By Lydia Carey
The town and surrounding area of Boquete, Panama has been attracting retirees, ex-pats and local Panamanians looking for a second home for decades. Its mild climate, incredible natural surroundings, and easy living are natural draws. These days there is even more to be excited about in Boquete, with lots of new local infrastructure investment and a strong buyers' market.
Gallup polls show Panamanians to be some of the happiest people on earth, Jason Cohen of Casa Solution Realty in Boquete, Panama tells me, and if that's true, he says, then Boquete is the happiest place in Panama. Long-time home to a large expatriate community, this sleepy mountain town is not so sleepy any more. In less than a decade, Cohen believes that the town has added about 10,000 residents to its population, but unlike some expat havens like San Miguel de Allende, the foreign residents are still a relatively small percentage of the overall population.
That's not to say the community hasn't grown, or that it hasn't had reason to. New roadway infrastructure has made travel to and from Boquete increasingly easy for both locals and foreigners. New malls are going up, an updated water-treatment system is in the works, and a land title campaign performed by the local government has done away with most issues around Rights of Possession Properties that were once a legal issue for new buyers.
A new medical facility in Boquete is now offering services to foreigners for a fee. This makes the idea of long-term living in the area even more feasible for a community that used to have to drive all the way to the nearby town of David for medical treatment.
New commercial plazas are popping up around town, adding to ever-growing list of things to do, places to shop, and restaurants to eat at. When real estate agent Ryan Braasch arrived in 2010 there were really only 3 or 4 decent restaurants in town, now there are around 42 listed on Trip Advisor. A new Tuesday farmers market is becoming a local meet and greet and the Boquete Community Players are regaling the town with a taste of theater. All these new developments make life easier and more enjoyable for the foreign community, but are also drawing Panamanians and other Latinos to this mountain retreat.
"In the past year, about 50% of our clients have been Latinos, many of them Panamanians," says Braasch, "which is very encouraging to me because it tells me that Panamanians are very confident in their own economy, they are investing in their own country."
Repeating the pattern we've seen in Antigua, Guatemala, many national buyers come from the capital city and see Boquete and its stunning natural setting as the perfect place for a second home. It's a way to get away from the hustle and the bustle of the city and enjoy the wonders of the surrounding jungle (and the ocean just a drive away).
"If [Panamanians from Panama City] want to go to a mountain town they really only have two choices, one is just outside of Panama City but with a lot less to do, and the other is Boquete, which has really long been a place for well-to-do Panamanians. They tend to come together, buy near each other and socialize together, the same way that they do in Panama City," says Cohen of Casa Solution.
Along with Panamanians agents, are seeing an increase in home buyers from other Latin countries like Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. Many of them are still working age and looking for the new opportunities that Panama's growing economy is providing—including within the tourism industry itself.
A Steady Real Estate Market
"In general, right now it's a great time to be a buyer. There are price ranges that are more popular, say like $150-$300,000 range and so there are fewer options there only because there are more buyers. But you get up into the $400,000 plus range and there are some incredible luxury properties where sellers are at a point now where a lot of them are willing to make a good deal," says Braasch.