Our Panama Adventure in Boquete’

We departed Coronado early on Sunday morning for our 402 Km drive to Boquete’. Our navigation system said it would take right at 5 hours with no stops. At Santiago we found that the brand new InterAmericana Highway was complete and the drive from that point was nice. There were very few places to stop. It was almost like an interstate highway in the States. Somewhere between Santiago and David we did find a truck stop where we had a nice lunch for $6.

After lunch, we continued to David, the second largest city in Panama, and it is where our journey turned north into the mountains. David has an international airport and a hospital with world class healthcare. This area was one of our of possible relocation considerations. There are beach homes and resorts on the ocean about 20 minutes south.  We wanted to see some places  which we  heard about so our plan is to stop on our return journey.  About 40 minutes to the north we reached our destination. Boquete’ is half way between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, high in the mountains, about 60 Km from the border of Costa Rica. There are a lot of expats there and we had no trouble finding people who spoke English. Our plan was to find a coffee farm and take a tour before finding a hotel.

Our navigation system took us to a coffee farm. We found the gate locked and nobody around. We would later learn that the tours of coffee plantations are only arranged by a tour guide. We had a nice drive through the mountains on roads not meant for safe passing, before returning to the downtown area to find a hotel.

We settled on a lovely place just out of town called the Inn at Palo Alto. We were surprised to find many places were already full. Boquete is a tourist destination, and the streets were packed with people visiting from all over the world. The Inn Keeper was able to sign us up for tours on Monday afternoon and suggest a hike for the morning. She also suggested a nice casual dinner place in town. We enjoyed dinner and went back to the hotel to rest for our day of adventure. The climate is cool and we were actually pleased to find a fire on the patio of the hotel bar where we enjoyed a drink.

Getting up early on Monday morning was no problem, because we had a chicken next door that kept us up most of the night. The first income source for this community is agriculture, followed by tourism in a close second. It is interesting to see the two co-exist to create a solid economy. We took it all in stride. By 8 a.m. we were having breakfast so we could get in the hike up the Pipeline Trail before our 1:30 p.m. coffee and cloud forest tour. The drive to the trail-head was a repeat of our drive on Sunday. The roads were narrow and often steep, with very little room to pass. The drive took us more than 30 minutes and we found the trail-head deserted with nobody to point us in the right direction. This hike would take about 3 hours and we were supposed to see monkeys, waterfalls, and rare birds. With no direction and no obvious sign of where to start we opted to forgo the hike. Neither of us wanted to be lost in the jungle, with nobody really knowing where we were. Upon our return to town we found another interesting opportunity for adventure, but I was unable to convince Jen to zip-line. The photos below are from bumming around waiting for our 1:30 p.m. tour.

We ended up at Boquete Tree Trek. Zip-line adventures, hanging bridges, hotel rooms and restaurant. We did not have time to do anything more than eat lunch. During lunch we watched the last 2 legs of the zip-line finishing there near the restaurant. We talked to a guy who had just came from the hanging bridge tour and it sounded great. Jen absolutely would not zip-line, but we nearly decided to do the hanging bridges. It would have to be Tuesday morning prior to the Market. Following lunch we made the drive back to our hotel where we were to meet our tour guide.

Jorge showed up at 1:30 p.m. and off we went to our coffee tour. The coffee farm was roughly 19 acres and employed 6 people. The coffee is all hand picked and processed (dried) to the green bean for shipment to the customer. The wholesale coffee customer will roast the beans to his own specification. The farms that grow coffee are very low tech and this farm was no exception. All of his drying processes were done with equipment made from recycled parts. The farm we visited has a very small roaster for demonstration and roasting beans which he sells on the tour. We found the entire thing very interesting and learned a great deal about the coffee industry in Panama. This coffee grower produces an award winning coffee and we were pleased to buy a couple of pounds at the end of the tour. He also grows the famous Geisha coffee which we opted not to purchase.

The coffee plant. There aren’t a lot of beans as it is the end of the season
The fruit being dried. These are in different stages of drying. There are also different ways in which the coffee is dried.
The coffee is roasted to light , medium or dark. That entire process takes about 40 minutes with the dried beans.
The darker the roast, the lower the caffeine. Here you see our guide taking the dark roast from the roaster.
Light roast is on the left, medium in the center and dark is on the right.
The small coffee roaster for our demonstration.

Once we finished the tour  of the Coffee farm we had a very nice tour of the area up into the mountains and saw amazing views of the Baru Volcano. The summit on a clear day is the only place in Panama that you can see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans from one place. It is, also, the only place in Panama where you may find snow. A hike to the summit is a full day adventure and we probably will never have that experience. For now it was enough for us to see the Volcano from a distance.

Baru Volcano

We spent the rest of the afternoon taking in the sights with our guide by jeep. The pictures below are just a couple from that part of the adventure.

The roads were often difficult to maneuver.
The haunted house of Boquete
Rainbow over the cloud forest.

We always believe that there is a reason for everything in this life. We decided to have dinner at a grill that was a 5 minute walk from our hotel. Georges Grill was the name on the sign and once inside we met George. There were two other couples in the small smoky place (George was cooking on an open fire). One of the couples was from Michigan and the other from Colorado. Both have spent considerable time in Panama over the past several years. We quickly became acquainted and had a great dinner together. The couple from Colorado, as it turns out, are staying at the Rio Mar, just a few minutes from where we are staying near Coronado. They were on an adventure of their own and headed to San Blas, once they left Boquete. We visited for a while and arranged to have dinner with them next week. We are anxious to get better acquainted. We also hope that they will share some of their experiences in Panama here on our blog. They are professional photographers, by trade; and we have already seen some of their amazing pictures on Facebook.

Dinner at Georges Grill

When we woke on Tuesday morning it was raining. This is the only rain we have seen during our nearly 2 months on the ground here in Panama. Given the weather we did not think it wise to do the hanging bridge tour. We will save that adventure for another time. We enjoyed the Tuesday Market. It  is entirely under roof, so even if it had not stopped raining, we would have still went to it. The market is a must see for any visit to Boquete. We bought a few things, and met a few people before embarking on our journey. Our return trip to Coronado was uneventful. We made a stop at PriceSmart in David to pick up a few supplies, then continued to the beach to look at a condo. The condo turned out to be horrible so we easily ruled out living there. We wanted to see one other, but we were not able to find it. We got on the highway and made one stop in Santiago for dinner. By the time we got home it was after dark so we kicked back and enjoyed the evening. Since our return to Coronado we have enough material to easily publish another blog post. We have continued to research our impending move and are learning every day how the economy here will benefit us for years to come. This post was long, and we fear that posts of this length will lose some of you. If you read to the end…THANK-YOU. Check back in a couple of days. We will bring this thing up to date.


Greg and Jen








Daily Life In Panama

Our good friends Ray and Diane left to return home on Tuesday, but not before we showed them a couple of more of our top picks for retirement residences. We have made the decision to make a permanent move to Panama. The real estate market is tough here. Supply and demand are badly out of check and it is a buyers market. We will not buy a home here until we have had 12 months to fine tune our must haves and have not list. Our first step to that end is to find a top pick community and try to rent there for a year prior to completing the purchase. The buyers market is likely to continue because there is a huge supply of new build condo projects on this stretch of the city beaches 1-2 hours west of Panama City. Once we move down here we will be in a better position to find a bargain. Rio Mar was the top choice for quite some time until we faced the reality that the price was above our comfort. Our second choice is Casa Mar and it lies just to the west across a river from Rio Mar. Casa Mar provides almost all the same benefits at a lower price point. In addition there is a 9 hole golf course, walking trails, a children space (splash pool with water slides), and increased privacy. The entire project is on 190 acres and has a future shopping plaza at the gate. It is also closer to Rio Hato where we will find lower prices on groceries and other daily needs. It is close enough to Coronado to easily make the journey if we would need the clinic or a visit to the dentist. We also showed our friends Bahia. Bahia is a 2 building high rise in Nuevo Gorgona which lies just to the east of Coronado. We were able to look at the condo directly next door to the guys from Dallas who bought their condo on International House Hunters. We did not meet them, but you can check out the YouTube video of their house hunt. We shared it previously in our post titled We survived Carnival  . We do feel like a real life episode of House Hunters. Our episode would be more like Beach Front Bargain Hunt though. Seriously, The Bahia was a bit loud and lacked privacy. The unit was a bit smaller than we wanted and, while beautifully decorated, it was dark. We have ruled out Bahia. We will not maintain 2 residences even though we will be renting here in Panama. Before we make any decisions here we will be selling our house in the States.

We spend a little time at the pool and/or on the beach every day. We also continue to have our hour with the Spanish tutor weekly. Our Espanol is coming along well and we try to use our skills daily with one another. We plan to continue meeting with the tutor weekly by Skype once we return home. We are making arrangements to meet with an insurance agent in Panama to get actual insurance quotes for health insurance. We are currently paying $1267 per month for health insurance in the States. We think once we get settled here in Panama we will cut that cost by about $1000 per month for similar coverage. We can cover our monthly expenses here with that savings alone. We will share our actual expenses in future posts. One of the biggest reasons for our move is to save money. Everything isn’t cheaper here, but if you get out of the tourist areas you will find the cost of living to be less. I got the best haircut ever in a Barbaria  for $5 (I was the only gringo in there). I also have an appointment on Thursday with a dentist for a routine teeth cleaning. It will cost 1/3 of my dentist back home. More about that next time. Jen had her hair done at a very high end salon, that caters to Americans and Canadians, yesterday. Her cost was less than her salon back home and she was thrilled with the result. We had Chinese take out for lunch yesterday. It was delicious and priced about the same as we would pay in the States. Tonight our friends and family back home will be changing the clocks for daylight savings time. In Panama we are only 9 degrees from the equator. The result is that we have 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night every day, so daylight savings time doesn’t happen here. We don’t change our clocks.

The crowd inside was drinking beer and watching futball (soccer). The haircut was perfect. No English was spoken. He had a blast.
The Dental Office in the Coronado Shopping center is just upstairs from the casino
There are shopping centers on 3 corners of the entrance to Coronado.
The McDonalds is just in front of the Super 99 Supermarket.
The biggest shopping center is on the north side of the International Highway. There is a 3 level store in the rear that puts Walmart to shame. Jen found an upscale hairdresser in this plaza that is awesome.
Panama style “Walmart” el Machetazo. There is also a casino in this shopping center, right next to the grocery store.

We had a former co-worker of Jen’s here Thursday with her family. Her family was a delight to meet and we enjoyed sharing our afternoon entertaining them on the beach and at the pool. They are staying in the mountains northeast of Panama City. It sounds as if they have had a great vacation here in Panama.

On Sunday we are planning to take off for our next adventure. Boquete and David are about a 5 hour drive northeast from Coronado. We planned this adventure and posted what we are likely to find there in December of 2017. Check out that post in our archive or click the link  #InSearchOfEternalSummer . We will be returning to Coronado on Tuesday after we go to the Tuesday Market in Boquete. We also hope to check out more of the country along the way. Panama and its people are beautiful and very welcoming.

Please continue to follow along. A great deal of time goes into this blog, and we want to share our experiences. Please drop us a note or comment if there is something you want to see or learn about Panama. Today’s Spanish lesson is two simple words…Se Vende. Translated it means For Sale. When we return to Michigan we will be putting our home on Gravel Lake up for sale.

Dios Bendiga,

Greg and Jen

She Bought The Sombrero

Our days seem to be shorter and shorter as we passed the half way point of our adventure. On Tuesday we made the journey to Panama City, Tocumen International Airport to pick up our good friends. On the way we stopped at an outlet mall and checked out the best places for values on everything from home improvements and furniture to appliances, clothing and pharmaceuticals. We retrieved our friends grabbed some dinner and headed back to Coronado. Since they arrived we have had the best time taking them to share some of our favorite adventure places and great places to eat. We have also had ample time at the pool and even got in a few games of cards.

On Thursday we took them for an adventure to Valle de Anton. It was our second visit and we wanted to hit a few of the places we missed the first time and share the wonderful mountain destination with our friends. Our first stop was Hotel Campestre where the world famous square trees grow. We thought, based on our own research, that the square trees were growing near the hotel and we could spend a few minutes to check it out. Once there, we found the path to the square trees and paid the admission of $5 each. We embarked on the path for the short hike which turned out to be too difficult for our friend. The hike was nearly 45 minutes of steep, and often difficult terrain. Our hosts dogs accompanied us with only two of us completing the entire journey to the one square tree. The hike through the jungle was beautiful, however it would be easy for us to consider this stop a tourist trap. We are sharing the pictures of the square tree hike below and hope that all of you will draw your own conclusion. At the end of the hike we had the great treat to see a sloth. It was high up in a tree near the hotel. We couldn’t get a great picture even with a zoom lens.

Following the square tree adventure we took off for the butterfly habitat. All of us enjoyed our visit there.  The $5 per person price of admission was considered to be fair. The tour was guided and very informative. We learned that there are over 1500 species of butterfly in Panama with over 1000 in Valle de Anton. Our guide told us that the definition of Panama is abundance of species and the butterflies certainly prove that out. We will spare you the details of life-cycle of the butterfly and all of that, but we did want to share with you some of our pictures.

By the end of the butterfly tour we were ready for lunch. It seems that the fondas and restaurants in Valle de Anton may be geared more to the tourist business. We had a wonderful fonda lunch, but the price was almost double what we have paid for similar food at other fondas.

After a brief discussion, we decided to save the orchid exhibit, zoo and reptile house for another adventure. The girls wanted to return to the mineral springs and mud bath, while the guys wanted to make the hike up to El Macho Falls. We talked about the mud bath in the post from our first visit to El Valle so we will tell a little about the El Macho Falls. The hike was short and beautiful with difficult terrain and suspended bridges. The guy at the gate gave us walking sticks which proved very helpful. This is a hike that most people could do with no problem, and well worth the effort. There is a zip line through the canopy but it wasn’t open when we were there. I imagine that it would be great fun to zip line down from the top of the falls. We hiked up through the jungle and the falls were magnificent. When we returned to the base of the falls there were pools of cool mountain water where we took a quick dip to cool off. From there it was a short hike back up to where we parked. It was only about 5 minutes by car back to where we left the girls at the mineral springs and mud bath. We are sharing pictures of the El Macho Falls hike below. The video is only a few seconds long to give you the sounds of the moment. We were not allowed to film or use video equipment at the pools, but we were the only ones there, so there is a couple of pictures. I imagine that clothing is optional at the pools (we took our dip in swim suits). There is a 3 sided wood screen where people can change.

Pool at the bottom of El Macho Falls

We picked up the girls at the mineral springs/mud bath and made our way to the market. Jen bought the hat and we browsed through. The treasures and vegetables were nearly the same on Thursday as our original visit on Sunday. You may recall that the market at el Valle de Anton is called the Sunday Market. We were relieved that vegetables would be available every day.

It was time to head home. We had a message from an agent who would be available to show us through one of our top choices for a permanent retirement home. We wanted the opinion of our friends, so we made the stop. Rio Mar Pacific Tower is a beautiful, newly constructed 24 story (48 unit) condo. We looked at a 2 bedroom and a 3 bedroom unit and it is hard to not love this place.

Balcony of Rio Mar 18th floor 3 BR

It just may be a little above our comfort zone for price. It does include underground parking, a deposito (storage locker), 3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, large laundry room (accommodates a full size washer and dryer), and appliances. We will share a couple of other top choices with our friends before they go back to Michigan.

We have been working on this post for 3 days now, and could go on for much longer. We will wrap it up here, though, because we do not want to ramble. Thank-you for following along. Once again, we want to express our gratitude for the kind comments. Please catch up, if you missed anything, by clicking on the archive links. We are pleased to have our blog and any portion shared. There has been time when we have shamelessly borrowed content from others. We consider it an honor when people enjoy our content enough to share.

For now, Buenos Dias,

Greg and Jen