Boquete, Panama – What’s It Like Today?


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Boquete Panama – What’s It Like Today?

When we left Boquete, Panama on a humanitarian flight at the beginning of summer, there were some borderline draconian measures in place here.

The reaction to the pandemic here was to shut everything down to the extreme. Everyone was literally on a full-time lockdown.

Women were only allowed out for two-hour periods on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays based on the last digit of your cédula or passport. The same went for men but they could only do Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays (and eventually those Saturdays disappeared, too).

Oh, and those two hours when you went out, you were pretty much restricted to only grocery stores, banks, or pharmacies. Sundays were a complete quarantine day and eventually, Saturdays became one as well.

To top it off, kids weren’t really allowed out at all. Imagine being a single parent here in Boquete, Panama and having to possibly leave young kid(s) at home alone because you needed to get groceries. That’s crazy.

Boquete Panama – What’s It Like Today? - Streets of Boquete
I took this photo in late March. These streets are usually hopping…

Businesses needed to adapt quickly or they wouldn’t survive. Delivery in Boquete was something that really didn’t exist before the pandemic. If you wanted a pizza, you went and got it.

In the first couple of months of lockdown though, suddenly restaurants started offering delivery. And entrepreneurs started new businesses to help deliver groceries and run other errands for you as well. Businesses started bringing businesses online including their inventories.

Boquete, Panama went from 1985 to 2020 in just a matter of weeks. Those that didn’t likely closed their doors forever. By the beginning of July, over 1,000 Panama restaurants permanently shut down.

On a personal level, we made the best of things like most of the folks here. We mostly ordered our groceries and sometimes an occasional restaurant meal to be delivered. But we also had our daughter we had to look out for as well who was nine at the time.

We were lucky that we were already homeschooling Faith so there was no transition there to worry about. Other than that, we played the Nintendo Wii, a bunch of board games, and sometimes just made up our own games to keep her (and us) entertained…

Gotta burn off some energy somehow!

It was a lot of boring time stuck inside but it was what it was… until it wasn’t.

We finally made the decision at the end of June to head back to the U.S. even though logically it didn’t seem to make sense (considering how bad the pandemic was crushing the U.S.).

Regardless, we flew back on a humanitarian flight and thankfully had a place to stay at my in-laws’ house. We stayed put for about a month for the most part.

At that point, we truly thought that Panama wasn’t going to re-open its borders until at least the end of the year. After discussing it, we decided to set a hard deadline for the beginning of November. If the country wasn’t allowing tourists in by then, we’d cut ties and figure out a way to get our stuff back to us in the U.S. somehow. It was almost a sure bet that our retirement in Panama was over.

Then, out of nowhere, they announced that tourists would be allowed back in staring on October 12, 2020. Although we didn’t get our expectations up, we booked our flight. We took our COVID tests a couple of days before our flight and got back to Boquete, Panama on October 15. It was actually a much smoother experience than I had anticipated (no complaints!).

So that’s it, we’re back. But is Boquete, Panama in the same situation as when we left it? Are they still on lockdown? What’s changed?

Good news, my friends – I’m always here to give you the scoop you’re after!

Is there still any lockdown or quarantine?

I’m happy to report that I think we got to Boquete, Panama at the right time… it’s all about me, right?!

The country has just lifted both the Saturday and Sunday lockdowns. So currently, you’re allowed to go out and about and enjoy the beauty of Panama every day of the week. They’ve also adjusted the curfew to be a more palatable 11 pm until 5 am.

So that gives you pretty much all day every day to run errands and have fun until the late evening hours. I personally think the curfew is an acceptable middle-of-the-line way to help mitigate the virus. I would imagine that parties and late-night-drinking are probably the biggest culprits of letting our guard down. Shutting things down by 11 pm could be a good way to help alleviate that pain point for now.

My gut tells me that this will be one of the last restrictions to be lifted in Panama. Then again, common sense doesn’t always ring true here so only time will tell.

What’s still not opened up in Boquete, Panama?

It’s taken a while, but we’re now at the point where almost everything is opened up again in Panama… but there are still some exceptions.

Gyms, bars, dance clubs, and schools are still closed. I really need the gym here to open up soon. I’ve been doing a good job working out using FitBod and dumbbells for quite a while now. But now that we’re back here, my resistance bands are all I’ve got – and they’re a world away from working with real weights.

Then there are activities like beaches, which have just re-opened but with restrictions. As of Saturday, October 24, families are allowed to gather in groups of no more than seven at beaches and rivers but only from 6:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Masks need be worn at all times, except when you’re within your “family bubble” or when going into the water. Alcohol is also prohibited except at nearby restaurants.

So it’s not perfect, but that should satisfy most family beach trips for now. We’ve already talked about it and we’re planning to wait until the beginning of the year to spend a couple of days at the beach. That’ll give a little more time for us to feel more comfortable in taking a bus or taxi. We’re probably going to try out Show Pony Resort this time around.

Then there are public gatherings. I believe theaters are open at 50% capacity right now (don’t quote me on this one). Then there is one of the more well-known gatherings that Boquete, Panama has to offer… the Tuesday Market.

The Tuesday Market has always been a big weekly event for people to buy and sell fruits, vegetables, crafts, and other goods. But more importantly, it’s been a place known for expats getting together to meet new folks and socialize.

The good news is that the Tuesday Market has started back up. In fact, there are now two markets operating right by one another (long story). However, they have to be very careful about how many people are allowed in at once (and of course everyone is wearing masks). Additionally, we were surprised to find out that Faith wasn’t allowed in – no kids for now.

As you can see, overall, there’s not a lot still off-limits here. Regardless, I’m happy to see the level of caution even as things slowly open back up.

What’s life like in Boquete, Panama right now?

I’m so glad to be back in Boquete, Panama, but we’re not running at full steam just yet.

The biggest difference is that masks are 100% mandatory in public (indoors and outdoors). Most stores take your temperature as you walk in and some make you apply hand sanitizer as well. Unfortunately, that also usually means a little bit of a line before entering a store (spaced out at 2 meters between customers).

Other than that, everyone seems pretty used to this now – well, as good as you can be. It’s become normal for the most part. So, except for that small change, running errands seems to be relatively back to the way it was.

I will say that our walk back from town is a little more exhausting now. Walking half a mile or so uphill while pulling a cart of groceries and wearing a mask is a little draining.

We’re still not comfortable getting into taxis or buses yet, but they are operational. Eventually, we’ll need to make a trip to David to do some shopping so we’re going to have to just be careful and suck it up.

I feel bad for restaurant owners and workers. They can currently only operate at 25% capacity and tables need to be spaced out. While that’s great for folks like us who prefer to avoid the big crowds, that’s a big problem trying to keep a restaurant afloat right now.

There are already some restaurants in Boquete that have closed their doors forever and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of that before the year is over. In the meantime, being able to get food delivered is a nice little bonus that we do like.

One of our favorite activities is in limbo for us currently. We really enjoyed doing the group hikes every week. There would be a large group (maybe 25 people) who would show up at a meeting place before heading to the week’s hike. Since some people had cars and some didn’t (we’re in that latter category), those driving would take others in their car to ensure everyone could get to the hike.

Because the group hikes are considered a gathering, there are restrictions. I’m sure the hike leader would be able to get small groups together for now, but how do you decide who can go in the group and who can’t?

We could go hiking on our own, but since we don’t have a car, we’d have to take a taxi which we’re shying away from for now. Eventually, we’ll get back to this but we’re ok taking our time in getting back to this fun. In the meantime, we’ll continue walking to town and exploring our area here in Valle Escondido.

Add in that we showed up just in time for the rainy season and we’ll probably be spending a little more time at our condo than we normally would.

Boquete Panama – What’s It Like Today? - Fog across Valle Escondido
We love watching the fog roll across the mountain backdrop here…

I’d also like to think that the pool and gym at our development will be opening with restrictions in the next few weeks, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

All in all, life isn’t back to normal yet, but is it really anywhere? It’s so much better here than it was this past spring and, with each passing week, it just seems to become a little closer to what it was when we first arrived in Boquete, Panama last year.

In the meantime, we’ll just continue to enjoy things as best we can while still being careful.

Boquete Panama – What’s It Like Today? - Faith and Lisa petting a horse
Stopping to say “hi” to a horse on the way to the store…

Keep in mind that all of this is based on what we’re seeing as of this writing (late October 2020). As time goes on, hopefully, this post will become less and less useful. I’m hoping that by the end of this year, the country will have opened up completely or close to it.

After that, it’s “just” a matter of rebuilding the economy. Unfortunately, this pandemic hurt Panama big time. It’ll probably be several years before things can catch back up to the point where it was before this whole pandemic started.

On a more positive note, some of the changes we’ve seen recently (like delivery services and online inventories) may stick around. Services like these, while created in a dire situation, have become a nice convenience. Hopefully, they also help bring in some additional income for the businesses with them in place.

If you’re interested in possibly moving to Panama or living here part-time, I’d strongly recommend the Panama Relocation Guide. This awesome online guide was put together by Jackie from Panama Relocation Tours and can be a great help in planning. Jackie knows her stuff and this can provide you with the answers, contacts, and resources you’re looking for to help in making your decision to move here.

Plan well, take action, and live your best life!

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

24 thoughts on “Boquete, Panama – What’s It Like Today?”

  1. I have seen things getting from better to worse where I am. First everything was opened completely in July, then things gradually deteriorated. Now it seems the second wave going through Europe is making things worse again. Masks are mandatory, schools will be closed and I really don’t know what else to expect anymore.

    Make this thing go away already 🙁

    1. That’s something that’s stuck in the back of my head. Almost every place seems to be getting that second wave. I’m thinking that we’re going to stock up on food and other supplies now while things are still easy to get our hands on. Worst case, we don’t have to go shopping for much for a while. 🙂

      Regardless, this does suck – no doubt!

  2. Hi Jim and family!

    I think it would be worthy of a post to tell your followers (cult, oh no!) about your meetings and greetings with expats of our country there and also your dealings with the locals. Do most Panamaniams speak English? How many Americans call Boquette home? The virus does not get me down, but I see its’ effects on many of my family and friends. I have always been a “roll with the punches” and easy going person. Being full of optimism each and every morning made my 20 year Navy career so much more bearable. God speed to you and yours, Stev

    1. Hi Steve! Most Panamanians don’t speak English or very little (at least here in Boquete). Sometimes you’ll find people at restaurants and banks that speak English but that’s not a guarantee by any means. The best option is to learn to speak some Spanish – not only does it help reduce some frustrations but it’s the best way to meet the locals.

      As far as the expats go, there’s not a census kept of how many live here. However, I just saw in a recent email from Jackie at Panama Relocation Tours that it’s estimated that there are 3,000-4,000 living here in Boquete. I would bet that a good majority of them are from the U.S. and Canada followed by Europe but that’s just a guess.

      Agree wholeheartedly with optimism being the key to making each day good. Things aren’t perfect (especially nowadays) but it’s what you make of it that matters! 🙂

  3. After watching the quarantine video (not lockdown, Dad) I think Faith is destined for theatre, TV, or movies. Haha! What a cutie. Have a good week.

    1. Hi GR – I can’t really comment on the windows on buses right now because I haven’t been on one lately or paid attention as they’ve gone by. But I can tell you that they have a couple of types of buses – some are old school buses (very few of these) and most are much newer buses. When I would end up on an old school bus, the windows were always down throughout. On the newer buses, they had the A/C going – usually to the point that it was really cold.

      I’m not sure if that’s still the case right now or not. We’re staying off the buses right now, especially because I heard stories months ago that they weren’t following the rules and still packing the buses full. NOt still if that’s the case or if it just was at that time but… yikes, we’re going to wait before getting back on them!

  4. Hi Jim:
    We’ve (finally!) moved to Valencia, Spain and are frustratingly (is that a word?) dealing with Covid-19 here. The good news is that the Covid numbers are pretty reasonable in Valencia, but they are rising. Making all the news is Madrid, Barcelona, and a few other places where it’s quite worse. Spain just instituted a national curfew; I think you’re right that bars and group gatherings are a big culprit and Spain is trying to deal with it really turns into the next big wave. Here in Valencia, **everyone** wears a mask when they are outside of their home. The exceptions are exercising/running/biking/eating/drinking/smoking. So yeah, there’s a lot of drinking and smoking in the outdoor cafes. 🙂 Unfortunately, folks here really don’t distance. They will respect distance when they are in a line, like in a grocery store. But any other time, nope. And that’s with city sidewalks quite wide! Oh well….
    We recently needed to take a few taxis and the drivers bitched when I rolled down the window in the back. Sigh…
    Anyway, we’re making due and hoping we don’t get caught up in a stay-at-home edict. I’m glad you guys were able to make it back to Panama and things have gotten (a bit) easier.
    Hang in there!
    Jim

    1. Glad you finally made it to Spain, Jim! Sorry to hear about all the problems going on but at least you kind of had an idea of what to expect beforehand. Sounds like we’re in similar positions of just being careful and still making the best of everything until this eventually subsides. Best of luck to you!

  5. It sounds like Panama is currently locked down more than we are in Washington, but I think that’s going to change very soon. Covid cases have been on the rise these past few weeks, and I suspect things are going to become more locked-down very soon.

    Maybe you got out at exactly the right time! Timing is everything! 🙂

    1. It seems like there aren’t many places left in the world that are normal, but you just make do with what you’ve got. It does sound like a lot of the U.S. is in for a pretty rude awakening again soon. I wish you the best for you!

  6. Cases are picking up here in BC and I’m concerned that we might be heading back to Phase 2 (i.e. more restrictions). Just saw reports that party goers were partying up in downtown Vancouver this past weekend. It’s scary to think what might happen in a couple of weeks.

    1. Sorry to hear that. I have a feeling that almost every country is going to go through the tightening back up again. I’m just glad that they’re starting to be able to treat this better as they’re learning more. We’re still doing our best to be careful, but it makes me feel a little better knowing that.

  7. Just discovered your information on pinterest and was excited to read your posts. My husband and I are planning to try an extended stay in Panama and Boquete seems the best fit at this point. We will be retired and moving from Oregon but not for several months. We hope to make a short visit in spring but will be following your saga in the meantime.

    1. Glad to have you aboard, Vera! Next spring should probably be a nice time to do your stay. Although things have loosened up a pretty fair amount here now, I would hope by then things are a little closer to normal. In the meantime, the winter weather there should make it even more appealing to get here! 🙂

  8. I’m thinking of relocating to your area from the US. I’ve been doing some research and checking out the Panamanian relocation tour site but I’m a little confused. About how much do you think it would cost for a single person to live well in your area? some sites are saying about $1,000 some are saying 1500 and some are saying 2000. I only get about $1,000 to live off of after I pay my medical cost. Do you think as a single woman I could live comfortably in your area a Panama?

    1. Hi Lejean – be careful about listening to some of those more well-known sites that focus “internationally” on your “living” if you catch my drift. To bring in readers, they don’t talk about the cons and try to build things up to be better than they are.

      I think it would be very tough to live here on $1,000/month, especially comfortably. I’ve seen places where you might be able to get a small place for even as little as $350/month, but it’s probably not going to be someplace you’ll be excited about living. And I can tell you that our cost of groceries here is more than we used to spend in the U.S. at Aldi and Walmart.

      We’re living comfortably here as a family of three and it runs us about $3,500 per month. But this is in Boquete, too. There are other areas here in Panama where your $1k would go much further. However, I don’t know these areas as well. I would suggest getting on Jackie’s email list from Panama Relocation Tours. Then hop on one of the regular conference calls she does and ask her thoughts. She’s very familiar with other areas and can likely speak much better on this than I can.

      I wish you the best of luck!

  9. I am a Panama Pensionado from the U.S. and I spent 3 months in Boquete earlier this year and returned to the U.S. just before the lockdown, THANK GOD! And I say this, not because of the lucky timing of my departure, but because I found Boquete to be one of the most boring places I have ever been. And I have been to many places in the world. After you do the few things there are to do there (tourist things) there really isn’t anything else to do. The only thing else for myself to look forward to was taking a lot of bus rides to David to have dental work done. Boring, boring Boquete. Nice place to visit but you damn sure don’t want to live there!

    1. Haha, sounds like you really didn’t like it here. That’s ok, to each his own. It’s definitely not the hustle-bustle or touristy type of areas around the world. However, with the beautiful weather and amazing scenery, I think it’s a wonderful place for people who enjoy nature – the outdoors, hiking, horseback riding, etc. And the people here, both expats and Panamanians, are generally refreshingly welcoming and helpful, which I think makes all the difference. Personally, I love living here, but I also understand that it’s not for everyone – no place is.

      Thanks for the comment, John!

  10. My U.S. residency is the Big Island of Hawaii, and I have all of those things you descibe about Boquete, and even more. And yes you are correct. Boquete is not for everyone. I find the Coronado, Chame areas more to my liking. Better infrastructure, wonderful Panamanian people, more things to see and do, and close enough but not right in Panama City to travel to quickly. Best of luck to you in boring, boring Boquete.

  11. Many memories visiting a friend in David. She use to take me on a hike in the nearby mountains, the market, and lastly to a fine restaurant/hotel on the river called The Rock. Wondering if has been one of the few (from what you have described) that has managed to survive the recent and tragic Covid-19 lockdown/curfew scenario ?

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