A guide is a good idea for more ambitious hikes, such as summiting Volcán Barú or hiking the Sendero Los Quetzales in Parque Nacional Volcán Barú. A knowledgeable birding guide also greatly increases the chance of spotting quetzals.
Many guides have access to four-wheel-drive vehicles, a plus for those without their own transportation. Several of the hotels, especially the more upscale ones, can arrange tours for their guests. So can Boquete Tree Trek (tel. 720-1635, www.aventurist.com).
Please note: Though most of the guides in Boquete are good, safe, and reliable people, there have been some complaints about dangerous practices as well as inappropriate behavior toward women.
This is likely a function of the relatively thriving tourism business in Boquete versus other parts of the country—there are just more people trying to break into the business, not all of them competent or professional. If possible, try not to take guided tours alone.
Some also let the desire for business overcome common sense. No matter what a tour guide might tell you, for example, a hike to the top of Volcán Barú or the length of Sendero Los Quetzales is too much for young children and adults who aren’t in reasonably good shape. All the guides listed here have good reputations.
Coffee Adventures (tel. 720-3852, cell 6634-4698, http://coffeeadventures.net) is a guide outfit that consists of Terry van Niekerk and Hans van der Vooren, the warm and eminently dependable Dutch couple who own Tinamou Cottage. They offer an excellent, well-organized guided hike along Sendero Los Quetzales (US$129 pp). The tour includes snacks, but breakfast and/or a picnic lunch are available for another US$10–17 per person. The cost includes transportation to and from the trail. Discounts are available for groups of three or more. They also offer a half-day birding trip to Sendero Los Quetzales (US$39 pp).
They offer other full-day and half-day hiking and birding trips, both in the Boquete area and as far away as the Fortuna Road. In addition, they can combine a birding trip or visit to a Ngöbe settlement with ground transportation to or from Almirante (Bocas del Toro). Some of these tours are not at all strenuous. Tours start at US$35 pp, minimum two people, and include transportation and snacks.
The birding tours are usually led by Terry, an accomplished birder who speaks English, Dutch, and Spanish. Terry and Hans take a first-aid kit and cell phone along on all their hikes. As the name Coffee Adventures suggests, they also offer excellent tours of coffee facilities.
Santiago “Chago” Caballero (cell 6626-2200) has been guiding people in the highlands for 18 years and is often employed by top guide outfits. He is generally acknowledged as the best quetzal spotter around; if your main aim is to see a quetzal, he’s your guy. He’s a kind, gentle man and can be depended on to show up on time. He’s got his own four-wheel drive and is a careful driver. His bird-watching tours cost US$120 for 1–2 people, US$150 for 3–4 people.
Chago also takes guests on Sendero Los Quetzales (US$170 for 1–2 people, US$60 pp for 3–5 people). Other offerings include tours of the Cerro Punta side of the mountain, including either Parque Internacional La Amistad or Cañon Macho de Monte and the Lagunas de Volcán (both US$140 for 1–2 people, US$50 pp for 3–5 people). All tours include a box lunch and transportation.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition