Tourist First

Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Panama: An Inn Where the Coffee Is Always Fresh

    Our first stay in Panama outside Panama City was on the edge of Boquete (bow-keh-TAY), a town in the northwest mountains in the shadow of Volcan Baru, the highest point in Panama.
     We didn't get to the top of the volcano -- an hours-long and steep hike -- but we're told that on clear days it has views of both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans.
    We stayed at La Montana y el Valle -- The Coffee Estate Inn.  Click HERE for its website. It is on a very steeply sloping site and consists of three detached cottages, all with great views of the mountains and the valley, and a main house where the innkeepers, Barry and Jane, live. They're Canadians who have been here almost two decades.  The cottages are extremely well maintained and up to date -- a kitchenette, a sitting area with cable TV, a separate bedroom, full bath with a heated floor (the mountains can be chilly in the winter months), and a covered terrace with comfortable chairs that make the most of the view. Below are a photo of our cottage, showing the terrace, and a view of the estate taken from its woodlands and coffee trail. The larger structure is the main house. Further down the slope is one of the guest cottages.


If you're going to Boquete, I can't imagine a better place to stay than here.  The hosts are well-informed, friendly and dedicated to their guests. The cottages are kept super clean and tidy, the grounds are manicured, the coffee is wonderful and the hosts know the area extremely well. In good years, the estate produces enough coffee for Barry and Jane to sell to guests; in bad years there's still enough for guests to have plenty of coffee to drink during their stay.

     Barry explained that they don't process the beans -- they send them out to be processed to the estate's specifications, then they're returned unroasted and Barry roasts them as needed in a small machine in the front room of his home.  (A much larger coffee plantation that fully processes its own beans is described in an earlier post on Selva Negra in Nicaragua.)  At left, the red beans are ready to be picked.  When the green beans ripen, someone will be along to pick them. Coffee harvesting is a slow, labor-intensive process.
   Freshly roasted coffee beans, a coffee grinder, a French-press pot as well as a drip coffeemaker, milk and sugar were all stocked in our kitchenette.  Late in the day, perhaps when guests are out for dinner, someone slips into the cottages and puts freshly cut fruit, banana bread and scones in the fridge for breakfast the next day.  A neat combination pop-up toaster and toaster oven warms up the breads.
    Colorful birds and flowers are omnipresent in the Boquete area.  Exotic heliconias, below, seem to grow like weeds. A tray for attracting birds was hung by our cottage's driveway.
      Boquete is something of a destination for foreign retirees and other ex-pats, so English is spoken in almost every shop, cafe and restaurant.  And there are several good restaurants -- The Rock, Mango, Big Daddy's and the Boquete Fish House were among the ones we tried.  There's also zip-lining -- which we did with Boquete Tree Trek (click HERE for its website), and loads of hiking trails.
      Getting to Boquete does not require the dare-devil driving common in much of Latin America.  We flew to David, a larger city, and picked up a rental car that the inn had helped us arrange.  The inn and the rental car desk gave us good directions for leaving David and finding the road to Boquete --  the roads are not well marked. This road, however, appeared to be newly widened and paved, making for a pleasant 50-minute drive through the mountains.  Jane at the inn had recommended the Hyundai Tuscon with an automatic transmission, which provided welcome ground clearance on the 200-or-so yards of extremely rocky road that leads to the inn's electronic gate and concrete driveway. The inn also arranged for the rental agency to retrieve the car from the inn -- when we left we did not return to David on the Pacific side but instead took a taxi to Almirante on the Atlantic side to catch a boat to Bocas del Toro and then another boat to Isla Bastimentos where we followed our stay at a coffee estate with a few days at a chocolate farm.