It's a nice road from David up to Boquete ("bo keh' tay"). It was expanded just a couple years ago and is now a divided, 4-lane highway. David is flat and close to sea level and Boquete is nearly 4,000 feet in elevation. Needless to say, once you leave David, it's all uphill to Boquete. It's an easy 35-40 minute drive with only a few curves.
Boquete is situated in a beautiful little valley, surrounded by hills and mountains, with a large volcano (Volcon Baru) dominating the landscape on one side. It's population is in the low 20,000s. The town is laid out very simply and it's easy to find your way around. Once you are in town, it's a pretty easy walk to just about anywhere else in town. You won't find a big box store or a fast food franchise - or any chain restaurant, as far as we could tell. We really like that.
There is a river that runs through town (Rio Caldera) and it's one of the defining geographic features of Boquete. There are only a few bridges to get across. Our hotel was on the opposite side of the river from the town, about a 5 minute drive outside of "downtown."
The Hotel Palo Alto is a beautiful little hotel with a unique design. It has several 2-story buildings which are octagon-shaped. Each building has 2 units upstairs and 2 downstairs. Since we were staying a week, I believe we got one of the best units. The grounds are lush, colorful, and the landscaping was incredible. The Rio Caldera runs alongside the hotel property and provides a constant and relaxing background soundtrack. Here's a look at the hotel and our room:
The hotel included a hot breakfast every morning in the open-air, fireside bar and lounge area - cooked up by the manager, Robert. The menu included scrambled eggs, ham, sausage, potatoes, blueberry pancakes, french toast, cooked-to-order omelets, and more - but not all on the same day. ;-)
Tina and I started making contacts as soon as we arrived in Boquete. The owner of the hotel, Justin, and his business partner also have a real estate business (his partner deals with rentals and knows the market). The owner's mother, Judy, who helps run the hotel gave us tips about a local church, the expat fair every Tues morning, and more. Robert, Justin, and Judy took excellent care of us and made us feel right at home. They also answered about a thousand questions we had about the area, restaurants, weather, closest beaches, etc.
We spent the majority of our days exploring around town, driving around the area to get familiar with various developments, surrounding communities, etc. We dropped in and talked to Justin's business partner and stopped by other real estate offices. We checked every bulletin board we found for rentals and kept up the online search as well. We started getting a pretty good feel for the areas we liked and the rental price ranges.
One thing you notice very quickly when you walk around town: lots of gringos (non-Panamanians). There is a large and active expat community here. English is widely spoken in the shops and restaurants and it's easy to find someone with whom to strike up a conversation. To us, this is a very good sign. There must be something that attracts and keeps the expats here. The expat community even bought a piece of land right on the edge of town, where they built a theater and a community center, of sorts. They put on stage productions, sponsor concerts and speakers, hold a flea market every Tues morning, and more. Like I said, the expat community is very active.
We were told the rental market is fairly tight and anything that would be available at the time we were visiting would probably not be available in January, when we would possibly be moving there. Another factor not in our favor is that we would be coming in the early part of the peak season - for tourists, snowbirds, and some very popular and well-attended festivals. That being said, everyone told us there are always rentals available and word-of-mouth is usually the best source for the good ones.
On Sunday, we attended the Boquete Bible Fellowship - a friendly little church whose congregation is primarily expats (services in English). We introduced ourselves during the service and had a bunch of people come up to us afterward to introduce themselves, offer advice, etc. We were almost the last ones out the door after the service was over. Lots of nice people.
The Bottom Line:
What we saw and experienced in Boquete convinced us that this is the next place we want to "test drive." We plan to move there when our lease in Atenas is up in early January. We like it here in Atenas and we've made some new friends but the idea of our one year trip abroad is to be able to experience a number of different places. This will allow us to make the best decision when choosing a location for a long-term stay. We see a lot of positive factors in Panama/Boquete and we want to check it out further.
I found a You Tube video that has an informal, narrated tour of Boquete by an expat resident. It is 17 minutes long (if you want to watch the whole thing) and it covers quite a bit of the area. If you are just interested in seeing what the town itself is like, that's mostly in the first few minutes and the last few minutes (you can skip, if you want). In-between, he tours through some surrounding side streets and roads, to give you a feel for the area just outside of town - green and beautiful. The video was done in 2011 and some of the changes I noted as I watched it:
- The public library has been finished. It is a beautiful and impressive building - built with private donations.
- The roadwork (toward the end of the video) has been completed, as has the work to install the fountains in the Central Park
Posted by Mark