Panama was a real surprise for me.
I had very low expectations of the place, to be honest, and it delivered way over the odds – I loved spending time studying Spanish in Casco Viejo, hanging out on the beaches of Bocas del Toro, and of course, visiting pure paradise in the San Blas Islands.
I also spent some time exploring the mountains of Chiriqui, from the little town of Boquete. Boquete’s hiking scene is pretty well developed – there are lots of options, from gentle strolls good for the whole family, to ridiculously intense 26-kilometre round trips up and down volcanoes.
If you don’t like walking uphill, I would not recommend the latter.
Boquete’s hikes are great, though, providing opportunities to swim in waterfalls (or just hover on the edge if it’s not quite warm enough for you to jump in), spot resplendent quetzals (it’s a type of bird), and generally find an excuse to whack out the hiking boots that you’ve been lugging around for ages for no apparent reason.
No? Just me doing that? Moving on, then.
Here’s an overview of the best hikes in Boquete, Panama – including how to get there, what to wear, and how much they cost.
Boquete’s Best Hikes
Los Quetzales trail
This is one of the more extensive hiking trails available in Boquete. Supposedly a good area for quetzal spotting (seriously, these birds are a big deal), the trail stretches for a long old way up and down the hills.
It’s quite difficult to get transport back to Boquete from the end of the trail, so it’s probably best to either walk the whole thing and then walk back, or just walk some of the way and double back on yourself. Many people just trek up to the main mirador (viewpoint) and then head back down again.
It’s quite a strenuous walk.
How to get to Los Quetzales
As with the majority of the trails, there’s a colectivo-style minibus that does the run back and forth from this area all day. You take it from the main square (or just ask locals until you find it, as it might be trundling around looking for customers).
It costs $3 and you just have to ask them to drop you off at the Los Quetzales starting point – they are usually quite obliging. If not, you can easily walk up there from the main drop-off point for the waterfalls walk, for example – it’s just a long old slog, that’s all.
The waterfall trail
The three waterfalls is, in my opinion, the baby bear of Boquete’s hiking trails – not too hard, not too easy, but ‘just right’. It’s a pleasant if slightly sweat-inducing hike up from the starting point at the road side to a wonderfully pleasant land of greenery, from where you’ll pay your entrance fee to a chatty man in a wooden booth.
The entrance fee goes towards maintaining the trail, which seemed fair enough to me.
There are three waterfalls on the trail, and I enjoyed the second one the most as you get to see it from down below and from the top. You can swim in waterfalls number two and three, so make sure you bring swimming stuff (if it’s a hot day, that is).
The trek up from waterfall two to waterfall three is perhaps a bit more intensive and generally a bit muddier than the first section, but I thought it was worth it as it means you get the last waterfall mostly to yourself.
How to get to the waterfalls trail
The same bus that takes people to Los Quetzales will take you to the waterfall trail – same price, same system. You can also grab a taxi for a negotiable $5-8 dollars (depending on how well you haggle). We got it for $6 as there were three of us and this seemed reasonable – basically, if there are more of you it’s likely just as cheap to get a taxi.
The Pipeline Trail
The easiest of the Boquete hiking trails is the Pipeline Trail, as it has minimal elevation and no hills. If you’ve just arrived after a long journey but feel like getting out and doing something, this is definitely a good option.
How to get to the Pipeline trail
Again, the bus that takes you to the other two hikes is the one you want for the pipeline trail: all three hikes start from roughly the same area.
The dreaded hike up Volcan Baru
I’ve written about this in more depth already, but the final (and by far the most challenging) hiking option in Boquete is the terribleawful trek up to the peak of Volcan Baru.
The views are incredible and the sunrise is so worth it but my god it was hard.
Not too hard, just noticeably difficult to put one foot in front of the other on the way back down.
This trek is usually done in a day (as in, within a 12-hour period), but some people choose to camp overnight near the top so as not to have to slog all that way in the wee hours of the morning. A lot of people start the trek around midnight and make it up for sunrise, but if getting up at such a ridiculous hour doesn’t really hold appeal for you, you can also make it a daytime hike – but starting early is recommended as it’ll get quite warm quite quickly.
How to get to Volcan Baru
If you’re doing the midnight start/sunrise trek option, you’ll need to sort out your transport in advance. There is a shuttle bus that runs from Mamallena’s hostel in the centre of town, which costs $7 per person – you can go there to book it the day before. The shuttle leaves at 11.30pm.
Alternatively, you can arrange a taxi for around $15, which works out cheaper if there are more than two of you, of course. IN theory this also gives you more flexibility about when you can leave – although for some reason my hostel manager basically insisted that we had to book it for 11.30.
I’d recommend leaving later if possible – say 12 or 12.30 – because the hike is hard, but it’s not 6-hours hard. This does depend on how fast you hike, obviously, and also what time sunsrise is scheduled to be of course!
Wandering aimlessly round the town
If you don’t fancy a specific hike then there are paths enough to walk around in the town itself. The town of Boquete is quite closely contained, so if you stroll long enough in any direction you’ll leave the confines of the centre. There are places a bit further out with the speciality Geisha coffee on offer, which is as good a reason as any to go for a walk. Try Café Kotowa, about twenty five minutes walk out of town (there is a branch in the centre too, but they only sell Geisha coffee to buy, not to drink).
If you look on Maps.Me you can see that there are lots of trails meandering up into the hills, so following one of these can be a good option if you’re feeling a bit adventurous. I did this and found some pretty good views over the town (although I didn’t go too far up into the hills because it was steep).
Hopefully this guide has been helpful to you – feel free to check out any of the related articles below, and share on social media if you enjoyed this!