Boquete is a beautiful little town set in the mountains of western Panama. The altitude is only a few hundred meters higher than David but the weather changes significantly. From hot and humid David, the breeze and slightly cooler temperatures of Boquete were just what we were looking for. It’s also the perfect climate for coffee growing which means lots of great local plantations just waiting for you to try their signature blend. There are many reasons Boquete is a popular spot with backpackers and expats alike, our favourite thing to do was walk the winding roads in the countryside.
Originally we had intended to hike in the nearby International Friendship Park (a collaboration between Costa Rica and Panama covering 3,000 square km of untouched land), but after stopping in at a few information centers we found out that you had to hike with a guide and this came at a cost beyond what we wanted to pay. However, there is a free way to see the surrounding area of Boquete and that is simply walking.
There are three or four loop roads that all depart from and return back to Boquete which makes it really easy for getting around, and not getting lost which is one of our best qualities.
Our first walk was in search of the Pianista trail. It’s technically part of the park but we heard you can hike some of it without a guide. We set out on the highway loop in that direction. The majority of the way there had a sidewalk, and even the little way we had to walk on the road wasn’t bad because traffic is infrequent. This route took us through a number of coffee plantations and past their small plantation worker communities. All the way to the trail-head was uphill but very manageable. We rarely found ourselves out of breath or over-exerted. At any particular bend in the road there could be dozens of dark green coffee trees ready to be harvested or a cute little house behind an extravagant garden. Needless to say it was an excellent place to explore.
We weren’t sure what to expect in the form of signage for the trail, we just knew the trail started “before the third bridge”. Well we had crossed one bridge and one creek and then came to a bridge without much sign of a trail. There was a little path that we followed, but that took us deep into a coffee plantation (detour one). After taking that path for a kilometer or so and realizing it wasn’t the right one, we retraced our steps and took another look at our map. “Maybe that creek doesn’t count as a bridge” we thought and continued down the road. Sure enough just around the next corner there was a sign for the trail right before the third bridge.
The sign said that hiking was prohibited but that hasn’t stopped us before! We asked a woman who worked at a small restaurant nearby what she thought and she said it was probably okay to hike about an hour or so then come back. Off we went… after about 200m we had to wade through a river, which we had expected, and it was easy enough to take off our shoes and roll up our pants to cross without much of a problem. It had rained the entire night before, so the river was perhaps a little stronger than normal but we got across just fine. With our shoes back on, we continued up the rocky path. We came to another river and weren’t really sure what to do, but there was a rickety bridge to cross so we gave that a shot. Across the bridge, through a farmer’s field, we had to unlock a gate to get back on track. It was then that Tyler realized maybe the there WAS a trail on the other side of the river that we had just come from (detour two). We back tracked through the pasture and across bridge just to realize that other path didn’t lead anywhere (detour three). Back to the original route. Across the rickety bridge, through the pasture and the gate to continue on the rocky, muddy and cow-shit covered path. It wasn’t much further that the clouds opened up and the rain began to pour down, forcing us to turn back.
Back past all the obstacles, across the questionable bridge for the fourth time and finally rolling up our pants to wade through the river. By this time we were pretty soaked and hungry. Our attempt at the Pianista trail had been quite unsuccessful. However, since we were surrounded by coffee plantations it wasn’t long before we found a cute little coffee shop where we were able to dry off, order a warm beverage and eat our lunch.
With renewed energy we followed the highway loop back to Boquete. The scenery on the way home wasn’t quite as picturesque as the way there, but it was downhill and the rain had subsided. It has been a while since we had a detour like the pianista trail offered us and we were able to find humour in our clumsy and confusing adventure. If you ever attempt to hike the Pianista trail we wish you luck!
After our grand Pianista trail adventure we committed a day to getting some work done on the blog before taking on another loop. We reviewed our maps and found the San Ramon waterfall! We had loved our San Ramon waterfall hike in Nicaragua and couldn’t miss meeting it’s namesake! So, off we went, this time along the highway loop around the village of Bajo Mono. This road was much more challenging. The hills were steeper and longer making it feel like a stair-master a lot of the way. Luckily the scenery was just as beautiful as our other adventure and this time we had a sunny cloudless day.
Along this route, there were fewer coffee plantations and a lot more forest. Many trees looked like the pines we’re used to seeing back home and others were the broad-leafed tropical trees we’ve become so accustomed to. It’s an interesting altitude where all of these species can mingle together. With Christmas quickly approaching, the smell of pine trees reminded us of home. However, the tropical weather kept us present and was a reminder of where we are and how happy we are to have this opportunity.
The road meandered alongside a river, further into the mountains and past several small plantation communities, including one called San Ramon. The last waterfall sign was a few kilometers back and we started to get that uneasy feeling that perhaps we missed it. Luckily we decided to push on for a while longer and were rewarded with the meditative sounds of water falling on rocks. It was nothing like the huge San Ramon waterfall in Nicaragua, short of the water cascading down the rocky mountainside, but was nice enough for a mini photo op.
There wasn’t really a shady place for lunch around the foot of the waterfall so we headed down to the river where we could cool our feet in the freezing water and enjoy our picnic in peace.
Rather than continuing all the way around this highway loop (which would have been another 15km) we turned around and headed back downhill the way we came. We had originally been hoping to catch a bus home, but it was Mother’s Day in Panama so many local businesses were closed and buses were infrequent.
Walking around the area of Boquete was much more rewarding than we would have thought. There’s something about walking along a paved road that doesn’t spark much intrigue, however with forest or coffee trees right up to the edge of the road and picturesque villages dotting the mountains, they were a perfect place to get out and enjoy some exercise free of charge.
Boquete is a popular spot which makes it easy to get to, get around, eat, drink and sleep. Our bus from David was about 1 hour long; there are buses about every 20-30 minutes from the main terminal. There is an abundance of accommodation ranging from backpacker hostel to boutique hotel. Food is also plentiful – “western-style” food is easy to come by as well as typical Panamanian. Tourist Information centers are on every corner, they can help you arrange everything from a bus ticket or hotel room to a day tour or multi-day hike.