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Panama for Hikers

May 21, 2014

Volcan Baru Panorama

Panama is known for many things, the canal foremost of course, but also the beaches, coffee, chocolate… One thing it’s not particularly well known for is hiking. And that’s fair. I was there for a post Disneyworld Marathon reward trip with the intent of lying on beautiful beautiful beaches along with a bit of urban exploration, which I did, but I also explored the trails a little bit.

Mid-December to mid-April is the busy seasons in Panama, as it tends to by less rainy (especially on the Pacific side), and the hot weather makes it a phenomenal escape from winter destination. I went in January, so the Caribbean side was still a bit on the rainy side (think strong, but occasional tropical rains) but it was fine.

Panama City

Panama City is not a walkable city. The easiest way to get around the city is by unmetered taxis. Always ask beforehand how much it will cost to get you where you want to go, and if you are unsure how much it should cost, ask at your hotel. There are also public buses (some, the Diablo Rojos, are super cool looking), but I personally never figured out how to use them.

Cerro Ancon

Views from Cerro Ancon

The penultimate hike in and around Panama City is the trek up Cerro Ancon. The “trail” goes up to the top of Cerro Ancon, which offers great views of Panama City and the Panama Canal (and is apparently a great place to do yoga).

There are a few ways to get to the beginning of the “trail”, I hailed a cab and told it to take me to “Mi Pueblito” on Avenida de los Martires (which is a tourist attraction itself, though one I did not visit). From there I walked up the road a little ways, took some stairs, and was on my way. You can catch a cab back on Avenida de los Martires.

The “trail” is actually a paved road, and you CAN drive to the top depending on the time and day, but it’s really not that hard of a trek (takes about 30 minutes) and is a great break from the bustle of Panama City. Supposedly you can see wildlife as well, but I think you have to be a little lucky.

Pro-tip: If you hail a cab back from “Mi Pueblito”, the lane of traffic closest to you will be heading out of the city. This makes it convenient to hail a taxi out to the Miraflores Locks Visitor Centre or the Amador Causeway.

Amador Causeway

The Amador Causeway

Another place to escape the city, the Amador Causeway is approximately 3km long, is lined with palm trees, and is a good place for a relaxing stroll or bike ride. It’s part of the route for Panama Ironman 70.3 which is pretty cool! There are bike rental places on the Causeway, and the easiest way to get there is by taxi. There are also a few places to eat out there, so it’s a good way to kill an afternoon.

Bocas Del Toro

Bocas Del Toro is a surfer’s paradise. It is a fairly small island with the majority of the accommodations concentrated on one part of the island (Bocas Town). Pretty much anything you could want to do (snorkeling, surfing lessons, chocolate farm tours) will be based out of town. Though if you are a seasoned surfer, there are a few places closer to the beaches.

There are really only two roads out of town, one is reasonably flat but only paved part way (to Playa Bluff), the other is a bit more rugged (to Boca Del Drago), both lead to beaches! I rented a bike in town and cycled the flatter road to Playa Bluff, where I found a great little place called “The Beach Bar (on the beach!)”. Despite being more or less in the middle of nowhere, the food was fantastic and was brought to me while I was lounging on my beach towel 🙂 Also, if you are too lazy to take your bike all the way there, you can get a taxi to take you out, and leisurely cycle back. Almost all of the taxis on the island are Toyota Hiluxes, so you can throw bikes in the back!

The Road to Playa Bluff

Boquete

Volcan Baru

This is easily the most famous hike in the country. Volcan Baru is a dormant volcano and the highest point in Panama at 3474m. The summit provides you with spectacular views of both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, providing you are not there in rainy season. And here is where I confess that I didn’t hike it…

From the trailhead to the summit, the trail is 13.5km with ~1830m (6000ft) elevation gain. There is no drinkable water along the trail. The trail itself is wide, easy to follow, and unremarkable. That’s because the trail is actually a road that was put in place to install radio towers near the summit. Now, you and I can’t drive this road as it is VERY rugged, but you CAN charter a bad ass Jeep with a local driver to take you almost all the way to the top. That’s what I did, I feel a little guilty for not hiking it, but the Jeep was pretty damn cool and I had just run a marathon!

If you are not a lazy bones like I am and want to hike it, most people start hiking the trail around midnight to reach the summit for sunrise. Mamallena Hostel in Boquete provides transport from town to the trailhead for a minimal fee (though I’m unsure how people were getting from the trailhead to town afterwards). If you are doing this you would want to bring a headlamp (or “torch”), a warmish jacket, and PLENTY OF WATER. As the trail is wide and easy to follow, if you a confident hiker you shouldn’t need a guide. Most guides say it takes 4-6 hours to get to the top, but I can’t personally attest to this.

Volcan Baru!

Quetzal Trail (Sendero de los Quetzales)

Another trail I did not hike… The logistics for this one can be a bit trickly, as one end of the trail is near the town of Boquete and the other end is near the town of Guadeloupe. The trail is approximately 10km, though some people seem to park at one end of the trail, hike a few kilometers in and hike back to their cars. One of the main features of the trail is the chance of seeing a legendary Resplendent Quetzal (bird). When I inquired about this trail in Boquete, I was steered towards a guided hike of…

The Waterfall Trail

I took a guided tour of this trail, as it is also a great place to see the mysterious Quetzal bird, and I am a terrible terrible birder. There is absolutely no way I ever would have seen one if I didn’t have an experienced guide pointing them out to me. We saw quite a few, maybe 5, though my pictures of them aren’t fantastic because even with a professional guide I had trouble spotting them (that’s on me, our guide was great). The trail itself is an easy 5km, uphill but not overly steep, that ends at a beautiful waterfall.

The Waterfall Trail

Also I must suggest if you are in Boquete, you should visit a coffee plantation. Boquete is also known as the Napa Valley of Coffee. I highly recommend the Finca Dos Jefes tour, it was very informative and you get a bag of coffee!

 

As for the beaches, the best ones I found were in the San Blas Islands. I was sad I was only there for a day!!

Enjoying the Beach

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