Cerro Azul is a hilly area about an hour east of Panama City and has long been popular with more affluent city dwellers looking to escape the hot lowlands—the elevation reaches 950 meters, high enough to cool things off significantly.
Attempts have been made to attract tourists to the area, but only serious birders are likely to find it of great interest. They come for the foothill species, including some that are otherwise found only in the Darién. There are some stretches of elfin forest, but getting to the less-developed areas requires a four-wheel drive with high clearance, and some places can only be approached on foot.
Birders should go with a knowledgeable naturalist guide. Other than that, this is mostly an area of suburban homes and little else.
There is one nice place to stay on Cerro Azul. Hostal Casa de Campo Country Inn and Spa (39 Avenida Los Cumulos, Panama City tel. 226-0274, Cerro Azul tel. 297-0067, cell 6677-8993, www.panamacasadecampo.com, starts at US$74.40 s/d) is a large, upscale country home that’s been turned into a pleasant, well-maintained inn with lots of character and extensive grounds. All rooms are different, and some are considerably nicer than others.
Note: Despite the connotations of the name, this is not a hostel. There’s a small swimming pool, a full-service spa, and good views of the surrounding forested hills and Lago Alajuela. The inn offers a variety of spa and outdoor-adventure packages, including bird-watching trips. Meals are available for an extra charge. Round-trip transportation from Panama City, about an hour away, can be arranged for US$60 per couple. The staff speaks English, Spanish, and Italian.
Getting to Cerro Azul
To get to Cerro Azul, take the Corredor Sur toll road toward the international airport. When the road ends at the Riande Aeropuerto Hotel and Resort, turn left onto the Interamerican Highway. Make another left at the Super Xtra supermarket and follow the Cerro Azul signs. Casa de Campo is about a 20-minute drive up the hill. Turn left at Urbanización Las Nubes and follow the signs. To get to Cerro Azul by public transportation, take any bus going to 24 de Diciembre. Get off at the Super Xtra supermarket and transfer to a Cerro Azul bus.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition