There are three major trails in Parque Nacional Volcán Barú.
One of these is Sendero Los Quetzales. Hiking the Sendero Los Quetzales from the Boquete side is more strenuous and involves a different set of logistics than hiking it from the Cerro Punta side. Be sure to read up on the differences and plan accordingly.
The other two trails lead to the summit of Barú from either side of the mountain. On a clear day (ha!) you can see both oceans from the summit.
From either of these last two trails reaching the summit takes about five or six hours up and four or five hours down. It’s a strenuous climb, but not technically difficult. A very rough road serves as a trail on the east side of the mountain. Neither trail is suitable for children.
Do not attempt the summit trail on this side of the mountain without a safety-conscious and knowledgeable guide. There are lots of forks and it’s easy to get lost, especially when the fog rolls in.
It’s also essential that you plan well. The average temperature at the higher elevations is 7.2°C (45°F) and it can get down to freezing; hypothermia is a real possibility. And, like every place else in the highlands, it’s often incredibly wet.
Plan either to start very early or else camp out on the mountain. As an incentive, the best chance of a clear view is to be at the top close to dawn.
Dress warmly in waterproof clothes, and if you plan to camp bring a good tent and a second set of clothes. Bring plenty of water, as there are no facilities anywhere near the summit. Also, bear in mind that the elevation is high enough for altitude sickness to be a possibility. If you feel nauseated or get a bad headache, head down the mountain immediately.
One bummer about this hike is that people have scrawled graffiti all over the rocks near the summit. Try to ignore it; concentrate on the view and your sense of smugness for having made it to the top.
If you have a cell phone that works in this part of Panama, bring it. There’s a communication tower at the summit, so it might be possible to make a call if you get into trouble.
For the hike to the summit of Barú, drive to the trailhead, unless you’re up for a marathon trek. The trailhead is at the end of 7.4 kilometers of dirt and gravel road, half of it horrible, that heads east across the plains from the main road between Volcán and Bambito. The road is not marked but your guide will know the way.
Admission to Parque Nacional Volcán Barú is theoretically US$5, US$5 more to camp, but there are usually no rangers around to collect it. This is yet another reason to exercise caution in climbing the mountain; don’t expect the Mounties to come to the rescue if you get in trouble. Make sure there’s someone back in town who knows where you are and is prepared to call for some sort of help if you don’t return at a specified time. Again, a summit climb is absolutely not appropriate for young children.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition