A good way to get to know Panama’s high country and a brutal road up to its highest summit
Dist: 117 km; Date: May 2010
It’s hard to justify this big horseshoe-like route if you’re on a time limit because the roads up to Guadalupe and Boquete don’t offer an alternative onward route other than to retrace your steps. Still, it’s a fabulous way to experience Panama’s high country and to endeavor the hard push up to Volcán Barú, Panama’s highest peak at 3,700 m.
If you’re looking for a place to overnight in Guadalupe, consider Los Quetzales Ecolodge & Spa. From the grounds there is a lovely forest hike up to several waterfalls. From Guadalupe, retrace your path back along Rut 418 then merge onto Ruta 43 and then to Ruta 103 and then to Ruta 105. Finally, veer hard left to take Ruta 41 north up to Boquete after about 50 km. Boquete is a lovely mountain town, which is popular among tourists and expats for its landscapes. There are plenty of hotels and B&Bs.
Here’s where things get difficult. Local tour operators offer daily guided hikes and 4-wheel drive trips to the summit of Volcán Barú. The hike takes a strong hiker about 5-6 hours to summit and the 4-wheel drive trip takes about 2 hours. The rocky road ascends 2,200 m over about 22 km to reach the summit. I hiked it and it was a great experience but I think it would be an excellent and challenging route for a strong off-road rider. Whether you hike or ride, probably a good idea to plan to take the following day off.