New Year’s resolutions are so tiresome, aren’t they? More often than not, they’re about punishing yourself for last year’s behavior. “I ate too much last year – gotta lose weight.” “I drank too much – time to cut back.” (We’re working our way through an alcohol-free January, but that’s another story.) So instead of resolutions, we have a wish list for 2016. It’s all of the fun things we never got around to last year, and all of the fun things we want to plan for this year. The operative word here is FUN.
At the top of our wish list is to explore more of the wonders that are right here in our Panamanian back yard; in particular, places we can get to in a couple of hours. For our first day trip of 2016 on Jan. 2, we ventured up to Cerro Punta, a corregimiento (subdistrict) of Chiriqui Province that is known as the breadbasket of Panama. It’s a moniker that Cerro Punta comes by honestly since more than 80 percent of Panama’s fresh produce is grown there. At well over 6,000 feet, the area is cool, green, and shrouded in cloud much of the time, but we lucked out and had a crystalline, blue-sky day for our trip.
As the crow flies, Cerro Punta is just the other side of Volcan Baru from Boquete. In fact, it’s possible to hike the Los Quetzales Trail from Boquete to Cerro Punta, a distance of about eight kilometers (and yes, that’s on our wish list for another time). But driving there is a different matter. It takes a good two hours, heading south from Boquete down to Dolega and up through Portrerillos and then Volcan.
While passing through Volcan, we stumbled on the town’s artisan and horticultural market, a real hub of activity for local residents. When we visited Volcan for the first time in 2010, it was a sleepy little backwater. But now it’s a town on the move with several nice restaurants and inns, a large grocery store, and much more going on. Definitely a place we’d like to explore further.
On the road connecting Volcan to Cerro Punta we made another discovery – the large and lovely Hotel Bambito Resort. We had no idea such a thing existed this far off the beaten path, so of course we had to stop for a bit and investigate. On the second day of the new year, the hotel grounds were teeming with Panamanian families out for a day of fun; in fact, that was the case everywhere we went in Cerro Punta. One very special thing about Panamanians is their love of family and celebrations, and they were out in force that day!
If there’s one overriding agricultural theme of Cerro Punta, it’s STRAWBERRIES. The road up is peppered with small stands selling fresh strawberry concoctions. Over the day, we managed to sample strawberries and cream, strawberry duros (popsicles with a dollop of frozen cream), and of course, batidos (milkshakes).
You wouldn’t think the steep volcanic slopes surrounding Cerro Punta would lend themselves to agriculture, but this hasn’t stopped the area’s enterprising farmers. All day, we were gobsmacked by the amount of near-vertical land under cultivation, including the slopes halfway up Volcan Baru. The tree-hugger in me couldn’t help but mourn for the pristine cloud forests that had been mowed down for farming, but this is a way of life that’s defined the region for many generations.
The picturesque village of Guadalupe is the tourist hub of Cerro Punta with plenty of restaurants and roadside stands, and it’s also the gateway to Panama’s La Amistad National Park. There, we made a lunch stop at Jardin Mary, a very friendly spot owned and operated by Amet Vindas and his mother. The property, which has been in the family for several generations, includes at least an acre of lush and beautiful gardens and nursery that we enjoyed exploring. It’s a must-see in Guadalupe, and we all (including Rosie!) enjoyed Amet’s right-off-the-grill chicken. (In addition to his work at the nursery, Amet is a well-known tour guide for the area – check out the link below for more info.)
After lunch, we popped in to check out the Haras Cerro Punta stud farm – birthplace of many a championship thoroughbred. Apparently, if you’re a horse, growing up at 6,000-plus-feet gives you some powerful lungs, and many of Latin America’s finest champions are bred, born, and trained there. After learning that Haras offers a tour in English every day at 10 a.m., we put it on the list for next time.
We think we covered the high points of Cerro Punta pretty well for a day trip, but we’re looking forward to getting back there and spending at least a night next time. Lucky for Rosie, we found pet-friendly lodging, the Los Quetzales eco-lodge in Guadalupe. In addition to the Haras stud farm, we also want to check out Finca Dracula, a renowned orchid sanctuary up the road from Guadalupe. I’m sure there are other delights that we have yet to discover.
Here are a few links worth checking out, if you’re planning your own Cerro Punta adventure:
Hotel Bambito Resort
Los Quetzales Lodge
Amet Vindas, tour guide
Haras Cerro Punta