1. Baru Volcano – all about the view
- Not Easy
- 27 km roundtrip
- Entrance: $5
Let’s start with the big one. At 3,475 meters, Volcan Baru is the highest elevation in Panama. From the Boquete side, the hike is not technically difficult – in fact, there is a dirt/rock road leading all the way to the top. You can drive up. But the hike is exhausting. From the park entrance, it is 13.5km to the top with 1800m elevation gain. That’s a 13% grade uphill for 4-6 hours. I advise you to bring a snack.
And a rain jacket. Clouds roll in quickly from the Caribbean sea, and the clouds tend to drift directly into the Volcano summit. It probably won’t rain heavily, but you will be inside a cloud and facing strong winds, which can make for a cold combination.
Near the summit, the road ends after you pass the radio towers. Fasten your seatbelts and tighten your hats for this one caballeros. The remaining 200 meters climbs the rocky ridge to the giant white cross on the rocky summit. You will want to have your hands free for this one. Some people even leave their backpacks below.
Many hikers do Volcan Barú at night so they can see the sunrise from the summit. The hike itself is not very scenic, so I guess you won’t miss much doing it this way. Although I did see some birds and a coati while hiking up one afternoon.
Hiking down in the dark was surprisingly slow – the large loose rocks present a tripping / ankle-turning hazard at every step.
2. Pianista Trail – the forbidden fruit
- 4-5km to the memorial at the summit
Entering the Pianista Trail is like stepping through a wormhole portal and emerging in the Scottish Highlands. The first few kilometers take you along a raging white river through gorgeous virgin pasture. Cows will eye you suspiciously. Through streams you must trounce as you approach the impending rise of the jungle mountains before you. You soon enter the jungle and the trail rises violently up towards the continental divide. This is the Pianista Trail, the most legendary trail in Boquete.
If you reach the top, you will see a memorial to the two Dutch women who entered this jungle for a day hike in 2014 and whose remains were later found. The mystery of their disappearance is yet unsolved, but their story is a cautionary tale. The Pianista Trail is not to be taken lightly. After 4km, you reach the continental divide, and if you go down the other side, you could get lost in the jungle. There are no roads out here, and only scattered communities of native Panamanians.
That being said, I highly recommend you hike up to the summit and then down over the divide for 5-10 minutes. You will descend a deeply cut canyon — barely wide enough for you to walk down… it’s like walking 10 feet below the surface of the earth. (See picture at top of article)
3. Quetzal Trail – scenic but grueling
- Not Easy
- 12 km one way
- Entrance: $5(?)
There is a steep, difficult section for about 2km. If you start from the Cerro Punta side, this section will be downhill. Starting from the Boquete side is an option too. Be aware that the drive from Cerro Punta back to Boquete is about 90 minutes by car.
Allow yourself 3-6 hours for this trail and pack a lunch to eat up at the Mirador (a scenic lookout roughly halfway but closer to Cerro Punta). The ranger station (closer to Cerro Punta) has a nice view as well.
If you want to experience Volcan Baru National Park but you’re not up for the volcano hike, this is a good option. Don’t expect to see a quetzal, but look out for howler monkeys — you are likely to see them in the massive tree just beyond the sign that gives information about “monos aulladores.”
4. Lost Waterfalls Trail – three big waterfalls, not ideal for swimming
- Not Easy
- 6km roundtrip
- Entrance: $7
My friend spotted the reclusive quetzal bird here just last week. The trick is to find an aguacatillo tree. They love to munch on these “little avocados”.
Of course, the waterfalls are really nice too. The third waterfall is the most epic, and provides the opportunity to walk behind it. As of February, 2018, the waterfall was very cold and very heavy — if you want to swim here, I would maybe check back mid-dry-season.
5. Sendero de Los Ladrillos – best simultaenous view of Los Ladrillos and Volcan Baru
- Not Easy
- Length unknown
- Free but trespassing
This is not an official trail, but rather a trail that begins on a farm near Los Ladrillos volcanic rock wall (hence, I call it “The Ladrillos Trail”).
It begins up a hillside farm with beautiful flowers and majestic lone trees. The trail rises on the hillside directly opposite Los Ladrillos rock wall. The higher you hike, the better your view becomes. The view will include the Ladrillos rock wall, the Mana rock wall, and the entire Baru Volcano beyond them.
To find this trail, go to Los Ladrillos rock wall, then cross the bridge, then hike up the hillside in front of you. Best to get permission from the land owners if you can.
6. Piedra de Lino – view of Boquete and the Pacific Ocean
- 2km roundtrip
You will need your hands for this one. It’s that steep. Straight up the dirt mountainside to the giant Lino Rock that juts out from the summit. Sitting atop this rock affords a lush-ous southerly view of Boquete and the Pacific Ocean in the distance.
7. Pipeline Trail – beginner-friendly, waterfall included.
- 5 km roundtrip
- Entrance: $3
Low difficulty, but low reward. Follow the sound of water hissing from broken pipes as you ascend this gentle trail. Skip the sunscreen – you will walk through thick overhanging jungle until the end of the trail, where the valley opens up into a nice bowl with a 50m waterfall.
If you’re looking to #swim under a #waterfall, this might be your spot. The waterfall is gentle, unlike the 3 thunderous waterfalls of the Lost Waterfalls trail.