When you think about climbing mountains, you think about the Alps, the Andes, and the Himalayas. These are the places that host some of the most well-known mountains, the highest ones, the ones that everyone wants to climb. Yet there are countries where you wouldn’t normally think about climbing mountains.
Brittany and I decided to visit Panama for a week during this past summer. As we were looking up places to visit like Bocas del toro, Casco Viejo in Panama City, etc. we stumbled upon Volcán Baru. At 3,475 meters (11,401 ft) it is Panama’s highest peak. It was quite difficult to find relevant information in Panama City about the logistics of climbing Volcán Barú and we were recommended by our hostel’s staff members to travel to the town of Volcán where we would find plenty of information.
We took a bus from the main terminal in Panama City to David (where we would take transportation from there to Volcán) for the 6-hour bus ride. It turned out to me way more than that as we had a flat tire and stopped for lunch on the way there. As we arrived at the confusing bus terminal of David, we finally found a bus going towards Volcán. After an hour and a half, we arrived at around 9pm in what looked like a ghost town. We walked towards the main park/square of the town and found a hostel. It wasn’t the best hostel we’ve stayed at but given the circumstances, tiredness and time, we decided to stay there.
The woman who greeted us at the hostel had no clue about the logistics of climbing Volcán Barú, but thankfully her sister did! She contacted Jose, a guide who has been climbing Volcán Baru for many years. He agreed to pick us up the next morning and climb with us to the summit.
Although not a technical mountain, Volcán Barú can be long and challenging if attempted in one day. Usually, the hike is completed in two days, most people camp close to the crater and attempt the summit push the next morning.
The day was clear and warm with a bright sun for most of the way up but as we were approaching the crater, it started getting colder and windier. The vegetation was different from the paramo that we are used to in the Ecuadorian mountains and the usual loose volcanic rock when approaching the summit.
Jose was a good sport, always checking in on us and asking us if we needed a break. Our timing was good and when we arrived at the crater he told us that the actual summit was about half an hour more. We were tired but did not hesitate to continue. Impressed, he led the way and we stood at Panama’s highest point 30 minutes later. In total, it took us about 5 hours to reach the summit.
It was very foggy at the top but you are not always lucky with a nice and clear view at that altitude. At the end of the day, reaching the summit and getting back home safe is all that matters. As we told Jose, in Ecuador, we have the saying when you climb mountains that goes “Cumbre o Muerte”.