Another mountain town occupies the number three spot on our list: Boquete, Panama. Though little known outside the region before 2000, the attention given to Boquete by a number of print and online publications has turned it into an expat magnet. AARP recently listed Boquete among the best places to retire abroad.
Often referred to as the “land of eternal springtime,” Boquete continues to transform as expats, retirees and investors find opportunity in the best known North American expat destination in the world.
The short answer to the question about what makes Boquete so special is simple: everything! Known as the “Valley of Flowers”, this quiet village sits on the Caldera River, just 37 miles from the Costa Rican border.
At 3,900 feet above sea level, the climate is much cooler than the more tropical Panamanian lowlands with warm (but not torrid) days and cool evenings.
Located in the veritable shadow of Volcán Barú, the tallest point in Panama at 11,400 feet, the stunning vistas are both compelling and relaxing.
The rich soil of the Boquete Valley has produced a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables that are always on display and easy to buy at the local farmers’ markets. Flowers are another important product and the Expos Orchid Fair in March is widely attended by tourists and aficionados from around the globe.
Boquete has a number of activities that can delight anyone who wants to get up close and personal with the natural beauty of the region. Whitewater rafting, zip lining, off road tours, and guided cloud forest treks are just some of the options available.
Perhaps one of the most popular is the day hiking course along the Sendero Los Quetzales (the Quetzal Trail). Winding along the northeastern side of Volcán Barú, this hike will allow adventurers to see one of the rarest birds in the region, (and the namesake of the trail itself) the stunning Resplendent Quetzal.
After all that activity, finding relaxation in the mineral baths of the Hot Springs Caldera can soothe and rejuvenate both the body and the mind.
The area in and around Boquete is famous for its coffee plantations. Often called the Napa Valley of Coffee, the Arabicas beans grown here are prized by coffee lovers around the world as being among the finest anywhere. Coffee tours at some of the plantations are not only a way to know more about the world’s favorite morning beverage, but also to understand more about the culture and the people of Boquete itself.
The annual festival of Flowers and Coffee is held in Boquete each January between the 12th and the 22nd. In addition to being one of the largest celebrations of flowers worldwide, local coffee growers have the opportunity to present the finest examples of their products to the thousands of visitors who annually flock to the area to enjoy the sights and the flavors. No matter whether the choice is with cream, sweetener, or straight black, the coffee of Boquete will delight even the most discriminating palette.
Panama has some of the easiest and most attractive residency laws for expats, retired or otherwise, in Central or South America. Panama’s Specific Countries Program has made it possible for holders of US, Canadian and European passports to become residents within six to eight months.
Boquete has an established expat community that, by government estimates, numbers over 3,000. For those considering moving abroad, knowing that there are others who speak your language (English) and who have successfully made the transition from tourist to resident can add a layer of comfort to making such a profound life choice.
An important byproduct of all these expats is the level of modern amenities, such as high speed internet, cable and cell phone services, businesses that cater to foreigners, and quality housing options. The expat community is truly the driving force in Boquete; while many people find this desirable, those looking for a rustic setting to become immersed in would find this village disappointing.
Boquete is not as inexpensive as Cuenca, Ecuador (for example) or other mountain destinations. However, the higher cost of living is still affordable when compared to tourist-centric mountain towns in the US, such as Lake Tahoe, Boulder, or similar locations. It is still possible to purchase property, either for construction or with existing structures, at a reasonable price. The fact that the US dollar is the recognized currency for all transactions makes buying and selling real estate much less complicated.
For retirees, the many discounts that Panama offers, can translate into real savings. Things like transportation, entertainment, medical expenses and airline tickets all carry attractive savings for those who have met the easy qualifications for the pensionado (retirement) visa. Added all together, the cost of living in this mountain paradise is certainly more affordable than might be expected.
Though off the beaten path, Boquete is still quite easy to get to and from. There are regular buses that run, roughly, every 45 minutes between Boquete and David, where there’s a newly renovated international airport. The drive time is a little over one hour and only costs, $1.75.
For the truly adventurous, there is the option to fly to Panama City and take the eight hour bus ride to David. Though long, traveling in this fashion can certainly provide visitors with a chance to see Panama through the eyes of a native Panamanian.
Boquete’s popularity with expats, investors and retirees will only continue to grow with all of the media exposure that it and Panama are receiving. Expat friendly with modern amenities, the glory of nature all around, and neighbors who speak your language make this a sure fire mountain paradise.