Boquete is a mountainous village in the north of Panama and similar to Monteverde in Costa Rica has a unique cloud forest micro-climate. Within about 4 hours we had travelled by boat and bus from the tropical Caribbean Bocas del Toro islands and inland to the mountains where the temperature had dropped from around 30 degrees to 20!
Throughout our 3 nights in Boquete we met several Americans, either solo travellers or couples and all of them were either looking to move to Panama or were already there. This is due to the arrival of Valle Escondido, “a large residential development aimed at expats” as mentioned by Wikitravel and a number of Boquete websites.
We had a couple of action-packed days in Boquete; we tried horse-riding; did a trek to a waterfall and back and visited a ‘stingless bee’ farm:
Yee ha… Our previous joint horse riding experience was minimal… The last time Chris sat on a horse was nearly 40 years ago when he was encouraged to ‘have a go’ on a friend’s horse only for the horse to be gee’d up almost to galloping speed causing him to nearly fall off!
Laura’s experience is also nearly 40 years ago where she has a dim and distant memory of spending an hour or so in the saddle during a family holiday… this comes with a vague recollection of her Mum’s coat getting caught in a branch and her almost dangling by the hood when the horse happily trotted on…
So… we went along to try horse-riding with the label ‘complete beginners‘.
Upon arrival at the farm we were given a few basic instructions… an idiot’s guide to horse riding:
- Slacken the reins and gently nudge the horse with the sides of your feet = horse goes
- Tighten the reins = horse stops
- Gentle pull left = horse turns left
- Gentle pull right = horse turns right
Brilliant! With these instructions, to our delight and thanks to a couple of highly trained and patient horses we managed to spend two hours atop of the horse and without either of us falling off!
We were led by the farmer’s 17 year old son who took us along a ridge where we saw great views of Volcán Barú, the tallest mountain in Panama. From the highest point of the farmers extensive grounds we could see out towards David and the Pacific Ocean.
From the ridge we turned into the rain forest and along a narrow path through the dense trees. This was quite slippery in places but we still managed to cling tightly onto the horse without falling head first into one of the many streams.
After a venture through the on-site coffee plantation we headed back!
We both enjoyed our horse riding experience and the fabulous tour of the farmland and rainforest. The horses were well groomed, incredibly patient with us and seemed to enjoy their exercise around the farm.
We did have some reservations about whether horse riding is an ethical travel experience… we are usually against the idea of animals being exploited for human entertainment… did our whim of ‘having a go on a horse’ fall into this category?
On the basis that the farmer was a personal friend and highly recommended by the owner (another US ex-pat) of the hotel we were staying at and his assurance that the horses were properly looked after we decided to justify that this was an OK thing to do. Horses have been ridden for centuries; friends keep horses to ride and therefore they wouldn’t suffer in any way if we went along to ride them.
The cost for our 2 hour ride and transfers to and from the hotel was only $40 each.
Pipeline hiking trail
Being a mountainous resort there are many trails and trekking opportunities in and around Boquete. We chose the ‘Pipeline Trail’, a relatively easy trek along what promised to be a ‘pretty trail’ which followed a pipeline and a stream until it reached the 300 foot ‘Hidden Waterfall’.
Wallace, a fellow US hotel guest (another potential US ex-pat visiting Boquete) joined us and the three of us paid $12 for a taxi to the start of the trail.
You need to ask the taxi driver for ‘Sendero Aquaducto’ or take the bus to ‘Alto Quiel’ which is the starting point of several different trails as in the photo above. At the beginning of the trail you have to pay $3 per person and sign the visitors book as the trail is along private land.
Initially we began to make our way along a vehicle track through crops of corn with lovely views of the cloud forest…
The track narrowed about half to two thirds of the way and became a muddy footpath. This was well maintained with bridges across the streams and sandbags placed along some of the lengths of the path.
Once the waterfall was in view we had to scramble over some rocks up a stream to get to the foot of the waterfall. This is shown in the left picture above (Chris and Wallace). The waterfall itself tumbles 300 feet over the edge of what we can only describe as a huge semi circular rock face, almost as if we were standing at the bottom of a large sunken hole. Fresh watercress grows freely around the wet rocks and makes for a tasty addition to a welcome sandwich.
We were fortunate the weather was sunny for most of the way although it began to rain as we reached the waterfall. The trek should only take 45 to 60 minutes to get to the waterfall although it took us longer as we were trying to spot the famous ‘quetzal bird‘ which are beautifully coloured birds sometimes found in this area. (Although we didn’t see any).
As mentioned it started to rain while we were at the waterfall so our journey back to the hut was only 45 minutes!
It had been suggested to us that once we had completed the pipeline trek we could follow the road around (to the right as you leave the trail) back towards Boquete and have lunch in the Finca Lerida, a ‘coffee estate and boutique hotel’.
We made our way up the steep winding road towards the Finca Lerida by which time it was raining hard. A mini bus just happened to stop and offer us a lift which the 3 of us gladly accepted. The steep uphill walk would have taken far longer than the 20 minutes we had been told!
We didn’t have lunch but had a cup of coffee and a delicious piece of warm chocolate brownie in the coffee shop. The gardens of this hotel are spectacular and attract the most amazing colourful birds so this place is well worth a visit.
We caught another shuttle bus back… what an experience… about 25 people jam packed into the back of a mini bus built for about 9 people with kids, boxes and us crammed into all sorts of minibus nooks and crannies… but this was only $1.50 each and dropped us off outside the hotel…
We spent a couple of hours visiting ‘Boquete Bees‘ (photos above), a bee and coffee plantation which specialises in rare honey and stingless bees! We paid $35 each for a tour where we received a wealth of information about the bio-diversity of Boquete as well as a nature walk through different hives, a visit to the butterfly house and honey tasting at the end.
In the group of 3 pictures above, there are two types of bee hive. There are many types of flowering plants growing throughout the grounds that are particularly attractive to bees.
Stingless bees have been kept in Central America since Mayan times where they were considered sacred. They are much smaller than the honey bees or bumble bees which are common in the UK.
Above is a butterfly as found in the butterfly house.
The top left picture above shows coffee fruits which are starting to turn from green to orange. Once they turn red, they are ready for harvesting. The coffee harvest in Boquete usually begins in November. The top right picture shows coffee beans spread out to dry. The third picture above is of loquat fruits which were growing in the gardens. These tasted like tiny sweet peaches!
Five different Mayan stones were found within the grounds of the plantation. Nobody knows for sure the significance of the spiral markings as in the stone above. They were hidden under the volcanic soil and discovered when the grounds were being prepared for the plantation. It is thought that this area was used as a sacred Mayan site.
The tour ended on a sweet note with honey tasting! It was fascinating that so many different natural flavours of honey are possible from a local concentrated area.
Boquete Bees has a shop which offers honey both for general consumption and also for medicinal purposes.
While we both enjoyed the tour and found it interesting we felt that the $35 cost each was a little high! We had a similar tour which also included a wealth of information on butterflies and insects while in Monteverde, Costa Rica for only $15 each!
Hotel Central Boquete
We recommend a stay in this comfortable hotel… great breakfast, good location and a handy little on-site coffee shop. Tim the owner was most helpful in assisting us with organising our activities, suggesting some excellent restaurants nearby (especially the awesome Retro Gusto) and arranging our taxi to the airport.
Our 3 nights in Boquete was a complete contrast to the time we spent in Bocas del Toro and gave us the experience of a completely different side of Panama. Next we are moving on to Panama City so from beaches to mountains to city…