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Volcan Baru

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I’ve been captivated by Volcán Barú since the first time I laid eyes on her on our first trip to Boquete in 2010. Even then, the idea to climb Barú someday got stuck in my brain and she landed on our bucket list.

Finally last weekend, after almost two years of living here, I got my wish. (John wisely took a pass on this one because, to paraphrase him, he’s saving his knees for Machu Picchu!) The “road” to the top is mostly a horrible, rutted, and rocky dirt track that can only be managed by extremely tough, high-clearance 4WD vehicles with huge tires. It took us about 7.5 hours to hike the 9.2 miles with a total elevation gain of 5,500 feet. I can honestly say the hike was one of the most physically challenging things I’ve ever done, and also one of the most rewarding.

Earlier this month, we realized a dream a year in the making when we walked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. It was one of the more physically challenging things we’ve ever done, and also one of the most rewarding. There’s so much to tell that we’ve decided to split this post into two. Here, we’ll talk about the Inca Trail experience. In a subsequent post, we describe our encounter with Machu Picchu, the fabled city that so many have tried to understand but to this day remains shrouded in mystery. We’ll also throw in a few tips for folks that are considering a trek of their own. It’s worth mentioning that “Inca Trail” is a bit of a misnomer. The stretch we walked, almost 28 miles, is actually just a tiny fragment of a huge network of trails that criss-cross the Andes and link important Inca and pre-Inca sites. At…

It’s been over a year since we first posted our listing of Boquete favorites, so here’s an update for folks planning a visit here. Usual caveat: this is strictly subjective. Apologies in advance to anyone or anything we might have left out! And sorry, they’re in no particular order (although you can see where our priorities lie – outdoor adventures are first!).  FAVE OUTDOOR ADVENTURES Hiking, hiking, and more hiking. The cloud forests above Boquete are a hiking wonderland. We especially love the LostWaterfalls, Pipeline, Los Quetzales, and El Pianista trails. We recently completed the round trip on the Los Quetzales trail to Cerro Punta and back, and it was spectacular. Here’s the story.  El Tatica Waterfall. This one is simply breathtaking, especially during rainy season, and it’s relatively easy to hike to (about three miles round-trip). Kiki Falls. This spectacular cascada is not easy to get to since it’s on the…

Our training for the big Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu in October continues! Two weekends ago we not only gave ourselves a good hiking challenge but also ticked another one off the Boquete bucket list: a round-trip, overnight hike on the Los Quetzales Trail. Whether you’re planning a trip to Boquete or you live here, hiking at least part of this stunning trail is an absolute must. The trail connects the Boquete side of Volcán Barú National Park with Cerro Punta, a beautiful highland farming area that is worth a visit on its own (we’ve blogged about Cerro Punta before, here and here). The Los Quetzales Trail is truly one of the most scenic hikes in all of Panamá. It’s quite possible to catch a glimpse of the elusive Respendent Quetzal, the trail’s namesake and one of central America’s most celebrated birds, as well as many other colorful birds…

It’s August, and that means the countdown to our big Peru trip has begun! On Sept. 29 we’ll fly to Lima and then spend 23 days exploring that magical country. One of the big highlights – and our current obsession – will be a four-day, three-night trek on the historic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. On the advice of friends, we booked the trek with Alpaca Expeditions – a highly rated tour company that will provide guides, porters, camping gear, and sumptuous and tasty meals. To say that we’re excited is an understatement. But we keep having to remind ourselves that the Inca Trail is but one of many fantastic things we’ll see and do on our month-long adventure to Peru. John the travel planner has been hard at work on an itinerary that will give us time to explore Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo, Puno and…

We just returned from our latest weekend trip to Cerro Punta, a lovely farming community northwest of Boquete and on the far side of Volcan Baru. It’s one of our favorite places for a weekend visit, and at 6,000 feet, it’s a good place to do some hiking and work on our altitude tolerance for our upcoming trip to Peru in the fall. Yesterday, we spent the morning hiking Amistad (Friendship) National Park, so named because it straddles the Panama/Costa Rica border and is managed by both countries. Starting from the Las Nubes Ranger Station, we huffed up to 8,000 feet on Sendero La Cascada (Inca Trail, here we come!) and then back down into a steep ravine to reach a lovely waterfall. We were pleasantly surprised to find an almost-paved road all the way up to the Las Nubes station, much improved from our previous visit to Cerro Punta.…

In preparation for our big trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in October, John and I have started pushing ourselves to get in shape for the three big hikes, at altitude, that we’ll have to face on that trip. Last Sunday and yesterday, we completed two 8-mile hikes in Chiriqui Province, both of which started right out of our neighborhood but ended in two separate areas. We also got a first-hand look at a huge road construction project that’s the talk of the area and will soon link Alto Boquete, Panama with the towns of Palmira and Potrerillos. To set the stage, we live in a neighborhood called Brisas Boqueteñas, just down the hill from Boquete, that sits on the edge of a beautiful canyon with our local volcano, Barú, as the backdrop. Although our own casa isn’t a canyon house (we’re in the cheap seats!), several houses…

After almost three years of expat living in Panama, we still hear two questions pretty frequently: 1) Is the cost of living really lower there than in the U.S. or Canada? and 2) What are your actual living expenses there? We’ll get to the second one in a minute, but as to the first — it’s highly subjective. Where are you coming from? Where in Panama do you want to live? How fancy do you want your lifestyle to be, and how important is “stuff” to you? Will you rent or own your home? How much do you travel? And those are just a few of the factors that come into play. Everyone’s situation is different, but here are a few facts about us. We’re not wealthy by any means, but we’ve both worked hard all our lives and planned carefully to secure a comfortable retirement. We came from Southern California,…

You would not believe how many times I’m asked that question, now that I’ve retired and moved to Panama. Here’s what I say: every day’s Saturday and I do whatever the hell I want – bwahahaha! Here’s the less smart-assed answer: I love retirement. I feel busier then ever, but in such a good and fulfilled way. I know there are folks out there who love their jobs so much that they say they’ll never retire, even if it makes sense financially. Honestly, you’re incredibly lucky if you’ve found work that is so fulfilling for you. For me, it was the exact opposite. I am so glad my time is now my own, and I do not have to answer to a boss or be working for a soulless, profit-obsessed company — which was the case through most of my working life. 3-4 weeks of vacation a year – really??…

Heavens to Murgatroyd – where did November go? And December, for that matter. With 2017 staring us in the face, it’s a good time to look back on some of our best moments this year. So many of those moments have been about spending time with friends and our fur kids in the cloud forest paradise known as the western Panama highlands. Every time we get out, it’s like re-discovering our wonderful home all over again.