Relaxing in a hammock under a mango tree, a cool drink and a book in my hand, I am watching a black squirrel with a long, bushy tail chattering and jumping from tree to tree nearby. A hummingbird zeros in on a flowering bush beside me. It is Thursday and the cleaning lady is here for the day. She comes once a week to clean the casita we are staying in. This service is included in the $475 a month rent.

Rentals in this area are higher than where we were last. We are in the westernmost province of Chiriqui and have come to stay in Boquete, one of the most popular gringo towns in Panama. Close to Volcan Baru, the highest elevation in the country, the temperatures are cool (averaging between 20 – 25 degrees). Foreigners have flocked here in hordes to buy property and set up businesses.

Boquete: an adventure tourism destination and popular gringo retirement town

Downtown Boquete comprises about 3 parallel streets full of shops, restaurants, gyms, supermarkets and hotels – all catering to both vacationing and residing Panamanians and foreigners. North Americans and Europeans have relocated here with expectations for the amenities they have always been accustomed to. It is a busy spot!

The area therefore boasts a variety of activities, health & wellness services such as spas, yoga and exercise classes, musical entertainment and real-estate developments. This is an adventure tourism destination and is famous for its gourmet coffees. Visitors take eco-tours to coffee plantations and enjoy river rafting, zip-lining, bird watching, kayaking, horseback riding, hiking, rock climbing and hot springs. They can also visit a monkey reserve, national parks, tropical gardens and waterfalls. An amazing, fun town of about 25,000 population!

Hostal El Refugio del Rio (River Refuge Hostal)

We spent our first 4 days in town at a nice hostal by the river. We went to a gringo market on Tuesday and met ‘Panama Jim’ (who is actually from Canada!) and he told us about a private casita (small house) in Alto Boquete. This is a community on the outskirts of Boquete and on the bus route. The bus or a taxi both cost .60 to go into town.

Casita in Alto Boquete, about 5 minutes from town

We have our own kitchen now and lots of privacy, a nice garden with hammocks and a small patio. This place is also $25 per night (or $475 per month). There’s so much to see and do here, we will stay for 3 weeks in all, then head to the beach for Christmas.

Ted has discovered 3 things to keep him here:  Kotowa Café – great cappuccino from the Kotowa coffee plantation, Pilo Gym – where he can work out, and Big Daddy’s – an American-style restaurant serving buffalo wings and fish to tempt the taste buds.  Every time we go to Kotowa Café, we meet new gringos, who are all super friendly. They’re so eager to meet new visitors and have lots of tips and recommendations for us. Everyone seems so relaxed and happy here. They have retired from the rat race and are here to make their dreams of a better life come true! They have all the time in the world to talk and make new friends.  The only problem? There’s not as much chance to speak Spanish because everyone is English. Even the Boquetenos want to practice their english. It feels more like a little town in the US rather than a Panamanian one.

In the Alto Boquete supermarket a liter of decent wine costs $2.39 and a beer 55 cents. Bananas are 2 for .15 and the most delicious pineapple you ever tasted is $1, in the market downtown. In town you can also get a cone of ice-cream for 50 cents and a cup of coffee for as little as 40 cents. You don’t see that in Canada anymore! People are retiring here because their US and Canadian pensions stretch much further than back home. One couple from the states we met has been living here for 7 years, another lady for 6 years, and another couple for 10.  

We are getting quite the interesting comments from some of our followers…especially Mr. Gagne from Fredericton, complaining about the bleepity-bleep snowstorm in Canada! We heard about your snow day. While Canadians were all snowed in, we were busy looking around at apartment and house rentals and wearing shorts and sunhats. It is still rainy season here, however, and in between periods of sun, it pours now and then. December is when the dry season (their summer) starts.

Bridge over the Rio Caldera, which runs through the town of Boquete


Sidewalk Tiles


Escape the frigid cold and explore the world! Why not?!


Don’t most of us who live in the part of the world where winter lasts anywhere from 6 to 8 months, and summer a mere 2 months…long to escape the polar-bear weather and find a place where mittens and tuques are unknown entities? In my small corner of the maritimes, I have observed many couples I know making plans to spend their winter months in Florida, USA, where trailer parks and golf courses for the retired are in abundance. I mean, it is October 30th as I write, and we are experiencing our first major snowstorm. All day the wind has been whistling, the trees swaying and the snow whipping around the house. What happened to fall?!  We had a warm, indian-summer September, a rainy October and now winter is upon us, before November even arrives!

With the problematic economy we’ve been having in North America, everyone’s spending and saving capabilities are squeezed. People are now in search of, not only a warmer existence, but also places where the cost of living is manageable – even dirt cheap (as I learned on a recent trip to Ecuador, living on a monthly budget of $750, after airfare).

Ted & I have decided to seek the sun-drenched pastures of Panama this winter, from November to April, enjoying the same quality of life we have in Canada with a much lower cost of living. We have calculated that we will not spend any more money living 5 months in Panama, than we would 5 months in winter survival mode at home. The money I save by not paying my light bill alone, will pay for my return flight to Panama City. I also will not be buying gas for my car, groceries, 4 cords of wood – cut, split and delivered for the wood stove, 2 barrels of furnace oil, nor forking out for necessities such as phone, internet, snowplowing, miscellaneous spending and incidentals. The near to $5000 saved on those absent expenditures will finance 5 months away, to the tune of aproximately $1000 per month – much more than I need! I will be coming out ahead, with money left over! I know people may find it hard to believe that travel can truly be cheaper than actual daily living and keeping up a house back home, but it’s true. Especially in latin america, where the cost of a taxi drive can be a buck or two, and a haircut the same.

We have decided to chronicle our journey from the famous Panama Canal Zone, on through the cloud-forested highlands, the palm-fringed beaches, and even into the southern half of stunning Costa Rica, where we will spend a month renting a jungle house near five surfing beaches, at Manuel Antonio. We welcome you to log on and join us while we sway to the salsa music, tramp through primeval rainforests looking for toucans, sloths, monkeys, flourescent frogs and multi-colored birds. We’ll attend carnivals, a jazz/blues festival, rodeos, hike to waterfalls, go tubing and white-water rafting, chill on the beach, ride horses in the mountains, meet the locals, learn spanish, sample the regional varieties of aromatic coffee, and much more, with pictures as we go.

Our first stop is Casco Viejo (Old Town), where we will stay for three days in the historic section of Panama City. We will arrive there on November 14th and begin our chronical soon after. We would love to hear from other ‘panamanian’  travellers who have interesting accounts of an area they visited and/or recommended things to see and do, or places to stay.

Hope you join our roamings as we beat old man winter and explore a new destination!

Shut the house up for the season and                                                                              make money by not paying winter bills:

  • electric bill                      $1000
  • gas for vehicle                 $800
  • phone/internet                 $375
  • groceries                         $800
  • furnace oil                       $800
  • 4 cords of wood              $800
  • snowplowing                   $250
  • miscellaneous               $1000

 totalsavings     = $5825                                                                                                             based on 5 months away from home