Our stay in Boquete (Panama) was really enjoyable and we grabbed the chance to do some hiking after having recently spent quite a bit of time on or near beaches, both in Costa Rica and Bocas del Toro. What wasn’t entirely clear, however, was whether we needed to go with a guide on these routes which were a few kilometres out of town: our advance research (both online and reading the guidebook) had left us a little mystified.
Sendero los Quetzales: these trees are so high
In the end, given that things in Panama are pretty expensive (although marginally cheaper than in neighbouring Costa Rica), we elected to have a go DIY-style. And this proved to be a perfect decision and, in the case of the hike along the Sendero los Quetzales, saved us US$138, and for the Lost Waterfalls hike, a further US$36 between us! In both cases, despite some contradictory information, the trails were clearly marked and easy to follow and getting the collectivo minibuses up from town was also easy. We also lucked out on our return journeys as although the minibuses apparently only go once an hour, as if by magic they seemed to arrive just when we needed them. The arrival of the collectivo was particularly welcome when we finished the Sendero los Quetzales as by this time, it was pouring with heavy rain and we were pretty drenched.
L: The ranger’s hut at the start of the Sendero los Quetzales; R: the “view” from the mirador (viewpoint)
So transport and hiking trail wise, there was definitely no need for a guide. But with one, would we have seen more wildlife? Possibly especially on the Sendero los Quetzales, but not definitely (especially after the weather had closed in) and from what we read the eponymous quetzals (brightly coloured birds) are pretty hard to spot on this trail anyway. And of course we’d already been lucky enough to see them when we were in Monteverde in Costa Rica.
By the time we got to our turning point (the viewpoint), the clouds had descended and we didn’t get much of a view but walking the trail through the rainforest was fun and we pretty much had it all to ourselves. Although there wasn’t so much fauna to see, there were lots of beautiful plants to admire (albeit admittedly we weren’t able to name many of them: some of them must have been orchids though I’m sure of it).
River crossings on the Sendero los Quetzales (even some of the bridges were a little dubious!)
The start of the trail took us across small rivers, sometimes on bridges (including a rather rickety rope bridge with a slightly rotten wooden floor), sometimes without any obvious way to get across which entailed a bit of a balancing act on rather slippery stepping stones (and, on the way back, a wade across the ice cold water in bare feet). All in all it was a 5½ hour hike (there and back) with a fair amount of pretty steep climbing as we got nearer to the “view”point.
The next day we walked the Lost Waterfalls route. I still have no idea why they are called Lost Waterfalls (we thought that perhaps this might indicate a lack of water) but (a) they were very easy to find (all were very clearly marked) and (b) there was an impressive amount of water pouring over the cliffs to form each of the 3 waterfalls. Clearly found and not lost at all (and certainly not by the owner of the private land over which you walk and are charged US$7 for the privilege!).
The Three Waterfalls: 1, 2 and 3 – we found them!
In some ways, although shorter (about 2½ hour round trip), we probably preferred this hike: yes it was muddy (not least because of the torrential downpour during the previous night: it doesn’t half rain in this region) and in parts, entailed a bit of a scramble up and down the steep paths (albeit with the help of some strategically positioned ropes), but walking through this part of the rainforest was beautiful and each of the 3 waterfalls was impressive. Again, as we’d started early, we were on our own until we started making our return journey, but even then there weren’t that many people walking this trail (and no one with a guide – it’s just not necessary). If it had been warmer, we could have thought about taking a dip in the pools at the bottom of the 2nd or 3rd waterfall but it would have been a rather bracing experience so we gave it a miss.
While in Boquete we also visited a coffee finca (estate). We’ve been in Central America for almost 4 months and although we’ve consumed gallons of the black gold, we hadn’t actually got round to finding out a bit more about this key industry. So in Boquete off we went to a small finca where they produce only Arabica coffee (apparently Robusta coffee which you find in most coffee chains and restaurants is very much second class) and they do a lot of the sorting of the coffee beans etc by hand: it’s all a really time consuming process and a labour of love. With the temperate climate in Boquete (not too hot to burn the coffee beans) and the altitude of 1500m, apparently these are perfect coffee growing conditions and we were told that Panamanian coffee had been voted best coffee in the world for a number of successive years. Now I don’t want to be cynical but I’m sure I heard something similar when we were in Guatemala (“statistics, statistics”), but to be honest, not being a huge coffee drinker myself, I’m probably not in the best position to judge. However, I’m happy to admit that I’ve been enjoying some nice coffee while I’ve been in this region and it was interesting to understand a bit more about the process.
Coffee beans (green ones are not yet ripe; red ones are ready for picking; others are being dried in the sun)