PHOTOGRAPHY BY MANUEL ALEXANDER
Nestled in a canyon in the highlands of western Panama, the town of Boquete is home to eco-adventure outfitters, retired expats, and—thanks to its temperate mountain climate and fertile volcanic soil—some of the world’s most coveted coffee beans. Last year, Lamastus Family Estate’s Elida Geisha Natural fetched a world record $803 per pound at auction. Now the region is hoping to attract tourists by transforming itself into the Napa Valley of coffee.
“The global impact of the Geisha variety has created a type of tourism for the region that didn’t exist a few years ago,” explains Wilford Lamastus Jr. (pictured), a fourth-generation grower . “Today, tourists want to visit the area’s farms to learn about production and taste the different varieties we grow here.”
In December, Boquete and two neighboring districts, Tierras Altas and Renacimiento, unveiled a caffeinated take on a wine trail, El Circuito del Café, which offers packages and tours of 18 leading plantations. “The product we are developing is one where tourists can visit coffee farms and witness the entire process—from seeding to packaging to tasting the product—while having direct contact with the farmers,” says Gustavo Him, Panama’s minister of tourism.
This month, food writer Jorge Chanis Barahona will launch La Cosecha (“The Harvest”), a four-day harvest-season itinerary that includes private plantation tours, exclusive tasting sessions, and a closing party at which visitors can mingle with producers. “I’m the type of traveler that wants to visit Napa during the harvest season,” Chanis Barahona says. “I want to experience something special that doesn’t repeat every month.”
These combined efforts are expected to increase tourism to Panama by approximately 13 percent, bringing the number of annual visitors to an estimated 3 million by the end of 2019. It’s safe to say that things are just beginning to percolate in Boquete.