Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links and we may receive a referral fee (at no extra cost to you) if you sign up or purchase products or services mentioned.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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!!