Boquete has long been a popular holiday resort for Panamanians who wanted to escape the tropical summer heat of the lowlands in the cool climate of the Chiriquí mountains.
Nevertheless, the place would probably have retained its sleepy character if a us-American magazine had not repeatedly chosen Boquete as one of the world’s best places to retire. Since then, so-called “gated communities” have been popping up from the fertile soil where coffee, citrus fruits and vegetables had grown until then.
Boquete was founded in 1911 by immigrants from North America, Sweden, Yugoslavia, Switzerland and Germany, whose origins can still be seen in many of the buildings in town. Only with the construction of a railway line, which was in operation until 1949, and later the road to David, the mountain village on the eastern flank of the Barú Volcano was connected to the public infrastructure. Boquete became famous above all through the coffee farmers Ruiz and Kotowa, whose shade grown plants have found worldwide recognition. Both fincas are open to visitors during guided tours and tastings. A further attraction within the village are the opulent, well-kept gardens. “Mi Jardín es Su Jardín” is particularly curious, with its animal-shaped, flowering bushes and a koi carp pond.
But most visitors come here because of Boquete’s scenic surroundings, whether to climb Panama’s highest mountain, hike the Sendero los Quetzales, raft, or search for the countless bird and orchid species. The hot springs of Caldera, half an hour’s walk from the village of Caldera, near the banks of the River Chiriquí, promise a relaxing swim. For some time now, Boquete has also been offering a so-called canopy tour with the “Tree Trek”, in which one floats over the treetops, helmeted and secured by a steel cable. In Boquete the “Sendero los Quetzales” ends or begins, depending on the hiking direction, whose 12 km between Cerro Punta and Boquete lead through the cloud forests of the volcano Barú. Each direction you choose has its advantages and disadvantages. The main difference is that from Cerro Punta to Boquete one walks mainly downhill, even if at the end with the Cerro de los Lamentos there is still an ascent waiting, while the route from Boquete to Cerro Punta mainly goes uphill and therefore needs one hour more walking time than in the opposite direction. Neither of the two variants promises a guarantee to see the legendary Mayan bird of the gods, but the chances are greatest in the early morning and at dusk. There are also Quetzal observation tours without the hike.
Highlight of the annual event calendar is the “Fería de las Flores y del Café” in January, a mixture of agricultural fair, garden show and touristic self-promotion.
The Barú Volcano National Park in the west of the Chiriquí province was established in 1976. It protects an area of 14325 hectares in an altitude range between 1800 and 3475 meters. In the north and northwest it borders the Palo Seco protected area and the cross-border “La Amistad” National Park. Boquete on its eastern flank is considered the best starting point for an ascent. Although the term “ascent” is misleading, as potential summit climbers do not need any technical knowledge, it is advisable for inexperienced climbers to tackle the Barú with a guide. In addition to warm clothes and provisions, at least 4 litres of drinking water per person must be brought.
Theoretically, the 27 km of ascent and descent can be done in one day, but then the ascent has to be done over a steep and muddy path at night, especially in the lower part. The experience of seeing both the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean from the summit after sunrise on clear days compensates for the effort. While the summit itself is spoiled by radio masts, rubbish and graffiti, the route leads through impressive nature with almost untouched cloud forests. Some of the giant trees, including endemic oaks (Quercus baruensis), are 600 years old. In addition to 400 registered bird species – including the Quetzal – the fauna of the Barú National Park also has rare species such as mountain paka or the endangered Underwood’s water mouse as well as numerous bat species to offer. All five species of cats native to Panama, among which the puma is the most common, are also represented.