The volcanic ash of Volcan Baru enriches the fertile soil of Chiriqui with minerals and nutrients like it’s a breakfast cereal. But if you prefer just coffee in the morning, don’t worry, you’ve still come to the right place. Chiriqui is famous for its coffee, rich and dark as the soil itself. Ask the locals for the best coffee farm around, and the answer is always different, preceded by something like, “My girlfriend’s uncle’s second cousin’s dad’s finca — it is the best!”
Needless to say, coffee bloodlines run deep in the mountain towns of Chiriqui. Likewise, the organic farming techniques are steeped in centuries of oral tradition and the pride that their cherished roasts have recently become world-famous. Chiriqui coffee production is hyper-local; even the biggest farms are still run by single families responsible for managing all aspects of production from planting to bagging. This is why it’s a little harder to find information about visiting coffee plantations in Chiriqui.
As a bit of a caffeine addict myself, I’ll update this post as I discover coffee estates worth a visit. If you’re anything like me, you’ll savor your day-trips from the island for the opportunity to taste-test at another coffee finca while opening your ears to the passionate farmers who love to share their stories. Even travelers who don’t care for java will enjoy a visit to one of these coffee plantations, where they will witness the local people keeping these agricultural traditions alive with hard work and joy.
Recommended plantations in Panama’s Chiriqui province:
1. Café Ruiz. The Ruiz family has been growing coffee on their estate in Boquete since the late 1800s, and they’ve spent the last century perfecting their growing and roasting techniques. With all their original equipment still in place alongside the modern production facilities, history is alive at Cafe Ruiz. You’ll appreciate how the Ruiz family works to provide a better way of life for their indigenous Ngobe employees, whom you can witness living happily and healthily on the farm. Café Ruiz offers visitors a 45-minute guided tour of their estate (if you just want a basic idea of how they make such darn good coffee) for $9, as well as a 3-hour guided tour (if you want to take in the scope of the estate) for $30. Café Ruiz is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
2. Finca Lerida. The Finca Lerida Farm offers gorgeous vistas along with superb coffee. At an altitude of 4,800 feet above sea level, the farm spreads across the eastern slope of majestic Volcan Baru. The farm is roughly 500 hectares in size and encompasses a large portion of the Chiriqui Cloud Forest. Visitors who come for a coffee tour get a whole lot more: the cloud forest offers travelers a chance to see a variety of rare species, especially birds. You might catch your first glimpse of a quetzal while on a Finca Lerida coffee tour. Coffee tours cost $25 dollars; birdwatching tours cost $35. Finca Lerida is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
3. Kotowa Estate. The Kotowa Estate, located in the peaceful hills of Palo Alto in Boquete, has been in the hands of the MacIntyre family for three generations. The MacIntyres truly love what they do, and their passion comes across in the quality of their roast. This charming family can’t help but to assume that everyone is as fascinated by coffee production as they are. They provide informational tours designed for inquisitive travelers. Tours cost $22 dollars; if you book a day in advance, the MacIntyres will provide you with free transportation from your hotel. The estate offers one tour each day, beginning at 9 a.m.
4. Finca Hartmann. Nestled on the western side of the small town of Volcan, in the shadow of Volcan Baru, this farm offers both the coffee tour experience and the wilderness retreat experience. The heavily forested surrounding area (Finca Hartmann borders the Parque Internacional La Amistad) provides excellent birdwatching opportunities, so keep a pair of binoculars next to your steaming coffee cup. The quiet rural settings of Finca Hartmann are an ideal spot for you to take a break from adventure travel. Relax, sit down, and drink your coffee. Or take a tour for $10. The farm is open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
5. La Torcaza Estate. This farm offers an excellent coffee tour for $10; the tour is particularly memorable during harvest season, when visitors can opt to explore the large coffee farm on the edges of Lagunas de Volcan during its busiest time of the year. To hear the soft clip-clop of horses’ hooves over the moist earth, take a horseback tour of the plantation. The estate is open Monday through Saturday, from 8 a.m to 5 p.m.
6. Los Miracles. This tiny farm sells most of its Geisha coffee to the Japanese, whom also have an affinity for Mr. Tito’s eclectic techniques. Knowing neither agriculture nor mechanics, Mr. Tito bought his farm plot uncertain if it was even an ideal spot to grow coffee. That led to the first miracle, and the “miraculous” circumstances continued to materialize from there: Mr. Tito couldn’t afford the machinery required to produce coffee, so he jerry-rigged his own out of old car parts; he grew Geisha coffee and it flourished; the Japanese visited his farm and the rest is… well, a great story for a coffee tour. Mr. Tito’s original homemade equipment and hand-stamped printing on the bags continue to provide unique delights to visitors at the Farm of Miracles today.
Original research by Lindsey Anderson, onsite updates by Emily Kinskey.