Junior Breakfast $3.99+Tax

With the Junior, you have a couple of options. I chose bacon and toast with my eggs and fried potatoes. For another $1.25 + Tax you get unlimited coffee. All up, it was good value for less than $6. The Junior is the cheapest option on the menu. Other breakfasts cost $5-$7.

IN SUMMARY:

Expect to pay an average of US$3.50 for a cheap local Breakfast with coffee.

Expect to pay an average of US$4.00 for a cheap Lunch Snack with fruit drink.

Expect to pay an average of US$5.00 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.


DRINK:

The normal price for a small 330ml local beer around town (western bars) is US$2 +10% tax.

HAPPY HOURS:

There are several Happy Hours around town but almost all end quite early (6pm).

MIKE’S GLOBAL GRILL:

The locals tell me that this is ‘The Gringo Pub’ in Boquete. Their Happy Hour is 4-6pm with a small local beer US$1 +10%. On Tuesday afternoon, they do 2-for-1 on all drinks until 6pm.Boquete - Walk - 13

I tried a number of places around town and I agree … this was my favourite Pub with a great crowd of expats that were easy to meet and talk to. They, also, have music some nights and sometimes on a Sunday afternoon.Boquete - Mikes - Live Band

BIG DADDY’S GRILL:

This is another popular ‘Gringo Bar’. Their Happy Hour is 3-5pm with a small local beer US$1 +10%.Boquete - Walk - 9

Big Daddy’s pulls a different crowd than Mike’s. I found them to be nice but a bit more ‘cliquey’ and harder to meet.

BOQUETE BREWING COMPANY:

This place is up-market for GRANDPAckers with a pint of beer going for US$4-5. You get $1 off the price in their afternoon Happy Hours.Boquete - Brewing Company - Frontage

On Tuesday and Wednesday, they do a ‘half price special’ on Growlers (4 pints) for US$13.75. You can keep the bottle and take it away as a souvenir if you want to.Boquete - Brewing Company - Growler $13.75

The 1/2 priced Growlers definitely got me down there for the odd night of decent beer 🙂

BLACK & WHITE:

Located opposite Big Daddy’s Grill. Another good place for a Happy Beer. Their Happy Hour runs from 3pm to 7pm. A small local beer is $1.20 +10%. They have Karaoke starting at 8pm on a Saturday night.

PUB PI:

Located on the river-side next to the bridge. A favourite with the locals with a small beer going for $1.50 and a glass of wine going for $3.00. No Happy Hour.Boquete - Pub Pi Frontage

OTHER:

The crowd from Mike’s go to the Tika Bar (over the bridge near the BCP) on a Friday afternoon – so, it must be nice.

On a Friday / Saturday night (if they are in the mood for a party), they also go up to the Taboo Bar for some late night dancing or karaoke.

PLEASE NOTE: The northern end of town is said to be the more expensive end of town.


MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:

There are several Supermarkets around town selling goods at Panamanian (not Tourist) prices.Boquete - Surrounds - 1

Typical prices are:

  • 5L Bottle of water = $1.75
  • 1L (cheap) Cortez Panama Rum = $7.95
  • 1Kg Grapes = $6.00
  • 1Kg Bananas = $1.00
  • 1Kg Muesli = $5.50
  • 1L Milk = $1.30
  • 20x 5g Sachets of Instant Coffee = $2.00
  • 225g Cheap Panama Filter Coffee = $1.85
  • 225g Premium Panama Filter Coffee = $3.00
  • 12x Slices of Processed Cheese = $2.00
  • 1lb Bread = $1.00 (bread is sold by weight)

BANKS / ATMs / MONEY EXCHANGE:

There are several banks and ATMs around town. There is no Bureau De Change.Boquete - Surrounds - 5

I took out US$500 from an ATM and was charged US$5.25 for the privilege.


HEALTH & SAFETY:

There is no reason to feel unsafe. As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.

The local expats tell me that there are very few incidents of violent crime and, if there is, it tends to between drunks down at the local dive bars. The main problem is Petty Theft … which is a ‘typical’ problem in Central America. Don’t leave anything unattended. Lock up your hotel room.

Just remember that a local worker on a coffee plantation earns US$8 per day … even a good person can get tempted if the ‘pickings’ are made too easy.Boquete - Surrounds - 7

I didn’t notice any mosquitoes.

Don’t drink the tap water.


WHEN TO GO:

I timed my visit to Boquete so that I was there at a relatively dry time of year.Boquete Climate Chart

The driest times are January through March with April and December being ‘Shoulder Season’.

Boquete has a tropical climate. There is significant rainfall in most months of the year. The short dry season has little effect on the overall climate.Boquete - Surrounds - 9

Within a few kms radius of Boquete Town you will find several different ‘micro-climates’ with some areas cooler than others, some wetter, some windier, …Boquete - Surrounds - 4

You can pick and choose which area best suites you.


WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:

Boquete is a small town that revolves around social life.

TUESDAY BCP MARKET:

Located just across the bridge.Boquete - Walk - 19 Boquete - Walk - 20

FLOWER MARKET:

Stalls set up near the Central Park.Boquete - Saturday Flower Market

107th YEAR BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION:

These celebrations lasted from Friday through to the following Wednesday.

A stage was set up in the Central Park. During the day they played music and had prize giving ceremonies. In the evenings they had live bands, DJs, and dancing.Boquete - Central Park Party 2

On Sunday afternoon, we had the Horse Parade where over 100 locals rode through the streets in their regalia.Boquete - Horse Day 1 Boquete - Horse Day 3Boquete - Horse Day 2

On Wednesday (the Town’s actual birthday), they had a parade in the streets which ended up at the Central Park (where Panama’s Beauty Queen was waiting). The parade played some mesmerising music.Boquete - 107 Years - Parade 2Boquete - 107 Years - Parade 3

GUALACA:

The local expat crowd invited me to join them for a trip down to Gualaca Canyon.Gualaca - 3

It is about a 30 minute drive south of Boquete.Gualaca - 2

We were there on a slightly overcast day.Gualaca - 5

On a sunny day the rocks can get very hot underfoot.Gualaca - 5

The water is deep enough (in places) to dive in – but be careful to choose the right spot!Gualaca - 4

The water was pleasant.Gualaca - 1

All-in-all, it was a pleasant day with a great group of people.Gualaca - 6


GETTING AWAY:

From Boquete I head to Playa Las Lajas on the Pacific Coast.Boquete to Las Lajas Map

This should be a straight-forward and fairly short journey:

  • A public bus from Boquete to David
  • A public bus from David along Route 1 towards Santiago
  • Getting off at the San Felix road junction
  • A 12km / US$6 taxi ride from the road junction to Las Lajas beach

I will tell you more about that it my next post.


GRANDPAcking COSTS:

CHANGUINOLA:

I have not included detailed GRANDPAcking costs for Changuinola. Changuinola is not a Holiday Destination. I was only taking refuge in Changuinola to avoid Santa Semana.

BOQUETE:

GRANDPAckers CAN afford to LIVE in Boquete to GRANDPAcking standard … but, only just.Boquete - Surrounds - 2

GRANDPAckers are strongly advised to find a hotel room with a kitchenette (or access to a decent shared kitchen) – you will need to eat some of your meals at home.

Read About – GRANDPAcking Costs if you don’t know how to interpret my figures.

SPREADSHEET SUMMARY:

MY ACTUAL COSTS:Boquete GRANDPAcking Costs

My costs are broken down into:

  • Cost of Existence: The basic costs of just being there
  • Cost of Living: The additional costs that make being there fun
COST OF EXISTENCE (COE):

I lived in Boquete to GRANDPAcking standard.

I spent 4 nights at US$27 / night in a Double Room in Valle de las Flores and 14 nights at $25 / night in the Suenos del Rio.

I spent US$33 on Mobile top-ups (my mistake) – I should only have had to pay $16.50 for a 1-Month 2GB Data Plan. Internet is so easily available around town that 2GB proved plenty – 1GB would, probably, have been enough.

I averaged about US$4.30 / day on Breakfasts – I ate at home 1/3rd of the time.

I averaged US$0.50c / day on Lunches – I don’t eat Lunch anymore so, this was mainly for snacks.

I averaged about US$7.30 / day on Dinners – I ate at home 1/3rd of the time.

I got my drinking water in 5 Litre Bottles (US$1.75 each).

My COE worked out to be about US$38 / day.Boquete - Surrounds - 3

COST OF LIVING (COL):

In / Out Costs: It cost me US$12.50 to get from Changuinola to Boquete Town.

Living Costs: I averaged about US$9.25 / day. If I went out, it was mainly to hit the Happy Hours or the 1/2 priced Growlers 🙂

My total COL was about US$47 / day.

COSTS FOR 2 GRANDPAckers:

Again, costs are broken down in Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL).

COST OF EXISTENCE:

Accommodation: Book yourself into something for the first 2 nights at about US$35 / night. Anywhere will do. Once here, ask around. My $25 room with shared kitchenette at Suenos del Rio was exceptional for Boquete. BUT, if you ask around and work hard, you should be able to find something decent for the same rice. You MIGHT get lucky at the Suenos …

Transport: You can walk everywhere around town. I include a weekly public transport return day / shopping trip for 2 people to David.

Communications & Fees: I include a US$18.55 +Movil SIMcard and 1 Month Mobile Prepaid Plan. I would advise you to get the $14.99 Combo Plan with 1.5GB of data, 60 minutes talk time, and 60 SMSs.

Food & Beverages: Your budget is US$26 / day. This is to eat all of your meals in Cheap Restaurants.

Your COE is US$52 / day (93% of your total budget).Boquete - Surrounds - 6

COST OF LIVING:

This leaves you very little ($4 / day) to LIVE on. You will need to deviate from GRANDPAcking Standard if you want to have enough spending money to have more fun (e.g. eat meals at home).


RETIREMENT:

THE GRANDPAcking ACID TESTCan a retired couple with no assets live easily, comfortably, and happily here with their only source of income being a standard NZ Married Couple’s State Pension? YES.

Boquete makes it into my Retirement Reviews (but only just). Many people retire here full-time. I, personally, would limit this to the 6 best months in the year (December to May) but this may impact on your monthly accommodation costs – renting by the year is cheaper.

For those with money (by definition these people are not GRANDPAckers), you can find western quality homes 2 blocks from the Main Street and many more options within 2-3kms of town.Boquete - Backstreet House

You can buy a simple home for as little as US$150k and a luxury home for about US$300k.Boquete - Luxury House for Sale

If GRANDPAkers were to retire full time in Boquete, a realistic budget would be:Boquete RETIREMENT Costs

Your biggest opportunity to save costs is in your meals. The $26 / day cost to eat in cheap restaurants can be reduced dramatically by buying local groceries, fruit, and vegetables. You can easily get this down to less than $10 / day. But, this is not GRANDPAcking ‘standard’.

THE PANAMA PENSIONADO VISA:

… I plagiarised the, following, text from EXPATFOCUS.COM

The generous retiree program offered by the Panamanian government is known to be one of the best in the world, and has made the country a renowned retirement location. The Panama pensionado (retired) visa is one of the most popular ways to acquire residency in Panama.

Through the pensionado visa program, the Panamanian government makes it very easy for pensioners and foreign retirees to reside in the country. The law also means that retired expats will also receive the same subsidized benefits that local retirees enjoy. It is relatively easy to become eligible for the retiree program and therefore to benefit from the many things it offers. In order to qualify for the scheme, it is necessary to receive a permanent lifetime monthly income. This can be from a private pension or a government scheme (such as social security), and must be at least US$1,000 per month. 

Since there is no minimum age required for the program, even those who are receiving an early lifetime pension (such as through social security disability) are eligible to apply for this visa and live in Panama. Those with a pensionado visa can enjoy permanent lifetime residency in the country for as long as they wish. However, they cannot work or obtain citizenship. A pensionado visa also permits foreign resident retirees to own and rent property in Panama.

Legal Requirements:

The Panamanian government has laid down several requirements for obtaining the pensionado visa.

• The retiree or applicant must be able to adequately cover his or her living costs, and must receive a minimum monthly pension of US$1000.

• If the pension is received in another currency, it must be equivalent to US$1000. 

• The required monthly pension reduces to US$750 if the applicant owns property in Panama that is valued at above US$100,000.

• The applicant’s monthly pension must be received through a private institution, international organization, or foreign government.

• Along with the application, the retiree must submit a copy of his or her passport, which has been authenticated by a notary in Panama.

• The foreign documents must be notarized and authenticated by the nearest Panama consul or apostille, and translated into Spanish.

• The applicant must give power of attorney to a local lawyer. This lawyer will then represent the applicant and submit the application on their behalf. This is mandatory, since the applicant must meet certain requirements pertaining to immigration laws. 

You don’t have to be retired to qualify for the pensionado visa. You are only required to produce a letter from an authorized organization that confirms a monthly lifetime pension. This can be from the foreign government agency or organization who are administering the pension, a mutual fund company, an insurance company, or a bank. The letter will confirm that the funds are available and a guarantee that the payments will continue for the applicant’s lifetime. 

Spouses receiving pensions are permitted by the Panamanian government to combine them to meet the minimum requirement of US$1000. You will need an additional US$250 per month for each dependent. The law states that dependents include children up to 18 years of age or 25 years of age if they are full-time college students. Children above the age of 18 or those who are not full-time college students will not have pensionado visa status, and will need to qualify for another immigration visa to reside in Panama.

Applying for a Panama Pensionado Visa:

The process of applying for a Panama pensionado visa is simple. Once you have found a lawyer, you will be asked to collect a list of documents from your country of residence. Some documents must not be older than six months at the time the application is submitted to the immigration office, so take care to check your documents. When your application is ready to be submitted, you will have to visit Panama, where you will be provided with a temporary residence card by the government. You will also need to go to an immigration office (located in Santiago, Panama City or David) to have your photograph taken. Once you have the temporary residence card, you can legally live in Panama.

A number of expats also opt for a multiple-entry visa, since the local law maintains that temporary residence card holders who leave Panama and do not possess a multiple-entry visa can be asked to pay a fine of up to US$2,000 upon their return. The application for a multiple-entry visa can be made at the same time as the residence application is submitted. The immigration office usually stamps the multiple-entry visa in the passport and returns it within one to three working days. Many expats also apply for a Panamanian driver’s license. The duration for this entire process usually takes about 10 business days. 

It takes around six months for the immigration office to approve an application for the pensionado visa. When this happens, you are required to obtain your permanent residence card at the immigration office in Panama City. 

Retirees can also obtain a ‘cedula’, the national identification card of Panamanian residents. It is possible for retirees who are part of Panama’s retirement program to get by easily only with their pensionado card and passport. However, the cedula enables one to make transactions in Panama more easily. For instance, cashing checks or buying a car requires less identification when you have a cedula, and the locals are more comfortable dealing with those who have one. The cedula does not have other benefits, but is a good way to integrate better into the local culture. 

Cost:

The cost of obtaining a pensionado visa is determined by various factors. The total cost includes the fees charged by the government, legal fees, and the charges you will need to pay for acquiring the paperwork in your home country. Government fees vary from US$300-$400 for a single applicant. This includes of the cost of the temporary and permanent residence card, passport registration, multiple-entry visa, and application for the cedula. 

Legal fees will depend on how many applicants there are. Some lawyers may charge extra for the cedula application process, while others charge for the authentication of documents and translation. Most expats are willing to cover legal fees, even if they are on the higher side, especially if they are not fluent in Spanish or well versed with locations in Panama. This is also true of expats who wish to complete the processes of obtaining the temporary residence card, multiple-entry visa, and driver’s license in a single visit. Spouses who are both applying for the pensionado visa can expect to pay an approximate amount of between US$3000-$4000. 

Benefits of Panama’s Pensionado Visa Program:

Panama is one of a kind when it comes to retirement destinations as a result of the benefits its retirement program offers to men aged 60 and over, and women aged 55 and over. Retirees with a pensionado visa are eligible for various benefits. These benefits also extend to retired foreigners who reside in the country, and younger pensioners.

Reductions on bills are available for retirees in Panama:

The Panamanian government offers expat retirees the best incentive program in the world. There are numerous benefits with the pensionado visa: 

• One time exemption on import duty up to US$10,000 on all personal and household goods

• Exemption on import duty on a car, tax-free, every couple of years

• The right to a residency visa for all foreigners who buy a home of above US$200,000

• 100% exemption on property tax in case of sole residence

Panama also offers benefits to all retirees, both Panamanian and foreign:

• 50% reduction in home loan closing costs

• 10% discount on prescription medications

• 20% off on visits to the doctor and surgical procedures

• 25% discount on electricity, water and phone bills every month

• 25% discount on domestic and international flight tickets. However, this doesn’t apply to all ticket categories, meaning retirees may be able to buy airplane tickets cheaper than the discounted price for which they are eligible

• 15% discount on dental procedures

• 25% discount at restaurants. However, not all restaurants and hotels – especially smaller establishments – are happy to offer this discount

• 15% discount on ophthalmic services

• 30% discount on train, bus and boat fees

• 15% discount at fast food restaurants

• 50% discount on entertainment, which includes sports events, movies, theaters, and concerts

• 50% discount at hotels from Monday through Thursday, and 30% discount on weekends

• 15% off loans made out in the name of the retiree

• Special express lines for retirees at all banks in Panama

• Retirees can hire a full-time maid for below US$200 per month

Retirees in Panama will not face the risk of arbitrarily losing their pensionado status. In other countries, new laws that come into effect can impact the status of long-time retirees, even taking away their residency (in some cases). However, the Panamanian government has pledged to protect the status of its retiree residents. This means that even if the laws about pensionado change in the future, the status of current retirees will not change.


CONCLUSION:

Boquete has a large expat community. It is easy to make friends here.Boquete - Surrounds - 8

It reminds me a lot of San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala and San Miguel de Allende in Mexico (with the latter having a similar COL to Boquete). 

Boquete has its river-side setting and San Pedro LL has its lake-side setting. Both are elevated and have temperate climates. Both have a really nice expat community.

San Pedro is 2/3rds the price of Boquete with a longer summer … but, it is not always about money … Boquete is definitely worth a look.

TTFN


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