17 Best Sights in Chiriqui Province, Panama

Finca Lérida

Fodor's choice

On the eastern slope of Volcán Barú, this coffee farm encompasses 370 acres of bird-filled cloud forest. The farm is recommended in A Guide to the Birds of Panama as the place to see quetzals, and that's practically a guarantee between January and April. You may also see silver-throated tanagers, collared trogons, clorophonias, and about 230 other species. The farm's resident guide can take you along its 10 km (6 miles) of hiking trails, one leading to a small waterfall, or you can explore them on your own. The guide is invaluable if you're looking for quetzals. The coffee tour here gives insight into the harvesting and processing of Boquete's most famous product. The farm has a great view and a moderately priced café serving homemade desserts and fresh-roasted coffee.

Parque Nacional Coiba

Fodor's choice

Isla Coiba began its human history as a penal colony—it was Panama's version of Devil's Island—where 3,000 convicts toiled on farms carved out of the dry forest, growing food for the country's entire prison system. The Panamanian government declared the island a national park in 1991, but it took more than a decade to relocate the prisoners. Parque Nacional Coiba now protects 667,000 acres of sea and islands, of which Isla Coiba itself constitutes about 120,000 acres.

The marine life of the park is as impressive as that of the Galápagos. The extensive and healthy reefs are home to comical frog fish, sleek rays, and massive groupers. The national park holds more than 4,000 acres of reef, composed of two-dozen different types of coral and 760 fish species. The park's waters are also visited by 22 species of whale and dolphin, including killer whales and humpback whales, fairly common there from July to September.

The wildlife on Coiba doesn't compare to that on the Galápagos, but its forests are home to howler monkeys, agoutis (large rodents), and 150 bird species, including the endemic Coiba spinetail, the rare crested eagle, and the country's biggest population of endangered scarlet macaws. Several trails wind through the island's forests; the Sendero de los Monos (Monkey Trail), a short boat trip from the ranger station, is the most popular. Crocodiles inhabit the island's extensive mangrove swamps, and sea turtles nest on some beaches from April to September. The most popular beach in the park is on the tiny Granito de Oro (Gold Nugget) island, where lush foliage backs white sand, and good snorkeling lies a short swim away.

Options for visiting Isla Coiba range from a day trip out of Playa Santa Catalina to one-week tours, or small-ship cruises that include on-board lodging. The National Environment Authority (ANAM) offers accommodations ($20 per bed; five beds per building) in air-conditioned cement buildings with communal kitchen—you have to bring your own food—near the ranger station. There is also space for 15 campers ($10 per two-person tent). Reserve at least a month ahead of time during the dry season.

Bajo Mono Road

The road, near San Ramón, leads to the trailhead for the Sendero Los Quetzales, which winds its way through the forest between Cerro Punta and Boquete. Start that hike in Cerro Punta, though; it's all uphill from Boquete. Head to Bajo Mono to look for quetzals and hundreds of other bird species; the best area for bird-watching is the beginning of the Sendero Los Quetzales, above the Alto Chiquero ranger station. Two other good hiking trails head off of the Bajo Mono Road: the Sendero Culebra, on the right 1½ km (1 mile) up the road to Alto Chiquero, and Pipeline Road, a gravel track on the left that leads to a canyon and waterfall.

Panama
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $3 to access Pipeline Road.

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Café Ruiz

The Ruiz family has been growing coffee in Boquete since the late 1800s, and their coffee-roasting and packaging plant is just south of Mi Jardín Es Su Jardín. A full three-hour tour visits the family farm and processing plant in the mountains above town. Because it has plenty of trees and uses few chemicals, the farm is a good place to see birds. Do the tour in the morning between October and May, during harvest. Reserve a tour by phone or via the website.

Caldera

Half an hour south of Boquete is the small village of Caldera, known for its hot springs (Los Pazos) and pre-Columbian petroglyphs. Los Pazos is next to the Caldera River, at the end of a rough road on the right after town, which requires 4WD. Before the turnoff for Los Pozos is the Piedra Pintada (Painted Rock), behind the Jardín La Fortuna, a large boulder with pre-Columbian petroglyphs scrawled into its side. Both sites can be visited on a tour offered by Boquete's bird-watching and hiking guides.

CEFATI Information Center

If you're driving, stop at the town's official visitor center, on the right at the south entrance to town. The center offers free information on local sights and services, but the main reason to stop is to admire the view of the Boquete Valley. The building also has a small café. Beware of any businesses that advertise themselves as a "Tourist Center" or "Visitor Center" near the main park on Avenida Central. Unlike CEFATI, they operate solely on commission and generally steer travelers toward operations for which they can increase service rates. Additionally, their information and prices are not always reliable.

Av. Central/Calle Principal, Panama
507-720–4060
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Jan.–Apr., daily 8:30–3:30; May–Dec., daily 8–4

Feria

Two blocks east of Boquete's parque central are the fairgrounds where the Feria de las Flores y del Café (Flower and Coffee Fair) is held for 10 days in mid-January, and the smaller Expo Orquídeas (Orchid Fair) is held in mid-April. During the interim, the fairgrounds are open to anyone who wants to admire the flower beds.

Finca Drácula

Interested in orchids? Finca Drácula holds one of Latin America's largest collections. The farm's name is taken from a local orchid, which has a dark red flower. The main focus here is reproducing orchids for export, but workers also give 45-minute tours, though in limited English and by prior appointment only. The farm has 2,200 orchid species from Panama and around the world, as well as a laboratory where plants are reproduced using micropropagation methods. The best time to visit is between March and May, when flowers are in bloom. If you don't have a 4WD vehicle, walk 20 minutes from Guadalupe to get here.

Road to Los Quetzales reserve, Panama
507-771–2070
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $10, Daily 8–11:30 and 1–4; tours by reservation only

Finca Hartmann

The combination of forest and shaded coffee bushes at this gourmet coffee farm 27 km (16 miles) west of Volcán makes it one of the country's best bird-watching spots. The farm borders Parque Internacional La Amistad, so it's home to an array of wildlife ranging from hummingbirds to collared peccaries. To date, 282 avian species have been identified here, including the brown-hooded parrot, collared trogon, golden-browed chlorophonia, and king vulture. You can take a coffee tour during the October to March harvest season. Two rustic cabins without electricity are available for overnight guests. Getting here is half the fun, since the road winds through amazing scenery.

Janson Coffee Farm

This large coffee farm near the Lagunas de Volcán gives a tour of the farming and processing of their high-quality beans that ends with a tasting. Do the tour during the December to March harvest. They also offer bird-watching and horseback-riding tours of the farm and nearby lakes. The coffee shop serving homemade brownies and warm drinks is a great place to relax and soak in the view.

Kotowa Coffee Tour

In the hills of Palo Alto, this farm produces one of Boquete's best coffees, available at a small chain of coffee shops. The farm still has the original coffee mill from 1920. Today the Kotowa Estate is recognized for its innovations such as burning coffee bean husks for fuel. Tours provide a close look at the cultivation, harvest, and processing of coffee. Go during the October-to-May harvest and reserve your tour a day in advance for free transport from your hotel.

Mi Jardín Es Su Jardín

A few blocks north of the parque central, Avenida Central veers left at a "y" in the road. Just past the junction is a garden surrounding an eccentric Panamanian's vacation home. Cement paths wind past vibrant flower beds and bizarre statues of animals and cartoon characters, which make this place a minor monument to kitsch. The coffee bar overlooking a koi pond is a pleasant spot to relax.

Av. Central, Panama
507-730–8267-coffee bar
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Free, Gardens, daily 9–5; coffee bar, Tues.–Sun.

Parque Nacional Marino Golfo de Chiriquí

The 36,400 acres of the Parque Nacional Marino Golfo de Chiriquí include more than 20 islands—all but one of which are uninhabited. The islands' beaches are the nicest in Chiriquí Province, with pale sand, clear waters, tropical dry forest, and colorful reef fish just a shell's toss from shore. The loveliest are the palm-lined strands of Isla Parida (the largest in the archipelago), Isla San José, Isla Gamez, and Isla Bolaños, where the sand is snow-white. Various species of sea turtle nest on the islands' beaches, and the water holds hundreds of species including lobsters, moray eels, and schools of parrot fish. You may also see frigate birds, brown pelicans, and green iguanas. Dolphins sometimes cruise the park's waters, and from August to October you may spot humpback whales. There are no lodging facilities; visit on day trips from Boca Chica, 30 to 60 minutes away, depending on the island.

Parque Nacional Volcán Barú

The vast expanse of Volcán Barú's protected wilderness is home to everything from cougars to howler monkeys and more than 250 bird species. You might see white hawks, black guans, violet sabrewings, sulphur-winged parakeets, resplendent quetzals, and rare three-wattled bellbirds in the park's cloud forests. The craggy summit is topped by radio towers and a cement bunker, and unfortunately many of its boulders are covered with graffiti.

The most popular way to take in the park is the Sendero Los Quetzales, which has excellent bird-watching and is most easily done starting out in Cerro Punta. Several other trails penetrate the park's wilderness, including two trails to the summit. The main road to the summit begins in Boquete, across from the church, and is paved for the first 7 km (4 miles), where it passes a series of homes and farms and then becomes increasingly rough and rocky. You pay the park fee at the ANAM ranger station 15 km (9 miles) from town, which takes about 90 minutes to reach in a 4WD vehicle. Park your vehicle at the station, because the road above it can only be ascended in trucks with super-high suspension. From here it's a steep 14-km (8½-mile) hike to the summit. The other trail to the summit begins 7 km (4 miles) north of Volcán and ascends the volcano's more deforested western slope, a grueling trek only recommended for serious athletes.

Panama
775–3164
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $5, Daily 8–3

Playa La Barqueta

The closest beach to David, Playa La Barqueta is a long ribbon of dark-gray sand that's popular with local surfers. The area behind the beach is deforested, and the sea is often murky due to a nearby mangrove estuary. Nonetheless, it's a pleasant spot to spend the day, and you can stroll for miles without seeing a soul (except during holidays). The beach is public, but a day pass ($10) from the resort, Hotel Las Olas, includes pool, gym, and bar access. There are also several simple restaurants with inexpensive Panamanian fare.

La Barqueta's sand can get hot enough to burn your feet. If the sea is rough there's a risk of rip currents, so don't go in any farther than waist-deep.

Sendero Los Quetzales

The most popular hike in Cerro Punta is the Sendero Los Quetzales, a footpath through Parque Nacional Volcán Barú that ends in the mountains above Boquete (you can hike it in reverse, but it's entirely uphill). The trail begins at the ANAM station in El Respingo, east of town, where you pay the $5 park admission fee. From there it's a 9-km (5-mile) downhill hike to Alto Chiquero, a short drive from Boquete. The trail winds through the cloud forest and follows the Río Caldera, crossing it several times en route. You might see quetzals, emerald toucanets, collared redstarts, coatis, and other wildlife on the hike, which takes most people three to four hours. Because the trail is not well marked, hire a guide or join an organized tour; the area's bird-watching guides regularly use the trail. Pack a lunch, lots of water, and rain gear, and wear sturdy waterproof boots. The best option is to have your bags transferred to a Boquete hotel and end there for the night. Hire a taxi in Cerro Punta to drop you off at El Respingo, which should cost $35, and arrange for a Boquete taxi to pick you up in Alto Chiquero. Otherwise, walk 90 minutes from the end of the trail through farmland to Bajo Mono, where you can catch public transportation to Boquete.

Sitio Barriles

One of Panama's most important archaeological sites and its most visitor-friendly by far, Sitio Barriles is a collection of abandoned digs and pre-Columbian artifacts on a private farm 6 km (3½ miles) south of Volcán. The site was discovered in 1947 by the farm's owner, who found cylindrical stone carvings resembling barrels. Subsequent digs unearthed hundreds of artifacts, the most important of which have been taken to other museums, although many are displayed in the small on-site museum. Sitio Barriles was the main town of an agricultural society that farmed the surrounding plains from AD 300 to 600. Current theories suggest the site was abandoned following a 7th century earthquake. The farm's current owners manage it under an agreement with the National Culture Institute. Edna Landau, who speaks some English, leads visitors on a 45-minute tour with advance notice. The turnoff for Sitio Barriles is west of the road to Bambito, on the left one block after the road to the airstrip, and is marked Cazán.

Road to Cazán, Panama
507-6575–1828
Sight Details
Rate Includes: $5, Daily 8–5