Boquete and its coffee

(continuer en français) – Published: March 28, 2021

The small Panamanian town of 22,000 inhabitants is located at an altitude of 3,900 feet, 1,200 metres, in the Chiriquí mountain range, isolating northwestern Panama from the rest of the country.

The altitude provides Boquete with a pleasant, constant temperature all year round. Taking advantage of this climatic feature, many Westerners have long since settled there, notably to create coffee plantations. They have been followed by several thousand North American retirees, giving a special atmosphere to this place.

It is easy to get there by good roads from the Pan-American Highway, which is about 30 miles, 50 kilometres, away. Then to circulate around Boquete, the roads become more sinuous to reach the fincas scattered on the hills.

Flowing down from the nearby mountains, the Rio Caldera still looks like a torrent as it passes through the town, its waters swelling suddenly during tropical rains. The bridge that spans it has a strange structure, as if preparing to be covered with decorations during festive periods.

In the town centre, the houses have a traditional appearance, with one or two floors. Most of the activity takes place between the church and the central square, along two main streets that join to form the busiest intersection in the small town.

The San Juan Bautista church has a very simple façade, without any superfluous decoration. Its construction dates back to 1907. The interior is larger than one would expect from the outside.

The central square, or Parque Domingo Médica, is carefully maintained, with trees providing soothing shade in the heat of the day. People come here to sit for a while and wait for the bus to arrive while other passers-by walk through in search of transport or shops.

Around the square, in addition to the town hall, there are several unpretentious ordinary houses, but they illustrate the architecture of small provincial towns.

This is also a good place to see the long traditional coloured dresses worn by some of the women of the local Ngöbe-Bugle indigenous community.

In a corner of the square, in front of the old train station, a railway carriage shows that technical progress has reached the town for a long time, as it was once served by the railway.

In the nearby streets, the shops serve the whole valley and its surroundings, often keeping their old look without giving in to contemporary fashions. Fresh local products are favoured.

Many of the businesses in the tourist sector, whether hotels or restaurants, are run by expatriates, who are more concerned with quality and comfort. This corresponds to what the population of North American or European origin in Boquete is looking for.

In the streets, there are several lottery ticket sellers, they put up their big board against the walls and sit with their back to the street, they are about to sell dreams.

There are still some old houses in the town centre, but recent buildings, such as the new school or the privately funded public library, are inspired by a more international style. It is certain that the many expatriates spending their retirement here influence this kind of project.

Near the centre, there is a large garden with expertly tended flowerbeds. This is where the Flower and Coffee Festival is held every year in January.

Boquete has established itself as a place of specialty coffee production, away from the mass production of the hot, flat regions. Taking advantage of the fertile volcanic soil, many small family farms have been established on the surrounding hillsides.

There are larger companies that buy the farmers’ production and market it under their brand name, such as Princesa Janca. Some coffee plantations have organised themselves to sell their production directly to consuming countries, avoiding intermediaries and crop mixes that affect the taste.

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Articles about Panama:

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Portobelo, the Spanish safe

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Entrance to Fort San Lorenzo, Panama

Fuerte San Lorenzo

Since 1601, the San Lorenzo fort has guarded the entrance to the Rio Chagres. In combination with Portobelo, the fort contributed to the defence of the Caribbean coast of Panama. 

Boquete and its coffee

The altitude provides Boquete with a pleasant, constant temperature all year round. Taking advantage of this climatic feature, many Westerners have long since settled there, notably to create coffee plantations.

Boquete, Panama
Bocas del Toro, Panama

Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro is the most successful Caribbean version resort in Panama. It is an archipelago of a dozen islands located at a short distance from the coast, half an hour by water taxi off the Atlantic coast. In the past it was a banana port, but after the crisis of the banana industry, it has been able to reconvert itself while keeping its character and without turning into a concrete town.

The Pan-American in Panama

The Pan-American Highway is one of the most attractive road trip dreams. From Prudhoe Bay in Alaska to Ushuaia in Argentina, the Pan-American Highway runs from one end of the American continent to the other for 15,000 miles.

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  1. I’ll go a long way for a good cup of coffee, or two or three, but Boquete is just a little bit too far for me. What a pity! But nevertheless, I enjoyed reading about it and it really does look a delightful spot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Apart from the clothing advantage, I think once you get used to the seasons, it’s hard to get away from them and same for the variation in day length. But a slightly shorter winter would be definitely welcome.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I confirm that there is something else beyond the Canal. It’s quite variable from place to place, some are really to be avoided, but elsewhere you find all the charm of South American countries, whether it’s the climate, the nature or the colonial architecture.


  2. Couldn’t help noticing the “Balboa” beer. Assuming its named after Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the first European explorer to site the Pacific Ocean. When he did so he was in… Panama. Wonderful pictures and narrative. If I show my wife this blog she’d start researching how soon we could move to Boquete…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Balboa is a big name in Panama. There is an imposing statue of the conquistador on the main seafront avenue, which also bears his name. He was indeed the first European to cross the American continent to the Pacific. He was lucky to start his journey in Panama. Strangely enough, women are often more reluctant to come and settle in Boquete, which was what I heard from the American expat I met on his coffee plantation.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Several Central American countries are trying to follow Costa Rica, which has turned tourism and ecology into revenue sources, especially with the proximity of North American travellers.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a charming town. My brother lived here for a short time and loved it. I can’t wait to see Panama someday and I’m intrigued by the Ngobe-Bugle indigenous people you photographed. Looking forward to learning more.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad your brother helped make Boquette the special town that it is; I’m skeptical about spending all of retirement there, but spending a few years of working life there is in a pleasant setting. Unfortunately I did not see much of the Ngobe-Bugle indigenous people whose communities are quite remote, but they come in to work on the coffee plantations for part of the year.

      Liked by 2 people

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