During the planning stages of relocating to Boquete, you might wonder if there is one time of year that is better than another to arrive. I think the answer is yes. Let me tell you why.
Boquete is a tourist town, meaning its economy is based primarily on tourism, because revenue generates when the population swells to accommodate vacationers and partial-year residents during certain months of the year. This is “the season,” when accommodations fill to capacity, restaurants stay busy all day, activities require reservations in advance and the backseats of cab drives never lack for fares.
Here, like almost all other tourist locations, the season corresponds to the weather; because nobody enjoys lying on the beach during hurricane season or skiing mountains covered with spring flowers. People travel to Lake Tahoe when it’s snowing, the Outer Banks when it’s summer and Florida during the months of frozen tundra in North America.
In Central America, the prime months for tourism occur during the “dry season,” the months not marked by daily afternoon rainfall, which also correlate with major holidays, festival celebrations and school recess in Panama. Specifically, these months are December to April, with shoulder periods (non-peak but still active tourism weeks) in November, when many Panamanians are on holiday, and July, when North American families with children travel for summer vacation.
Understanding how the tourist season works provides invaluable information for anyone planning relocation to Boquete because it explains when and why relevant markets are flooded, and highlights the different price points within them.
The Rental Housing Market
For example, during season lodging in Boquete is booked solid at full-price, leaving little room in the short-term accommodation market for new arrivals seeking a temporary home base from which to find long-term housing. Locals are not moving between long-term housing options either. They are hunkered down, working long hours to make as much money as they can in service industry jobs before the season ends, since often this time period comprises their near-total earning potential for the year.
Additionally, owners have little incentive to rent to long-term tenants during season because they can make more money from nightly or weekly rentals to tourists. So the long-term rental market is also nearly frozen. If and when you do find a rental of any kind during the season, you will definitely overpay for it due to the simple law of supply and demand.
Once the season winds down, both of these rental markets loosen up considerably on two fronts: occupancy and price. Hotels, casitas and vacation rentals are willing to accept longer-term tenants at a lesser rate. And locals, who finally have free time and are flush from their earnings, are able to move into new housing, creating openings in the long-term rental market for expats at the local’s price point.
Also, owners are usually more inclined to rent their properties for longer terms after experiencing the hectic process of managing short-term accommodations. At this point, the convenience of steady income often outweighs the dollar signs of vacation rentals. This is also the moment when partial-year residents who own their homes are leaving and willing to rent out their homes for 6 or 9-month leases.
My Personal Experience
My family experienced this rental market firsthand this year when we unexpectedly needed a new place to live in March. It was still season, so there were very few rentals available, and what was available exceeded our price point. We lucked out and found a place by April 1 with a 9-month lease at the top of our budget. But we noticed as April progressed, many more properties appeared for rent, several of them equal to or under our budget, for full-year leases. If we had been able to hold out another few weeks, we might have found a better rental situation.
Our next trick will be to find a place to live by December 1, when our lease is up. Since this will be in-season, we will need to search and sign a lease in October, when properties are still available. This will finally get us out of the loop of looking for a rental during peak months. By moving to Boquete during the off-season, you will avoid entering this loop altogether.
The Used Vehicle Market
Another important market affected by the tourist season is for used vehicles, which are an expensive investment in Panama. The used vehicle market floods in April/May because this is when people are most in flux.
The part-timers, folks who live in Boquete during the best weather months (when the weather is worst in their country), return home at this time. While some partial-year residents make this schedule a lifestyle, others only come once to try it out. Depending on where one is in that process, investing in and/or sell a vehicle results. Some who own property here keep them stored. But many who were just trying it out while renting put them up for sale.
This is also the best time of year for expats who’ve lived here for a few years but have decided to move home to return – because they have the best months ahead of them. The dreaded upcoming winter is not a situation anyone is eager to jump into after spending months on the equator. Better to ease into it, eh? And again, this is also the time of year when locals are flush from the season’s earnings, meaning they can upgrade to a better vehicle after selling their current one.
On a cruise through Boquete’s tiny main drag in May, you will see se vende signs decorating the rear window of about 35% of all cars. And that doesn’t include listings online, cars parked on lots or referrals from word-of-mouth.
Not only is vehicle selection wider, but because people in flux are typically in a hurry, list prices are lower and negotiation is encouraged. The off-season is a much better time to purchase a used vehicle in Boquete because you’ll get a better deal.
Other Benefits of Moving to Boquete During the Off-Season
If you’ve arrived during the off-season, found a rental and bought a car, you need to do all the things necessary to set up house: buy furniture, register and insure your car, replace the funky bath mats that came with your rental, etc. You need to figure out where to buy the types of food you want to eat, where to buy home goods, the best times and routes to get there, etc. There are lots of etc. that could be included.
Essentially, this is the process of acclimation, getting your bearings, which is much easier to do when there are less people in town clogging up the roads, vying for the same services and goods. You will have more time to meander gently through this process because the pace of the rainy season encourages interaction between locals. You’ll make friends and connections more quickly, get information easier and see what your new town is really like without the hustle and bustle.
Other benefits include discounted rates for activities and services, and the fact that the people providing them will have more time to spend with you, increasing the quality of your experiences. Also, most Panamanian holidays occur from November to the roving date of Easter. There are fairs and festivals, parades and events. You’ll be able to get out and enjoy these if you’ve already nested for a few months, as your basic living environment will have been perfected.
And, the truth is, the weather during the rainy season isn’t so bad. Let’s face it: it’s not like it’s snowing. It just rains almost every afternoon, turning everything green again, swelling the waterways. The temperature variation is unnoticeable. There is still plenty of opportunity to enjoy Boquete. And, if you’re going to try living here year-round, you’re going to experience the rainy season sooner than later anyway. You might as well jump right in!