You might have thought the cowboy lifestyle was a relic of the past on the dry plains of the American southwest a la Hollywood Westerns… but a visit to Panama will soon convince you that this pastime is alive and well in the verdant green mountains of Chiriqui.
Chiriqui is an enclave of Panama’s cowboy culture, and rodeo competitions celebrating this livelihood take place near Boquete and in Boca Chica throughout the year. The Isla Palenque Island Interns caught the 2011 regional rodeo championships near Boca Chica – Ben Brown describes the experience:
The scene unfolds in true Latin-infused Western fashion. All the riders sport boots, blue jeans, and a cowboy hat, and each dons a custom cowboy shirt with their name, team name, and jersey number on the back. Fans line the stadium: a rectangular dirt field with bleachers on one end. Vendors sell delicious local favorites for less than a dollar, and beers go for 65 cents. The crowd goes nuts with every rider, banging rocks against the bleacher supports to make their din even louder.
For another helping of Panamanian cowboy culture, attend one of the cabalgatas that take place in small towns around the country. These annual festivals feature cowboys (and cowgirls) parading through the streets on horseback, sporting both “Western wear” and traditional garb. It’s an entire day of brilliant colors, equestrian pageantry, lively music, authentic food, and family fun.
Cows aren’t just guests of honor at special events – they’re part of everyday life in Panama. Traveling down local roads, it’s not uncommon to run into a traffic jam of bovine proportions. As Isla Palenque‘s Laura Moller recently reported, “The other day I found myself at a standstill behind a 600-pound dairy cow. I sat in my car and waited patiently for her to finish her stalk of grass before she shuffled slowly to the side of the road.”
Panama’s livestock operations include not only cattle but also horse ranching. The village of Cerro Punta, on the slopes of Volcan Baru, has a tradition of horse-breeding that dates back a century. If you’re interested in animal husbandry, check out Haras Cerro Punta on Via Guadalupe (they offer tours!). Its impressive stables include French Percheron drays and racehorses that have won numerous Panamanian championships.
If horseback riding through the gorgeous countryside is more your style, you’ll find plenty of local outfitters offering horseback riding tours. You can even combine horseback riding with tours of local coffee farms.
Tourism is by no means the only thing growing in Panama’s Chiriqui province – thanks to warm tropical temperatures and abundant rainfall, coffee is one of a number of important export crops cultivated here. Additionally, Chiriqui is home to many successful dairy, horse, and flower farms. Admiring all of this flourishing beauty is a privilege, but by far the most exciting manifestation of farm life is spending some time with the cowboys of Chiriqui.