Panama's southwest province of Chiriquí contains the country's most varied scenery. Landscapes that evoke different continents—from alpine peaks to palm-lined beaches—lie mere hours apart. The diverse environments provide conditions for world-class sportfishing, bird-watching, scuba diving, river rafting, horseback riding, hiking, and surfing, making Chiriquí an ideal destination for nature lovers.
Lush cloud forest covers the northern sector of the province. The valleys that flank Volcán Barú—an extinct volcano and Panama's highest peak—have cool mountain climates and unforgettable scenery. Boquete, Bambito, and Cerro Punta are popular with bird-watchers, rafters, and hikers, and have captivating landscapes and charming restaurants and inns. The southern lowlands are less impressive—hot and mostly deforested—and become brown and dusty in the dry season. To the south lies the Golfo de Chiriquí, with dozens of pristine islands and countless acres of coral reef awash with rainbows of marine life, and an opportunity to sample world-class, but little-known, surfing and sportfishing.
Chiricanos, or residents of Chiriquí, fly their red-and-green provincial flag with more vigor than they do the national banner. The province's population is almost as varied as its landscapes; the majority is mestizo—a mix of European and indigenous bloodlines—with a sprinkling of Asian immigrants. Many families in the mountain valleys descend from Swedish, Swiss, and other European roots, whereas David has significant Asian and Middle Eastern minorities. The Ngöbe (aka "Guaymí"), the country's largest indigenous group, have been in this region since long before Chiriquí or Panama existed. Though most Ngöbe live in a comarca (autonomous indigenous territory) northeast of Chiriquí, you also find them in Boquete, Cerro Punta, and David. Ngöbe women are recognizable by their colorful traditional dresses.