panama

Panama Series: Archaeological Sites, Hikes and Ecotourism in Cerro Punta

In recent years, tourism has become a great source of income for Cerro Punta.

Hikers come to explore the flora and fauna of the Parque Internacional La Amistad, a national park geographically located in both Panama and Costa Rica. Ecotourism – which seems to be a growing trend worldwide – is booming here, and who are we to pass up a chance to spend a night somewhere where protection of the environment is the main focus?

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Our guidebook recommended an ecolodge called Los Quetzales Lodge & Spa – a charming wooden lodge which has some kind of glamping (glamourous camping) vibe to it. What caught my immediate attention at the check-in counter, was the free hot chocolate with marshmallows, offered to guests at the lodge. While my boyfriend and his parents were asking about excursions, hikes and hotel facilities, I was busy indulging in hot chocolate and that sweet fluffy campfire-delight, also known as marshmallows. If this is what eco-glamping feels like, this fat lady was loving it!

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The wood furniture in our room was kind of dated, and one of the chairs were actually broken, but that’s just part of the charm, right? As a kid growing up in Norway, I was raised in a big, wooden house and spent quite a few vacations going camping in log cabins, which is probably why I love wood furniture (broken or not) and see past the fact that it’s not stylish or sexy. Whatever. It has a charm. A campsite-marshmallow-munching-bunkbed-sleepover-wool-socks-wearing kind of charm. And for one second there, I forgot I was in Panama.

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…Something you’re quickly reminded of, once you open the front door and take a look outside. Colorful, tropical flowers and hummingbirds fluttering in full speed, sipping nectar and teasing us humans who hang around, impatiently trying to get the perfect photo of those beautiful little creatures, before they take off – faster than superman.

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Thanks to the macro lens I inherited from my late father, we managed to get some decent shots. But it took us a lot of time and patience to get there. Trust me!

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A hike was scheduled for the following day. I hadn’t even been aware of it, as I’d been to busy stuffing my face with marshmallows and hot chocolate while the others spoke to the receptionist and made the arrangements. I assumed we were going to the La Amistad National Park – and I was right.

A 4×4 picked us up in front of the lodge. Our tour guide spoke absolutely no English and no one in our party spoke any Spanish. All communication would be solely based on gestures such as thumbs up, thumbs down, stop, face palm, you get it. The tour guide didn’t get it, though. He spoke to us in Spanish the entire time. Strangely, the slower and louder he spoke – and the more he said – the more I understood. Or at least I think I did.

Boots. Walk in water. Wet. Change. Toilet. Go. Easy hike or extreme hike? Waterfall. Good.

The 4×4 took us to a cabin and we had no idea what was inside of it and why we were going there in the first place. Were we gonna buy snacks? Was it a lounge area? Was all of this just a scheme? Was he planning to murder us? We let the men enter first. It was safer that way.

Inside of the cabin there was a kitchenette, a large trashcan – and hundreds of pairs of rain boots placed on a shelf. The guide wanted us to change into the rain boots. We were already wearing hiking boots and couldn’t quite understand how uncomfortable low-quality rain boots would be a better option for a hike up the waterfall trail, but we assumed there was a good reason for it.

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We walked through a stream. Once. That was the only time the rain boots felt somewhat useful and comfortable and not just sweaty and all wrong. During the rest of the hike I was even asking myself whether it would be more comfortable to go barefoot on the way up, and roll down the hill on our way back. But I decided to just leave the boots on and act like a civilized person. As soon as we reached the waterfall, we all forgot about our discomfort for a brief moment, and got busy taking pictures to document how fit and healthy we all were (lies).

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The highlight of the hike was surprisingly not even the hike itself, but what happened on our way back to the lodge. The 4×4 that picked us up in the morning had not yet arrived, but another one was there – but to our disappointment, it was just a two-seater. My boyfriend’s father jokingly suggested that we could ride with him. In the back. Standing up. Now, let me tell you one thing. This may be totally legal in your country, but it sure isn’t legal in the country I’m from nor the one I live in. Because of that, I was a bit hesitant at first, but once the vehicle started going down the (bumpy) hill  and we passed the wicked jungle landscape and felt the wind blowing in our faces, it felt nothing but magical….until my boyfriend’s mother, who stayed in the passenger’s seat, vomited out the window.

Our hike was done, but our adventures were far from over. Tim, the friendly receptionist back in Boquete, had told us about an amazing archaeological site and museum in Volcan (close to Cerro Punta) and we were eager to visit!

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Sitio Barriles is an archaeological site on a local family’s property. Here, National Geographic and several universities have participated in the discovery of many hidden Native American artifacts. Edna, the owner of the land, the museum – and guardian of all the archaeological discoveries made on her property- gave us a fantastic tour and a lot of interesting information about not just the pottery, statues and other items found, but also about her beautiful garden and all the different plants.

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The place is in need of funding, as there’s a lot of maintenance work to be done, so if you decide to head over to Sitio Barriles, please donate a little while you’re there. For a good cause. For history!

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Other things you can do in Cerro Punta or nearby… And why I didn’t do it:

  • 11 hour hike to catch the sunrise and climb the Volcan Baru – I’m not fit for those things. Sign me up for the next season of ‘the biggest loser’ and maybe then….maaaybe…I’ll be able to do HALF that hike.
  • The spa treatments at our ecolodge Los Quetzales Lodge & SpaThe prices were the same as spa treatments back home, so we prioritized our budget differently. I’m all up for sponsored spa treatments, though. Anyone? Yes? Maybe? No?
  • Finca Dracula (Botanical garden for orchids) – We wanted to visit, but it was closed for renovation.

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Sitio Barriles:

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Hiking in La Amistad:

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Next post will be the last one on Panama – and it will be from the beautiful islands in Bocas del Toro!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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16 comments on “Panama Series: Archaeological Sites, Hikes and Ecotourism in Cerro Punta

  1. First of all, you’re hilarious. I love your writing style and want to be your friend. Second of all, the eco-lodge looks adorable, but I can’t tell if this little area is super touristy or not. Did it feel authentic?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, thanks! Let’s be friends then! Yes it did feel authentic, as most of the travelers who go there go specifically to go hiking and relax on their own or in small groups 🙂

      Like

  2. Panama has long been on my wish list after visiting Cost Rica 10 years ago. I love the flora and fauna you can hike through (and that waterfall!), and exploring the archaeological site would be super cool as well. Your photography rocks, I definitely want to go!

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    • Thank you. I love photography, so that means a lot to hear that. I haven’t been to Costa Rica yet, but I’ve been told it’s quite similar to Panama 🙂

      Like

  3. Those pictures are absoutely gorgeous! The nature and ecology of the area is amazing! I’ve never visited Panama or any of central/south America as I’m saving it for a big backpacking trip, but I’ll definitely be adding Cerro Punta to the list, as I love hikes and walking!

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  4. Cerro Punta looks beautiful, i love hiking as ypu can take in everything at your own time. I love the fact that glamping offered you free hot chocolates with marshmallows, my husband would ne there in a heartbeat and they would need to hide the marshmallows. Standing on the back of a 4×4 sounds loke it was a cool adventure too 😆

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  5. ilive4travel

    I never went here when I was in Panama. It looks like a great hike, I went to a different waterfall and gorge for a swim. I stayed about an hour from Boquete in a hostel in the middle of the rainforest, a lot less luxurious than your place and a 20 min hike up a dirt track with your bags to get there too!! Its an amazing part of the world though and I loved the area. I must look into hiking the volcano next time 🙂

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  6. This looks like a great place for relaxation and peace. The hike is worth it because of the view and the waterfalls. Nature lovers would really enjoy this.

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  7. It’s the small things that matters, isnt it. Sometimes free hot chocolate can make the trip!.And as a Norwegian myself I totally get how you feel about wooden furniture. It brings back so many memories from the good old days in the cabin, just relaxing with my family. Great post, love your pictures.

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  8. Before reading your post, I did not know Cerro Punta. It’s such a nice place to visit! I love the picture of the bird and flowers.

    Like

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