Boquete truly is a magical place and I can see why people have chosen to visit or make the move here. Luscious green mountains with plenty of eco-tourism opportunities, a cool climate, and a blossoming restaurant scene make this small town in Panama a magical place to visit.
During my first visit to Panama in 2009, I spent most of my time in Panama City but also traveled to Bocas del Toro for a few days and spent a night in Boquete. While I have revisited Bocas several times since that trip, I have almost forgotten about Boquete. After making way too excuses over the years for not going, I decided that 2018 would be my year to embark on this forgotten territory.
I saw that the Feria de Las Flores y del Café was taking place in January and I quickly booked a stay at Bambuda Castle, so that there would be no backing out. (I’ve also been wanting to visit Boquete just so I could stay in a castle).
A friend of mine drove and it took around 7.5 hours to arrive from Panama City. If you do drive, beware of speed traps! The entire highway is monitored by police, so pay attention to the changing speed limits or they will pull you over (mostly wanting a $20 bribe). The journey can also easily be done by flight or bus (instructions here).
With the town in view, I rolled down my window and breathed in the fresh mountain air. It was about an hour before sunset so the air was beginning to get chilly but felt perfect with a light jacket on. My body was needing a break from the heat & humidity of Panama City.
We were starving so we stopped at a local bakery called Sugar & Spice before checking into the hostel. It was packed with people and after eating I could see why. The Cuban sandwich, soup & coffee I ordered were delicious and reasonably priced for the portions compared to the city.
Driving up to the road around 10 minutes from the restaurant and main square, the castle where we were staying came into view.
Bambuda Castle is immaculate and definitely one of the nicest hostels I have ever stayed at. The amenities include an indoor swimming pool and jacuzzi, a rock climbing wall on one of the towers, a full bar, and a kitchen that whips up delicious & reasonably priced breakfast & dinner. The price of staying here was also not bad. Just $14 / night for a dorm bed and private suites starting at $64 / night. The only downside is the distance from the main town, which is about an hour walk or a 10-minute drive. The staff can also assist with booking a taxi, but with the fair taking place that weekend, there was a delay in the taxis arriving. However, the property is so beautiful and relaxing that you may not want to leave much.
The next day I visited the Feria de Las Flores and it was busy with locals from all over Panama. During the day the fair is pleasant to walk through and great for taking in the scenery. The setup is a grand display of flowers from all over the world and a small center stage with folkloric dances throughout the day. Food stands are lined up throughout the fair and I enjoy several of the famous strawberry and sweet condensed milk deserts.
Also, joining me on this trip was my dog Riley, who became paralyzed last year and gets around using a small wheelchair or a backpack that looks similar to a baby carrier. The people in Boquete had definitely never seen a crazy Gringo toting around his dog like an infant until now. People literally stopped their car and got out to take a picture with Riley. He did not seem to mind the extra attention.
The weather can be crazy in Boquete! Approximately every 20 minutes there would be a light misty rain, known locally as “bajareque”. Be sure to always carry around a light jacket because it would get hot when the sun came out, chilly when a “bajareque” would pass by, and then cold at night. However, this crazy weather is what makes the coffee from Panama so unique.
Before my trip to Boquete, I had heard mixed reviews about the actual coffee here. In Panama City, there are some spectacular places for coffee that specialize in various brewing methods and are well decorated. A town that is known for growing should have the best stuff, right? Not exactly.
I definitely encountered some bad coffee, some good, and some amazing. It seemed to be a hit or miss for the most part. A newly opened cafe called The Perfect Pair ended up being the winner. They were the only coffee shop I found that specialized in various brewing methods like Chemex, V60, French Press, and Siphon. They also have a delicious selection of chocolate and dessert, aka the perfect pair.
Besides finding a good coffee shop in Boquete, the restaurant & bar scene seems to be blossoming. Boquete Brewing Company had plenty of local craft beers and live music every night, I had an outstanding steak at Butcher Chophouse, and a full breakfast & coffee at the newly opened Otto restaurant for $6. I also did a unique honey tasting at Boquete Bees and ended up leaving with 6 jars of flavor-infused honey.
While this trip was mostly focussed on visiting the fair, getting to know the town, and trying lots of food there is also plenty of ecotourism activities and hiking to do in Boquete. I didn’t have a chance this trip to do any of them but I am itching to go back soon!