Life in the Panamanian Jungle

 In Places

August 3, 2016

Hi all! This is Courtney, Jim and Debbie’s daughter. As many of you know, I’ve had the pleasure of spending the past two months here on Barro Colorado Island, Panama (right in the middle of the Panama Canal) doing community ecology research at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute of Panama. It’s been a wonderful couple of months of hiking through the jungle, working in the lab, exploring Panama City, and of course, drinking the best coffee that Panama has to offer!

Sunset over Barro Colorado Island, Panama Canal (aka my view every day from the lab!)

This week, my parents and sister arrived in country to join me for a coffee origin trip to Boquete, Panama. (You didn’t think they could send a daughter off to Central America without planning a coffee trip, right?!) Boquete is a small town on the Caldera River in western Panama that is known for it’s beautiful coffee plantations in the surrounding Chiriquí Highlands. After two months of sweltering heat in the central Panamanian jungles, the cooler weather of the western mountain region was wonderful.

Coffee shop near our inn in Boquete

After a 7 hour drive from Panama City, we arrived in Boquete at a beautiful estate called Finca Lerida. Norberto Suarez, the estate owner who would be taking us on tours of his coffee farms, greeted us when we arrived and helped us settle into our rooms. Early the next morning, he showed us around his home and farmland on La Gloria Estate. The Suarez family has been growing coffee in this region of Boquete since the 1920s, and they now own and operate eight farms across the region. One of the estates we visited, the Camiseta Estate, is known for it’s high-elevation coffee; in fact, coffee from the Camiseta Estate is grown near the top of the Baru Volcano, which is the highest mountain in the Central System (coffee is typically grown at ~1,500-1,700 meters above sea level).

Dad and I hiking up a mountain on La Gloria Estate to get to the high-elevation Geisha coffee trees. (~1,700 meters above sea level!)


Arabica coffee tree on Norberto’s farm in Boquete.

On our last day visiting the farms, Norberto also took us on a tour of the family coffee mill in Cochea, Dolega, where all of the green coffee is processed and exported. After being harvested, the coffee beans are brought here to be fully washed, sun-dried on patios, then stored in bags to rest in the wear-house before being exported.

Norberto and his assistant, Rosaline, displaying one of their coffee sacks.


Coffee sacks in the wear-house

Having Norberto show us around his coffee farms in Boquete was probably one of my favorite experiences in Panama; after all, it’s one thing to enjoy a nice cup of coffee, but the experience is certainly elevated when you’ve seen for yourself the long journey of growing, harvesting, and processing that it entails. Growing coffee trees at 1,700 meters, sun-drying the beans on patios, and managing the exportation process is no easy feat; however, when your family has been doing it for the past century like the Suarez’s have, I suppose you learn a few things along the way.

Many thanks to the Suarez family for their hospitality and for sharing their beautiful coffee farms with us! It was certainly an experience to remember.

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