Posted by: luisabaldwin | August 29, 2009



The boat trip from Bocas del Toro was glassy smooth and very pleasant.  It was to be a day of travel so we left early in the morning and that was the key.  We also have gotten a little smarter, i.e. get to the dock early and sit in the front of the boat.  That way you don’t get water drenched.

But the bus ride to David – well that was another story altogether.  The seats were made for midgets and after four hours of one butt off the seat, we started getting tired, hot, and irritable.  Then the music just wouldn’t stop.  When they play beautiful Panamanian music it’s good.  When they play a local radio station, it’s nothing but loud meaningless chatter interspersed with lousy music. After a million stops to pick up and drop off riders who stood squeezed into the aisles, well, we were downright grumpy.  In David, we changed buses for Boquete and things got better.  It was an old school bus with plenty of room on the seats and as we climbed the mountain the air got crisp, cool, and clean – the landscape was breathtaking.


After a long day of travel we found a great hotel called Isla Verde.   It consists of colorful cabanas right on the river.

Hotel Isla Verde

Hotel Isla Verde

The gardens on this riverfront property are beautifully tended with food growing everywhere and an abundance of flowers.  The sound of the river rushing over rocks is nothing short of blissful and the cool mountain climate is welcoming. The tired travelers were finally able to perk up a pot of Café Ruiz, and thankfully fall into chairs on our veranda.  It was hard to leave the hotel.

Our cabana on the river

Our cabana on the river

Boquete is the home to five hundred American ex-pats and the new buildings in the village reflect that.  The hills surrounding the town are spotted with what, we in California would call multi-million dollar spreads, although they certainly didn’t cost that here!  Gated communities of very nice houses are all over the place.

Upscale house in Boquete

Upscale house in Boquete

There is plenty of evidence of smart people who sold three to four years ago at the high and built at the low in Boquete.  Why, there’s even a country club and a golf course.

I’ve been raking my brain to come up with a word that accurately describes Boquete and it didn’t come to me until we got good and rested.  I would have to describe Boquete as abundant.  Food is growing everywhere, bananas, coconuts, oranges, papayas, lemons, limes, and mangos.  Orchids grow in the trees and the flowers are a feast for the eyes.  The melodic songs of the birds wake you up and butterflies flutter through the air.


The surrounding farms feed Panama and the coffee fincas (farms) provide Panama with their favorite beverage.  Everybody is a gardener and the neighborhood gardens are full of a huge variety of flowers, fruits, and vegetables.


The mountains surrounding the village are green and lush with fast growing jungle growth and

a feast for the eyes. The sound of the river predisposes all to a sense of well being and happiness.  There is no recession to be worried about here (or anywhere else in Panama for that matter).  There are just people contentedly living their lives.  In short, Boquete is prosperous.

A hedge of begonias at Hotel Isla Verde

A hedge of begonias at Hotel Isla Verde

That’s not to say that Panama hasn’t been affected by the U.S. recession – they have.  GDP growth has slowed down to +4% in 2009 from a whopping +8% in 2008.  It is a far cry from our U.S. negative GDP growth.  Boquete  has 32 construction projects that are under way and 17 are inactive for lack of customers.  The area enjoyed robust growth in recent years due to the presence of ex-pats buying up property but Americans are staying close to home these days and are not in a position to buy second homes abroad anymore.  Boquete is a possibility for us, although it is expensive.  Perhaps on the next trip we will look at the surrounding areas.  It has many advantages and less disadvantages for settling than Bocas del Toro did which was quite funky.  However, we are in no hurry – the bottom hasn’t come in yet.  Prices are coming down and the top end of the housing market is at a stand still.

Although Panama is close to the equator and considered tropical; up in the mountains it’s downright brisk and cool in the mornings and evenings.  On cloudy days, you wouldn’t want to wear shorts in the middle of the day as Jim did yesterday and found himself a mite chilly.  I, on the other hand, was silently thanking my Mother for her good-by gift, a pair of good tennis shoes.  Since arriving in Panama, it was the first time I had wore them.  Not because I needed them but because they were keeping my feet warm!

The waterfall at 'Il Pianista' Restaurant

The waterfall at 'Il Pianista' Restaurant

One afternoon we took a taxi to a restaurant called Il Pianista where we enjoyed a lunch beside this little waterfall.  A group of ex-pats meandered in and we struck up conversations, as usual.  It was interesting to meet the Americans that are living here in all these gated communities.  One  ex-pat was a chef from the Napa Valley and owned a restaurant in town, which we later visited.

Other than daily walks into town we did finally leave our little paradise and venture out to see one of the top coffee growers in the area.

Cafe Ruiz finca

Cafe Ruiz finca

Although it was a rainy day, the three-hour excursion was interesting and informative.  When I had my three espresso bars in Colorado I remember thinking how can something so simple be so complicated?  Well, from bean to that bag of coffee that you buy there are some eighteen steps!  A coffee plant doesn’t even start to produce a bean for six years.  The finca (plantation) was not at all what we expected.  You would think there would be rows upon rows of coffee trees but that’s not the case.

The plantation was not quite what we expected

The plantation was not quite what we expected

Arabica coffee requires shade and a specific altitude so this farm looked a lot like a fruit-growing farm with coffee trees underneath.  The fruit attracts the insects so they can use fewer pesticides.  And yes, those beans are all hand picked by the local Ngobe-Bugle Indians who are provided housing, a store, a school, and medical services.  The mothers have first dibs on the salaries so that the husbands don’t use the money to drink and gamble.

The roasting machine

The roasting machine

The roasting and packaging facilities were very clean and interesting.  Unlike what I had thought was the most important part of the whole coffee process, the roasting of the beans was the most insignificant part of the whole process.

Tomorrow we leave pretty Boquete and travel down to a valley closer to Panama City.  Our house-sitting begins.  We’re hoping for a better bus ride and are looking forward to unpacking and the illusion of stability for two and a half weeks.

I would like to leave you with a few more jems that I found on the grounds of Isla Verde:

Photography by:
Luisa Baldwin
© All rights reserved




  1. Nice post that describes the essence of beautiful Boquete – abundance indeed! We’ve also found the local Panamanians most welcoming. My wife and I are moving there from San Diego on Monday after a rough three-year wait here in San Diego. I wrote an article on the best way to get to Boquete in case any of your readers are interested…

    Happy Travel!

  2. Looks like real life compare to gray
    asphalt jungles interior .Plants colors are so bright .

    Good adventuring !

    Edward (aka Godwinson)

  3. Boquete sounds and looks magical!

  4. Hi and thank you for the blog post i have been hunting for this particular information
    on-line for sometime now therefore appreciate it.

    • You’re welcome Lavon. Glad I could help!

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