Ramblings on population Boquete Panama

My last four months have been very busy, a lot of time in Boquete, time in Panama City, time in other locations too. This week I have spent a few days in the pueblo, Bajo Boquete. What amazed me was how many English speaking people are here now.

I have often been asked “How many new immigrants are in Boquete?” My answer is the last time I spoke to the Mayor, he told me 500. In a blog post yesterday Sam Taliaferro disputed a different number published in La Prensa. According to Sam, La Prensa printed that there are 6,000 foreigners in Boquete. I am not sure if the word foreigners includes non English speakers, I presume it does. I am not sure if includes part time residents or tourists or what the source of information might be.

Sam makes it clear it cannot be so, because he as the“ largest builder” did not build enough houses for that many people. Read his words:

“As usual there appears to be some exaggerations along with the facts. They state that of the now 23,000 inhabitants of the Boquete district, 6000 are foreigners. This is a very inflated number by at least a factor of 3. There is no way that 3000 homes have been built over the last 5 years to house that number of people. I am the largest builder in the area and have only built about 100 homes in the last 5 years. Based on building permits and counting homes complete in projects I can account for less than 1000 homes which would house a maximum of 2000 couples. Certainly some have children, but at our Halloween party for foreign kids last year we counted all of 70 children.

They also claim that there are 37 hotels and 5(2) restaurants in Boquete. They must be counting every place that advertises a spare room and every kiosk selling cokes and chips to get 52 restaurants.”

prima panama blog 2010/03

Sam goes on to discuss how well his condo hotel has sold out and that he is building another; this as all other projects languish. With all credit due to Sam as the spark plug that started the migration of English speakers to Boquete, I think both he and La Prensa are wrong.

Sam misses a major point, not all new immigrants here buy nice new houses. Many people I know live in older Panamanian houses, many of which have been renovated. These people fall below Sam’s radar they might not have the money that makes them visible to Sam or other developers, or they might not want to invest in an expensive house here. There are also man people who rent here, rent new houses, old houses, rooms etc.

It many also be true that most new subdivisions are dead in the water now. There are multiple reasons for that. Many people are building their own homes outside of subdivisions to be part of the community and not have developer imposed rules restricting their lifestyles.

Of late I have been a bit of a social butterfly, flitting from party to party, to plays, to local events in different venues. After almost four years living here I rarely know more than 20% of the people at any event. I admit some people are tourists, some might be from other Panama communities, but the message is if there were only 1000 new immigrants here I should eventually get to meet most of them, it has not happened yet, not even close.

Still, if you are not here I think you should not move here. Visit, be a tourist, leave some money behind and go home. Boquete is not a good place to retire, listen to Bob a frequent negative commenter on this blog. If more people move here and build more houses, develop more subdivisions and change more of the culture, the very reason that I came here will disappear. I prefer you stay where you are and forget about Boquete. I love the vista, love the people, love the culture and slowly I am even finding food I enjoy. Remember this is not Kansas and if you need corn fed middle American culture, Kansas is the place to be.


  1. Sam is a genious, He made Boquete what it is today. all of the people fleeing their homeland in search of a better place to live. It is very simple marketing and sales technique. Remember the 49er’s and the California “Gold Rush”. Love it or Leave it!

  2. Bob,
    “With all credit due to Sam as the spark plug that started the migration of English speakers to Boquete”

    I agree with you about Sam. He made this happen and others have tried and failed to duplicate his success.

    However I am still urging people to move to Sun City and leave Boquete alone.

  3. Susan Bostrom says:

    I’m worried about the Boquete/David road becoming 4 lanes. Talk about something that could change our little town…

  4. I disagree strongly with the comment that:
    a/ Sam is a genious,
    b/He made Boquete what it is today

    a/ Sam Taliafaro is a good marketer and successful developer.

    b/ Boquete is what it is today because of it’s geophysical attributes, and the diverse ethnic mix of the founders and local indigenous peoples. This resulted in a unique agrarian Boqueteñan culture, who in about 100 years took a small settlement and created an industrious but tranquil community.

    There’s no doubt that a recent influx of foreigners is affecting that culture, but I believe that has how this culture evolved and it’s also happened everywhere I’ve ever lived.

    Stats I’ve read and heard about seem to indicate that new immigrants make up perhaps only 5% of the total population in the District of Boquete.

    Estimating those figures based on English language usage is flawed, as well. Apart from North Americans, people are migrating here from countries to the South, Europe, and the Orient.

    btw, capitalizing He in the middle of a sentence normally indicates a reference to God, or maybe that was the implication.

    cheers, Keith

  5. There should be a law limiting the number of foreigners a small town can take. If things start to get back to the way it was a few years back before the crisis, what will stop Boquete from being taken over by foreigners? The locals have it already difficult to buy a property in their own town because of the prices going up, so add up that, locals having to leave to other towns. NO MORE EX-PATS! And I’m with the editor, the movement should come from the ExPats living in Boquete right now.

  6. That is how places are built and new ones evolve. One village is nicer than another village, so people move there and invite their friends. When it gets overcrowded, the village spreads out and new places develop. It’s been going on since cave man days. When a place gets noted as being a great place to live, and there are people who are not happy with their place that they live, they move to greener pastures. In my life, I keep moving to better places because the previous place got too crowded or too expensive or too uncomfortable. Perhaps one day the ghost town of Las Brisas will get more people and stores and a movie theatre and more restaurants nearby, and people will start to move there and build a town that will eventually be big enough to have their own mayor. If you build it, (and it’s nice) they will come………JT

  7. Robert Boyd says:

    To Amanda:
    If they had had a law limiting foreigners 1n 1910, there would be no Boquete; a town founded by foreigners.

  8. Robert Boyd says:

    On May 16th, Panama will conduct their decadal census. By law, everyone has to participate then we should know how many. You can get census information at the following link: http://www.censos2010.gob.pa/

  9. John Cole says:

    Wow! This from a tourist who is coming to check the area of Boquete and Volcan in late May…..sounds like you folks have already raised the drawbridge!

  10. Jackie Hillyer says:

    My husband and I just bought a place in Boquete with plans to retire soon. We found the expats we met while there very welcoming and helpful, hope that doesn’t change. PS the blackberry cobbler was awesome!

  11. With apologies to Marty Feldman:Too late! When you have sites like International Living, Live and Invest, Retirement Wave, and even BoGuide trumpeting “a new life in Panama” then some portion of the 10% of Nortenos are going to come. Some will stay, most will not. Especially if the “early pioneers” start pulling up the welcome mat. Progress happens!

    I would suggest that the denizens of Boquete adopt sustainable community standards if they want to do progress right. Won’t stop it, but at least the town won’t end up like Vegas baby.
    That leads to the next hurdle: can you pull a power base together? If you haven’t met all the expats in all the outings that you have been to, then I would suggest lots of folks would rather hide in the hills than politic for a common community goal. Plus,
    how well integrated with the locals is the expat community? Enough that together you all can forge a plan for a better community?
    Has Malthusian Lid already struck at Boquete? Oh, I hope not; not when I am coming in a few days. I don’t want to catch that plague.

  12. The above posters seem to have forgotten whose town this really is. If the native Panamanians had had the same attitude as the commentors on this blog, then none of you would be here!

    But don’t worry, after another flood and a couple more murders of Gringos, the floodgates of English speakers will slow for awhile. But progress is a ruthless master and like all lovely small towns that get a 4-Lane, this town will change. Everything changes; it’s the only constant:-)

  13. JoAna:
    I think some of the comments were tongue in cheek. Boquete has a LONG way to go before it loses the charm that seems to attract people. “The Good Old Days” were/are always SO much better. I read a comment the other day on a different Chiriqui blog where a woman was complaining that parents allow their ‘college-aged’ kids to go to Ft. Lauderdale now, and how much better everything would be if we could just go back to the 1960s’ (presumably, when everything was still perfect). Too funny!
    I live 1/2 the year in Boquete now and the other half in Washington, DC., and absolutely love both places, which could not be more different.
    I’m grateful for this blog, where the author puts a lot of stuff out there to get people thinking, which is always a good thing!

  14. I am here visiting. In a short time I have had revealing conversations with some Panamanians in Boquete. They seem to trust me because I look like them and because I have a strong disdain for greed. Folks from the U.S., in particular, who live in Boquete have no idea how strong the general resentment is toward them. It’s akin to the resentment many people in the U.S. have toward people of color there. I told them not to worry because the same greed that brought the U.S. to its knees is happening here. I told them that when the bottom falls out of the real estate market($182,000 for 1/4 acres of land? Give me a break!), and foreigners have finished raping the country, They won’t be able to give the land away. Panamanians will have their country back. The response from one Panamanian was “And then the idiots will sell it to foreigners dirt cheap again and end up with nothing.” Regarding the comment that this areas was “discovered” by foreigners, I guess the Indians don’t account for anything. It’s that kind of mindless imperialistic & racist thinking that make people hate foreigners. Besides, I believe that many of the foreigners who relocate here are running from something. The FBI is looking for one guy who was spotted in Boquete.

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