Getting back to nature in Panama
Panama's La Amistad International Park has lots of flora and fauna. Credit:Authority of Tourism of Panama and Alfredo Maiquez
By Linda Perney
Located a world away from the glitz of Panama City, Chiriqui province in Western Panama, nestled between Costa Rica and the Pacific Ocean is an ideal place to spend a few relaxing days getting back to nature.
Pristine beaches are perfect for sunbathing and rivers ripe for whitewater rafting and kayaking, not to mention the mountains and forests that seem to reach up into the clouds.Places to stay
Within its boundaries lie five national parks, including La Amistad International Park, whose management is shared with Costa Rica.
This is cloud-forest territory: a 407,000-acre retreat of tree ferns and dense, humid air; mosses are soft underfoot, and brilliant tropical flowers punctuate a world of green.
Much of the forest is as yet unexplored, but you can hike along trails that take you through this wilderness, with its brilliant birds particularly red and green quetzals.
Just outside the park is the town of Guadalupe, alive with every sort of flower: agapanthus, birds of paradise, roses, lilies and masses of varicolored impatiens. The town is a major center for the flower trade, with much of the blooms sold down in the lowlands, and many exported for sale to Europe.
Nearby Volcan Baru National Park was established in 1976, and is named for the only volcano in Panama. Its mountainous territory unfolds over spectacular vistas of water and forest; when the weather is clear, you can see both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
The landscape changes fast here. Mountain roads twist past alpine-like meadows and valleys as well as banana and coffee plantations. Trout streams wind through the area, and the air is alive with the sounds of hummingbirds.
Where to stay
Los Quetzales Lodge and Spa is located just outside the Amistad Park the only lodge in a national park. Accommodations include a lodge and two-story private chalets, with fireplaces, balconies and skylights. The lodge is surrounded by a 770-acre preserve; the riverside spa is a fine place to relax after a day of sightseeing.
Rooms start at $66 per night, which includes breakfast and a guided tour along the trails of the preserve.
Note: the hotel can make reservations for you to hike to Volcan Boru or go river rafting or horseback riding. For more information, go to losquetzales.com
Know Before You Go
The best time to travel to Panama is December-March (summer), when theres less humidity and rain. The rainy season is May-November, but especially good deals can be found during those times. Mornings and early afternoons are usually sunny while later in the day, theres intermittent rainfall.
Chiriqui is a day trip by car from Panama City. Air Panama and Aeroperlas also offer flights from Panama City to the town of David. The flight, which take about 50 minutes, is about $80 each way.