Introducing Rancho Frío
Thirteen kilometers south of El Real, as the lemon-spectacled tanager flies, is the Rancho Frío sector of Parque Nacional Darién. It’s home to Pirre Station, or Pirre 2, not be confused with the station at the top of Mount Pirre near Cana. Rare bird species represented here include the crimson-bellied woodpecker, the white-fronted nunbird and the striped woodhaunter. To steal a line from the famous naturalist guide Hernán Araúz, Rancho Frío is ‘Panama’s foremost theater of life.’
The real strength of this sector is the excellent trail network. A two-day trail goes to Mt Pirre ridge and a one-hour trail winds through thick jungle to a series of cascades. Neither should be attempted without a guide as they are unmarked, and if you get lost out here you’re finished.
Visitors must get prior permission from SENAFRONT in Panama City and pay ANAM US$15. At Pirre Station, there are barracks with a front room with fold-out cots for visitors, a small outdoor dining area beside a very basic kitchen, a palapa (open-sided shelter) with a few chairs and a number of flush toilets and cold-water showers. There is also a shady campsite where you can either pitch a tent or string up a jungle hammock. Electricity is run off batteries and use must be kept to a minimum.
Visitors must bring their own food and purified water. Cooking fuel is scarce, so let the rangers do the cooking (US$10 to US$15 a day is most appreciated). Be sure to try the zapote growing at the station – this fruit has a fleshy orange meat with the appearance, taste and texture of mango and it’s highly addictive.
Pirre Station can only be reached by hiking or by a combination of hiking and boating or 4WD transportation. The four-hour hiking route takes the ‘road’ connecting El Real and Rancho Frío, yet this barely discernible path is pretty much impossible without a guide – though you can find one in Pirre 1 for US$15.