What’s Wrong With Boquete?

Boquete is known for its lush and beautiful gardens.

Boquete is known for its lush and beautiful gardens.

My wife and I have enjoyed our six months in Boquete. We have lived inexpensively allowing us to travel out of the country three times and take two trips in-country. Boquete is a lush, beautiful garden spot. Tourists have discovered it and flock here. Panamanians from the big city also visit Boquete, and many of the more prosperous families have lovely vacation homes here. Which leads to the question we have been asked many times: “If living in Boquete is so nice, why are you leaving?”

In the middle of planning to bring friends to the area we had a business issue with a Panamanian colleague. It could have been resolved with a simple apology for an abusive verbal exchange with my wife, but that did not happen. One of the basic rules of a happy existence is simply this: don’t piss off the Italian woman. Since this colleague was also our landlord, we no longer felt welcome, so we planned our departure.

Boquete's Central Park is a great meeting spot.

Boquete’s Central Park is a great meeting spot.

We could have made other living arrangements. There is no shortage of rental property in Boquete, which leads me back to the original question, what’s wrong with Boquete? Why wouldn’t we stay? (This is the part the over-eager real estate people will not tell you.)

1. This is no place for children. There are no playgrounds, no theaters, and no safe place to ride a bicycle.
2. Shopping is limited to the supermarket, the hardware store, and a small department store. The nearest mall is 25 miles away.
3. The Panamanian people are friendly, but they are not your friends. Even if you are fluent in Spanish, they are only interested in a relationship if there is money to be made. This is understandable when you consider the average monthly wage for a Panamanian is maybe $600.
4. All outsiders are gringos, and it is assumed gringos have lots of money even if you don’t. The gringos have driven up property values such that the locals can no longer afford to live in the town in which they grew up. There is some resentment about that, although Panamanians are generally tolerant by nature.
5. The weather is temperate year-round. What you are not told is that the area also gets over 100 inches of rain per year, and during the dry season the winds are nearly constant.
6. The humidity is high, which means mold and mildew are common. There is lots of pollen from the lush vegetation. Anyone with allergies could suffer in this environment.
7. There is crime in Panama. Almost every house in Panama has a high fence around it and iron bars on the doors and windows. Whenever you have a privileged class of people living in close proximity to a much poorer population, crimes of opportunity are not uncommon. Violent crimes are much less common, but not unheard of.
8. Power outages occur on a regular basis. Fortunately, they seldom last more than 30 minutes, but it does make you wonder who is playing with the switches.

The village of Boquete is nestled in a beautiful subalpine rainforest.

The village of Boquete is nestled in a beautiful subalpine rainforest.

I am not bitter about my experience here. There is much to like about Panama, and I am by no means seeking to turn people away. By the same token, I am sharing honest impressions without much sugar-coating. If you find any of this information is helpful, that is good. If you wish to share your own insights and experiences, I welcome your comments. I will be writing from a new venue next week. Adios from Panama.

living in Panama


50 comments on “What’s Wrong With Boquete?

  1. Mike, it is unfortunate that things could not be worked out, but such is the nature of business and culture. I wish you and Flo the best in your travels and living locations.

  2. blade3colorado says:

    Mike, I visited Panama earlier this year (stayed over a month in Boquete at Isla Verde, a beautiful small hotel with individual cabanas). I met many people there, most of whom lived there full time and almost all of them loved living there . . . that being said, they also said there were occasional problems, i.e., like any place else in the world.

    When I retired early 7 years ago, I thought about “buying” a piece of paradise somewhere in Central or South America and I quickly realized that would be a big mistake, or at least it would be for me. Why? Simply because I don’t know their values, culture, and laws sufficiently enough to make informed decisions about making a home permanently there. Much better to travel to Boquete on occasion for a vacation, or rent (as you did).

    Most important of all, I like to travel. All over the world. So much to see and so little time. Again, I loved Boquete while I was there. However, living there is another question all together. Thanks for sharing . . . Steve

    • Steve, what a great message! I could not agree more with the idea that buying property is a mistake, especially when you are retired. What would I do with equity in a home when I’m 90 (I should live so long)? Why tie up that much of my savings in a home either in the U. S. or abroad? Like you, I prefer to travel. I will make my home someplace new every 6-12 months. It’s not for everybody, but I feel the need to serve as a role model for anyone wondering how to spend their time and resources during retirement. Sounds like we are very like-minded. Thank you for your comments. – Mike

      • blade3colorado says:

        You’re welcome Mike. I’m preparing for a RTW trip and am excited about this trip. By the by, you mentioned the wind in Boquete and you’re absolutely right about it blowing hard during the dry season. I made a very short video while hiking in the foothills above Boquete and you can hear it clearly in the background. Again, I enjoyed your post . . . Keep up the good work!

      • RTW! I can hardly wait to read of your experience. I will be following. Thanks for the info!

  3. Good luck with the move Mike. Can’t wait to hear where you land!! I will be in Israel from the 11th to the 21st with spotty internet at best, but hope to touch base, post a little and see what your next stop will be. The anticipation is killing me! Sounds like you did your best with your time in Boquete, and it’s time for a new adventure. Happy trails!

  4. Bruce says:

    “The Panamanians are not your friend?” I know some Panamanians that would be might offended by your remarks. In any case, best wishes and happy trails!

    • ‘Some Panamanians might be offended’? No offense intended. No doubt there are exceptions. Nonetheless, I have had more people agree with my statement than disagree by a wide margin. I appreciate your comments.

      • phildynan says:

        Interesting because when I read that part of the post, I thought “How true” – but pertaining to my own life here in a little Northern California town…my wife and I started their first art gallery and the attitude towards us is exactly as you describe. We will always be “outsiders” (or”gringos”) and we can live with that…just a part of life…AND, as you say, there are always exceptions.

      • I seem to have struck a responsive chord with a number of people with this story without realizing how universally it would resonate. Thank you for adding your comments.

  5. Michele Ricchiazzi says:

    Safe travels and love to you both!

  6. joeltc1 says:

    I do like your blog and writing style but I wonder….hummmmm…Why would a writer want to lump a people together and say “The_fill in the blank_ are not your friend” when the reverse can just as easily and incorrectly said about any.

    Writing “The Panamanians are not you friend”-OUCH! YIKES!! C’mon, what were you thinking???
    Are you thinking of never coming back to Panama?:)

    I wouldn’t like to go on the internet and find that someone had written ‘The North Americans are not you friend” after visiting my home town and having a bad experience- and then sitting down and writing a post seen world wide generalizing “North Americans as not being your friend”?

    PS I do know some Panamanians who are my friend, they help us, are kind to our family and are very generous. I would love for you to meet them, I think they would like and accept you.

    I know you are defensive of you statement, I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, I just wish it could have been a bit less harsh and genrealizing. It’s always good to say something nice TOO:)


    • Joel, your comments are fair and they are appreciated. I am only writing from my experience. I harbor no ill will. I did write that Panamanians are friendly, I wrote that they are tolerant, and I did strive to choose my words carefully. I will add that we have had locals as guests in our home and my wife and I have included them at our table on multiple occasions. We have taken local Panamanians out to dinner as our guests. However, not once have we been invited into the home of a local. Not once have we been included any activity or event if we did not initiate the connection. That is what I was writing about.
      While I have no doubt there are many gracious and kind Panamanians, I have never been included in a social circle that allowed for a meaningful friendship. I should add that we do not live in a gated community. We rent from Panamanians and we live in their neighborhood. I speak their language. We eat and live much the same as they do. So if my words seem harsh, I can only say I have been honest based on my experience. I seek to be honest and fair even if it is not always complimentary.

      • Judy says:

        But the expat community there is tight, right? We moved from Toronto to Halifax over 13 years ago, and have not been able to make any meaningful friends since then. We’re considered CFA’s (come from away’s) and while everyone’s really nice on the surface, initially, we’ve never been invited to anything by a local. They have their friends (from high school, mainly), and do NOT accept anyone else into their circles… It’s both amazing and depressing. We’re hoping that, once we retire in a few years, if we move for part of the year, to another country (Panama’s one we’re considering), that at least we’ll have more of a social life! If not with locals, at least with expats… Does that happen?

      • I would say the expat community in Boquete is active. I also found it to be a bit cliquish. Many of the expats we met socially liked to drink, which we do not. That limited our social ties. I was made to feel welcome at the Rotary Club, and I was impressed with the good work they performed. Unfortunately, our time in Panama was cut short, so we did not get the opportunity to nurture many friendships. Whether or not it would be a good fit for you is something you will have to experience for yourselves in order to decide.

      • Judy says:

        Thanks for your comments!

      • keith says:

        Judy, I’ve been living in Central America for close to 20 years. Toronto origin, also. Boquete is an easy town to fit into. Sure there may be a few cliques, but who cares? They’re generally made up of people I don’t want to socialize with anyway.

      • Judy says:

        Good to hear different points of view! Thanks, all.

  7. kristc99 says:

    I wish you had been in our neighborhood (in David)! I understand that Panamanians don’t tend to entertain guests in their home. This usually goes on outside in the carport or patio, and this is what we have seen all over our neighborhood. But, in the short time we have been here our new friends and neighbors have invited us to their patios, to their street parties, to play tennis, and bicycle together. They have helped us fix our car (and refused money), and not only helped us find things in town but actually went with us (just some examples of our experiences). Total strangers on the street have gone out of their way to be kind and helpful. I find these people so warm, friendly, and welcoming. It’s the #1 thing that makes me love Panama! Is David different from Boquete? Have you just encountered the wrong people? Maybe the Boquete Panamanians are turned off to gringos?

    Panamanians are “not your friends”? Noooo, please don’t say that! It sounds so harsh, so offensive. Maybe that is true for some, but it certainly is not true for all. For myself, I can’t say enough good things about the Panamanians I have met. I’m so sorry your experience has been so different from ours 😦

    I hope your next venture works out very well for you and your family! Maybe in the future you’ll have another opportunity to come to Panama and experience more of the good things these people have to offer.

    • I wish your story and similar stories were told more. I know my words sound harsh compared to your situation when your experience has been so blessed. It was not my intent to generalize in such a way as to suggest that all Panamanians are alike. I only wish for my readers to know that there are two sides to this story, and I just happened to end up on the wrong side.
      I appreciate your comments. Thank you for sharing.

    • Robert & Helen says:

      We are a Dutch couple. Lived 3 years in Nigeria, 13 years in Spain and now since 10 years in St. Lucia (Caribbean). We always adapt to the local habits and culture. Therefore we might feel more at home in David than in Gringo Boquete. Could you recommend anyone to find us a rental home in a decent area close to David?
      We have 4 well behaved dogs.

      Robert & Helen.

  8. […] to the conversation below and then read this blog posting published by Florence’s husband, Mike. Each is a unique perspective of Panama and their […]

  9. Carmen says:

    It’s true. the panamanians in Boquete are very often irritated by the Americans. Many times the Americans offend them, underpay them and always complain. The concentration of too many “blue” collar, low income Americans without education, getting out of the USA, to avoid taxes, many times create problems. Many have the idea they are above the law. The good ones suffer from that and Panamanians are careful to be friends in Boquete, awaiting the time to get screwed. In many other places this is not the case like in David. I am lucky to have many friends.

    • I appreciate you sharing your great comments, Carmen. I have the impression from those with more favorable experiences with the locals than we had that things were better in David. I think that is useful information for those who come in the future.

    • jim and nena says:

      I think Carmen is spot on in her views on much of life in Boquete. I would add the comment from the Panamanian standpoint that “the Americans are not your friends” either. The Boquete that I knew from 40 years ago has vanished in the last 10 years all due to the tourists who now call Boquete their home. The truth is harsh, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

  10. Alan Parrish says:

    Thanks, Mike, for sharing your thoughts.

    It was a privilege to have a conversation with Florence last fall about her life in Panama. (RealityAbroad.com). I wish you both the very best and hope this experience does not diminish your enthusiasm for discovery.

    Enjoy your next adventure!

    • Alan, thank you for your comments. We really appreciate how you captured the evolution of our experience in Panama on you blog, realityabroad.com. And we are just as enthused about our next adventure as we were in Panama. I will be sharing more of the adventure here soon. – Mike

  11. jim and nena says:

    Hi Mike,
    I read your list to Nena and she just nodded and said, yeah. As to the “Panamanians are not your friends”, it could be restated as Panamanians are friendly but don’t get involved with business dealings. Also, the difference in friendly in a rural, farm town and friendly in the city are two different situations. I have experienced both. I describe moving to a small town as knowing everyone in town within the first month, yet ten years later they still refer to you as the newcomer.
    Good luck with the move and looking forward to hearing about the next destination.
    jim and nena
    fort worth, tx

    • You nailed it, Jim. Our issues stemmed from a business deal that quickly went bad when the ‘friend’ dissed my wife. That left us with no option but to sever the relationship. We erred in not being more selective and taking our time to consider our business choices and who to be involved with. Thank you for your outstanding contribution to this discussion. – Mike

    • keith says:

      Jim, that small town attitude isn’t exclusive to Panama. One of my friends who has lived his entire adult life in Northern Ontario is still considered to be from Toronto after 40 years.

  12. Thanks for sharing your perceptions. I built a small vacation home in Abruzzo Italy and have had a good number of similar experiences as you. I am fortunate in that I built a house there in conjunction with my relatives and with the knowledge that I would not likely be attempting to pull my $ out in the next few years. I have seen a good number of Brits who have sunk a serious sterling in houses in my area. If they have an income stream and can stick around things go fine. But if/when they have to earn some bucks and/or they need to pack up and leave = almost invariably big problems.

  13. Yella says:

    Remember, these are all observations that come from a North American perspective and as that, they are absolutely accurate. However, try living here for 4 or 5 years and see what happens. Once immersed in a different culture, your expectations and your values change – they have to or you are forced to leave. I have found that Panama has much to teach me about what I used to think was important and mandatory. I no longer expect a U.S. experience or feel disappointed when Panama doesn’t deliver. Yes, I have felt abused sometimes by people breaking their word or infrastructure that doesn’t work, but the only real victim of these events has been my egocentric, self righteous American brat. That brat has been pounded down and maybe that’s a good thing.

  14. reocochran says:

    I think that you had an interesting way of describing the pros and cons. You had a great time, you saw beautiful scenery and you were honest (to some, to a fault). But I will tell you that in Mexico, I felt the same way about some of the people I met. Either I did not have enough time to get to know them or I did not spend enough money. But I did love the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, the beauty in their arts, the coastal area in Acapulco and learning how to barter at the little markets. I guess that may upset the readers but I agree that the post is to be able to express yourself and give your helpful travel advice. Thank you for stopping by my humble and personal journey!

  15. andra carter says:

    I love your honesty. My husband and I live in Ecuador (for 20 months now) and we love it, but there are a lot of things about life here, similar to what you’ve mentioned, that you simply don’t know until you live somewhere. Life in a developing country is not always easy and we have found a lot of retirees do not know what they are getting into, so it is so nice to read a realistic account.

  16. Suzanne Mark says:

    Hi Mike, Just found your blog today, as we are thinking of going to Boquete to check it out. We are living in Costa Rica now, and finding it quite expensive on one pension. Many of the cultural nuances that you mentioned are true here too. As Northamericans, we tend to think that invitations to our homes should be reciprocated. I find myself inviting a lot more, and that is ok. I get to see my friends, and it is a lovely way to connect and to give (I love to entertain and cook).

    We have a job possibility in Boquete.

    Is there another, quiet, safe(r) community that you would recommend that is NOT Boquete but that might be near it?

    Also, can anyone help regarding moving to Panama from Costa Rica? We will be renting, but we have our furniture.

    Thanks again, and blessings on the move,


    • Suzanne, I think all of Boquete is safe. Many expats consider Volcancito a nice area. It has the convenience of being close to the town of Boquete and is located on the hill southwest of the town. Alto Boquete is a large area about four miles out of the town center. Anywhere in those areas would be quite appropriate for you. The higher hillside areas like Jaramillo tend to be beyond walking distance and they are more often fogged in amidst the high clouds.
      For answers to your questions about moving, I would suggest you get on the Boquete.ning website forum and submit your questions there. The dozens of expats who frequent those boards should be able to help you with details about moving. I think you will enjoy it there as much as you do Costa Rica. Good luck.
      Thank you for your comments.

  17. Suzanne Mark says:

    Thank you, Mike! Will do!

  18. cecil rawlings says:

    Why are so many americans and canadians going somewhere else and selling their properties.

  19. Craig says:

    This is my first post so excuse me.
    Jim, I grew up on a farm (like your Panamanians BUT in New Jersey) with a large family that unfortunately had New York City and Philadelphia meet as commuters so I can understand their mentality.

    It is hard to accept all the changes, the higher taxes, the cost of living and the knowledge that your way of living has and must change.

    My future impact must consider the locals. They have lived and cared for their families since hundreds of years ago but now they cannot afford their land.

    I have lived in many great places in the USA. Mostly pristine areas before they are found by the press and offered up to development.

    I have seen what happens to the local communities.

    I guess my question is; Do you blame them? Or maybe excuse yourself for changing their world.

    To me after establishing my self as a “local” I listen and share my past history with them and truly understand their plight.

    I have always heard that it is “progress” but the impact is on the locals and their families.

  20. Craig says:

    I’d like to hear about how we help and counter act the “progress” in Boquete.

  21. reocochran says:

    I took another tour of Boquete, Mike ! 🙂
    ¡Muy bonito y intersante! Thanks fir compliments snd hope your move East happens, closer to where our paths may cross. ♡ your friend, Robin

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