Boquete is one of the top destination for all the travellers in Panama.
The high volcano Barú with 3475m, uncountable trails to hike, hot springs to switch off and the agreeable climate at 1000m altiude make Boquete very interesting.
Boquete is located in the province Chiriqui, west Panama. The border of Costa Rica is just 60km away. More than 15 000 people live in Boquete, most of them are retirees who love the climate here.
Beside some outdoors activities it's possible to climb up the volcano Baru (3475m), hike different trails in the cloud forest, switch off in the hot springs or check the forest to find the legendary bird "Resplendent Quetzal". The National Park "La Amistad" which include forest in Costa Rica and Panama, is just around the corner.
Boquete has a similar situation than Bocas del Toro. Some years ago the American magazine "Modern Maturity" wrote an article about the good climate for retirees and recommended to live in Boquete. Afterwards many retirees, from Panama and other countries, started to come here and bold huge villas fro millions of dollar. A local taxi driver told us that the people here don't like what's happening. The retirees are buying all the land around, new expensive restaurants are coming to Boquete and the price for food is rising too.
However, all this switchover didn't change the mentality of the people in Boquete. They are still very friendly and very helpful!
In Boquete we stayed in a cheap hostel (Gaia), close to the center of the city.
A tiny room with two beds, one small window and one electrical outlet. The bathroom with a hot shower was outside of our room, but nobody than us used it. The kitchen equipment is big and get shared by everyone. Everything is very clean and the kitchen view was the big mountain Barú.
Actually it´s really difficult to prognnose the weather in Boquete. The weather situation is similar to the volcano Arenal, as the volcano Barú is the highest mountain in Panama. The Pacific and as well the Caribbean Sea have an influence. Therefore checking weather websites don´t give any information. (See photo on the left; It should rain on our Quetzal trip but it didn´t).
After a while being in Boquete and talking with locals, we understood that it is normall not raining in the morning. In the afternoon, the clouds would be high enough to get over the mountains and there will be a high probability to rain.
Beside the unpredictable weather situation in Boquete, the climate is really nice. It is not too hot and there is always a breeze. Perfect for hiking.
Sendero El Pianista
The Sendero El Pianista is north of Boquete at 1250m and starts very nicely. The trail starts between some barracks of local people and changes later to pasture landscape with horses and cows. It looks a bit like a tropical Switzerland or Austria.
After that, the trail is climbing up fast, crossing the Río Pianista several times and is quite difficult to walk.
The Sendero El Pianista has no point to arrive. On the top of the mountain there is no view point over something and after the highest point it's going down again. Actually travellers who hike this way, walk as long they want and turn around when they get tired. All the way they climbed up they have descended down again.
Beside some travellers who take this trail for hiking, the locals are using it a lot to arrive at their barrack somewhere in the mountains. They also cut new ways which are easy to mistaken for the Pianista trail. No signs on the way doesn't make it easier to find the right direction. Unfortunately the GPS on my phone didn't work and it was impossible to record our way or to see how many altitude difference we did.
On our way up, we met a nice old lady in her traditional clothes with her grandson who collected some plants in the valley and walked back to their hut somewhere in the mountain. During the way up she told us the following story about this trail:
Some years ago two Dutch girls took this trail but they got lost. As they never came back, people started looking for them but just found their bones. Nobody knows what really happened and everyone believes another story; some think they went too far and got lost in the huge cloud forest, others think they had an accident or got attacked by a wild animal and died.
The old lady believes that someone murdered them and tried to hide their bones somewhere in the forest.
Sendero los Quetzales
The trail Sendero los Quetzales is between Boquete and Cerro Punta. It is possible to hike this trail on both ways but for the easy part, almost walking down, it's better to start in Cerro Punta. The connection between Cerro Punta and Boquete is really bad and takes at least three hours with the bus.
We decided to walk up as we wanted to start by sunrise to have no rain and a higher possibility to see the legendary bird Resplendent Quetzal. We started early in the morning at 1850m and hiked about 12km on this trail.
The start is at Alto Chiquero, next to pasture landscape and the ranger station. It's easy to arrive at this place by colectivo bus or taxi. The first kilometers are facile, only some muddy places, a steep downhill and we had to cross the creek Río Caldera. After 4km hiking, where the beautiful bamboo forest is, it starts to get very difficult. The way is climbing up very fast with big steps for a long time. We were unlucky, clouds arrived and there was nothing to see as a big white wall on the top. At least it didn't rain during our trip. I can imagine there would be an fantastic view without any clouds.
Nevertheless, the way was beautiful and we were happy and proud as we arrived at the beautiful ranger station in Cerro Punta. Afterwards we walked down to the village on a stony downhill street. The landscape changed a lot on the other side. Everywhere were fields and farmers were harvesting their salad, potatoes, tomatoes and other vegetables in the fields which are literally clued on the mountain. (If we would try to do the same in Europe, the field would be washed away by the first light rain.)
The garden "my garden is your garden" is very beautiful and strange at the same time. The garden is in north-west of Boquete and located in a luxurious park. The entrance is free. The park is filled with beautiful, colourful flowers.
Strange is, that the building seems to be lost. Nobody is living inside, some windows are broken and the curtain is fluttering outside, but somehow there are stil gardener working on the site.
For an relaxing day to switch off and to enjoy the nature in Boquete I really recommend the Hot springs near Caldera. It's still an insider tip and it is easy to get there with a colectivo bus or taxi.
The road is not going directly to the hot springs, instead there are some kilometers to walk between meadow lands. During our way we enjoyed the landscape, saw different species of birds and a big black snack with yellow, possible a reptile eating snake. The hot springs are guarded by an old farmer who ask a little fee for the almost 40•C hot springs in his backyard. He will gives some explications about his place and shows several times how those water held him young and fit.
The pools are located close to the Río Chiriquí. In total there are two small pools who get filled by two pipes and have a maximum capacity for fifteen people. Fortunately we didn't shared those pools with so many people. Instead of that, only one guy from Canada and later two from Netherland joined us relaxing. After staying about 5min in the hot springs, we cooled down in the river which was almost better than the hot springs.
A story from the old farmer:
The locals who live around are really religious. They think the hot water is a kind of wonder and coming to the hot springs to pray. They are going inside with there clothes to bath and throw coins in it for a wish. If you open your eves, you find the coins which are everywhere and a little cross on the border of the pool.
He said they are only allowed to come to this place during the night when no others are around. After doing their ritual he's changing the water.
After one and a half week in Bocas del Toro, we really enjoyed Boquete with his nice temperature. The climate is very fantastic and there are everywhere beautiful trails to hike. It was very nice to get in contact with some travellers and with local people who told us stories of the region Boquete.
We didn't hike the volcano Barú. There is a high risk for rain in the afternoon, therefore agencies offers tours during the night. According to several people we met, they told us that the trail up is a stony street, on the top are some antenna for Tv and the whole trip is 28km long. It's worth to climb up only to see the sunrise and maybe both oceans at once, if the weather is good.
The trail Pianista isn't recommendable, instead it's worth to hike the Quetzal trail which is difficult but very beautiful, even if we didn't see the legendary bird.
Unfortunately my memory card is damaged and I'm unable to upload my photos like the last blog post.
The best thing about Central and South America is: It's full with birds and they are all different! Going at a new place, a new biotope, means also new species. Unfortunately I don't have any field guide for Panama or the other countries who will come later. Therefore I have, most of time, no idea which bird I have in front of my lens. I can just guess the family.
Another cool thing about all this countries: It's full with hummingbirds! We had a lovely tiny hummingbird next to our sleeping place and saw different species on our trips.
Boquete is also the habitat for the Resplendent Quetzal but unfortunately I was really unlucky to spot him. Contacting local ornithologist and hiking the sendero los Quetzales, which is the biotope of him, didn't help. The bird stays a mystery for me.
However I can't complain! I got a lot of beautiful bird photos here in Boquete and I'm really happy Laura has a big patience for my birding time!