Global Mark : 14.82
Ratings by criteria :
Ratings by backpackers :
Comments : Fresh air, parks, flowered gardens, good coffee, wild river, volcano... This place is a natural paradise and a great gateway after any time on the road !
What to do ? Get a map of the area at the tourist office / Breathe the fresh air (15-17C) / Smell pine trees / Enjoy mountainous panoramas / Climb Panama's highest peak at 3475m / Spot & listen to many birds (incl. the quetzal from Nov to Feb) / Walk bananas and coffee plantations / Visit flowered gardens, including an amazingly beautiful private one / See Indians in colorful costumes / Spot the two oceans from the same point / Degust pastries / Warm yourself by a cup of fresh coffee / Raft down a class II, class III or class IV river ($75-100) / Fish in another one / Watch lovely rainbow in the morning rain (most likely in January) / Eat strawberries / Relax in hot springs (45mn by minibus then 45mn walk, $0.5) / Ride horses ($5 per hour) /
What you may not like ? The traffic on the main road and subsequent pollution, especially during WE / The crowd during the Coffee Fair (second week of Feb) / The apparent poverty & exploitation of the Indians who, when not busy picking up the coffee (Nov to May), sometimes forget their problems in alcohol / The clouds, often hiding the top of Volcano Baru / The steep climb to the top to discover an ugly telecom center / The remote tourist office / The ridiculous prices of some tours / Not having any sweater for the cold evenings /
How long ? At least a few days to walk some of the trails and cool off
Where to stay ? There is a good selection of places to stay, with a few excellent deals. Except when indicated, all the shower are HW shower, a good idea around here :
Internet ? The cheapest place is Professional Center, a bit before the church : $2 per hour with a min of 15mn for $0.5. For a coffee atmosphere, head however to Gringo's, a bit south of the parque : $3 per hour, min $1 for 20mn.
There are many treks that you can do in the area but few offer as much within such a short time as the one below. I am grateful to the owner of Pension Topas for the info and so should you !
From the Parque, walk South, pass the station Delta and turn right at the bridge. Walk for 150m then take the road going up toward the cemetery. After it, the concrete road turns into a rocky path. It keeps going up and this is good news for the panorama ! Within 15mn from the village, you will reach two of those, the second one being the best. Say "waow" !
Shortly after, the road gets wider and pass a series of fields. When reaching a huge one with a tree in its center, look for the red sign of a snake (from Tintin's The Cigars of the Pharaoh ), at the tree level. This is the sign for the left path that will leads you down a canyon. But before going down, say "waow" again : the canopy panorama is splendid.
It doesn't take long to reach the banana plantation at the bottom. And then it is up again ! You will notice several paths, including one marked by red signs. Taking the right one will however extend your forest experience a bit and lead you within 15mn to a wild field with biting ants and another (limited) panorama.
Back on the '"red" path, you will soon arrive at a coffee plantation with also many lemon and grapefruit trees. Charming ! After crossing it, you will reach a road and a small house inhabited by Indians. Take right toward a small flower nursery and a lovely garden. About 1.5 hours after departure, you will find yourself on the traffic road. Turn left and watch out for the big cactus on a property on the right side.
From the little church that you will soon find on your left, two options : turn left and reach the village within about 20mn or keep walking down the main road for a few km. You will pass Cafe Mozart, offering a good panorama toward the Pacific as well as good German pastries (and rooms for $10-55, same owner as Pension Topas) and eventually reach the main David-Boquete road, at the level of the tourist office.
There, get a map of the area, spot photos of the attractions (incl. the unattractive summit of Volcano Baru), buy or degust coffee, visit the small upstairs gallery and, above all, enjoy another great panorama of the village, this time with the river. Yes, you could say "waow" again ! The village is another 15mn walk below.
With more time ahead, you could make an excellent loop to the north's area. Take a collectivo minibus from a bit north of the parque. It will cost $1 and take 15-30mn depending of the direction : clockwise (recommended to see it all) or anti-clockwise. Ask to be dropped at Casa Familia Lamastus : a red-roof house behind a flowered alley. They have 3 houses: ask for the furthest one.
Just south of the house, a path, next to a few wood barracks and a sign "Finca Vista del Mar", will lead you to a superb panorama toward the Pacific. It goes up steep for about 1 km (keep on the left) down after a small cabana and then up again on the other side. Just before the house inhabited by Indians, take the small path up on the right. There will be a sign "Finca la Vista Hermosa" and a little cabana shortly after. From there, it will be a tiny path only, going up inside a small coffee plantation with grapefruits trees and the forest. Walk for 5mn until you spot a basic bamboo hut on the left : this is the panoramic viewpoint.
From this point, you could keep walking up inside the forest. I did it for a while but it gets steep, you need to fight a bit your way, be cautious not to sleep down the ridge and entertain the many flies. What is more, there seem to be no end to this path : it was reported going on for hours ! I did not wait that long and went back to the main road.
From there, walk toward the north. The road will be going mostly downhill and offers charming scenery. 45-60mn later, you should reach the beginning of the long trail "Los Quetzales". From there, it is another 7km down to Boquete, alongside the river and via a number of attractions. Those include a small waterfall and, much more interesting, a tiny suspended bridge toward white & blue barracks and a path up the hill. Follow it for another panorama : river on the right, canopy on the left and maybe an eagle above. Magic ! The path will then split. Take to the left for a walk inside the forest that requires caution but offers a good canopy view. Eventually, after 15mn or so, you will have to go back as the path gets dangerous (steep & slippery). Take to the right up for a longer walk toward more panoramas, via coffee plantations. There will be a very tiny wooden "bridge" on the left : this path leads inside the plantation but also gets tricky after a while. Following the path up to the right will however lead you to open fields and a few farms. It goes up but the view is great, especially a bit after the first house. This road continues apparently up to Bajo Mono so you would rather go back to the main road. Altogether, those side trips would require at least one hour.
Back on the main road, you will pass a tiny souvenir shop and, a bit after the big metallic bridge, spot some original geological rocks formations. Then, there will be a lovely Pepsi store (that would be much nicer without that Pepsi sign), a balineario with a few pools, the huge sportive complex and, last but not least, the extraordinary garden "Mi jardin es su jardin". It is a private garden but it is open to the public daily from 9am to 6pm. Do not miss it : in my opinion, it is worth a trip to Boquete in itself ! Cascadas, fountains, ponds with carps, chapel, painted sculptures of animals, bridges and flowers everywhere ! There is even a dinosaur and vegetable monkeys pending from a tree ! Relax and enjoy (or the contrary).
The last sights before the village will be the coffee-shop Ruiz, the tiny Museo Folklorica a bit before the church (worth a look for its old postcards and souvenir shop) and, possibly, parrots & haras up the trees on the other side of the road (if they are there, you will hear them !). The stained-glass windows of the church could also be worth a quick look. While there, thank God for this nice day walk. You could also thank the owner of Pension Topas as the bamboo hut is one of his itineraries. No need however to thank me : just participate to Passplanet !
The trip to Panama City via David and San Carlos : SSS / L & R / $1.2 + 9.3 + 2.5 / 50mn + 5 hours + 2 hours / Chicken bus + luxury bus + minibus
Such a long trip required an early start and a short night. Buses to David leave every 25mn from 5am but that very first bus is the best option to secure an early seat to Panama City. It left nearly empty a few minutes ahead of schedule and was quite fast as few people showed by the road. I was waken up at 5:50.
Passengers were already queuing in front of the closed ticket office. It would open at 6am only. Except for the night buses, it is usually not necessary to reserve the ticket (but you may wish to double check that). Showing up a bit in advance is however recommended. The bus proved very luxurious with comfortable seats, two TV, toilets, coffee machine and AC (bring a sweater). We were not asked to fasten our seatbelts but it somehow felt like an aircraft, with a steward and a welcoming message.
The scenery was pleasant as well but most curtains being closed, the viewing was rather limited. For what I spotted, the American blockbusters on video were more spectacular (and with subtitles). We had a 25mn break in Santiago. If you get off, beware : you won't be able to get on again as the doors are locked. Just before I got off in San Carlos, we were distributed some biscuits and a fruit drink. Like I said, an excellent bus ! Not all the travelers I talked to had however such a service : some did not get anything but a cold from the AC...
Why the hell did I get off in San Carlos ? Well, this place had been recommended to me as a cheap alternative to Panama City, with accomodation for as little as $2.5 ! This proved a very wrong info : the cheapest place to stay by the beach was an empty & open cabana for US$5 (alternatively, you could get a dorm w. AC for $10) and in the village by the main road, the ugly room w. shower of Residential San Carlos was $11. Of course, I did enjoy my one hour walk under the sun with my big bag and really appreciated the empty beach village of Las Palmas with nobody to help you around. The beach was not even spectacular ! Unless if you are surfing (this is a reputed beach for that activity), there isn't much reason to come here...
Fortunately, I did not have to wait long by the main road as minibus to the capital are very frequent. "How long will it take ?" - "About 1h15". I jumped in and took the seat by the driver : I would at least get a better perspective toward the scenery ! And it was nice indeed with a mountain backdrop and a few short panoramas on the right. But the most impressive sight was the crossing of the Canal, on the impressive metallic Bridge of Americas.
The driver having consumed a little bit too much caffeine, the drive on the highway proved a rather stressful experience. But I still preferred it to the painfully slow & congested crossing of La Chorrerra : an ugly side trip of about 30mn. Altogether, it took a little bit less than 2 hours to reach the new central bus terminal by the airport De Albrook.
This is a very new, orderly & efficient bus terminal and an excellent introduction to Panama City. You could take a taxi into town for US$1.5 or board a local bus for $0.15. Look for the "T. Muerio" direction if you wish to stay at Voyager Hotel or get off at Plaza Cinco de Mayo for a more central location. They stop very frequently by the station. As most of the bus are busy, watch your bag carefully and ask the driver & other passengers to tell you were to get off : Panama City is a very confusing place at first and your view will be limited.
See also the trip from Bocas Del Toro (incl.David's bus schedules)