The town of Boquete is nestled in the valley next to Baru Volcano, the tallest mountain in Panama, with an elevation of 11,401 feet at the summit. Baru Volcano is an active volcano, but has not erupted since the 16th century. Fun fact during the last eruption, which was the largest documented in Central America, the debris avalanche deposits reached as far as the pacific ocean and covered about 10 times the area as the blast from Mt. St. Helens!
When we got settled in Boquete we picked out three hikes for our week from the long list of choices. Each hike offered something slightly different, but they all turned out to have three things in common: steep, muddy, and slippery. We started with the Tres Cascades (three waterfalls) hike which is where we meet the 2-month old puppy Princess!
This hike quickly reminded us how long it has been since we last hiked with steep and muddy inclines right from the start. There were even a couple of sections where a rope was provided to help navigate up an incline so you didn't just slide back down to the start as a frustrated and muddier version of yourself. This hike reminded us of the jungle section of the Inca Trail in Peru because of how immersed we were in the tropical vegetation. It was refreshing to be completely alone and a nice change from our usual hikes in the Shenandoah Valley back home, slapping high fives with other hikers every half mile or so. There were only a couple of other hikers that we crossed paths with during the three hour hike.
Our second hike (La Piedra de Lino) kicked our butt's again. It was a relatively short hike in length, but the trail shot straight up the mountain right from the start with no looking back. On the plus side this hike was the least muddy because the volcanic soil of this area was so incredibly soft and fertile, even though it rained that morning you could not tell on our hike because of how quickly the soil drained. Wish we had infiltration rates like that back home (couldn't help ourselves)! We tracked our progress with a garmin watch which mapped our route and logged the elevation change of the climb. Click the link below to check it out!
At the top of the hike was a great view of the valley and the town of Boquete. We took some panoramic shots so you can experience the view for yourself (below).
After slipping and sliding our way back down the mountain (quite literally we both had mud butts at the bottom) we were greeted at the end of the trail by a furry friend. We often see dogs all over the place in Panama roaming around and doing their own thing. Some of the dogs have owners and some seem to be "communal" dogs who roam around to find bowls of food and water here or there. So we didn't think much of saying hi to this pup as she ran towards us whining and wagging her tail, desperate for affection. We start to pet her and she immediately rolled over for a belly rub. She seemed friendly and well groomed as if she belonged to someone. She even began to walk along with us for a bit on our way back to town. We figured the dog would lose interest with us at some point and turn back towards home. Along the way she was marking her territory all over the place like a male dog, squatting with the one leg up. She did this literally every 200 feet for the entire 3 mile walk back to town. We also learned she knew how to play fetch and wiggled her butt a lot when you said, "Buena niña!" ("Good girl!")
When we got back to our hostel we asked for a bowl of water figuring she had squeezed out every last ounce marking the entire town as hers on the way, but she had no interest in the water. Instead she was glued at the hip to Lauren and would not let her go into the hostel without following behind her right at her heels. We started to feel bad that maybe she didn't have a home and began to worry about leaving her outside of the hostel while we showered. After we got cleaned up we talked with the folks that run the hostel and learned that this pup is known to do this from time to time. She will just walk people home from the hike like she is doing a great heroic service for her new BFF and then will turn around and walk herself back home. It was a close one we almost had to call the rest of the trip off on account of a fur baby adoption.
Our last hike in Boquete was the longest at about 8.25 miles (round trip) and felt like the most difficult of the three. This hike was also at the highest altitude which may have played a role in our panting along the way, starting around 6,500 feet in elevation and working steeply up to about 8,200 at the view point (and turn around point). The hike is called the Sendero Los Quetzales, named after the elusive Quetzal bird.
The trail started at a ranger station for sign in (free hike) and then followed a gravel road over rolling hills surrounded by some farmland at the edge of the rain forest. It started raining shortly after we reached the trail head and only stopped for short periods during our 4 hour hike. Guess that is just what you get when hiking through a rain forest. It wasn't bad though because it was already a bit chilly at that elevation so we wanted to wear our rain jackets anyway.
One of the highlights of the trail was when Lauren heard the howler monkeys for the first time. This is now one of my most cherished memories. Fun facts: howler monkeys are the loudest land mammals and their "growls" can be heard up to three miles away through dense forest. Howler monkeys are also extremely lazy, like even more so than sloths. They sleep around 18 hours a day and don't do much moving when they are awake. They use their loud howl to communicate with each other from afar so they don't have to do much moving around to protect their territory.
The howler monkeys we heard were not 3 miles away, they were actually quite close when they woke up from their daily slumber to serenade us with their ominous growling. Lauren immediately thought "Oh Dear God it's a Jaguar or Puma!" and that we were in immediate and imminent danger for our lives. I had heard the howler monkeys several years ago on my previous visit to Costa Rica so I told her it was probably the monkeys and from what I remembered they were harmless. Surprisingly, my Mansplaining about the monkeys did not put her at ease while we were tramping through the rain forest on a trail only as wide as our feet and we had not yet seen anybody else on the trail. So for the next quarter of a mile I was chasing Lauren through the rain forest as she sprint-hiked and repeatedly told the monkeys to stay away every time that they howled.
After about 2.5 hours of hiking we reached the top of the mountain pass where everyone had told us the trail head to the view point was only a few hundred feet down the trail. So we keep hiking and about 1000 feet further down the trail we are scratching our heads wondering if and how we missed it. We were pretty tired at this point and both had low blood sugar so we were trying to conserve our energy and remaining snacks/water for the trail back. We contemplated just turning back and forsaking the view point. We did turn back and walked a few hundred feet back down the mountain all the while wondering how we had missed the trail to the view point. Determined not to have hiked this far without a view we double backed again to push on just a little bit further to see if perhaps it was just around the next bend or two. And of course it was literally around the next bend from where we turned back at first, another 7 steps and we would have seen the sign. Now as an eagle scout and civil engineer I pride myself on being able to read a map and follow a trail, but I now realize I was taking the hand drawn map too literal and it was definitely NOT to scale! Not a big deal, but a small pet peeve of being an engineer.
The view point of the valley was beautiful and the rain clouds even stopped long enough for us to get a couple of shots. After a quick break and the photos at the top we moved at Lauren's howler monkey sprint-hike pace back out because we heard thunder and saw some dark clouds rolling in. On our way out Lauren saw a glimpse of the Quetzal bird as one heard us and flew away. We put a picture below of the bird below for you to see, but this is not one of our pictures as we did not get that lucky.