hiking tips Panama
Replies: 3 - Last Post: Mar 5, 2012 7:27 AM Last Post By: rickster
Feb 25, 2012 5:47 PM
hiking tips PanamaI am just back from travelling through Panama for a month with a friend.
I wish I would have had more time to discover this country as every place we went to, how limited the options seemed on arrival, proved to be worth exploring.
The lonely planet of Panama was a helpful guide.
What we personally missed however was some guidance on how to find trails worth walking as the tourism in Panama seems sometimes mainly focused on how to keep the lazy tourist comfortable and satisfied, while the nature is there and sometimes only needs a sign or a bit of promotion to be discovered.
So some tips that we found out ourselves and with the assistance of some locals on the way:
- First we went to Taboga. Although it seems mainly to be used as a beach escape for people from Panama, there are some great walks over there. These are not well indicated, but once we've found the start of the trail, we enjoyed great walks.
The next trail was the walk up to the Cerro de la Cruz hill. You see the cross from the everywhere in the village and it seems like an impossible mission, but the walk is actually quite easy. Just don't do it at midst of day since you're walking in the sun the whole time. To get there it is best to ask the locals (different ones) as we doubted from time to time if we were on the right track. Cemetery and then straight on until the last house (under construction) and there to the left and the first path you see upstairs (this has signs).
We had to leave after three days, but I would have liked to walk up the hill you see at the end of the beach. Apparently hidden in the bushes is a French cemetery (workers who died during the construction of the Panama Canal were buried on this mountain). The trail is not maintained, so it is really something to discover yourselves. But as it is quite small, there is no real risk to get lost I assume.
- Next we went to El Valle de Anton. It does not look very attractive when you're getting off the bus in the center, but walking further on it becomes more picturesque. We did not have a dull moment in this place. The guy from the tourist information post looked surprised when we asked where we could find some trails and could not provide any assistance, so we just followed some tips from the people who manage the Cabanas Potosi. The day of arrival we walked to the Chorro de las Mozas as this was indicated as short and easy. The trail is very nature friendly, not at all prepared, but you can't get lost. You just have to follow the flow. It was just before dawn and proved to be a real Zen experience with stones beautiful carved by the water. Definitely worth visiting. And in big contrast with the visit to Chorro el Macho, what is a joke in comparison and overpriced as you can see waterfalls in a more accessible environment for free in El Valle. The walk they foresee after paying takes ten minutes if you walk very slowly and the waterfall is only to look at from a distance. What was however great was the natural swimming pool near El macho, where the locals also go swimming.
We rented all terrain bikes as means of transport and just cruising around brought us in beautiful neighborhoods full of flowers.
- After El Valle we went to Isla Boca Brava (quite a trip), but reaching Hotel Boca Brava is a compensation on its own. As it was extremely hot, we mainly focused on the swimming, but the walk to the beaches is already a little hike on its own. To leave the road you have to leave the 'big' gravel road' and go left after the private house you pass. And then you're in the middle of the forest. The impressing noise you might hear comes from the monkeys. Look in the direction of the noise and you might see big groups of them hanging in trees. If you follow this trail you will automatically discover the stone beach and the crab beach. If you follow the gravel road only the crab beach is indicated with a sign 'playa'.
- Our next stop was Volcan. As we did not travel by car and there are no bike rental possibilities, we felt at first trapped in this town. The main road is awful. The atmosphere at first seems rather grim in big contrast with the mood at the Volcan lodge where we stayed. The first walk we did was following the road up from the Volcan lodge. It is in open air, not in a forest, quite desolate and a bit spacy with the fields covered with what seems like stones from the volcan. On the way back we were forced to do some trespassing as we did not dear to pass a bull on the loose. Lots of cows with fluffy ears to see on this path also.
Next day we went with the bus to Cerro Punta (the highest town of Panama they told me) to the National Park La Amistad. It was cold and rainy and not very attractive to start the walk. From the entrance at the top there are 4 trails. Three that are signed, the fourth is to be done with a guide. We went for the Sendero El Retono. The walk towards the start of this path was muddy and not very stimulating, but once the actual trail starts it is clear that they took great care to make the path accessible without interrupting the growth of nature. All assistance on this path is made with natural sources, like roots, trees, etc. This is real rainforest with beautiful views of rivers, small waterfalls, flowers in all colors and foggy mountains. I almost forgot about the cold, almost (so bring warm clothes and closed shoes if you want to really enjoy this to the fullest).
- And then it was already time to leave again. As last beach location we went to Isla Carenero in Bocas del Toro. If you are a bit of an sporty person you won't know what to do first. All activities we did were advised and explained to us by the helpful owners of Buccaneer resort. We personally choose to kayak from Isla Carenero to Hospital point on Isla Solarte to do some snorkeling there (my favorite fish there is a disco inspired one, but as there are so many, everyone will find his favorite one). Other activity was conquering strong ocean waves on Isla Bastimientos. If you walk to Red frog beach (named after a very little red frog living on that island) starting from the 'Old dock' you might even see little crocodiles on your way. But even the walk close to our 'home' on Isla Carenero was an interesting experience as you seem to enter a deserted place with trees in the most bare forms, modeled by the water. Also very nice was a bike ride from the town of Bocas del Toro on Isla Colon to Playa Bluff and honestly 'nice' is an understatement as I consider it the most scenic bike ride of my life (until now). When imagining Playa Bluff you just have to imagine a seemingly endless golden sand beach with strong waves.
- After the islands of Bocas del Toro we thought it was time to see some more mountain views. For that we went to Santa Fe. No bikes there either, but if you walked up the hills over there, you'll understand why. So we took a taxi to a trail that would lead us to the three waterfalls. Again no signs and you really have to know where to start or you will be missing the waterfalls. If you follow the direction 'Alto de Piedra' you will pass a big stone (really big) and then after some 500 meters there is a crack in a fence with a sign 'cuidemos la fauna' and there the trails starts. The walk to the first waterfall is quite logic, just follow the path walked by others before you. You'll arrive at a big waterfall where you can also swim. To go to the second waterfall, you have to walk a little bit back and then upwards. A walking stick is not a luxury item for this trail. Once you passed some sort of natural rail the visible track stops and you have to crawl over stones to reach the second waterfall. It is worth continuing however as there is still a third waterfall to discover. For this you have to go left up a small path near the second waterfall and continue walking across a quite adventurous path very steep sometimes crossing very small borders also. As the road to the third waterfall is not clearly indicated the hint is to never go too far away from the river uphill. The third waterfall is the biggest we've seen during our whole stay in Panama. If you're not afraid of heights and up to a challenge, it is really worth looking for this waterfall.
And then we had to leave Panama. Not enough time for even visiting any spot east or north of Panama city.
It is a great country and the only remark I have is that it is a shame that the beautiful things are so badly indicated or promoted.
But I would definitely recommend not to stop looking because you will definitely find beautiful spots in any locations (as I am sure that we still missed a lot on the places we've visited)
Feb 25, 2012 10:01 PM
Feb 29, 2012 11:11 AM
Mar 5, 2012 7:27 AM
3GoedV, thanks for your trip report. I am Panamanian, and I fully agree with your perception that "tourism in Panama seems sometimes mainly focused on how to keep the lazy tourist comfortable and satisfied".
What we know as 'tourism' now, started back in the 60s and 70s with business people traveling to Panama for work; then taking some extra time to lounge around and relax. Hence the tendency of the Panamanian tourism bureau to promote all-inclusive beach resorts, as opposed to nature-oriented small lodging, and our park service's reluctance to develop proper trail systems in our protected areas.
Having said that, here is a small group of people, both local and international who are trying to change this now, it's called APAVE (Panamanian Association of Adventure Clubs). One of it's members is the TransPanama Foundation (www.transpanama.org), which is a volunteer-based organization with the purpose of creating a hiking route across the length of the country, from the border with Costa Rica to the one with Colombia, as well as touching both coasts.
Last year I conducted the first thru-hike of the TransPanama Trail, mapping the entire route on a GPS. We want to have that information available for free on the internet, so people can download it and hike the trail by themselves.
There is already a thru-hiker from Alaska walking the trail, and there are other hikers planning their section hikes. Still, we're a long way from calling this an established route, and there is a lot of work to be done in terms of placing trail signs, producing hiking maps, and building shelters in key areas. Our goal is that the trail benefit not just the hikers, but primarily the remote communities that the route passes through.
Besides the TransPanama Trail itself, there are any number of side routes that people can hike, but again they're not easily found, there are few or no maps, and given the fact that local people don't "hike" just for the sport of it, often times they're unable to help because they either never venture in certain areas, or they don't quite understand what you're looking for.
In any case, we need the feedback from people like you to get a real sense of what a hiker wants and how to make it available. So, thanks again for your input.
(0 star Hotel)
From US$12.80 per night
Islita AreaBook now
(4 star Hotel)
From US$329.97 per night
San JoséBook now
(4 star Hotel)
From US$219.00 per night