The main attraction on the east side of Volcán Barú is Boquete (pop. 3,833 in central Boquete, 16,943 in the district), a cute little town and one of Panama’s top tourist draws.
Boquete has long been famous in Panama for its coffee and oranges, and for a flower festival that each year draws thousands of visitors from around the country. As with Bocas del Toro, it was finally discovered in the late 1990s by foreign backpackers and other adventurous travelers, who were soon followed by older North Americans looking for a pleasant place to retire—and by developers and land speculators.
In recent years, real-estate madness had reached such a pitch that some land in downtown Boquete was going for the same price as prime real estate in San Francisco, California. A woman who works as a maid for an acquaintance turned down a US$10 million offer for farmland owned by her campesino (peasant farmer) family. Her father had worked hard to get that land, she explained, and he had made her vow never to sell it.
The gold-rush atmosphere has calmed down a bit, and some of the more disturbing housing developments have been stopped or slowed. Boquete is still booming and its few streets are now busy with too many cars in a hurry, but it stubbornly retains its charm.
It’s a peculiar kind of charm, as most of the buildings jumbled together downtown are not attractive and “urban planning” is as much an oxymoron here as anywhere else in Panama. But the setting makes it beautiful. It’s in the middle of a picturesque valley surrounded by forested mountains and bordered on the east by the churning waters of the Río Caldera.
On a clear day, the Barú volcano dominates the landscape to the northwest. And those who venture beyond Boquete’s main streets will discover the town itself is still laid-back, a relaxing place to hang out and plan day trips to the many attractions nearby.
At a little over a kilometer above sea level, it doesn’t get quite as chilly here as it does in the higher mountain towns on the west side of Barú, but it’s still pleasantly cool compared to most of Panama, and it can sometimes get surprisingly cold. Expect the foggy drizzle known as bajareque year-round, which can be quite refreshing and produce stunning rainbows. Again, bring warm, waterproof clothes.
A coffee tour, a stroll through Boquete’s surreal gardens, a hike along a mountain trail, and a quest for quetzals are all worthwhile ways to spend time in this area. Try to find time to do them all. The most popular activities for outdoorsy types are white-water rafting, hiking the Sendero Los Quetzales, and climbing Volcán Barú.
Areas near Boquete of possible interest to visitors include Bajo Mono, northwest of Boquete, which has a lovely loop road and the trailhead for Sendero Los Quetzales; Caldera, which is southeast of Boquete and has good hot springs, some petroglyphs, and a bunch of little waterfalls; and the road to Volcancito, which starts near the CEFATI building in Alto Boquete and has a couple of attractions, most notably Paradise Gardens, a lovely little wildlife refuge.
Getting to Boquete
The city of David, in the lowlands, is less than 40 kilometers from Boquete and is the transportation hub for buses and planes to and from other parts of the country, most notably Bocas del Toro and Panama City. Some hotels and guides offer transportation to David, the west side of Barú, the Costa Rican border, and Almirante, the port of entry for the archipelago of Bocas del Toro. Fees for this service generally range US$20–30 for David–Boquete up to US$150–200 for Boquete–Almirante.
Boquete is 45 minutes by car from David, seven hours from Panama City. Those driving west from Panama City should turn right at the first major intersection upon entering David. Follow the road all the way into Boquete, which is less than 40 kilometers north of David.
Boquete-bound buses leave the David bus terminal about every 15–30 minutes, 5:15 a.m.–9 p.m., with a final bus at 9:45 p.m. David-bound buses leave Boquete approximately every 25–30 minutes 4:15 a.m.–7 p.m. Catch the bus to David in front of the Hostal Palacio on the northwest side of the plaza.
The trip costs US$1.45 each way and takes about 45 minutes. The Oficina de Transporte Boquete-David, a fancy name for a tiny office on the north side of the plaza, has the latest bus schedule and may even have a staff member who speaks English.
Boquete Tree Trek (tel. 720-1635, www.aventurist.com) offers a shuttle service between David or David’s airport (US$10). It can also help arrange car rentals and plane tickets. Some hotels offer pickup and drop-off service, usually for an extra fee.
Taxis between Boquete and David cost US$25 (downtown or bus station) and US$30 (airport). Expect to pay US$40–60 for trips to Cerro Punta or the Costa Rican border. A trip to the Respingo entrance to Sendero Los Quetzales, on the Cerro Punta side of Barú, costs US$80. It’s also possible to arrange a taxi between Boquete and Almirante, the jumping-off point for the islands of Bocas del Toro. Expect to pay anywhere from US$135–180.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition