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.
Here are some Volcán Barú factoids: at 3,475 meters (11,400 feet) she is the tallest point in Panama. On a clear morning it’s possible to see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans from the top, as well as several distant points into Costa Rica. Barú is an important communications hub for most of western Panama and the top is covered in antennas.
As this adventure has taken shape in the past few months, I haven’t gotten much encouragement from other folks who have made the climb. Their comments were pretty much along these lines: A) There’s not much to see on the way up and it’s really ugly on top. B) You’ll probably have terrible weather and won’t be able to see the views. C) If you’re camping, you’ll have the most uncomfortable night of your life. And D) That hike is only for people in super-fantastic condition (I tried not to take offense at that one – ha!).
OK, negative people, I’m now in your ranks and here is my categorical response: A) It was a beautiful climb up. We saw ancient forests, many birds, and flowers that don’t grow down in the valley. And yes, the top was not a garden spot, unless you like antenna farms and graffiti. But the views made it worth it. B) We were blessed with fantastic, almost perfect weather! C) Yup, not a lot of fun sleeping on an old mattress on the floor of the police building, but doable. We felt lucky – plenty of people were up there camping out in the cold and rough. And finally – you tactful D) person – this 57-year-old has still got it going ON!!