Boquete: Mountain Getaway

We love a weekend in Boquete!

Enjoying a Stroll Through Town

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Mandan Lynn on October 25, 2013

In Coronado, Panama, you almost have to have a car if you want to get anywhere. Sure, there are buses and taxis, but what I mean is that you can't expect to walk. Everything is very spread out, and while a few of the restaurants are nestled in otherwise residential areas, what are the odds that YOUR residence is within walking distance of one of these restaurants?

I love walking, and I would be willing to take those longer hikes to get to my destination in cooler climes, but the truth of it is -- it's just too darn hot. Now, I'm no fan of winter, so believe me, I'm not complaining about the heat. I just don't want to show up for dinner or drinks looking like I just climbed out of the pool, hair matted to my head and water running down my neck.

Boquete brings the walking back.

It's a small, charming town, and it's totally possible to walk everywhere you want to go. Not only that, but the temperatures are generally cooler, making it possible to show up at your destination still looking (and smelling) fresh as a daisy. We parked our car at the hostel and never moved it until we were ready to leave town again. It's fantastic.

You always see more on foot than you do in the car, anyway. We thoroughly enjoyed Boquete's fantastic views as we wandered up and down the main street and back and forth through some of the side residential streets.

Do be a little careful, though. Once, we took a turn down a side street and stopped in our tracks when we saw a dog lurch against his chain. Realizing he was tied up, we relaxed again, but only took about another two steps forward before five of his best friends came running out of the same yard, barking and snarling aggressively. I love dogs and rarely feel in danger around them, but this was different, and serious.

They surrounded us and had us backed up against the fence. Mentally, I had reached a point where I realized I was going to get bit, and it was going to hurt -- I was focused on minimizing the damage rather than avoiding it, because I thought at that point that it was unavoidable.

My boyfriend, who is also a dog lover and has done a lot of work with dogs, had taken his knife out of his pocket! He managed to pick up some rocks and throw them at the dogs, finally scaring them away. As the dogs ran back in, their owner came out. My boyfriend scolded her a bit and we went on our way, unhurt but incredibly shaken.

So be careful on your walks. Panamanians often have dogs, and those dogs aren't always fenced in.

The other danger is the holes in the sidewalks! We came across one that was "grated" but barely -- my feet fit easily through the bars.

Otherwise, walking in Boquete is a safe, enjoyable experience. Soak it up, because it's back to the car after you return to Coronado.

Mexican Food in Panama

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Mandan Lynn on October 3, 2013

We love good Mexican food, so we were excited to try this place. We went in for a late lunch on a Saturday. It's small and adorably decorated, and there was only one other table there when we were there.

The menus were a little small and disappointing -- just the basics. My boyfriend ordered mixed fajitas (beef and chicken) and the menu made no mention of cheese (he's allergic to it), plus fajitas don't normally come with cheese. These did. He said to the waitress that he was sorry, but he couldn't eat that, and she just sort of shrugged and said, "Well, that's what you ordered." So they went back and forth for awhile, she saying that he didn't specify no cheese, and he saying that the menu doesn't mention cheese. Finally she took the plate back.

By this time, my father-in-law and I are both eating our meals. I had burritos, which weren't really what I expected them to be, but they were good. The waitress came back out to say they were out of beef, which was fine with my boyfriend -- he said just chicken would work. We finished eating by the time his cheese-free meal arrived, so we lingered over coffee while he ate.

Overall, we weren't really impressed -- certainly not with the odd service we received over the cheese. With all the good restaurants in Boquete, we won't need to go back to this one.
Antojitos Mexicanos
107 Graham Avenue
Boquete, panama
(718) 384-9076

Delicious Food and Friendly Folks

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Mandan Lynn on October 3, 2013

During our first visit to Boquete, we stopped by the Art Cafe for a drink. We got to talking with the owners -- wonderful, friendly people -- and had a lovely evening. We had already eaten that night, but after a quick glance at the menu we knew we wanted to return for a proper meal.

We did exactly that on our second trip to Boquete with my father-in-law and a friend of ours. We ordered margaritas to get things started (and my father-in-law had bourbon) and then took ages to make a food decision. It was difficult! The menu was full of fantastic-sounding, creative options at fairly reasonable prices. They have a lot of crepes on the menu, and I debated for a long time about them but I finally chose the Italian salad, which I didn't regret for a second. It was fantastic, full of cheese and olives and eggplant.

My boyfriend got the trout, which he thoroughly enjoyed, and all our mouths watered over my father-in-law's filet mignon in a rich burgundy sauce. Our friend had the supreme crepe. We all gushed about the food until our mouths were too full to do so. Really nice.

We had a fantastic evening just chatting and lingering over our meal. As we finished, a few musicians walked in off the street. They were obviously backpackers, and I saw one of them speak quietly to the owner -- I guess asking permission to play. And they did! One of them performed some juggling tricks while the others played and sang. It was a nice little surprise, and we gave them a few dollars with which to continue their journey.

We shared a banana split after our tummies had rested for a bit -- also delicious. We were sad to leave, and we look forward to coming back -- it's our new favorite place in Boquete.
Art Café La Crepe


Cafe Ruiz Coffee Tour and Tasting

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Mandan Lynn on October 3, 2013

There are lots of coffee plantations in Boquete, and many of them offer tours. I had researched several of them before we went to Boquete for the second time, but we hadn't made any decisions. We ended up going to Cafe Ruiz because the hostel where we stayed, Hostal Gaia, was affiliated with them and could call to make us a reservation and have Cafe Ruiz pick us up at the hostel. Perfect! Cafe Ruiz it is.

We weren't disappointed.

Carlos, our guide, picked us up first, then went to a few other hotels to pick up other guests. We were dropped off at the coffee shop (and site of the original factory) to buy our tickets -- $30 per person.

We got back in the van and took a ride out to the coffee fields. It was nothing like I'd imagined! First of all, I'd never seen a coffee plant before, and had no idea that you pick the beans when they're red! The plants are situated in between a variety of other plants and trees -- so you'll also find citrus trees and other fruit-producers on the coffee farm.

Boquete is ideal for coffee growing because of its climate -- mountain cool with rain. Some of the best coffee in the world comes from Boquete.

Our guide was very knowledgeable; he's been working for Cafe Ruiz for years. He told lots of stories, and once went really far off-topic on a rant about gated communities -- a concept he doesn't understand (and I can't say I blame him) -- which have been popping up all over Boquete.

He picked some coffee beans for us and broke them apart to show us the many layers -- coffee beans actually have three shells. He pointed out the various varieties of coffee, including Geisha, the world's most expensive coffee. There are several reasons for this, but one of those reasons you can see: the beans on Geisha plants are much farther apart than on other plants, so each plant produces less.

It was just starting to rain, so we hurried to the factory and got there in time for the downpour! Our guide explained the whole process for us, which is long and labor-intensive with many steps -- including harvesting the beans by hand! We looked around at the variety of equipment and came across several workers: four of them were shelling by hand and sorting the beans by color, size, and density. Others were weighing, bagging, and preparing beans for shipping.

We returned to the coffee shop in town to take a look at the original factory and learn a little more about the roasting process. They roast only a small percentage of the beans there on site -- most are shipped and roasted by the buyer. We learned that the lighter roasts actually have more caffeine, and that if you want stronger-tasting coffee you just put more coffee in the coffee maker -- it has nothing to do with whether the beans are light or dark roasted!

We sat around a little table and had the opportunity to smell different varieties of coffee. It was amazing -- some smelled chocolatey, others smelled rubbery. This is also where our guide told us that it's better to buy whole coffee beans and ground them youself. The highest quality beans are left whole and sold that way. Lesser quality beans are sold to low-priced coffee makers and ground up. And while there is an extensive sorting process, occasionally some shells or sticks get ground up with the coffee. If you buy whole beans, you can be sure you're not drinking something made from stick powder.

Finally, we went to the tasting room and sampled light, medium, and dark roast coffees. I surprised myself by enjoying the light roast the best! We were given a burlap Cafe Ruiz bag that contained a little pack of cookies as well as a big bag of ground coffee to take home.

We bought a pot of coffee at the shop and lingered a bit longer on the deck, enjoying the rainy-day view of the mountains.

We had a fantastic experience here -- not only would I recommend it wholeheartedly, I would absolutely go on this same tour again. I learned so much, and that's even after taking into account that I've probably already forgotten a lot of what I learned that day. I've been drinking coffee for a couple of years now, but after that tour I appreciate every cup so much more. The process involved with turning a bean into that cup of joe is lengthy and time-consuming and done by people who take a lot of pride in what they do and in the product they deliver.
Cafe Ruiz
El Santuario Alto Lino

Two Nights in Hostal Gaia

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Mandan Lynn on October 3, 2013

On our second trip to Boquete, we were with my father-in-law, so we were looking for a comfortable place to stay while keeping within a reasonable budget. I had found Hostal Gaia online before we went, but I didn't make a reservation -- we decided we'd stop there as well as a couple of other places when we arrived. My boyfriend and I can be comfortable just about anywhere, but we wanted to make sure we picked a place that would work for my father-in-law.

Turns out, we didn't need to stop anywhere else. We went to Hostal Gaia first because of it's location just off the main road right as you enter town (and right beside our favorite little coffee shop/cafe, Sugar and Spice -- see the review in this journal). They have dorms upstairs, but they also have two private rooms downstairs that happened to be available for those two nights. $30 per room per night was great for us.

The rooms were very clean and tidy, and towels were provided. The doors to the rooms are right there in the lobby, so we were a little concerned about privacy, but the hostel was quiet and we never really heard anyone in the reception area.

There is a kitchen and book exchange upstairs, which we didn't really use -- the best part about Boquete for us is all the great restaurants! They also have a nice garden area and patio.

The hostel has a lot of information about area attractions, and they're able to book various tours for you. We'd been wanting to do a coffee tour, and with so many to choose from it was just easy to go with the one affiliated with the hostel! The desk worker called to reserve our spots, and they picked us up the next day right there at the hostel and dropped us off again after it was over.

I would certainly stay here again, both for the great location and the value.
Hostal Gaia
Bajo Boquete
Boquete, Panama, 507

Monkeys and More at Jungla de Panama

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Mandan Lynn on March 11, 2013

I came across Jungla de Panama as a hostel when I was searching for accommodations. As it turns out, it's also a restaurant and, most awesomely, an animal rescue and healing center.

It's in Palmira, just a few minutes outside of Boquete. We stopped by in the morning on our way out of town. The restaurant wasn't open yet, and some boys were playing the yard in between some pens and cages. The restaurant manager directed us through the gate off the porch into the yard, and we wandered around the pens.

Eventually, one of the little boys asked if we were there for the tour. We said, "Sure, when does it start?" And he said, "Whenever." So he showed us the dogs that were up for adoption: four lovely, friendly animals, one of whom kept jumping up as high as the fence, bounce after bounce after bounce. She knew that the way to get chosen was to stand out from the crowd, and if we had space for a dog at home she would have already been in our car.

They also have a horse and several goats, two of which were very young and two of which were very pregnant. They sort of kept to themselves.

We stopped by the monkey, and the boys gave us sunflower seeds to share with the critters as they told us about how old the monkeys were and what they liked to eat. The two little capuchins shared a cage with a cutamundi, a relative of the raccoon. The monkeys took the sunflower seeds in their hands or directly -- and very gently -- into their mouths. Sometimes they couldn't reach the fallen ones with their arms, so their tails would sweep them closer through the bottom of the cage.

The spider monkey lived by herself, and was a lot more shy. She gracefully and gently accepted seeds, but she didn't shake the cage like the capuchins when it had been too long between bites.

We walked into the parrot residence and met the chickens, the macaw, and even a pigeon! The macaw had a hurt wing and couldn't fly, but the parrots didn't get in her way when she headed over to a dish full of sunflower seeds. The parrots were content to sit on my arms and shoulder and eat right out of my hands, anyway.

We said our goodbyes after petting the rabbit, though it would have been easy to spend all day there (and I think the monkeys and birds would have kept eating all day, too).
Jungla de Panama
Jungla de Panama, Palmira Centro, Chriqui
+011 507 6968-6010

Hiking Volcán Barú

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Mandan Lynn on March 11, 2013

Volcán Barú is the highest mountain in Panama, so naturally we wanted to be at the top. When I told the girl at the hostel desk if we could get directions to the volcano, she seemed surprised that we were going hiking during the day. Many people join guided hikes that start in the middle of the night so they can watch the sunrise from the top.

We left early, because we had read that it is a long climb, and we were hoping to get to the top before the clouds obscured the view too much, and so we wouldn't get caught in rain or darkness on the way down.

You can take a bus to the trailhead, but we had our car so we drove the 10 kilometers or so to the volcano. We parked on a side road with a bunch of other cars where the pavement ends and the steep graveled incline begins.

That initial climb to the ranger station was a doozy. It's quite steep, and already my boyfriend was saying that if the whole hike was like that, it wasn't going to be much fun.

We signed in with the ranger and paid $5 each before getting on our way. The next many steps (I'm terrible at guessing distances) were just as steep as the first part, and my boyfriend's knee started to hurt (he has a history of some trouble with that joint). Not a good start, but the good news is that it does level out a bit -- the whole climb isn't as brutal as that first kilometer.

As we climbed, we were passed by several four-wheel-drive vehicles full of passengers and luggage. Cheaters!

We passed a sign that said we had gone three kilometers and had 10.5 to go to the top. This news was somewhat devastating, because it felt like we had been hiking for quite a while. Update on the knee: starting to really hurt.

Onward and upward. A couple of the Cheaters we had passed while they were sitting and snacking after their long, hard Jeep ride hiked right past us -- but sweating all the way.

We passed the seven kilometer marker, but my boyfriend's knee was not holding up well. It was looking like we would have to turn around. After another kilometer or so, we did.

Which is, of course, incredibly disappointing. We went so far, but not quite far enough to be rewarded with those rich views from the highest point in Panama. At the same time, my legs were pretty tired, and we still had those eight kilometers to backtrack on -- anyone who hikes knows that the downhill can be worse than the uphill, especially those steep parts on tired legs.

On the way down, we passed several people stopping for breaks, and several people plowing ahead full force. We got out our spare plastic bags and filled them with the garbage we found along the trail -- it only took about two kilometers to completely fill both bags.

Our more-than-half mountain round trip took five hours, and we weren't exactly poking along. The full trip would have certainly taken all day. We were glad to have lots of water, apples, and granola bars, even though the backpack was heavy (you just have to eat faster!). We also each packed long pants and a sweatshirt; the wind up there gets pretty chilly. And especially if you're a girl, don't forget the toilet paper!

We're not novice hikers, and we're also both in pretty good shape. If it weren't for the knee, we would have gone all the way -- but it wouldn't have been easy. It was a challenging climb. It's now two days later and my calves are screaming sore.

If the top is more important to you than the trip up, go ahead and take a ride up as far as you can. If you love to hike but don't think you can do it for an entire day, there are lots of other, less challenging hiking opportunities around Boquete. If you're ready for the challenge, get up early and go. Even if you don't make it all the way, you'll appreciate the clearings in the trees that overlook a cloudy valley and the effort that gets you as far as you feel like going.

Margaritas at Zanzibar

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Mandan Lynn on March 11, 2013

We passed by Zanzibar at first because there was no one in there, but when we got to the end of the street we stopped in a bar/restaurant that was so crowded and loud with live music that we turned around. Crowds and live music at a restaurant are usually good signs, but we were just in the mood for something quieter. Zanzibar looked perfect at that point.

What strikes you first is the unusual decor, which the bartender told us had all been brought over from Indonesia. The tables and chairs are especially cool. The drink menu is simple but full of variety. We briefly considered getting a fishbowl drink ($14.00) to bring back some college memories, but decided on a margarita each. I had a coconut marg, and my boyfriend went for the Special Margarita (made with Patron instead of Cuervo). Each was $4.00.

Both were good. Mine was frozen and a little too mild flavored, but it was garnished with coffee beans! We both enjoyed sipping and chatting.

We left after one drink, but only because it had already been a long night and we were ready for bed. I hope that place picks up, because based on the atmosphere and what they have to offer, they deserve a crowd.
Av Central
Boquete, Panama

Dinner and Drinks at Amigos

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Mandan Lynn on March 11, 2013

We happened upon Amigos by accident when we were out for one of our strolls, and it seems to be one of the most happening places in Boquete for travelers and foreign residents. At around 5:00pm on Friday, the back patio and outdoor garden had about 40 people in it, most of whom seemed to know each other.

We sat down in the garden and ordered blackened fish (for him) and chili (for me).

While we were waiting for our food, one of the guys from a nearby table walked by us to take a call. As he returned to his table, he stopped and chatted with us. He was a Boquete resident from the United States, and was so friendly and welcoming. He loves his new home in the mountains!

My boyfriend's meal came with a choice of two sides -- salad and yuca, in his case. The salad was fresh, with dark lettuce, and had a great sort of mango vinaigrette on it. It also came with a house salad (cabbage and carrots in a pale orange creamy dressing) and garlic bread.

My chili was supposed to come with cornbread. It arrived without the cornbread (a part of the meal I was really looking forward to) and I asked for it -- and the waitress said they didn't have any, and would I like some more garlic bread instead? I said no, thanks, and went about eating. It was a big bowl topped with cheese, sour cream, and chopped onions; I couldn't finish it all.

The next afternoon we stopped by again for a drink and met so many nice people that we ended up staying into the evening. Live music went onstage around 7:30, and we kept chatting until about 9:00pm. Beers were $1.00.

I didn't eat that night, but my boyfriend ordered the fried chicken. It's on the same menu as his fish was on, so it should have come with the house salad and garlic bread, but those items never showed up. The bartender was very friendly and really hopping around. There were a lot of people there by the time my boyfriend ordered, but not so many that he should have been as busy as he seemed. Oh, well, about the bread and salad, we said.

Three things: I already told you about the missing cornbread. That was a bummer. The second bummer was asking what the soup of the day was (because "soup of the day" is on the menu) and being told there wasn't one. The third bummer was asking about the vegetarian menu (because "see our vegetarian menu" is written on the main menu) and being told there is no vegetarian menu. A little disappointing on all three counts, but overall we like this place and had some pretty good food.

I didn't get around to trying any dessert, but root beer floats, banana splits, and Bailey's flan were all listed on the chalkboard, and all of them were under $4.00.
Amigos Restaurante
Center of Boquete, Boquete District
Boquete, Panama
507 720-1135

Breakfast and More

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Mandan Lynn on March 11, 2013

We had heard good words about Sugar and Spice, so after our failed attempt at a hostel breakfast (see the entry in this journal on Hostel Mamallena) we went here to give it a try. It opened at 8:00am, even on Sunday, and at 7:45 there were already six people, plus us, waiting to get in.

They opened the doors promptly at 8:00, and worked through that early rush very efficiently. They had about 10 items or so on their breakfast menu, as well as three specials listed on a white board out front. I ordered the vegetable omelet and my boyfriend had the breakfast burrito. Both came with coffee or tea (such good coffee!) and mine arrived with a tiny plate of cantaloupe and two slices of their delicious bread. Each meal (coffee included) was $4.50.

I also ordered a muffin to get us started while we waited for our entrees. A waitress brought the coffee within a couple of minutes of when I placed my order; I didn't even have the muffin open yet! It was a Red Velvet Lemon muffin -- definitely cake for breakfast. Yummy.

The display case is full of deliciousness. You can choose from about eight flavors of muffins (we came back later for a blueberry one), cinnamon rolls, and a variety of turnovers (the coconut one caught my eye). They also have loaves of bread for sale, and I bought a raisin walnut loaf for $4 to take home with us. The chocolate cherry loaf was especially tempting.

We loved it so much we went back later for another coffee. Lunch specials like tomato soup and three-cheese grilled cheese sandwiches were listed, but we weren't that hungry. My boyfriend had black coffee, as he does, for $0.75, and I ordered a delightful caramel cappuccino for $2.00. We shared that blueberry muffin I mentioned earlier.

High fives all around for Sugar and Spice. Next time, I am purposely avoiding hotels and hostels that offer breakfast so we have an excuse to go here.
Sugar and Spice
Calle Principal y 7 Sur, Alto Boquete, Chiriqui
Boquete, Panama

Two Nights at Mamallena

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Mandan Lynn on March 11, 2013

We got a private room at Mamallena for two nights for $27.50 per night. Dorm beds are $11, if you'd like to take a cheaper route. I chose it for its central location -- it's right off Boquete's main street by the town square.

The room was clean and adequate, with two double beds and a private bathroom. Towels are available for rent (we brought our own). The bathroom was very clean, and it seems that the tile work is relatively recent. The shower has fantastic water pressure.

Breakfast is included, but we didn't really get to take advantage. They offer coffee, which we did have, and there was milk in the "free" section of the refrigerator. Breakfast consists of a bowl of pancake batter and a do-it-yourself spirit. This is no problem, and I love pancakes. The trouble was, the girls who got there before us (and we were there right after 7:00am because we wanted to get a jump on the day) apparently had never made pancakes in their lives.

They put oil in the pan, but didn't spread it out all the way. Then they put pancake batter in the pan and DID spread it out all the way, so that only the middle part didn't stick like crazy. One girl was using a pan designed for meat, and didn't reconsider even when a nice man suggested a different appliance. She had junked her pancake and started over twice when we finally said, "oh, well." The coffee was good, though.

The next day, we didn't even both with the hostel breakfast -- instead, we went to Sugar and Spice (check out the review!).

We didn't know this was the party hostel when I booked a two-night stay, but as it turned out, that is the case. Not that that's a bad thing, but you should know up front that if you want to sleep uninterrupted, it might not happen. It didn't for us. There was music on both nights at the bar next door, and lots of chatter and activity in the hostel itself. I woke up twice the first night to loud voices and the sound of something falling.

That said, the Mamallena does a great job catering to their crowd. They organize all sorts of excursions, from coffee tours to horseback riding to hikes and rafting. Whatever you want to do in Boquete, they can help you with it. They also host events on the premises -- the first night we were there, they did a barbecue. We went out to dinner instead, but I saw on the white board that it was $10 per person, and they had a huge list of menu items.

I doubt we'll stay here again, just because we'd rather sleep. But if you're looking for a cool party vibe and don't mind waiting a long time to make yourself some pancakes, this is a great little place.

Hostel Mamallena B&B, Boquete
in front of Parque Central

Lunch at Big Daddy's

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Mandan Lynn on March 11, 2013

Big Daddy's doesn't sound like a restaurant you'd find in Boquete, Panama, but we went inside on a recommendation. It's a small dining area, but three or four tables were already taken when we sat down at around 2:00pm on a Saturday.

The menu is small and fish-heavy. We were told that it's some of the best, freshest fish you can find -- they only serve what is caught and delivered to them that morning. Not being a huge fish fan myself, I ordered the veggie tacos.

The waiter apparently thought I said "Veggie Burger" which is also on the menu, and that's what arrived. I'm pretty easy to please, but I would never order any sort of burger when there is any sort of taco as an option, so I sent it back. My tacos were ready in about two minutes.

The arrived with pico de gallo, guacamole, and jalepenos. The two large soft shells were full of lettuce, carrots, onions, orange bell peppers, cheese and...wait for it...cole slaw. Weird.

But still good. Not the best tacos of my life, but I was content. They came with a choice of French fries or black beans and rice. I had the beans.

My boyfriend had the fish tacos, and after one bite he declared them the best fish tacos he'd ever had. I took a bite and, indeed, they were very, very good. I was even a little jealous.

The menu also offers salads, burgers, and even corn dogs, and everything seems to be around $6-8. The table next to us ordered the onion rings, which looked fantastic. They claim to make the best margaritas in Boquete, but it was two in the afternoon and we had just returned from a hike, so I wasn't quite in a margarita mood -- you'll have to try it and report back to me.

We'll go back to Big Daddy's, and when we do, I will order the fish tacos.

Big Daddy's
Main Street, Near The Town Square, 1 block South of Park
Boquete, Panama, 0613

© LP 2000-2009