There's no shortage of things to see and do in Boquete: adrenaline-pumping outdoor adventures, quiet forays in the rainforest seeking the elusive quetzal, and walks among perfume-scented flowers at public gardens; you can learn how to make a good cup of joe and about the local Ngobe-Buglé tribe. .. and the list goes on. As mentioned throughout this chapter, a lot of visitors opt to rent a car -- the area offers so many beautiful scenic drives. Here are a few:
The Bajo Mono Loop takes you high above the town along a newly asphalted road for panoramic vistas and beautiful forest scenery. This is a good drive from which to get your bearings and see why everyone's gone wild about living in Boquete. To get here, follow the main road past the church and head left at the fork, passing Café Ruiz and staying left until you see the sign for BAJO MONO. Just as pretty is the Volcancito Loop -- to get here, follow the main road out of town and when you see the CEFATI visitor center, turn right and follow the loop until you arrive back at town. You can bike these loops as well.
One of the most beautiful drives in Panama heads to Finca Suiza on the main road to the Atlantic Coast, in the Bocas del Toro Province. The scenic drive winds through mountain forests and open fields with sweeping views, and farther down to the lush lowlands and rainforest of Bocas Province. Take the left turn to Caldera 16km (10 miles) south of Boquete and continue along paved/gravel road, until you hit the major road to Bocas. You can also take a completely paved, easier-to-follow road by heading toward David and turning left toward Gualaca.
Boquete Mountain Safari Tours (tel. 6627-8829 or 6742-6614; www.boquetemountainsafaritours.com) is a relatively new company well-known for their bilingual, open air yellow jeep tours. They offer wildlife tours ($75/£38 full day), as well as half-day tours to the Caldera Hot Springs ($35/£18) and the Boquete Mountains ($35/£18) among others. Their latest offering is called the Grand Coffee Adventure, in which you travel through the lush cloud forest and mountain sides to visit various boutique coffee estates for tastings. Boquete Mountain Safari Tours is a professional operation, and all tour guides speak English. Check their website for a full listing of full and half-day excursions.
Habla Ya Language Center, located on Avenida Central above the Global Bank (tel. 720-1294; www.hablayapanama.com), offers intensive "survival" Spanish courses, as well as more advanced conversational and fluency courses. Beginner survival courses are ideal for the traveling monolinguals with little time in Boquete but who'd love to speak enough to get around; weekly group classes cost $46 (£23) for 5 hours, $170 (£85) for 20 hours; weekly private courses cost $75 (£38) for 5 hours and $260 (£130) for 20 hours.
Attractions in & Around Town
Finca Lérida (tel. 720-2285; www.fincalerida.com; open daily sunrise-sunset) is a lovely 324-hectare (800-acre) coffee plantation and nature reserve located 10 minutes from Boquete in the lofty alpine setting of Alto Quiel. The finca is widely regarded as one of the most important bird-watching sites in Panama, not only because of the sheer numbers of species on view here but because it is a hot spot for seeing the resplendent quetzal, among other rare birds. The Finca Lérida has stepped up operations lately, building a cozy B&B on their property and a new exhibit showcasing their highly rated coffee and growing process, and giving information about the biodiversity of their property and the surrounding region.
They've also standardized their tours. Finca Lérida has three nature trails (one easy, two moderate) that offer a chance to put yourself in the middle of pristine primary and secondary forest. Independent visitors are charged $10 (£5) per person for access to the trails, and though they're marked, there are no maps or interpretive information available. The finca works with the best local birding and naturalist guides, if you need one (it's highly recommended if you come to bird-watch); the cost is an additional $25 (£13). Or you can book a 2-hour coffee tour for $16 (£8) per person, and take to the trails following the tour. For the complete (and somewhat pricey) package, a full-day tour includes a guide, bird-watching, coffee tour, gourmet lunch, transportation to and from Boquete, and access to trails for $310 (£155) for two guests.
Mi Jardín es Su Jardín, or "My Garden is Your Garden," refers to the lavish private gardens of the González family, who live on the property but have opened their grounds to the public. These gardens are some of the most exquisite in Panama, with hundreds of varieties of flowers expertly tended and cared for. But, weirdly, the whole spread is chockablock with nutty figurines and statues of windmills, dinosaurs, a blue cow, wee little castles, cutouts of frolicking children, and other oddball decorative items. There is a children's playground on the property, too. Admission is free, and the garden is open daily during daylight hours. To get here, head up the main street past the church, and stay left at the fork and continue until you see the gardens on your right-hand side.
One of the more curious attractions in Boquete is El Explorador gardens (tel. 720-1989), which provide visitors with splendid panoramic views enhanced by classical background music. But what's really the attraction here are the eccentric gardens sprinkled with vernacular, artlike recycled items: old television sets, a sewing machine, boots used as planters, shopping carts, old bottles, and more. For example, there is a bush clipped to resemble a cartoonish animal, and in its mouth is a plastic doll -- but what this means is anyone's guess. The main purpose of the gardens is to offer a place for quiet reflection and "spiritual renewal." To this end, the gardens feature signs (in Spanish only) with uplifting quotes to boost a visitor's self-esteem. As hokey as it seems, you do leave El Explorador feeling a little better. The garden park is owned by the Miranda family, who bought this property and began decorating it according to whim until it grew into a public venue. There is a cafe here with snacks, fresh fruit juices, and coffee. El Explorador costs $1 (50p) per person, and is open daily from 9am to 6pm. To get here, stay right at the fork on the main road and follow the signs.
Stop & Smell the Flowers: Festivals in Boquete
Boquete's largest annual festival is the Feria de las Flores y del Café (Flowers and Coffee Festival), which coincides with the coffee-harvesting season and takes place at the local fairgrounds in mid-January. The festival is one of the grandest celebrations of flowers in the world, drawing thousands of people to Boquete, clogging roads, and filling up hotels (book well ahead of time). During the 10-day festival, the fairgrounds fill with lushly landscaped and intricately designed flower displays that stretch the length of the facilities. Local residents follow suit and spruce up their gardens, too, giving Boquete the feel of a horticultural Xanadu. Coffee plays a big role, with tastings of local java and sales of coffee by the bag and by the cup. There are other festival-oriented attractions like food stands, live music, amusement rides, handicrafts booths, and more -- these activities take place only during the festival, but from January to April the flower exhibits are on display daily; entrance fee is $1 (50p).
Later, in mid-April, Boquete holds the same kind of festival but on a reduced scale, the 4-day Feria de Orquídeas (Orchid Festival), when local orchid growers showcase thousands of varieties of these delicate flowers for public viewing (many orchids bloom in Apr). Other large-scale festivals in Boquete are celebrated nationally; however, considering Boquete's charm and desirable ambience, many Panamanians head here for a few days of respite. Book your hotel well ahead of time during these dates: Carnaval (Feb), Semana Santa (Holy Week before Easter), Independence celebrations (weekends of Nov 3, 10, and 28).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.