If you’ve never hiked in a cloud forest before, here’s a brief overview of what you’ll see:
- Lots of mud
- Lots of rain
- Lots of insects
- Lots of trees
Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? Despite all the discomfort, I grew to love cloud forests, and Boquete is home to some of the best cloud forest hiking in Central America. Here are a couple of the short walks we did close to town.
The lost waterfalls
The rain fell steadily as we walked up the gravel road towards the entrance of the “Lost Waterfalls”. Actually, the rain fell consistently during the whole hike – it was slippery, muddy and pretty uncomfortable. We walked past three thundering waterfalls and up and down numerous muddy hills. It was a tiring few hours, but the waterfalls are impressive and make for a good distraction from the trees and the mud. We had previously hiked the Santa Elena Cloud Forest in Costa Rica and it was very similar, apart from the fact there were no “attractions” – just lots of trees. The Lost Waterfalls trail was definitely more interesting.
Getting to the Lost Waterfalls
Catch a minibus from central Boquete (tell someone where you’re going and they’ll point you to the right bus) and ask the driver to drop you off at the entrance. The bus will cost you a couple of dollars and the entrance ticket for the waterfalls is $5 – it makes for a pretty cheap half day trip.
The Quetzal Trail
I still haven’t seen a quetzal in the flesh, which might make you think that the Quetzal Trail was a bit of a disappointment, but it was a nice walk. We didn’t do the whole trail, instead walking for a couple of hours and then turning back to wait for a bus back to Boquete (which never came, but more on that later). Quetzals are notoriously difficult to spot and apparently a guide is pretty much mandatory if you expect to see one. We hoped to stumble upon one but it didn’t happen. The weather was a lot better for this day of cloud forest hiking, the only trouble we had was a huge mass of flying insects. We passed by streams, walked over bridges and stood silently among the trees for minutes at a time in hope of seeing the famous bird.
Getting to (and from) the Quetzal Trail
It was easy enough to get to the start of the trail. We took a minibus (the same one we took to the Lost Waterfalls) and expected to be able to catch one from the same place after a few hours of cloud forest hiking. Apparently the afternoon buses don’t go all the way to the entrance of the trail, so after about an hour of waiting around for a bus that was never coming, we decided to start walking back to town (it’s a long way). The sun was quickly dropping, and after about an hour of speed walking we were starting to have serious doubts about whether we’d make it back to town. It was almost dark by the time we saw a local guy who looked like he was waiting for a bus, and surely enough, about 5 minutes later, we were on our way back to Boquete. That bus was apparently the last one of the day, so if we missed it we would either have had a very long walk in the dark or a very expensive taxi ride to look forward to.
Boquete is a nice little town in the highlands of Panama. It makes for a logical stop on the tourist trail between Bocas del Toro and Panama City. The cloud forest hiking in Boquete is excellent and the town itself is a great place to relax after a tough day. There are some other walks in the area, the most famous being the ascent of Volcán Barú. We got talking to an Australian woman and decided to join her for the 11pm bus trip to the start of the trail. We planned to get some sleep before tackling the volcano but we didn’t get any. We decided the walk would be a bit long and hard (phrasing) so we pulled out. We talked to the Australian the next day and she said the peak was covered in clouds and she saw none of the world famous views. I was glad we didn’t go. Apparently the weather affects the views a lot, so keep that in mind if you plan to do it.
Further reading: I read these posts on reddit recently about two Dutch women who died while hiking in Boquete. It’s a sad (but interesting) story.
Have you been cloud forests hiking before? If so, where?
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