Boquete. This little mountain town may now be slightly overrun with expats, but it was one of the few places in Panama I truly loved. The town is small and quiet, located in the mountains, and surrounded by amazing jungles and rivers. After coming from the loud islands of Bocas del Toro, this place was an oasis of calm.
My days were spent relaxing in the mountains, hiking, visiting coffee plantations, and catching up on my work. They were quiet days. They were days that I wish would have lasted longer. One night while we were in town, the power went out. Stepping outside to see if it was just our area, we found the city black. Instead of looking around, I looked up and I saw a sky filled with the glow of stars unseen to me for years, having been lost to the glow of all the cities I have visited or lived in. I could see the Milky Way clearly. I could see constellations whose names I never learned. (I brought out my iPhone App to identify them. If you don’t have it, get the Star Walk app. I’ve learned so much from it.) Even after the power went on, there were still plenty of stars to see and I stayed out longer, gazing at stars I too often don’t even notice.
Boquete is surrounded by lots of mountains that allow for some great day hikes. Trails are easily mapped, and I encourage you to just set off on your own. You never know what you might find. On the way to the San Ramon waterfall, we found the best strawberry ice cream place called “The Power of Fruit.” (I highly recommend it!) Besides just wandering trails, here are four activities I recommend you do before you leave the city:
Mi Jardín Es Su Jardín – (Via los Naranjos, +507 730-8267) – This garden is a private garden made for everyone. There are a lot of plants here and a funky design, as well as an impressive view of the valley and surrounding mountains, which you can look at through the observation tower. The garden is free to enter and there is a cafe on site.
Take a coffee plantation tour – Most of the coffee in Panama is grown here, and throughout the mountains there are tons of coffee plantations. Take a tour of one and see how coffee is grown and processed. A lot of work goes into your cup of joe! Most tours are a half-day and cost around $25 USD. They are actually pretty interesting, and you get a lot of free coffee!
Hike the Sendero Los Quetzales Trail – This 13km trail begins about 10km out of town and ends in Cerro Punta. If you go from Boquete, you go uphill. From Cerro Punta, downhill. However, some people think the uphill hike is actually easier than hiking downhill since the downhill part is very hard on your knees. The trail takes a whole day to walk, so it’s best to leave early in the morning. While you won’t see a lot of animals here, you’ll find lots of birds and great views and waterfalls along the path. The trail takes about 6 hours to hike and can be completed in a day. The Quetzal Trail can be accessed from Boquete and Cerro Punta Cerro Punta Access: Taking Bajo Grande Street about 6 km (3.7 miles) is a ranger station in El Respingo. Part of the road is unpaved and it can be blocked from mudslides. 4x4s are better for getting up to the station. If you are not being able to drive to the station due to a mudslide, get out and walk up to the trailhead, it is not very long.
Climb Volcán Barú – This volcano is one of the biggest attractions for travelers here. You hike up to the summit of the dormant volcano for great views of the area and the caldera, and good hiking. While it is possible to do it in a very long day hike, most people hike this volcano over two days. That way you can spend the night at the top and witness the spectacular sunrise in the morning. You can hike this by yourself or go on an overnight tour with a guide for $50 USD.
To me, the best part of the city was the food. It was the only place in Panama where I actually enjoyed eating. It was the only place I found where the local food had flavor. There was a lunch cafeteria near the town square that had the best cheap food in Panama. There is also a lot of good Western food here, which should be no surprise considering the number of expats.
My friends and I found an article telling us about some of the best restaurants in town and we decided to try them all. By far, the best was “The Rock.” The food here…ohh, the food…it was simply superb. The homemade bread had a thick crust and beautiful texture. I had duck as an appetizer and the meat was very moist. My friend’s steak had flavors I never knew existed. And my main course, their signature dish of pork ribs, fell off the bone so well that it makes Texas BBQ look amateurish. It was a steal too. For three of us and two bottles of wine, we spent $100 USD. I still dream of that place. If you are ever in Boquete, you must try this restaurant.
Boquete was my favorite place in Panama and I would love to go back. I can see why so many Americans move down there. Life in the mountains is pretty good. Even if the Western influence wasn’t here, I’d love to live a nice little quiet life in the foothills of the jungle surrounded by coffee plantations. Come here, hike the mountains, cool off in the rivers, and relax with the stars at night.
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