By Demian Colman – Photos: Javier Pinzón – Video: Producciones Puente
It wasn’t long after Copa Airlines reopened its flight route to David that we packed our bags and set off to rediscover this wonderful Panamanian destination. It took us 45 minutes to travel the 275 miles from the nation’s capital to the capital of Chiriquí province and, in just a few more minutes, we arrived at the Ciudad de David Hotel, the ideal headquarters for experiencing the contrasts this beautiful province has to offer, both in the mountains and on the sea.
Tierras Altas: The Countryside
An hour-long, 43-mile trip brought us to a cloudy, humid, and green forest where temperatures can drop considerably and some people even claim to feel cold. The district has the country’s highest concentration of farms and cattle ranches. Residents with even a little land use it to grow cabbages, roses, potatoes, the deliciously famous Chiricano strawberries, and coffee. Everything grows in these fertile lands! It’s an ideal place to hike through forests in search of the beautiful quetzal (look for the Quetzal Trail), go on a tubing or rafting expedition in its many rivers with varying degrees of difficulty, climb above the clouds on the Barú volcano (11,400 feet above sea level, a 6-hour climb that is only for the brave), or visit the thoroughbred horses at Haras Cerro Punta.
At Puerto Pedregal, we meet Rolando and his associates, who teach us the secrets of kayaking. After an introduction, we set out in single file for the mangroves and their silence. Right, left, right, left… the rhythm of the oars leads us on until a sudden noise shakes us out of our trance. Up among the leaves, small eyes observe us; curious capuchin monkeys have stopped their journey to stare in amazement at the floating “sausages” on the water below. Our guide tells us that these mangroves are also home to howler monkeys that remain hidden, but can be heard.
Several miles later, Rolando appears again and encourages us, from his own boat, to keep going, promising a surprise “just around the corner.” The excursion is longer than our inexperienced arms expected, but at last, we reach our destination –the wonderful Playa Pipón– where Rolando awaits with a picnic, and we are ready to enjoy during the rest of the day on the beach.
The mountain town of Boquete, located 24 miles from David, is the province’s quintessential tourist attraction. Over the years it, has developed a variety of projects aimed at attracting visitors eager for new experiences. This time, we choose the Boquete Tree Trek for a different view of the “lungs of the planet.”
The Trek’s three-mile circuit includes six bridges that rise up over the treetops in the Río Cristal private forest reserve, offering an elevated view of the wonderful cloud forest with its birds, waterfalls, fungi…and perhaps a little vertigo if you look down into the seemingly endless void. After our aerial adventure we moved on to the zip lines for some speed and a chance to feel like superheroes.
Nothing better after all that adrenaline than winding down with a lesson about tea and a chance to savor its secrets. The ancient Camellia sinensis, commonly known as the tea plant, grows in Chiriquí. We learn about its origins, anatomy, growing season, harvest, and production processes and finish up with a tasting of the four classics: white, green, oolong, and black tea.
Chiricano coffee is also legendary and learning about its production process is quite an experience, especially since Geisha coffee became famous. Although the beverage is thousands of years old and was an ancient staple in Ethiopia, it was on the coffee plantations of Panama that it obtained worldwide recognition. Coffee is featured on the Tree Trek, but it is also possible to learn about the coffee-growing process at other farms like Kotowa, Café Ruiz, Lérida, La Milagrosa, Janson Coffee Farm, and Hacienda La Esmeralda, which all offer tours.
The day is coming to a close and soon it will be time to leave. An ideal moment to bid farewell with a delicious rum tasting, adding a little more joy to the happiness of our incomparable day.
Carta Vieja, Panama’s oldest rum company, owns miles of sugar cane fields in the western Alanje district, a privileged location with fertile lands and the perfect combination of rain and sun. And at Tree Trek, we’re introduced to Carta Vieja’s extensive line of products: young rums, such as Extra Claro and Claro; exquisitely noble premium rums, such as Carta Vieja Añejo, Carta Vieja Golden Cask 18-Year Solera; and the newest addition, Carta Vieja Double Cask 8-Year Solera.
Down a dirt road that winds away from the highway and into the middle of nowhere, we meet Barish and Nina, a couple of chocolate lovers who came to Panama, lured by its high-quality cocoa, to start Chox, a family-owned artisanal business that they enjoy sharing with anyone interested in learning how good chocolate is made. At Chox, you’ll find cocoa tea, chocolate liquor, and of course, eating chocolate, in bars and every shape imaginable. But that’s not all; you’ll also have a chance to become a master chocolatier, melting, tempering, molding, and decorating your own chocolate to give as a gift or keep for yourself.
Las Lajas Beach
Our days of mountains, forests, flowers, fruits, and vegetables are over. It’s time for our final reward: the beach, which can also be reached from David. We choose Las Lajas, a sweeping 10-mile stretch of sand 55 miles from the city, where we while away the hours watching the tide slowly go out and gazing at the sky, which is reflected beautifully in the wet sand. We wait patiently for the sunset’s enchanting colors. This prelude to the night brings an unexpected surprise: a turtle release!
One night, Kerin Antonio Loo, a resident of the Las Lajas area, came across a huge, olive-colored Ridley turtle laying its eggs on the beach. His surprise was equaled only by his desire to learn about and help preserve the species. With support from several NGOs, he got some training and, in April of last year, he and other volunteers began patrolling the beach in search of nests. They relocated the eggs to three nurseries and released the newborn turtles.
We come across Loo carrying his precious cargo in a blue plastic box, with a trail of others in his wake. Silently and excitedly, in a kind of pilgrimage, these turtle rescuers await the right moment. We join the communion, quietly traversing a mirror of sand under a reddening sky, until, at last, Loo puts the blue box down and slowly turns it over. It’s a perfect farewell: hundreds of baby turtles scamper to the sea for the first time in their lives, in search of their home. Our tears of joy remind us that we too must return home.
We didn’t make it on this trip, but from the port of Boca Chica, twenty-five miles east of David, you can tour the Paridas Islands archipelago. This group of 25 islands includes Parida Island (the largest), Paridita, Boca Brava, and Isla Secas, where you’ll find five-star boutique hotels. There are also other uninhabited gems like Bolaños, Gámez, Pulgoso, and Tintorera, with nothing but sand, waves, and perhaps a school of bottle dolphins for company.
Last month, Copa Airlines resumed its flights to David, which can be reached from North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean via the Hub of the Americas in Panama City.
The Panorama team received support from
Hotel Ciudad de David
What to see
Haras Cerro Punta
Where to stay
Hotel Los Brezos
Hotel Dos Ríos
Vía Río Sereno
Mount Totumas Cloud Forest Eco Lodge
Los Quetzales Ecolodge & Spa:
Vía Cerro Punta
Hotel Bambito Resort by Farand Boutique
En Cerro Punta
Hotel Casa Grande Bambito