(International Living Magazine) When I hear people talk about Boquete, in Panama’s Highlands, I’m reminded of the parable of Plato’s Cave. In that allegory, people sit in a cave watching shadows going by from outside. They glean bits of information from what they see… but never form a complete or real picture.
You may have heard snippets of information about Boquete—the growing expat population… the expansion of the road from Boquete to the city of David… and Boquete’s reputation as one of the world’s greatest retirement destinations. But these tidbits won’t give you the full story of all that Boquete has to offer.
It’s true that it’s an exceptionally popular retiree destination and a place that’s been growing, slowly and steadily over the last 10 or so years.
But it’s still the natural wonderland it was the first time I visited, some 15 years ago. It’s alive with the beauty of nature: mountains carpeted in velvety grass…spindly pines whose branches will never hold any snow…and tufts of bougainvillea, adding shocks of color that range from tropical tones like fuchsia and coral to pure white.
And while there are quite a few more homes here than there were in 1998… they’re dotted sparingly around an overwhelmingly green landscape.
The expats who come here have actively integrated into the community easily. Yes, you’ll hear English commonly spoken around town, but the locals and the expats interact often to better the town. A new library, a hospice, a market and a theater are just some of the new additions made in recent years.
The standard of living has improved massively since I first came here a decade and a half ago. Besides the ever-growing number of shops, banks and restaurants, you’ll find plenty to entertain yourself with in Boquete, from live music, plays and Mardi Gras parades to clubs, classes and charities.
The best things about Boquete, though, haven’t changed. The cool highland climate…the legendary, rich coffee…the hiking and birding trails that lure naturalists from all over the world…those things are still as good as they ever were.
And the town still maintains its friendly, small town atmosphere, which I adored from my first visit. People usually walk everywhere they need to go, and as they do they wave and say hello, or stop for a chat. If I try to run an errand or view a property or make an appointment, I allow myself plenty of time for these interactions.
People have offered me everything from banana bread to rides to neighboring towns. They readily share information, like recipes or tips on growing tomatoes. They have cooked for me, introduced me to their families, and even visited me in Panama City, where I live full-time.
The last time I was in Boquete, one of the town’s most prominent citizens welcomed me into her home. I was having dinner at the stately Panamonte, a hotel owned (since the 1940s) by the family of Inga Collins. She and her son, acclaimed chef Charlie Collins, asked us how we liked our dinner, and the next thing I knew, I was invited to her home the following night. That’s the type of thing that happens in Boquete.
Wi-Fi is everywhere…and the city of David, filled with shops and malls and clinics and hospitals and everything you could possibly need, is just 40 minutes away. But they have nothing to do with how I feel when I am there. The fresh mountain air puts a bit of extra pep in my step…the expansive views and jewel-toned birds lift my spirits…and new friends amaze me with their graciousness and generosity. That’s the beauty of the real Boquete.