Covering an area of 140 square kilometres, PARQUE NACIONAL VOLCÁN BARÚ runs between Boquete across the northern flank of Volcán Barú, Panama’s highest peak, and Cerro Punta, Panama’s highest major settlement.
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Sendero Los Quetzales
Sendero Los Quetzales
Hiking the well-known Sendero Los Quetzales between Boquete and Cerro Punta (10km; 4–6hr at a moderate pace with stops) can be done in both directions. The trail, which allows you to travel between the Highlands’ two principal settlements through stunning scenery, is immensely satisfying, especially as it avoids a lengthy bus journey up the mountain from David and down again. There are trailheads at El Respingo, near Cerro Punta, and Alto Chiquero, near Boquete.
Starting from Cerro Punta you get more downhill walking, though this is much more difficult and slippery after rain. From Boquete there is more uphill, though only the last section is very steep – and it is easier to climb than descend after rain. In this direction, you also get into the forest earlier and are therefore more likely to see quetzals.
Note that, due to the large numbers of visitors combined with floods and landslides during the rainy season, the trail has been closed several times over the years. A guide is highly recommended, and you shouldn’t attempt the hike after very heavy rain since the river you have to ford will likely be impassable.
Volcán Barú is Panama’s tallest mountain (3475m) and an extinct volcano that dares all visitors to take it on. From the park entrance (US$5), south of Boquete, a 13.5km-long boulder-strewn road, passable only with a customized 4WD, winds up to the cloud-shrouded peak. It’s a steep and strenuous four- to eight-hour hike, and another six hours or so back to Boquete.
From the top, the cloud cover breaks every so often to reveal the sight of at least one of the oceans. Your best chance of catching the breathtaking view of both the Pacific and Atlantic is to climb in the dry season (late Dec–April), in the dark (head torch needed), setting off around midnight or 1am, to arrive at the summit at dawn. Although the trail is for the most part clear and not technical, a guide is recommended in case the weather turns foul and foggy, or someone twists their ankle.
Take waterproof clothing, dress in layers and wear good hiking shoes.