Believe or not, I did it intentionally…
When I arrived in Panama, I immediately started looking for places to visit and thing to do in the Country. One of the things I found out is that you can climb up the Baru Volcano, that is the highest point in Panama and one of the few places in the world that you can see both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The volcano is located in Chiriqui Province in Panama, very close to the border of Costa Rica and about 7h driving from Panama City. I got so excited about it and started to plan it right away, especially after I found out that you can only go during the drying season (Panama’s Summer), between December and May. So, I managed to put together a few friends that wanted to go as well, and the 11 of us decided to go at the beginning of March 2018.
The first thing we did was to getter all the information that we could about the climbing, we searched online, talked with people that already climbed, etc. Unfortunately, once we decided to go we didn’t have too much time to prepare physically. So, here’s my first advice: if you are planning on doing something like this, stop reading this and start training NOW.
How to get to the top
There are two routes that you can use to get to the top of the volcano, you need to decide which one before you go, since each one has its own peculiarities:
The hardest way, but shorter, is to hike from near the Village of Nuevo Bambino. The trail up has a few markers (ribbons, paint, and signs on trees and rocks) but there are no KM markers on the way. Is fastest because is the steeper, you actually may need some ropes and climbing equipment. And I suggest going with someone with experience and that already did that route before or hire a guide.
The easiest way, but longer, is to leave from Boquete. That’s the one we chose. You have the option to hire a guide, we didn’t think it was necessary, it was about $80 to $100 per person. The thing is, there is only one single road all the way up, with Km markers almost every Km, it would be very hard to get lost. You can also go up with a 4×4, at the time, it cost about $150 per person. We decided to go walking, we wanted the full experience.
We hired a van to take us from Panama City to Boquete, Friday at midnight. The plan was to start climbing at the end of the next morning, so we decided it was best that no one that was climbing should drive for 7h during the night before. The only problem was that the van wasn’t very comfortable, and we couldn’t sleep anyways. We arrived at Boquete around 7 – 8 am and went to the Panamonte Hotel for a very good breakfast, and after that, we went to the Volcano’s entrance and started to climb around 10 am.
What you should bring
A very comfortable backpack; at least 3 liters of water, I took only two and I managed to have water all the way up and back, but most of the people who were with me had to make the descent without water; snacks for the way, something energetic like protein bars, chocolate, etc; light and comfortable clothes for the way up. But bring warm clothes as well, up there is very cold especially when the sun goes down, so bring gloves, cap, blankets and everything you can think of that will make you comfortable; toilet paper; sunscreen; and portable charger.
If you are planning to camp up there, as we did, you will need: a camping tends, flashlight and sleeping bags. Don’t forget to bring enough food for as long as you plan to be there. During the night, the temperature can get to 1ºC, so be prepared for it. Up there are a lot of antennas from communication companies and there are a few constructions, so the best idea is to place your camping tend behind one of those because of the wind during the night. For that, I recommend getting up there faster since there isn’t much space behind this “houses”.
Ok, so how was it for me?
The short answer: Very hard!
The climb is a total of 13,5Km, and in the beginning, it was fine, I think up to about the 6Km everyone was excited and motivated. We stopped every two Km or so for water and food and kept changing who would carry the camping tends as well. The problem is that there aren’t a lot of plans on the way, almost the entire way is a climb. There are points that you actually go down, only to have to go up again. There was a point, I think It was the 9Km, that going back wasn’t an option anymore, we were closer to the top than the beginning. And then, something amazing happened, a man in one of those 4×4 cars showed up and offer to take our stuff all the way up, for free! I like to think the universe decided to send us a little help. I don’t know if I would be able to do it if I had to carry all my things all the way, but even without the backpack, I was very difficult! At that point, we were so tired that it didn’t matter.
The last Km was the hardest, it was the steepest and we already had our backpack back. I remember taking one step and stopping for air, it took me forever! When I finally arrived at the top, I set down and started to cry, compulsively. I didn’t believe what I had just done!
We put together our camping tends behind one of the construction and enjoyed the sunset. It took us 6h30min to get there, so we managed to get up there with the sun still up! The view was amazing, and our timing was perfect! You get the see both oceans (very glad this part was true) and appreciated the full sunset from above the clouds. Once the sun goes down it gets cold very fast and there isn’t a lot to do up there. We had dinner all together, enjoyed the sky full of stars and went to bed. We wanted to watch the sunrise as well.
Note: There are a lot of people that go up during the night to watch the sunrise and go back on the same day. I imagine that you have to be in very good shape to go up and down on the same day, without sleep, and have a lot of courage to climb up during the night. But it is a possibility, depending on how much time you have.
We woke up about 5-6am and got to see the full sunrise from the other side of the volcano, it was amazing! After that, since everyone had a good night of sleep, we decided to climb the cross. I haven’t told you about that yet, right? Sorry. So the highest point in Panama it’s actually a little bit higher than the point where you can camp, you need to climb until the Cross. And that part is very hard since it’s a very narrow path and you have to hold the rocks to prevent you from falling at some points. It’s not such a good idea if you are afraid of highs. The point where the cross has 3.474 meters of altitude. And the view is priceless.
We started going down still in the morning, we needed to have lunch and go back to the City still on Sunday. The way down wasn’t easy, don’t get me wrong, but it was easier and faster than going up. Of course, going down a mountain is faster, but I actually ended up with blisters on my feet, because of the pressure of holding the foot in the hill. We took about 4h to go down. After that, we found a delicious restaurant, Casa Vieja, in Boquete and had a very nice lunch, we were eating sandwiches and tuna for the last day. Before we had back to the city we stopped for some coffee. Boquete’s coffee is known for being the best one in Panama, so if you are there you should definitely try!
After all that, what would I do differently?
Two things: First, I would have prepared for it way more than I did. I would have trained with a backpack on my back, so I could bring the 3 liters of water, and made the way up so much easier; And if I could, I would arrive in Boquete the day before, so I could get a good night sleep.
I do recommend climbing Baru, it’s easy in the matter that you don’t need experience, you won’t get lost, you can go walking, and you don’t need any special equipment to do it. Even if you are not 100% physically prepared for it, you will manage to get to the top. I know that there are other volcanos and mountains that are very hard to climb, and you need training and even hire a specialized company to accompany you. Baru is not easy, but it is doable. The view is incredible, and the experience is worth it! That feeling that “you did it” when you get to the top…, there is nothing like it!
Now, if you don’t think you will be able to do it, or you don’t like this kind of adventures, but you do want to go up, you can! Just hire one 4×4 car, bring with you everything to make you comfortable up there and enjoy the view. You can even go up and down on the same day and don’t sleep up there if you don’t want to. It’s okay! You should do it if you want to and are prepared for it, if you’re not, that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the feeling of being up there.
And last, be safe! It’s 13,5Km going up, with no cell phone or internet reception, and you can stay on the route without anyone passing by for a very long time. Don’t go alone and be prepared for it!
Have a nice hiking!