Let’s Go Exploring! Boquete, Panama: Coffee, Hot Springs, Lush Green Forests

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FIRECracker

FIRECracker is Canada's youngest retiree. She used to live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but instead of drowning in debt, she rejected home ownership. What resulted was a 7-figure portfolio, which has allowed her and her husband to retire at 31 and travel the world. Their story has been featured on CBC, the Huffington Post, CNBC, BNN, Business Insider, and Yahoo Finance. To date, it is the most shared story in CBC history and their viral video on CBC's On the Money has garnered 4.5 Million views.
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When I think of Boquete, Panama, I think of 3 things:

1) Coffee
2) Hot Springs
3) Lush green forests

Now, not being a huge coffee drinker, it never dawned on me, until I visited the place, that Boquete produced some of the best coffee in the world.

The lush green mountainous setting makes this place the ideal setting to grow coffee beans (and apparently strawberries too), which is why I just HAD to try the Geisha coffee, one of the most expensive coffees in the world.

What do I mean by expensive?

$25 a cup. Eat your heart out, Starbucks! That makes your $7 coffees look like chump change!

I know what you thinking. “BUT BUT BUT, FIRECracker, that’s not very FIRE of you! Why the hell would you drop a big wad of cash on something you’re not even a fan of?”

And if I had lost my damn mind and actually dropped $25 on a cup of coffee then you would be correct.

BUT, after walking around the whole town, I managed to snag a, tiny, shot glass-sized cup of the precious liquid for the princely sum of $5.

Take that, establishment!

Yes, the cup is actually smaller than the salt shaker. This is not an optical illusion.

So, was the Geisha coffee all it’s crackedup to be? Did one sip turn me into a magical unicorn, sprout wings and fly into space? Because I would expect nothing less from $25/cup coffee.

Nope.

It just tasted like good, strong coffee. It was better than the watery coffee I usually get from Starbucks or Second Cup, but was it the best coffee I’ve had? Nope. I suspect someone with a more refined coffee palate would appreciate it more than I did, but for me, my reaction to such an expensive $25/cup coffee was a resounding “Meh”. My favourite and most memorable coffees will always be found in European cafes, but I suspect that may have to do more with the act .of sitting in a historical cafe that’s been around for hundred of years and just enjoying the people watching around me more than the actual coffee itself.

Now, that being said, even though I wasn’t blown away by the Geisha coffee, I was blown away by how much work it took to produce coffee and how much work goes into picking and roasting the perfect bean.

Just like tea harvesting in Malaysia, labourers toil from 10-12 hours a day, picking the red cherries from coffee plants for a measly $1.50 USD a day.

After that, the fruit passes through a “flushing machine” that separates the sinkers (good fruit) from the floaters (rotten fruit, sometimes with insect parts).

And the scary thing? The floaters aren’t throw away, but sold to other producers who grind them up and use them for instant coffee. So apparently, think about that, the next time you open up a packet of instant coffee at a hotel. Blegh.

After separating the fruit, the beans still have to be extracted from the cherry, fermented for 20 hours, washed, dried, aged, and sorted.

Then it’s off to be roasted into different stages…light roast, medium roast, or dark roast.

Even though we’ve been brainwashed to believe dark roast has the most caffeine, it’s actually the opposite. The lighter the roast, the higher the caffeine level. And not only that, light roast is actually SUPPOSED to look and taste like tea…so whatever light roast you’re getting at Starbucks, it’s over-charred.

From this coffee tour, we also discovered another thing Boquete is known for…

Fresh strawberries!

Specifically a place called “Fresa Mary” where I managed to inhale an entire strawberries-and-cream dessert in 5 seconds flat. I felt bad for not giving any to Wanderer, so I bought him a strawberry milkshake to make up for it. Luckily, he said it was the best milkshake he ever had.

After all the dairy and sugar, we decided to work it off by taking a hike along what the locals call “the Pipeline trail”, on account of the fact that it literally follows a pipeline up a mountain, and is considered the best warm up trail before you head to the “stairmaster” trail to see multiple waterfalls.

On the way, we spotted this weird-looking bird, called a “Quetzal” , which is this green and red colored long-tailed bird that bird-enthusiasts or “bird-nerds” are constantly on the look out for but have a difficult time spotting, and somehow we saw it on the first try.

The more hiking we did in Boquete, the more I was reminded of the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Except one thing Boquete had that we didn’t find in Cameron highlands was outdoor hot tubs…

Like this one, in the backyard of our hotel, with a massive mountain and clouds as our backdrop.

Or this one, a natural thermal spring, in the middle of the woods where you can chillax and feel all the tension your leg muscles just melt away:

By Boquete Mountain Safari via Wikimedia Commons

With all this lushness, delicious strawberries, fragrant coffee, scenic hiking, and deeply relaxing outdoor thermal water, I was beginning to understand why Boquete has one of the biggest communities of foreign retirees in the world. So many that if you didn’t speak a word of Spanish, you wouldn’t have any problems at all. Everyone spoke English there. In fact, our Airbnb host was one of them, a Canadian who moved there more than 10 years ago, and never looked back.

And having seen the view from our AirBnb I wouldn’t have either:

Or tasted the food (which was surprisingly international):

Having spent a very reasonable amount in the 6 days there we were there, I could totally see myself moving to a lush green oasis like this.

Category Cost in USD/couple Cost in CAD/couple Notes
Accommodations: $34 USD/night $45 CAD/night We stayed 2 nights in a hotel with a hot tub with the mountains as a backdrop and then 4 nights at an self-contained AirBnb suite in the mountains overlooking the city. Both had amazing amenities we would go back for in a heartbeat."
Food: $24 USD/day $32 CAD/day ($26/day for eating out, $6/day for groceries) There were lots of international food options (Greek, American, Mexican, Brazilian, Italian) so you'll never get bored and the prices were fairly reasonable too. Our favourite place to grab a quick bite to eat was El Sabrosón, a cafeteria style restaurant with well-priced, tasty Panamanian food .
Transportation: $10 USD/day $13.35 CAD/day The bus from Panama City to David (town near Boquete was surprisingly comfortable at a cost of only $15.25USD each. Even though it took 6 hours, the time flew by and the roads were very safe. After that, we took a bus to Boquete from David (a 30-45 min bus ride) for only $1.75USD each. Overall, we enjoyed bus transport in Panama and found it to be quite safe and conformable.
Entertainment: $1 USD/day $1.33 CAD/day The only entertainment we spent money on was $3 USD each entrance to the pipeline trail. There was a free coffee museum at the Tourist center that explained in detailed how coffee was made.
Total: $69 USD/couple/day $92 CAD/couple/night

What do you think? Would world-class coffee, international food, and outdoor hot tubs tempted you to this little green slice of Heaven in the Panamanian mountains?



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23 thoughts on “Let’s Go Exploring! Boquete, Panama: Coffee, Hot Springs, Lush Green Forests”

  1. Interesting. I’ve never been a coffee drinker either and would NEVER spend $25 on a cup, no matter how good it is. I’d be like you and find a measly sample just to say I did it. I also probably wouldn’t appreciate it either.

    Boquete looks like an interesting place, though there would have to be more than coffee, hot springs and forest to tempt me to go for any long stretch of time. Looks a little simple for me, but to each their own!

    1. Boquete is more suited for nature enthusiasts, since it’s got so much lush green forest and hiking paths. But yeah, I get that if you want more sight seeing opportunities and things to do, there are better places for that.

  2. I’ve heard good things about Boquete from other places and your report does nothing to dissuade me of that notion.

    Clearly the food looks great, and I’ve heard the weather is amazing!

    But I hardly think you guys are going to settle down… you have the mark of permanent nomads!

    1. You’re right, this nomad life is way too appealing to settle down anyone. I feel most at home in AirBnbs and hotels 😀 But I can see why so many retirees decided to call Boquete home. So much gorgeous nature to explore!

  3. Glad to hear you’re having a great time in Panama! Sounds great and will definitely have to make it on my list.

    You and Wanderer suck with your “world class coffee”, strawberries and hot tubs while I’m here in the chilly, gray Midwest, but we’ll see who has the last laugh at Chautauqua… Looks like Quito has lows in the 40s right now, so at least I’ll be ready for the cold! Looking forward to hanging out with you guys!

    1. Yes, I know. We are the worst 😛

      Super excited to hang out with you too! Counting down to the EPICNESS that is Chautauqua and all the awesome people (like yourself) that we’re going to get to meet! See you soon!

  4. I would love to see a post showing how you planned out your trips .. how far in advance for booking flights and accommodation and websites … . etc

    because as a nomad you have to know how long in each place and visas etc ..

    thanks

  5. you missed the best zipline in the world – something 4 km long and 500 m elevation (in multiple stages) – your loss

    1. Hm, good to know! Will put that on my list then next time I’m back there. The good news is that we’ll be ziplining in Ecuador for the Chautauqua soon, so at least I can make up for it 😀 Thanks for the tip!

  6. Glad to see you enjoyed Boquete. They have an excellent Spanish language school there, which explained my visit a few years ago. I also got to spend some time, through a mutual friend, with the growers of the famous coffee. Lovely folks.

    1. I agree, the people of Boquete are super friendly and nice. I enjoyed learning all about how they grow their coffee. Even though I don’t drink it often, it’s a fascinating process!

    1. Sadly they didn’t have specific restaurants catering to health nuts, but I did make up for it by cooking my own food most of the time, and having cheat days by eating out a few times. Didn’t gain any weight because of all the hiking so that’s at least something 😀

    1. Oh, if you’re a coffee lover you’ll definitely appreciate Boquete 🙂 Even I was fascinated by the coffee culture there, and I’m more of a tea drinker! Hope you end up visiting it someday!

  7. If you think that the people who are picking the coffee beans for that $5 shot have to work days to drink that… well, that’s unfair.

    And maybe it’s just me, but I’m still having problems spotting the quetzal on the picture 🙂

    1. Yeah, I know quetzal’s are really good at camouflaging themselves. It’s on the first horizontal branch and its tail looks like a vertical vine.

  8. This is a place I have considered visiting and even becoming an expat. I can use my Spanish skills, the American dollar works great, and the expat community is supposed to be huge. Love the post. We should visit that place just for the strawberries.

    1. The strawberries are AMAZING! Hope you get a chance to visit Boquete. Your Spanish and US dollars will come in super handy!

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