Panama – last country in Central America

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We avoided the main border crossing “Paso Canoas” and choose the small boarder crossing in the mountains. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery and the cooler temps. This border in La Unión was different from all the others. It was so small, there were no signs, no police or military guard, very few cars or trucks. Great, this is going to be a fast and easy crossing, but we were wrong. On the Costa Rica side they were on lunch break and then the system was down. On the Panama side the officer at customs told us that the office where to buy the mandatory car insurance was closed due to a holiday. He sent us to the immigration office to start the tourist visa and then do the paperwork for the vehicle the next day. But the immigration officer was not happy about this idea. Without the proof of car insurance he sent us back to Costa Rica and to cancel our stamp and wait until the next day. We walked back and forth until somebody said we should to get a hold of the guy that is selling the car insurance. The phone number was in front of the office and he lives in town and might come in just for us. Great idea but nobody answered our phone call. The lady in the neighboring store knew the guy and offered us to get a hold of him for us. At first it did not work either and we walked back to discuss what to do next and suddenly somebody came running up the hill to inform us that the insurance guy is on the way. From there on everything went smoothly and had everything we needed for Panama. What a great start… we felt so welcomed and were impressed how helpful the Panamanians are.

On our way to the town of Volcan it started to rain, got dark and were not lucky to find a place to camp. We were really tired and decided to either ask the local police or fire station if they let us stay at their place for a night. Luckily we found the fire station. They even moved some cars around to accommodate us and offered us to use bathroom/showers. We planned to drive up to Cerro Punto, which is on the western side of the Volcan Baru but the firefighters told us that the area is too muddy due to the heavy rains.

Volcán Barú – highest point in Panama

From Volcan we drove around to the town of Boquete, on the eastern side of Volacan Baru. This volcano is at 3,474m the highest point in Panama. This is why we came to Boquete. The road to Baru is about 13.5km. We did not know how far we can drive up as we heard mixed opinions about the road condition. At km 4 the road got really bad and we decided to camp there. We wanted to get up early to be on the top before sunrise. When a herd of sheep waked us up we realized that we slept in. Mhmmm, so we still went for a hike. On our way up we chatted with a guy that was on the way to the summit with a Polaris vehicle. He had two seats empty and offered us to join him. That was such an awesome ride except of one scary moment when the vehicle tipped to the side – we laid on the side of the vehicle hanging in the belts and trying to climb out. But Daniel knew how to get it out. He is a very experienced driver and travels this road up and down every 4 days for 25 years. I could not even understand that these kind of roads are drivable?! From his work station there were only a few meters to climb up to the peak. The clouds were moving fast and only had a glimpse of the view from time to time. Just as we left for a 3-hour return hike to our car we ran into Felipe who offers taxi rides with his 1970 Toyota Landcruiser. He knew that we parked our car at Km 4 and wanted to know more about our car and he also invited us to jump onto the backseats of his car.  As much as we both love to hike we are so glad to have experienced this offroad trip. Still very shaken up (feels like after a roller coaster ride) we made our way back to Boquete. The ranger at the park entrance stopped us and wanted to know if we have room to give him a ride to town. How can we say NO after we got offered a ride 2 times?! Sure, I offered him my seat and I climbed into the back where we sleep and had a great conversation with him. When we asked him if he would know a good place to camp he invited us to stay at his house just a little outside of Boquete. We camped in the back of their house, could use their bathroom and internet and spend a great evening with the whole family to round up a perfect day in Panama! We are very grateful for such encounters. We can learn so much about the people and the country. This is also the best way to practice Spanish.

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the town Boquete

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driving towards Volcan Baru and finding a place to camp

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view of the town of Boquete

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Daniel and Ivan prepping the trail

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Daniel, me and the “beast” at his workplace on Volcan Baru

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Ivan climbing up to the summit

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it is possible (though relatively rare) to see both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea from Volcán Barú’s peak on a clear day

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View from the Volcán Barú Summit

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Felipe and his 1970 Toyota Landcruiser

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Felipe is driving this road almost every day for over 20 years

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it’s best to hold on to the frame and anker your feet down….. while I took this picture I hit my head on the roof

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wonderful hospitality in Boquete. Unfortunately the rest of the family left very early and I forgot to take pics the evening before.

Santa Fe

We left the PanAm Highway and drove 56 km up the valley to Santa Fe, a laid back traditional Panamanian village. It’s a beautiful area but it was again so rainy so it doesn’t make hiking and other outdoor activities very fun.

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Hostal La Qhia in Santa Fe

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love these colorful stands on the side of the road

El Valle de Anton

We were looking once more for cooler air up in the valley. We stayed at the Windmill Hostel. We had not much time to explore the area with all the activities that this town offered. Instead we wanted to meet Sarah & Erdem at Balboa Yacht Club in Panama City. We needed to figure out together how to get from Panama to Colombia. Read the next post about the most complicated overland border crossing in The Americas: shipping our vehicle around the Darién Gap in order to get from Panama to Colombia!

3 thoughts on “Panama – last country in Central America

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