PanamaTrip Reports

Trip Report of our hike up Volcán Barú

View of the last scramble section to reach the summit, with a nervous Bambi looking on
 Volcano
 Challenging
3,474(m)
 12 Hours
Location: Parque Nacional Volcán Barú, Boquete, Panama
Date: 30th September 2017

This Trip Report details our hike up Volcán Barú, the long, arduous trek to the roof of Panama with truly epic views from the top. Apparently one of the few places you can see the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea at the same time

Key Highlights / Facts
  • Volcán Barú marks the highest point in Panama, standing tall @ 3,474m and is the highest volcano in southern Central America
  • The view from the top is spectacular, reached only after a final scramble up the 'mini peak' at the summit
  • Easily accessible from Boquete, simple navigation and the fact it can be climbed in 12 hours add to the allure of this hike
  • Before the last eruption 400-550 years ago, it is estimated that its height was greater than 4600m with the top covered with perpetual snow

Click on any of the red markers on the map below for more information

 Top tips for the trek
  • Pack light - It's a long way up and down and you'll likely notice the effects of altitude towards the top, so you'll appreciate a lighter bag
  • Take warm clothes as you'll likely be setting off at midnight (if you want to watch sunrise atop the volcano) and the altitude makes it much colder than down in the valley
  • Take plenty of water - we took only three litres of water between two of us, which in hindsight was too little
  • Pack all your kit in dry bags - the rain here can be intense but you'll likely avoid it if you're back down before the afternoon
  • Check the weather before you set off. We found a good website for this, which provided accurate info
 
Getting there

Boquete is easily reached from David, a large city to the North West of Panama and the first major city you'll reach if entering Panama from Costa Rica to the North. From here you can either get a taxi, which will cost you $25-30USD to Boquete, or the cheaper, longer alternative would be the bus, which runs directly between David and Boquete fairly frequently (roughly every hour or so). From Boquete, you'll still have to get a taxi to the start of the trek.

We took a 4*4 taxi, something neither of us had ever seen before, from La Jungla Experience hostel in Alto Boquete, which cost us $20USD. It is possible to share this cost with others also doing the hike if you depart from the main square in Boquete at midnight - apparently, hikers going up gather here at that time as is the advice of all the local hostels, though we took the lazy and more expensive option and just got a cab up from our hostel.

The Start

The Rangers Station marks the start of the track up the volcano but the taxi will most likely drop you off <100m below here, as the last part of the road up to the Station is riddled with potholes. When you reach the rangers station at the start of the track there is an information sign (pictured below) giving you some basic, but interesting information about the Volcano. The first point states that you have to travel with a guide, though we didn't and nothing was said to us, nor the other groups we saw atop the Volcano.

Information board at the beginning of the walk
Information board at the beginning of the walk

You pass by the rangers station on your left, which will be shut if you're starting at midnight in order to reach the top for sunrise, and continue uphill. You'll have to pay the park entrance fee here on the way back down, though this is not much ($5USD/pp)

The Track

The entire way up the volcano you will be following this dirt road/fire track, which makes navigation easy - It'd take a herculean effort to get lost. It also makes the trek rather boring in my opinion, as personally, I like to navigate myself and wander off the beaten track. There is another route up the volcano from another side, which is meant to be a nicer route, though the start of that trail is up another valley of which I didn't find out much about and not accessible from Boquete. 

View of the track that you'll follow the entire way up
View of the track that you'll follow the entire way up
The track again, further up the mountain
The track again, further up the mountain

You will need to take warm clothes with you as you'll likely be starting at midnight and the altitude means it gets pretty cold on the ascent. We both took thermals, gloves, hats and light down jackets, all of which were required as it got pretty nippy! You should also definitely take a waterproof jacket with you as it rained every afternoon around Boquete when we went (admittedly the rainy season), though you should be down by lunchtime anyway if you're starting the trek up around midnight.

During the hike up you will pass several signs telling you how far you've travelled, your altitude and how far it is to the top.

One of the signs telling you how far you have to go
One of the signs telling you how far you have to go
Another of the signs, which are placed fairly frequently
Another of the signs, which are placed fairly frequently

Reaching the summit

After 5/6 hours walking you should reach the top of the volcano. You'll know you're getting close when you see all the many antennas start to peer through the treeline. Once you reach the plateau at the top where the antennas are, you're almost at the summit. It's only another few hundred meters away but the final bit requires a bit of scrambling. This is relatively easy, though you will need a head for heights as it can feel very exposed. There a few different routes up this scramble so make sure you take your time to route-find, particularly if you're not that confident scrambling over rock as some of the routes are more difficult (though more fun if you enjoy that).

Sunrise from (near) the summit!
Sunrise from (near) the summit!
The sign greeting you upon reaching the plateau at the top, with just a little way to go to the summit
The sign greeting you upon reaching the plateau at the top, with just a little way to go to the summit
View of the last scramble section to reach the summit, with a nervous Bambi looking on
View of the last scramble section to reach the summit, with a nervous Bambi looking on
The view from the summit looking towards the Caribbean sea
The view from the summit looking towards the Caribbean sea

Then comes the long way down...

The Descent  

The trek back down is long and arduous. The daylight now illuminating the track and the dense vegetation most of the way down doesn't do much to help take your mind off your now aching limbs and joints. However, it is interesting to see the vegetation lining the sides of the track change as the altitude decreases.

Overall, it took us five hours to get back down but this was very slow going. We even managed to bag a ride in a 4*4 for the last few kilometres, as two locals took pity on us walking in the pouring rain and stopped on their way down the mountain to offer us a lift in the back of their pickup (which was a lot of fun!).

The track is lined by some incredible vegetation, however, it does get repetitive as it enshrouds the track the entire way
The track is lined by some incredible vegetation, however, it does get repetitive as it enshrouds the track the entire way
A very tired Bambi!
A very tired Bambi!

Summary

Overall, this trek was one of extreme highs and lows. The view from the summit was truly incredible, though in our eyes you have to pay a high cost for it. The path up, while barely visible in the dark on the way up, is boring and dull on the way back down. The whole hike could be completed in 10 hours if you are a seasoned trekker, however, it took us 12 in total, and that's including us getting a lift down the last few kilometres. There are other, more interesting (apparently) ways up that you should probably investigate if you're interested in climbing this volcano, but this is definitely a nice, easily accessible trek from the adventure capital of Panama. 

If you have any questions about our trek or would like to know more about something please feel free to ask via the comment section below - We'd be happy to help.

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