Panama’s tourism sector is a major reason why the local economy is so strong, but it may surprise you where it’s truly excelling. Far from the hustle and bustle of the capital city, and the tropical islands of the Caribbean coast, Chiriqui has carved a name out for itself as a major go-to destination for tourists. Chiriqui is Panama’s westernmost province, and is known for its agriculture, hikes, coffee plantations, and cool, temperate climate. Chiriqui is also a short flight from Panama City, and borders Costa Rica on its western side. But what really drives tourists to Chiriqui, and how is the province handling all the new attention?
Why Chiriqui is a great place to visit
Some of the biggest draws to Chiriqui are its natural surroundings and ecologically unique mountains and forests. Nature tourism is common in Panama, however Chiriqui is a bit different, which makes it an even bigger draw. Chiriqui has the highest altitudes in the country, giving it a huge array of plant and animal species that you just don’t see anywhere else in Panama. It also has some great adventure tourism opportunities such as hiking, white water rafting, coffee tours, and mountain biking.
It’s also home to David, one of Panama’s largest cities and western regional transportation hub. And just up the hill from David, lie Boquete and Volcan. These towns are popular tourist and expat retiree destinations due to their rich natural surrounding, restaurants, golf, local culture, and art & architecture. Many find the Chiriqui highlands to have the best weather in Panama, with temps averaging between 65-75 year-round.
Hotels and resorts are booming in Chiriqui
Chiriqui province currently has just under 3,000 hotel rooms, which is a large amount considering the population size and transportation grid. The Panama tourism authority estimates that hotel space could increase by a few hundred of new rooms per year in the next couple of years. Of course, this is dependent on if the growth in tourism continues to grow at its current rate. This means big money for the local economy, and most importantly, new jobs. Developers are very aware of this, and there’s now a rush to get the right properties in place to meet demand as soon as possible.
One of the big goals for hotel and resort developers in Chiriqui is making more luxury properties. As of now, around 25% of the total amount of hotel rooms are considered “luxury properties” by hotel star standards. However, more and more, visitors are demanding higher quality lodging. This means that rather than going for volume and budget, the area is beginning to attract more luxury boutique projects, and resorts.
Booking the right type of accommodation for your budget and location
If you’re looking to travel to Panama this summer, there are many types of options available when it comes to accommodations. The first thing you need to do is choose where in Panama you want to go, and then set aside a budget. A typical hotel in Panama City (during May.- October) will cost you between $50-$200 per night depending on location and luxury. A good median price to shoot for is around $125 per night, and the areas you want to look for are Casco Viejo, El Cangrejo, Ave. Balboa, and Punta Paitilla/Pacifica. In the interior (Boquete, Coronado, El Valle, etc.) hotels tend to be a bit cheaper, however there are many resorts that are competitively priced a bit higher.
Developing Chiriqui as an international destination, rather than a domestic one
With an international airport in David, and a close flight proximity to Panama City, Chiriqui tourism officials expect the majority of increased tourism to come from international visitors. In other words, Chiriqui is setting itself up to be a single travel destination for nature, shopping, spas, and adventure sports. Much like Costa Rica or Belize, Chiriqui officials see their province as a top Central American all-in-one tourist destination. Currently, the province sees many of its international visitors coming through Panama City, as an add-on to a larger Panama trip.
As Panama expands its tourism reach over the next few years, it will be interesting to see how each of the country’s diverse regions shapes their own niche in the market. From what it looks like now, Chiriqui is already well on its way to doing just that.