We woke up the next morning, eager to see what Boquete looked like. We spent all day driving there from Panama City the day before, but by the time we got there it was too dark to see anything.
“Wow. It’s paradise here.”
It was. Whenever I imagine paradise, I think of a white sand beach with perfect blue water. But then when I get to such a beach, I get sick of it within hours and want to leave.
This was different. Boquete is in the Panama highlands and is bordered on two sides by mountains. The result is year round perfect temperatures (if not perfect weather), and the feeling of being nestled in some secret valley.
My first thought was of Galt Gulch from Atlas Shrugged. It was exactly how I had imagined Ayn Rand’s utopia.
If you go to Boquete, and you really should, I recommend staying at Hostel Nomba. I’m normally not much of a fan of hostels, but Nomba was really clean, everyone there was friendly, the location was perfect, and the owner, Ryan, was unbelievably helpful.
A lot of people had cars around town, but we also noticed that some people had horses instead. I’m not talking about horses for recreation, I’m talking about daily driver horses for transportation. They tied them up outside of cafes, just like a cowboy might.
Neither Todd nor I had ridden horses in ages, but we decided that we absolutely had to find some horses to ride.
We asked Ryan if he knew where to rent horses. Sure enough, he did. He gave us directions to his rancher friend in the mountains and told us to tell him that we were his friends.
The paved road became a dirt road, which led to a rickety wooden bridge that looked as if it may not be intended for cars. The idea of a rental car plummeting into the river below was too hilarious to pass up, so we went across it.
No plummeting happened, but immediately after the bridge was an impassable (yes, we tried) incline covered in huge rocks. We parked the car and started loading our backpacks with snacks and water to continue on foot.
“Hola! Me llamo Didimo!”
I looked up to see a short Panamanian rancher’s face smiling at us. It was Didimo, Ryan’s friend. I introduced myself and explained that we wanted to rent some horses.
No problem, he said. He had to leave for an hour, but there were hot springs on his property that we could soak in while we waited. Hard to complain about that.
After a short soak and a swim in the freezing cold river nearby, Didimo galloped up on his horse. He took us to some horses nearby and explained how he loved his animals and always treated them and fed them well.
We mounted our stallions and he lead us towards the woods. I had no idea if we were going to be walking around in circles in a pasture, or if we’d actually get to have fun.
Any reservations I had were put to rest when I saw the trail we were about to climb. It was narrow, rocky, and so steep that I’d be hesitant to climb it myself. To be totally honest, I had no idea that horses could even climb rocks like that.
For two hours we climbed through mountain trails, galloped through open fields, and walked along the banks of the river. Occasionally we’d stop in a pasture to play with other animals. Of particular interest was jumping on and riding a water buffalo bareback.
Didimo was the perfect guide. You could tell that he was delighted to show us around and was really proud of his animals and his land. We hadn’t worked out a price ahead of time, but after the ride I was willing to pay just about anything. He charged us almost nothing.
To go ride horses, soak in the natural springs, or just hang out with Didimo, talk to Ryan at Hostel Nomba. Didimo doesn’t have good cell phone coverage out there. I also imagine you could just show up and he’d be happy to have you.
I could talk about Boquete all day long, but I’ll leave you with one more great off the beaten path thing to do in Boquete.
The next day we were eating lunch at the Hostel, not sure what to do with the day. Ryan offhandedly suggested going to Paradise Gardens, a wildlife rescue shelter.
Great recommendation. The awesome thing about places like Panama is that they don’t have the same problems with people suing over everything, so there are often times less regulations. This was the case with Paradise Gardens.
We made friends with one of the volunteers, and he took us around personally and let us inside a lot of the cages. We played with a giant parrot, a lemur, a two toed sloth, and even a jaguarundi. At the end, after the center had closed, we stuck around and helped take care of baby owls by feeding them and warming them with our breath.
The grounds themselves are designed by an expat stone mason and his wife. They’re covered in beautiful flowers, stone walkways, fountains, and cages full of wild birds being rehabilitated.
The whole experience was magical, and well worth the $5 donation they ask for.
If you go to Panama, you must go to Boquete. It’s my new definition of paradise, and feels like a whole new country hidden within Panama.