Panama tends to be an overlooked travel destination in Central America but I found it to be a great destination for hiking enthusiasts. Here’s my Panama hiking overview with my thoughts, favorites and dislikes about hiking in this beautiful country.
Although I enjoyed hiking in Panama, the one thing that bothered me the most is that many of the trails I hiked were unmarked. There were a few instances I got on the wrong trail and spent a lot of time backtracking. This happened on La India Dormida Trail in El Valle de Anton and Bermejo Waterfalls in Santa Fe. A simple arrow pointing in the right direction could have avoided some frustration.
I understand Panama is still behind other countries when it comes to maintenance and infrastructure of their national park and reserves. I know there are exceptions to this (e.g. Metropolitan Natural Park + Lost & Found Hostel) so I hope Panama establishes a benchmark making it easier for travelers who want to do some hiking in this beautiful country.
As a result of this, I didn’t have to pay a lot of entrance fees for hiking trails in Panama. There were quite a few places where there was no one at the entrance to collect it. If I did have to pay, it was usually no more than $3 or $5 (I did pay $7 to hike Lost Waterfalls in Boquete). Hiking in Panama is very budget friendly for those on a backpacker budget.
Cerro Tute in Santa Fe is my favorite hike in Panama. You couldn’t ask for better weather when I did this hike. Luckily, I didn’t get lost thanks to detailed instructions from the hostel on getting to this trail. The trail was not as difficult as I expected and the views from the summit were amazing. A beautiful valley is visible to the west. The mountains and town of Santa Fe visible to the east. I highly recommend this hike to anyone visiting Santa Fe. You won’t regret it!
I think Cerro Gaital in El Valle de Anton is the toughest hike in Panama. There were some technical aspects and challenging parts which involved scrambling and climbing up rocks that make it a difficult hike. Despite the challenges, I still really enjoyed this hike.
I didn’t consider Volcan Baru to be a tough hike despite its length. Until the end, there weren’t any parts of the hike that really challenged me. If you plan to do this hike, I recommend hiking Piedra de Lino (which I think is the 2nd toughest hike in Panama) because it is a really steep and short hike that prepares your body for a longer hike up the volcano.
There are so many great hikes in Panama with amazing views so it’s hard to pick one. Along with being my favorite hike, Cerro Tute in Santa Fe has one of the best views in Panama. Ancon Hill in Panama City and Lost & Found Hostel have a variety of great viewpoints. Piedra de Lino and Cerro Gaital have great views as well but unfortunately, the weather was too cloudy for me once I reached the top of these mountains.
Hikes You Can Skip
The Square Trees hike in El Valle de Anton didn’t have as many square trees as I expected. It was a bit frustrating trying to figure out which ones were the square trees. There is supposedly an entrance fee here but there was no one there to collect the fee when I did this hike. I wouldn’t suggest doing this hike in El Valle de Anton.
El Alto Waterfall in Santa Fe has the nice swimming hole but other than that there wasn’t much to do in the area. Some of the surrounding views are nice but unless you have a car, I wouldn’t go through the trouble of making your way out here. There are better waterfalls to see around Santa Fe.
There are lots of different places in Panama where you can go hiking. If you have limited time in the country, I recommend hiking in Boquete and Lost & Found Hostel. It rained a lot in Boquete so I did not get to do as many hikes as planned. I do plan on returning there in the dry season to conquer some more local hikes. I also want to note that I did spend some time in Bocas del Toro and it is pretty limited in terms of hiking. However, I recommend hiking to Starfish Beach if you want to get away from the crowds. You can get there by taking the Bocas del Drago minibus for $2.50. It leaves the park in Bocas del Toro every other hour.
Have you been to Panama? What were your favorite hikes there? Did you get lost as much as I did? Share your hiking adventures with me in the comment section!
If you like my Panama hiking guide, I would also recommend checking out my guide to Great Hiking Destinations in Ireland.
If you want to know a little bit more about the Darien Gap, Tom from Tom Plan My Trip shares his experience about traveling there.