The Volcan Baru, a dormant volcano is the tallest mountain in Panama and measures 11,398 feet above sea level (or 3,474 meters). It towers above the surrounding landscape and is one of the only places in the world where one can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea at the same time with the naked eye. Many people traveling to Boquete have atop their list of things to do, make it to the summit of the volcano. Dozens of people do it each day in Boquete, but making it all the way to the large cement cross at the top is no easy feat and many people try and ultimately fail to make it the entire way to the top. The post is intended as a guide for those who want to summit the Volcan Baru.
Volcan Baru history
The Volcan Baru is a dormant volcano which lies to the south of the Cordillera Central or Continental Divide. The villages of Volcan, Las Nubes, Cerro Punta and Guadalupe are located on the western side of the Volcano, while Boquete is on the eastern slope. The soil on the slopes of the volcano are famous for their fertility and the cool, wet climate of this area make it Panama’s most agriculturally productive.
The Volcan Baru is almost equidistant from both the Pacific and Caribbean, and less than 25 kilometers from the Costa Rican border. It is the height of the volcano and and Panama’s short width that makes it possible to see both oceans from it’s peak.
The last major eruption of the Volcan Baru was about 1,500 years ago, though there is evidence that there was a minor eruption less than 500 years ago. Geologic research also suggests that the Volcan Baru has erupted several times in the last 10,000 years and a cluster of seismic activity last century and a recent cluster in 2006 remind us that the Volcan Baru is still very much alive.
According to geologists specializing in volcanic activity, the Volcan Baru will probably erupt again in the future, and will follow some period of seismic activity that could last for days or months. They feel that future eruptions will probably be similar to past eruptions, making them dangerous to those living on the flanks of the volcano. The likelihood of this happening in our lifetimes is very remote so, for now, the volcano is ours to enjoy.
Hiking the Volcan Baru
The vast majority of the people who make it to the summit of the Volcan Baru, do so by hiking. The hike to the top of the volcano is not so much technically challenging as it is taxing physically. The hike takes from 4-6 hours and, as one could imagine is a series of steep and gentile inclines. Most people hiking the Volcan baru take a taxi from Boquete to the beginning of the trail. Most taxi’s will charge around $12 for a one-way trip to the trail head. The government agency charged with controlling and maintaining Panama’s national parks has a small office at the beginning of the trail. This agency charges a $5 per person fee to enter the park. The distance from the ranger station to the summit of the Volcan Baru is about 13km. There are some amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding mountainside along the way, but the best views are from the summit itself. At the 9km mark, one can begin to see the craters of the volcano. The weather at the summit of the volcano is very unpredictable and can be extremely cold. There have even been reports of snow and ice at the top during the dry season, so be prepared.
Most people that choose to hike the Volcan Baru start their hike at either midnight or very early in the morning, usually at 5am. The midnight hike is popular because it gives hikers the best chance of seeing both Oceans from the summit. The weather in Boquete is often most clear very early in the morning. It is not uncommon for it to be perfectly clear at sunrise and then completely overcast an hour later. This is why the majority of the people hiking to the top of the Volcan Baru do so at night. Another advantage of hiking at night is that hikers do not get discouraged at seeing another long ascent in front of them.
Hiking Alone vs. Guided Hikes
Hiking the Volcan Baru without an experienced guide is certainly possible and many people make the ascent each day in Boquete. We recommend hiking alone only if you are an experienced hiker and have the skills necessary to survive in the wild should something happen during the hike. There are two alternatives to hiking alone. The first is to hike in a group. Many of the hostels in Boquete arrange group hikes and these hikes are generally safer and more fun than hiking alone. The other option is contracting a local, experienced guide to lead the hike. Guided hikes to the Volcan Baru are the safest and most rewarding way to summit the volcano. First, an experienced local guide knows how to make a successful ascent. He will know when to rest, when to eat and when to drink water. Most first time hikers drink water when they are thirsty and eat when they are hungry. This is not the most efficient way to consume food and water during the Volcan Baru hike however. There are certain times and ways one should eat and drink and local guides with hundreds of volcano hikes under their belt know this information. moreover, should an accident or fall occur, the most local guides are well-trained to handle these unfortunate situation. Secondly, there are many interesting plants and wildlife species along the trail that are often missed by people hiking on their own.
You can visit our Volcan Baru Guided Hike page for more info on making the hike with an experienced local guide.
Alternatives to Hiking the Volcan Baru
For those of you who are not keen on the idea of a 12 hour round-trip hike, there are jeep tours to the Volcan Baru as well as ATV tours to the Volcan Baru.
4X4 Jeep Tours to the Volcan Baru
Sumitting the Volcan Baru by Jeep is probably the best alternative for those who are not physically fit enough to hike to the top. The hiking trail is essentially a jeep trail, but only specially-equipped vehicles can make it to the summit. There are many large boulders blocking large parts of the road so the ride is bumpy but fun. Normally the Jeep tour to the Volcan Baru starts at 3am and the ascent takes about 3 hours. Drinks and snacks are provided as well as free hotel pick-up and drop-off.
Visit this page to learn more about the Volcan Baru Jeep Tour.
ATV Tour to the Volcan Baru
For those interested in an extreme adventure, there is a Volcan Baru ATV Tour. This tour is very difficult and should only be attempted by those people with vast experience riding all-terrain vehicles. Depending on skill level, this tour takes about 90 minutes to reach the top of the volcano and just as long to complete the descent. The trail is rough and uneven and there are some areas where the rider must dismount the ATV to pass over lerge objects blocking the road. It is difficult, but there is no more extreme activity in Panama than the ATV tour to the Volcan Baru.
For more information, or to book this tour, visit our Volcan Baru ATV Tour page.