Boquete, Panama has become one of those “it” places that expats have been flocking to relocate to in recent decades. Fortunately, it is still under the radar of places such as Costa Rica and Cuenca, Ecuador; and still retains an authenticity, a low-key vibe, that keep it from simply being gringo-land in Central America. The cool mountain climate, stunning views, great hiking and coffee farming draw short-term tourists, retiring Central Americans and Western expats alike.
Two of these expats are Jane Walker and Barry Robbins from Vancouver, Canada. The couple left their home and stressful lifestyles in high-tech nearly twenty years ago, heading south to Central America yet unsure of where they would finally settle. “As we drove out of the parking lot, I just let go,” Jane recalls of their exodus from North America. “The life we were leading was being left behind. I didn’t know where we were going, but I knew it would be different.”
After a year and a half of exploring the region, they settled in Boquete in 1996 and found six acres of land that was a defunct coffee and orange farm. There, they built La Montaña y el Valle – The Coffee Estate Inn, the first luxury inn in the Boquete area, in a mere 10 months.
The Coffee Estate Inn is exquisite and magical; you can look at the photos and videos online, but they don’t prepare you for the riot of flowers and colors and scents that envelop you the second you drive through the gate. Jane and Barry have been avid gardeners all their life, using it as an escape from stresses of the job back in Canada. “We would garden just about as frantically as we worked,” Barry says. “So instead of taking the enjoyment and that soul-fulfilling thing of working in the soil, it was just covering up an absence in the rest of our lives.” But for the past 18 years, the couple has found their calling and turned their passion for gardening into a labor of love, creating the stunning oasis that is their inn.
“There’s no ‘growing season’ here,” Jane says. “You pick up a plant and stick it in the ground, and it simply grows. It’s truly a gardener’s paradise. It’s right for us, right here.” Luckily for the rest of us, we have the opportunity to live that paradise if only for a short while. Three very private, luxurious bungalows are the only rooms at the inn, and the couple has thought of every small detail to make the stay wonderful and memorable – right down to heated floors in the bathrooms for those chilly mountain mornings.
There are many very good reasons why VISIONTV out of Canada picked the inn for its “Recreating Eden” television series. The episode featuring Jane, Barry and their Coffee Estate Inn has been syndicated and shown on the Knowledge Network in Canada since January 2008.
The Coffee Estate Inn sits high up on a hill a few kilometers above the town of Boquete, so it is both secluded and peaceful as well as a quick, convenient drive into town as well as local hiking trails and other day trips. Jane and Barry provide loads of detailed information, both during the arrival orientation as well as in the information book left in each guest room; and they always make themselves available to answer questions or provide guests with area information. You can also take a coffee tour of the farm with Barry, who explains the process of coffee farming and roasting, along with interesting tidbits about the gardens in general and life in Panama. The tour is included in stays of three or more nights.
The Coffee Estate Inn remains a small and exclusive hotel by choice. The bright and airy bungalows face the volcano and have spectacular views. All are surrounded and separated by gardens and forest. Each bungalow has a large covered terrace, spacious living room and dining area, kitchenette, separate bedroom with ensuite bathroom, flat screen television with satellite TV and DVD, security safe and free high speed wireless Internet. Windows are screened. Each bungalow also has a fully stocked kitchenette with toaster oven, microwave, mini-fridge and of course – a personal supply of the estate’s personally roasted coffee beans, never more than three days out of the roaster.
“Coffee is one of those things that just gets in your blood,” says Barry. “This is the place we want to be. This is home.”
Rates are $180 per night, per couple using the special internet rate; private breakfast left in the room for each morning is included.
Photos by Keith Hajovsky