Boquete: Coffee, Waterfalls, and a Big Volcano
Boquete, Panama at the base of Volcan Baru, is a perfect spot to grow coffee plants because they flourish in temperate climates, on hillsides (for drainage), and in volcanic soil. Higher elevations also cause the coffee bean to grow more slowly, leading to a more aromatic and flavorful taste. It takes anywhere from 3-5 years for the plants to begin producing and when this happens, the ripe “cherries” in Boquete are mainly hand-picked by local indigenous Ngobe families. Most of the cherries are then wet-processed (washed) before the exterior pulp is shelled and the bean is sun dried for 15-20 days. These beans may sit for up to six months, garnering the proper amount of moisture before finally being roasted (cooked), turning the light green beans to their brown-dark brown color and exported.
Boquete is an awesome little town surrounded by lush green hills and the 11,398 ft high (3,474 meters) active volcano, Volcan Baru (National Park). The school bus we rode in on from David dropped us off at a nice little central park (Parque Municipal) – a plaza with fairly well-maintained flourishing gardens and a gushing blue fountain. Kids with wide smiles ran around as the adults, some women in traditional Ngobe dresses, stood around talking, everyone enjoying the beautiful weather. (A temperate day that allowed for less-profuse sweating than in Panama City.) All around, buildings popped with bright colors and down the street, a small white steeple rose above the roof tops. Maybe I’m just more of a mountain person in general, but it was great to finally see an extremely charming little town enveloped by a stunning countryside. From the first few minutes there, I loved the town.
For our first and really only morning, we went out to the Hidden Waterfalls in the Bajo Mono area in the middle of the cloud forest about 20 minutes up the valley. It was a warm, sunny morning in town, but by the time we got to the trail head, the sky was gray, a slight mist hung in the air, and the temperature had dropped significantly. After crossing the Caldera River, the trail started off with a steep climb through some coffee plantations and strawberry farms before heading into the thick jungle. Being the end of the dry season, the falls weren’t exactly gushing, but the first two are still beautiful – the first being a 60-footer seen from an overlook and the second 50-footer with a swimming hole at the base.
When we got back to town, it was beautiful and sunny again. We had heard about “a cafe overlooking the whole town and volcano” up in the hills, so after I got tricked into falling in love with NesCafe (it’s probably healthy too…), we got a taxi driver to take us to “an overlook cafe.” He must get this request a lot and after 20 minutes and $6, we were dropped off at El Parador, a small cafe alongside some rental cabins overlooking a beautifully manicured garden with Volcan Baru as the backdrop. We severely were disappointed to learn they don’t offer cervasas, but the coffee was good and the strawberry smoothies were even better. We spent the better part of 4 hours there, relaxing and watching the clouds blow through while the sun fell behind the volcano.