At 3,474 meters (11,398 feet) Volcan Barú is the highest mountain in Panama. This active volcano is one of the few places in the world that you have the chance to see both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea at the same time.
It was the holiday season and we were fortunate to have three guests come to visit us, Pablo and Irene, two friends of Antonio’s from university and Amanda’s sister, Danielle.
After our original travel plan had failed we decided to head to the mountains to a small town called Boquete. One of the main attractions in Boquete is to hike to the summit of Barú. As the trip was a last minute change of plans and we hadn’t packed many warm clothes but we would have to make due.
There are a few different ways to summit the volcano. Baru doesn’t require any multi-day climbing expedition like the giant Chimborazo or Cotopaxi in Ecuador. Simple hiking is the most popular and rewarding way. You can walk independently, with an organized hostel group or with a local guide. The trail is very easy to follow and it is almost impossible for you to get lost. A good GPS for hiking is always handy, but it’s not a must for Baru. However if you are not an experienced hiker or don’t travel with a tent of your own, hiring a guide is a good option.
Many people choose to start climbing around midnight and reach the summit for the sunrise. Another option is you can wake up early and start climbing by 6, summit at noon and have time to come back to Boquete before dark. Some hikers choose to climb in the afternoon, enjoy the sunset, camp at the top then descend in the morning.
For those not feeling up to the challenge there are 4×4 tours to the summit. Its a bumpy ride up the boulder laden trail but is a good alternative to hiking if you are physically unable.
EQUIPMENT CHECK LIST
We have previously climbed during the night other volcanoes like Acatenango in Guatemala and Telica in Nicaragua. As we hadn’t prepared for cold weather hiking during the day was our best option this time. From the plaza in Boquete all five of us crammed into a taxi and headed for the entrance of Volcan Barú National Park. We were fortunate to have perfect weather conditions, sun and no wind.
From the park entrance we followed the wide, dirt and rock path with lush green forest on both sides. The trail is a series of gradual inclines that offers some great views along the way.
We maintained a relaxed pace and reached the summit in 6 hours. At the top there are network towers that broadcast the Panamanian President’s T.V channel among other programs. You can follow a path past a shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe to a series of rocks which you have to climb over to reach the very top. Here above the clouds you come to a large, white, graffitied cross and a stunning 360 view.
Bring warm clothes, good walking shoes, and a waterproof jacket. You should carry at least 2 liters of water with you and some snacks for the trail. If you plan to stay the night you’ll need to arrange a tent, sleeping bag and food. You can also hire a local guide who will arrange all of this for you.
It is about 14.5 km from the rangers station to the summit It takes between 5-6 hours (at a relaxed pace) to reach the summit. Descending takes about 3 hours depending on your walking speed.
Dry season (between December – May) is a great time to go as you will have less chance of rain also the skies are generally clearer, making the view from the top even more impressive.
From Boquete you take a taxi to the Volcan Baru National Park. They charge around 12USD for a one way trip.
WHAT WE LIKED THE MOST
- The cool weather was a great break from the heat of the Panamanian coast.
- The trail was easy to follow and is well maintained.
- The view from the top was impressive.
WHAT WE DIDN’T LIKE THAT MUCH
- There wasn’t anything we didn’t like!
Hiking Volcan Barú was a great day trip to do while visiting Boquete. The trail is wide and well maintained making it an easy climb. The view from the top above the clouds is impressive and while we weren’t able to see the Caribbean we could see the Pacific.
Location: Volcán Barú, Chiriqui, Panama
Price: 5 USD entry fee.
Useful Notes: The weather on the volcano can be very unpredictable so plan for the worst. The temperature at summit during the night can drop below freezing, there have been reports of snow and ice during the dry season. Warm clothes, water, food and good walking shoes are essential items for this trip.