Best Hikes in Panama – Lonely Planet
From urban jungles to steaming rainforests, thundering waterfalls to mist-shrouded cloud forests – in Panama you are never far away from a wild hiking adventure and the chance to experience fascinating flora and fauna up close.
Whether you want an easy day hike or an epic jungle expedition, you will find a trail to suit your fitness level. Wear sturdy shoes and pack light, but remember to bring plenty of water – you’ll often be hiking in high temperatures and even higher humidity. Use a local guide for the more challenging hikes, especially during the rainy season.
Here’s our guide to the best hikes in Panama.
If you want to go hiking in the city, visit the Parque Natural Metropolitano in Panama City
5 km (3 miles), approx. 4 hours, easy to moderate, entrance fee USD 5
There are manicured city parks and then there is the Metropolitan Natural Park in Panama City. For a jungle escape without leaving the urban jungle, this sprawling 265-hectare sanctuary is home to an amazing 45 species of mammals, 250 species of birds, reptiles and amphibians, and 280 species of trees.
There are five well-marked trails (the visitor center has maps) ranging from easy to moderate. Along the way you can spot sloths, raccoon-like coatis and chattering titi monkeys, as well as a variety of smaller critters in the tropical foliage.
For stunning views over the city’s skyscrapers, head to the Cerro Cedro viewpoint – the park’s highest point at 150 m (500 ft), which you can access via the Camino del Mono Titi or the Sendero La Cienaguita.
Embark on a multi-day adventure at El Camino Real
45 km (28 miles), 4 days/3 nights, difficult
Long before the Canal, the colonial-era King’s Road provided a shortcut across the Isthmus from the Pacific to the Caribbean. Mounds of gold, silver and precious gems plundered by the Incas were transported by mule trains along the narrow cobbled street and shipped to Spain.
It was a favorite haunt of swashbuckling pirates, but by the late 18th century it was deserted and soon swallowed up by the jungle.
This challenging 3-day trek takes you coast-to-coast, from Panamà Viejo to Portobelo, through dense rainforest teeming with life. Be prepared to get wet as you traverse fast-flowing rivers, clamber over mossy rocks, trudge through mud and climb dizzying slopes. Then sleep in a hammock amidst the rustle and hum of the jungle.
Rick Morales, a highly experienced naturalist guide and founder of Jungle Treks, developed the Camino Real Trail and leads world-class expeditions of at least four travelers; book in time.
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Watch the sunrise at La India Dormida, El Valle de Antón
3.6 km (2.2 miles), approx. 2 hours, moderately difficult, admission $3
The trail to La India Dormida – the peak resembles the outline of a sleeping woman – begins at La Piedra Pintada, a boulder adorned with ancient petroglyphs a 15-minute walk from central El Valle.
The path to the summit is steep, but easy to walk even at night. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the summit, but allow a little more time to enjoy the light show. And pack a light jacket – it can get windy up there.
After enjoying the stunning sunrise, hike the vertiginous crater rim trail for views across the valley and, on a clear day, to the sparkling Pacific Ocean.
If you do the trail as a loop, descend the ridge line to get to the main road that will take you back into town. Or do it as a round-trip and cool off in the gorgeous waterfalls you missed on the way up.
Located a two-hour drive from Panama City, El Valle is a popular weekend getaway for city dwellers. So go during the week to avoid the crowds.
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Hike through the clouds at Sendero El Pianista, Boquete
8 km (5 miles), approx. 4 hours, moderately difficult, admission $3
This round-trip trail to the clouds begins just 4 km (2.5 miles) from the mountain town of Boquete, popular with outdoor enthusiasts and coffee lovers. The trail, often muddy, starts at the Il Pianista restaurant; It’s not marked, so download a map before heading out.
After crossing open pasture land, the trail meanders steadily uphill for 3 km (2 miles) through the cloud forest beyond, where mist billows between tall trees, branches are adorned with vines and lush ferns threaten to overtake the trail. If the summit is clear of clouds, you have a spectacular view over Boquete.
The trail gained worldwide attention in 2014 when two Dutch students disappeared while hiking – a memorial to Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon marks the summit.
Don’t be tempted to go off trail or do it alone, the terrain here can be treacherous, especially after rain; use a guide.
For bird watching at any fitness level, head to Pipeline Road, Parque Nacional Soberanía
7 km (4.3 miles), approx. 2 hours, one way, $5 admission
More than 400 species of birds have been spotted along Pipeline Road in Soberanía National Park. Popular with bird watchers – especially at dawn – the trail offers the chance to see everything from shy trogons to noisy toucans.
And it’s not just about birds, with howler monkeys, agoutis and sloths among the mammals that roam the forest. About 45 minutes west of Panama City, this round-trip trail is fairly flat and undemanding—especially the first 7 km (4.3 miles)—making it perfect for kids.
For a bird’s-eye view of the canopy, head to the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center (Tue-Sun, $30), 2 km (1.2 miles) from the trail entrance, and climb the 32 m/105 ft high observation tower.
Both the pipeline (which was never used) and the dirt road were built by US soldiers during World War II to transport oil across the isthmus in case the canal ceased operations.
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For a challenging day hike, try Sendero Los Quetzales, Parque Nacional Volcán Barú
8 km (4.3 miles), approx. 4-6 hours, moderate to difficult, $5 admission
Named after Guatemala’s elusive national bird, one of the country’s most scenic day hikes runs between Boquete and Cerro Punta, criss-crossing the Caldera River and winding through an enchanted cloud forest, reaching a lofty 2,500 m (8,200 ft) above sea level .
There are several ways to go about it. Starting at Cerro Punta is mostly downhill, while starting at Boquete involves stairmaster-style training. Another option from Boquete is to hike halfway just past the stairs, look for a spot for a picnic with a view at Mirador Las Rocas, and then walk back the way you came.
The magnificent quetzal, with its striking green and red plumage, prefers higher elevations and hangs high in the tree canopy, so don’t forget to look up. And go early for the best chance of spotting them.
You can make the journey to and from the starting points by taxi or colectivo (minibus); If you hike it, it will take a few more hours and the total length of the trail will be around 23 km (14 miles).
Chase waterfalls at The Lost Waterfalls Trail, Boquete
3.4 km (2.1 miles), approx. 1.5 hours, moderate to difficult, admission $7
The Quest for the Not-So-Lost Falls is one of Boquete’s most popular hikes. This well-signposted out-and-back trail can be steep and slippery, but you’ll be immersed in the evergreen jungle with its tall trees, oversized leaves, and dripping vines dotted with colorful tropical blooms.
The first of three falls, also known as Las Tres Cascadas, is the tallest and endlessly photogenic — some hikers leave this until the very end. Swimming isn’t allowed, but you can enjoy it all from a precarious viewing platform.
There’s more scrambling to reach the second waterfall, a simple but powerful cascade that gushes from the cliff’s edge into a small, rock-strewn pool. Waterfall three is the most difficult to access, but arguably the most impressive, and there are ropes to help you.