• Photo: Amaiquez | Dreamstime.com

Cerro Punta

This bowl-shaped highland valley northwest of Volcán Barú offers some splendid bucolic scenery and is bordered by vast expanses of wilderness that invite bird-watchers, hikers, and nature lovers. A patchwork of vegetable farms covers the valley floor and clings to the steep slopes that surround it, and ridges are topped with dark cloud forest and rocky crags. On the eastern side of the valley, a steep slope rises up into a wedge of granite for which the area was named—cerro punta means "pointed hill." That eastern ridge, part of the country's Continental Divide, is often enveloped in clouds pushed there by the trade winds.

That mist, which locals call bajareque, often engulfs the valley, then retreats back to the mountaintops.

The results are frequent, fleeting rain showers that keep the valley green year-round and produce an inordinate number of rainbows.

The road that winds up through Bambito bursts into the expansive Cerro Punta just west of a few shops, restaurants, and a gas station next to an intersection that marks the beginning of a loop through the valley. If you head straight at that intersection, you will soon pass the road and El Respingo, where the Sendero Los Quetzales begins. Shortly after that is Guadalupe, a small collection of farms including Los Quetzales Lodge and Spa and the orchid farm of Finca Drácula. If you turn left at the intersection, you reach the road to Las Nubes—the entrance to Parque Internacional La Amistad—more quickly, but the whole loop takes only 15 minutes to drive either way. If you take any of the side roads that head into the mountains from the loop, you quickly come upon patches of forest with plenty of birds.

Cerro Punta is the highest inhabited area in Panama, nearly 6,000 feet above sea level. It can get chilly when the sun goes down or behind the clouds, though it is usually warm enough for shorts and T-shirts by day. From December to March the temperature sometimes drops down to almost 4°C (40°F) at night, so bring warm clothes and a waterproof jacket, as well as sturdy boots for the slippery mountain trails. The sun is intense, so use sunblock or wear a hat when you aren't in the woods.

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