The Pacific West of Panama includes all of Chiriqui Province, Herrera Province and Los Santos Province, and the southern portion of Veraguas Province.
David: Second largest city in Panama. Several flights come and go from the airport to Bocas del Toro, Panama City, and San Jose, Costa Rica. Los Olas has a nice beach community; but for the best beaches, you need to travel outside of the city to the sparkling Gulf of Chiriqui.
Boquete: Thirty minutes from David, in the Mountain Highlands. Fast becoming Panama's adventure destination; white water rafting, rock climbing, hiking, Zip Line canopy adventures...just to name a few. This region also produces some of the best coffee in the world. Small and large coffee estates fill the valley; coffee tastings are one of the most popular tour adventures. The Quetzal Trail runs from Boquete to Cerro Punta.
Cerro Punta: Near Volcan on the northern side of the Volcan Baru National Park. The Quetzal Trail begins, or ends, in Cerro Punta, depending on which way you hike the trail.
Volcan: 20 minutes north of David, and not as developed as Boquete. The first European immigrants to arrive in Panama, in the early 1900's, thought that Volcan resembled their alpine setting back home, and as such, many settled here.
Chiriquí Province lies in the southwestern part of Panamá with its capital in David. Chiricanos are like the Texans of Panamá, and are loud, outgoing, and very proud of their province. However, they really seem to have something to be proud of. Chiriquí arguably has the friendliest people and the best landscape in Panamá.
Offering the most varied scenery in this already diverse country, Chiriquí has an array of plant and animal species inhabiting the different ecosystems. Chiriquí’s topography ranges from the tallest mountain in the country, Volcan Baru located in the highlands, to the more than 30 small islands in the archipelagos of the Gulf of Chiriquí near the coastal town of Boca Chica, known for its world-class sport fishing.
Less than 9 degrees north of the equator, Panamá's temperatures are fairly consistent year round, with daytime temperatures in the 90s and nighttimes around 70, although the Chiriquí highlands get considerably cooler in the mountains. Like most of Panamá, Chiriquí’s lowlands have a rainy season from May through November and a dry season from December through April. During most of the rainy season, mornings and early afternoons are usually sunny while late afternoons and evenings have intermittent rainfall. Unlike most of the Caribbean, Mexico, and other Central American countries, Panamá does not experience hurricanes. The most popular time to travel to Panamáis December through March, when lack of humidity and nearly zero percent chance of rain make it ideal for travelers.
Nearly a third of Panamá residents speak English, partially due to the many North American expatriates living there and the growing tourism sector, but an attempt at communication in the country's native Spanish is always appreciated.
Fairly easy to get to from Panamá City. The most recommended form of travel is a 50 minute flight through Aeroperlas or Air Panamá who offer daily flights to David from Panamá’s Albrook Regional Airport. Also located at the airport is the Albrook Bus Terminal where you can catch a bus to David leaving every 30 minutes. Or you can opt for a day’s car ride from Panamá City via the Interamerican Highway touring small cities and villages along the way.
If traveling to Panamá from Costa Rica, there are direct flights from San José to David or Panamá City. Air Panamá serves the Chiriquí area with flights every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Construction is in progress to expand David's airport into a larger international facility with direct regular flights from the U.S. and Canada. The international airport, currently receiving up to 1800 passengers per week, has recently added regular flights to Costa Rica and charter flights from the US. Current expansion will soon allow for increased international traffic and larger aircraft.
Several well known rental car agencies are present within David, making it easy to find transportation for a trip. However it must be noted that rental cars may not be taken across the Costa Rican border. For travel within David, there are also plenty of taxis for easy transportation throughout the sprawling city.
Because of the area’s growing tourism, Chiriquí has seen vast improvement of physical, economic, and social infrastructures in the region in recent years. Roads are being improved, new high quality health care facilities being built, and major retailers are coming to the area. Much of this activity is centered in David; improvements include David's airport, Enrique Malek International Airport, whose incipient acceptance of direct international flights should mark the tipping point for the area in terms of tourism and development.
Howler Monkey-Volcan Baru National Park
Sloth-Volcan Baru National Park
Coffee Tasting Tour at Finca Lerida-Boquete Safari
The Chiriquí Lowlands
Gulf of Chiriquí - Much of Panamá’s best lie in the Pacific Ocean’s Gulf of Chiriquí. Numerous archipelagos star the gulf with islands and reefs, including Central America’s largest island, Coiba Island. This area is home to the richest mangroves and rarest pelagic marine species in the world. Lonely Planet Panamá calls the Gulf an undisputed gem. It has a reputation as a world-class sport fishing destination, as evidenced by Saltwater Fisherman Magazine, which named it the best place in the world for catching the Black Marlin in their April 2009 issue. The Moon handbook on Panamá says the Gulf of Chiriquí is so large and species-rich some consider it a small sea. Well known among insiders for its boating, sport fishing, surfing, scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities, the unspoiled and largely undiscovered coastal and marine environments in the area rival the best on the Pacific coasts of Central America and Mexico.
Boca Chica - Located 32 miles from David is the main jumping off point for the islands in the Gulf of Chiriquí, including Boca Brava and Isla Palenque. Boca Chica sits on the Pacific coast just North West of the islands that make up Parque Nacional Marino Golfo de Chiriquí. Long a little fishing village, Boca Chica moves to a slow tempo, housing tourists and big game fishermen in a few quaint, family-owned inns, including Gone Fishing Panamá and Seagull Cove Lodge. Plans to develop a large resort with a Jack Nicklaus golf course are underway at the nearby Playa Grande. A short boat ride away lies Cala Mia, which offers 11 bungalows on Boca Brava. Just past Boca Brava is Isla Palenque, where a boutique eco-resort development plans to break ground early next year.
Parque Nacional Marino Golfo de Chiriquí - The PNMGC consists of the archipelago of islands, including the main island, Isla Parida. Established in 1994, the park is known for its green iguanas, humpback whales, hammerhead sharks, dolphins, multiple species of sea turtles and giant rays. Several tours visit the islands from resorts and tour companies. There is camping available on the main island, Parida, but most travelers stay on Boca Brava or Boca Chica.
Coiba National Marine Park - Frequently referred to as the Galapagos Islands of Central America, Coiba National Marine Park is composed of the island of Coiba and 37 surrounding islands and islets, all of which are about 30 miles off the Panamánian coast. Isla Coiba is the largest island in Central America, and before it became a national park had a far graver history. From 1919 to 2004 this island was used as a penal colony and housed some of the most dangerous criminals in Panamá. Known as Panamá’s Devil’s Island, the penal colony was closed in 2004 by the Panamánian government, and turned into the largest marine park in Central America. UNESCO has named Coiba National Marine Park a World Heritage Site, identifying more than 800 marine species in the waters surrounding the park. Scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute have proclaimed Coiba an unparalleled destination for discovering new species. Rachel Collin, a Smithsonian project coordinator said, "It's hard to imagine, while snorkeling around a tropical island that's [so close to] the United States, that half the animals you see are unknown to science.” Its unique location protects it from the damaging winds and other effects of El Niño, making it able to sustain the uninterrupted evolution of new marine species including whale and tiger sharks, sperm whales, sea turtles, angel rays and giant schools of fish. It is also the last refuge for a number of threatened terrestrial animals such as the crested eagle and several sub-species of howler monkey, agouti and possum. The park is gaining a fine reputation for being what the Moon travel book calls a “Garden of Eden” touting the second largest coral reef in the Pacific. Though its remote nature has helped to preserve this gem, it also serves to deter visitors. It is about an hour long boat ride from the coastal town of Santa Catalina, but most commonly travelers rely on tour operators to reach the island. This journey is negligible, however, compared to the things you’ll get to see and do on the island.
The Chiriquí Highlands
There is plenty of adventure to be had in the rolling mountains of Chiriquí’s highlands. Travelers can venture down the Chiriquí River for the best kayaking in the country or they can meander up the mountains for bird watching or horseback riding.
Boquete - Currently a hot spot for nature-lovers is the established ecotourism destination and charming mountain town of Boquete. Over the last five years, this Alpine-esque mountain town has emerged as an ideal retirement area for North Americans, making the AARP's "top places to retire" list, making the area a hotspot for both tourists and those looking to purchase second homes.
The Chiriquí (Viejo) River - The best white-water kayaking and rafting in the country. Luckily for enthusiasts, the spot is relatively undiscovered, so no fighting over space here. Several rafting companies in the area offer Class II- Class V tours with rides ranging from 2-6 hours. These trips can cost anywhere from $85- $150 usually providing a lunch during the trip. Unfortunately as of June 2010 there are at least 11 hydroelectric projects being planned or in the process of bring built on the Chiriqui Viejo river.
Volcan Barú - The jagged, lush green mountains of Chiriquí rise to the top of Volcan Barú, Panamá's largest volcano. This highest point in the country sits to the west of Boquete, bordered by Cerro Punta to the north. The volcano lies in a national park, and the summit can be reached by hiking along a very rugged road. Beginner and advanced hikers have much to do on the dormant volcano with hikes up to 90˚ to its 3,474m high peak. With over 900 species of birds in Panamá it is no surprise that avid bird watchers too visit yearly to spot the ever elusive Resplendent Quetzal and other of Panamá’s beautiful avian species. The mountain is also the only place in the world to catch a glimpse of both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean at the same time, although clear days can be difficult to come by. Your best chance for clear weather is in the middle of the Central American summer, January or February. Boquete and Cerro Punta both make good bases for visiting the park.
Coffee Plantations - In the lush highlands to the north, visitors may choose a relaxing and educational journey to one of the area’s coffee plantations which are dotted all over Chiriquí’s highland cloud forests. Because of the rich volcanic soil and high altitudes, this area produces some of the most flavorful Arabica coffee in the world.
La Amistad International Park - Located near Cerro Punta, about 45 miles outside of David and 9 miles north of Volcan Barú, this park is actually shared and jointly managed with neighboring Costa Rica. While the majority of the Panamanian side of the park is in Bocas Del Toro, the small percentage that is in the Chiriquí Province is more easily accessible. La Amistad is home to the majority of endangered animals that call Panamá home. In 1990 UNESCO named the park a World Heritage Site noticing that it is one of the most bio-diverse regions in the Americas. There are good hiking trails around the park for all ranges of ability. Entrance to the park costs $3.50, and it is open from 7:45am-4pm.
Swimming: Less than an hour's drive outside of David are fantastic beaches, if you know where to go. The islands in the Gulf of Chiriqui have miles of white, beige or volcanic zebra-striped beaches. Many of these islands are uninhabited and full of wildlife. The Gulf is known for world-class sportfishing and has been well known by expats and backpackers for years.
Surfing: - The best area for surfing in the Chiriqui Province is the Morro Negrito area. Some say it has the best surfing in Panama. There is a Big Island, with smaller waves, and a Little Island with big waves.
Sport Fishing: - The Gulf of Chiriqui has a lot of big game: yellow fin tuna, black marlin, blue marlin, roosterfish, pacific sailfish, dorado, amberjack, red snapper, wahoo, and a myriad of other species. Because of the abundance of fish in the Gulf, there are also a lot of boat charters, and places to stay. Try one of the private islands filled with wildlife and special eco- (Cala Mia) or upscale- (the soon to be built resort at Isla Palenque) accommodations. The main departure points for excellent fishing are the port of Pedregal and the fishing town of Boca Chica. From there boat to the many uninhabited islands dotting this pristine Gulf.
Boating: Since the Gulf of Chiriqui is loaded with fish and wildlife, there are also many small and large boat charters to cruise you around. If you are not in to fishing, but you are more of an explorer, the boats will take you to the islands, for swimming, snorkeling, or just wildlife exploration.
Hiking:] There are many hiking trails in Boquete; some in the National Parks, and some off the beaten path. Most are accessible and easy enough to traverse with out a guide. However, due to the density of some of the rainforests, staying on the designated trail is recommended, if you don’t have a guide. To increase your chance of actually seeing wildlife, birds, or Quetzal’s, hiring a guide is recommended.
River Rafting: World Class white water rafting can be found on the Chagres River, 1 to 2 hours from Panama City; in the Chiriqui Province, on the Rio Chiriqui Viejo; and the Rio Grande, Cocle Province. There is usually enough water to paddle year around. However, the highest water level is in November, at the end of the rainy season, and the lowest water level is in May, at the end of the dry season. Class I to Class V rapids can be found in Panama. The classes are based upon Panamanian classifications. During the rainy season, the Panama class III’s are easily comparable to U.S. class IVs.
Quetzal Trail-Volcan Baru National Park: Within the Volcan Baru National Park, Boquete, is perhaps the most famous hiking trail in all of Panama. Visitors come from all over the world to have an opportunity to see the Resplendent Quetzal. Although the trail is easy enough to hike by yourself, unless you are an experienced birder, it is difficult to spot a Quetzal.
Volcan Baru National Park: is in Panama's northern most region. The park is 35,000 acres/14,325 hectares in size, and Panama's highest peak at 11,401 feet/3,475 meters. The Volcano has been dormant for over 600 years; but with the bubbling Hot Springs and frequent seismic activity, it might not be entirely extinct. You can climb the Baru from the Boquete side, which is an all day event; or you can camp overnight near the ranger station, and watch the sunrise. Dress in layers, as the higher you go, temperatures will change dramatically. The famous Sendero de los Quetzales Trail(Quetzal Trail)passes through the lower slopes of the Volcan Baru.
Horseback Riding: - Horses are a way of life in Panama. It is not unusual to look out the window of your casita, and have a horse looking back. Horseback riding in Panama is mostly Western horses and Western saddles. Privately owned horses can vary from Quarter Horse to a mix of Columbian or Peruvian Paso. By breeding the two, you get a larger horse, than the traditional Paso Fino, with the smooth and lovely gait of the Paso. There are two great areas for riding: on the beaches of Bocas del Toro near Dolphin Bay' and in mountains of Boquete.
Caldera Hot Springs: - Even though the Volcano has been dormant for over 600 years, there are still thermal springs bubbling up around it. The Chiriqui Province has several areas with active springs. In Volcan, on the northern side of the Volcan Baru, about 30 minutes from town, there are several springs; however, due to the mineral content, there is a slight sulphur smell. In the Boquete region there are several hot springs to choose from. A local land owner in Caldera has started to develop his bubbling spring (no sulphur smell), and hopes to make it more like a 'spa'. However, it is not that easy to access yet; 4 wheel drive is required.
Coffee Adventure Tours: Panama has now become synonymous with some of the best coffee in the world. It has always been a coffee producing region. You can visit a coffee estate for a tasting and explanation of the coffee process. You can visit a single estate or a tour of multiple estates, like a wine tour.
Rock Climbing: The best rock climbing is in the Chiriqui Province, in the highlands of Boquete. The Basaltic Rock was formed after the last volcano eruption. Cesar Melendez has developed over 30 routes, from beginner to advanced. He is also pioneering 'bouldering'; climbing rocks while suspended over the river.
River and Ocean Kayaking: Chiriqui's protected gulf are ideal for fast, long distance, ocean kayaking. In Boquete, because of the many rivers running off the Volcano, the river kayaking can be very fast, Class V; or beginner level, if you are trying it for the first time.
Jungle Safari Chorcha-Alouatta Lodge: Near the Chorcha Mesa, off the PanAmerican Highway(about 20 minutes out of David), is a private Eco-Preserve. This is a jungle camp on coastal mountain ,overlooking Chiriqui Gulf and islands. Overnight in a Jungle Hammock surrounded by monkeys and birds; nature trails, boat rides in lagoon, orchid hunting, fishing and gourmet meals. This is also the location for the release of some of the rescued wildlife from Paradise Garden Rescue,Boquete.
Birding: - See the Resplendent Quetzal and other birds of Panama. Gudes, maps and tours available.
Panamánian cuisine is a mix of several cultures. With Afro-Caribbean, French and Spanish influences, the dishes take on a complete life of their own. In the larger cities you can find all types of cuisine ranging from authentic Panamánian to sushi. Outside of David and Boquete, the selection is largely Panamánian with bountiful seafood and beef due to the abundance of cattle farms and the fantastic fishing in the area. Most dishes are served with coconut rice and beans and a type of squash or other native vegetable.
Fly out of David to Panama City.
This is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!