We recently spent nine days exploring Panama. Before you go, find out the current visa rules on the Embassy of Panama website. Additional official websites for comprehensive Panama information are the Autoridad de Turismo de Panamá (Spanish) and Visit Panama (English).
After finally touching down in the city of David after a long series of flights from Seattle, WA, we caught a cab to the small mountain town of Boquete. Situated in the highlands next to the active volcano, Volcan Baru (highest point in Panama), Boquete is noticeably cooler than the Panamanian lowlands and is best known for its coffee production, often ranking among the best in the world.
Boquete: Where to Stay
We pulled into Boquete at around 8 pm, just as most businesses were starting to close up. We located the Hostal Boquete (4A, Boquete, Panama, 507-720-2573 – Facebook), a hotel that we had read was clean and affordable. Luckily they had space available since we hadn’t made a reservation in advance. After a little fumbling with our broken Spanish and the host’s broken English, we managed to secure a 2-night stay. The room was surprisingly large and very clean and featured a balcony overlooking the Rio Caldera. Our accommodations
Boquete: Where to Eat
A popular type of restaurant in Panama is Fondas, small eateries serving prepared food in a cafeteria styled dining area. The food is decent, and the prices are low. We found one near our hotel that was still open, called El Sabroson (Ave Central, Bajo Boquete, Panama, 507-720-2147). Pointing at various items behind the glass, we ended up with white rice, refried beans, baked chicken, pineapple pork, and patacones (fried plantain), all for about 5 dollars. Our food was good though I believe plantains may be a bit of an acquired taste. Satisfied, we returned to our hotel to finally get some rest after a long day traveling.
Boquete, being a sleepy retirement town, is a surprising home to many of Panama’s adventure themed activities. White water rafting, horseback riding, jeep off-roading, jungle hikes, canopy zip line tours, and more. We awoke early in the morning and decided to book a Jeep tour to go off-road, high into the cloud jungle to get a panoramic view of the area. Our tour wasn’t leaving until 1 pm, so we had the morning to explore the town. We walked all over the village and a small way into the hills, seeing much of the town in the process. We stopped to eat at a local cafe/bakery, Sugar & Spice (Calle Principal y 7 Sur, Via Boquete, Bajo Boquete, Panama 507-6967-7933), that was popular with locals and ex-pats, alike. The coffee served in the cafe was top-notch, some of the best I’ve had. At this point, it was about time to head back to the center of town for our Jeep tour of the mountains.
Boquete Adventures – Mountain Safari Tour
We were met at our hotel by our tour guide from Boquete Safari™ – Boquete Mountain Safari Tours (Vía Boquete, Bajo Boquete, Panama +507 730-9353). We discovered that we were the only ones booked on the jeep tour that day, which was great because it allowed us the flexibility to stop and admire the views whenever we needed. We gained elevation quickly and got fantastic panoramic views of the town, backed by glimpses of Volcan Baru.
The guide pointed out several bird species, including vultures and eagles, which were abundant. At several times, we pulled over to grab some local fruit off the trees. The fruits were pretty tasty, but to our surprise and disgust, they were filled with tiny, translucent maggots!
Another fruit we tried was a lemon, that instead of being sour was incredibly sweet, like eating lemonade. The lemons were luckily bug-free.
As we ventured higher and higher into the jungle, it got wetter and wetter, and clouds and fog soon surrounded us. We were now into the cloud forest, an area defined by its almost constant cloud cover, mostly among the canopy of the trees.
These forests are teeming with life, especially insects, whose sounds were ubiquitous on our tour. Midway through the tour, the sky opened up and started pouring rain, dozens of lightning strikes and thunder claps all around us. We ended up getting soaked, and the road was running quickly with rain and mud, but we made it back to town safely.
Back in town and we’re starting to get hungry and the storm was still raging around us, with lightning still flashing every minute. As we walked through the town square, a bolt of lightning hit a tree within 25 yards of us, with its thunderclap practically deafening us and scattering all the people in the square. We ducked into a local hostel to escape any more close lightning strikes, and while inside made our arrangements for the following day to go to our next destination, Bocas Del Toro.
Having obtained transport for the next morning, we continued our journey to find something to eat. We chose a local pub, Mike’s Global Grill (Av Central, Bajo Boquete, Panama – 507-730-9360), run by an American expat. Mike’s serves a variety of food styles from around the world, but mostly North American favorites. I had a pulled pork sandwich that was pretty good, and certainly better than I was expecting to find in Panama. The evening we were at Mike’s was open mic night, and the band playing was decent if a bit loud, and people were dancing and having a great time.
After filling ourselves, we headed back to the room for the night and to prepare for our adventure to Bocas Del Toro.