We made our way from Santa Catalina, Panama and scuba diving to Boquete, Panama with its coffee plantations, mountains and beautiful scenery. Boquete (bo-kay-tay) is a popular place for North American expats to retire. Panama has some pretty incredible retirement benefits for those who are over a certain age, have a certain amount of money in the bank, and want to get retire in a foreign country. The drive to Boquete was nothing remarkable, but once getting into the town from the long uphill drive from the larger city of David at the mountain's base, we realized it was something special. Green mountains, picturesque little city nestled in the valley below, and quaint homes all added to the charm.
Boquete, Panama Camping
Boquete Panama Coffee Camping and Cooler Temps
Boquete is a very pretty town, in a small valley surrounded by huge mountains and volcanoes. The area is great for growing coffee due to its cooler temperatures and nearly constant atmospheric moisture. When arriving into town, the green hills and cloud covered mountains were almost surreal in their beauty. If you have never seen sub-tropical green landscapes, it's hard to describe. Boquete had a deep green color that was almost monochromatic.
While in Panama City, we realized that to get back to the States driving after being in Central America for so long, we would have to save some money somehow. We had the brilliant idea of buying a tent and camping back as much as we could. We had already brought a generator, blow-up queen sized mattress, lawn chairs, coolers and a bunch of other camping equipment with us to Central America, however we didn't have a tent. We bought a 4 man tent in the dome style with a rain guard and as we arrived in Boquete where it was drizzling, we were glad we opted for the rain guard.
We found a hostel called Pension Topas which was owned by an eccentric motorcycle collector from Germany named Axel. The place had a pool, facilities to shower, a kitchen we could use and of course a place to pitch our tent for about 10 dollars per day. We got busy setting up the tent after the drizzle stopped, trying to figure out how it all was supposed to fit together. After a half hour, we had a home. Luckily we didn't need the generator and instead used an extension cord that reached to an outlet to have a light in the tent and keep our electric blow up mattress from deflating.
As I said before, Pension Topas is owned and operated by a German named Axel who loves motorcycles, exotic birds and porn. Just about nightly we could pass by his window of his home and see him browsing porn on his computer in his back room which faced the pool area. The motorcycles were from all over, he had a Ducati, Royal Enfield, Harley Davidson, BSA, Triumph and some others. He was an interesting guy who married a Panamanian woman and bought the hostel. The pool was great, however a little too cold for us to dip into. The grounds had camping for tents, hotel rooms, a cage with an ill tempered parrot named Esmeralda who squawked in the early hours of the morning and would bite you if you tried to touch her enclosure, and they also had a good parking/ RV area out front. It was perfect really for what we needed it for and felt at home. We could also use our InstaPot pressure cooker to cook meals in the kitchen and make our own coffee.
Topas is a few blocks from the main road and center of town and was a perfect and safe location to explore the area. The first night however when the rain began, we quickly realized that even though we bought the more expensive tent with a rain tarp, the tent was less than effective at keeping water out. The next day we hoped in the jeep and headed back to David, about an hour away, to see if we could buy something to remedy the problem.
Rain Proofing the Tent
In David, they had a DoIt center which was great for getting things we needed to fix the tent's waterproofing problems. We bought two plastic tarps. One smaller to fit under the door and give us a "patio" area to sit in our chairs, and another huge one to completely cover the tent. We also bought 4 wooden dowels to hold the tarps off the tent, or the weight would collapse the dome tent poles. As we made it back to Topas and started putting it all together, we realized how much work it would entail setting this tent up each time we wanted to stay dry.
After getting everything setup, that night afternoon it began raining again and our tent was dry as a bone. Success! The other nicely added feature was that it kept the sun out too, making it easier to sleep in and also made it warmer at night with less wind able to penetrate the thin fabric of the tent. The bed we have is a Never Flat Insta-Bed. The bed is more comfortable than most hotel beds we had in Central America. It is queen sized and has a whisper quiet pump that senses air loss and keeps it full. You can set it to firm, medium or soft and it easily holds us without sagging and or waking up in the middle of the night in a taco shell on the floor. I guess you can call it glamping. We had electricity, a way to cook, soft bed, patio area, and really felt this was going to work for us camping our way back to the U.S.
Getting Breakfast In Boquete
Getting Breakfast Before Exploring
We decided to head out and explore a bit of the town. Before heading out, we heard about a great bakery nearby. Sugar and Spice is a bakery/ restaurant on the main drag in Boquete where you can get some of the best baked goods and food in Central America. This place was cozy, inviting, and the food looked amazing! We opted for some gigantic chocolate muffins for breakfast. We also headed out to Kotowa Coffee and picked up some lattes made with local grown coffee that was spectacular! We were in heaven. Two of the things we love the most , chocolate and good coffee, cruising around the mountains and loving every minute.
Driving Around Boquete
Exploring The Mountains around Boquete
After getting our delicious breakfast, all hopped up on coffee, we set out to try and drive to Volcán Barú. We heard there was a route up the hill past some coffee plantations to halfway up the tallest mountain in Panama. We drove around some incredible roads, sipping our coffees, passing coffee plantations, and taking in the local area. We passed some kids on their way back from school and asked if we could take a picture, they were more than accommodating with our request. A little further up the mountain, the clouds began to get so thick we couldn't see well, and the road turned to dirt. Soon after that it began to rain. We decided not to drive up the Baru and turned back around. The day was still great and the scenery spectacular.
We loved Boquete. Would we move there and retire like all the other expats there. No way. It was cooler and wetter than we like and in all actuality, not a lot to do there. Camping is a different experience. One we actually like. We haven't really camped together and even though it's glamping more or less, we really like the fact that we can hear the crickets chirping at night and cuddling up with each other under the stars. Even though we had some "waterproofing" issues, we got through it and realized that we can do this, save money on our way up to the US and have a good time doing it. We are excited for the next leg of our trip camping along the way and sleeping in places we couldn't possibly imagine. On our way outside of town, we had to get another coffee for the trip to David to get ready to head off to Costa Rica the following day.