The 8,000-hectare Parque Nacional Sarigua (tel. 996-7679 in Chitré, no local phone, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. daily, US$5) stretches east toward the coast and out to sea. It’s 10 kilometers northwest of Chitré , near Parita .
Sarigua was the site of a fishing settlement an astonishing 11,000 years ago. That’s the oldest trace of human habitation on the entire Azuero Peninsula . It was also home to the country’s oldest known farming community, which tilled the land here up until about 1,500 years ago.
That long history makes it all the sadder to realize what modern humans have done to this area in just a few decades in the 20th century.
Sometimes tourist officials try to bill this place as a desert. That misses the point entirely.
It’s not a desert: It’s a wasteland.
It’s a vivid, horrifying example of just what deforestation in the tropics can look like. This area used to be covered by species-rich mangroves and dry coastal forest. They were chopped and burned away. Strong winds blow here in the dry season; without the buffer of the mangroves, the wind blew sand inland, hastening the deforestation.
The average temperature now is around 36°C (97°F), far above the norm for the surrounding areas that still have vegetation, and it can get even hotter.
The area gets less than a meter of rain yearly, a fraction of the precipitation in other parts of the Pacific coast. Note the garbage sticking out of the mounds around the ranger station; Parita  used the area as a dump before 1980.
There’s a mirador (observation platform) near the station that visitors can climb to get a good view of the sweeping nothingness. The ranger will probably come up and give a little lecture and he may speak a little English.
It’s possible to drive around here even when the ranger station is closed, but it’s not a good idea to come by in the late afternoon in any case. It’s too hot. Visitors can drive only about two kilometers into the park. After that there’s a private shrimp farm that’s not open to the public.
To get to Parque Nacional Sarigua from Chitré , head northwest on the main road toward Parita  for about 10 kilometers. Turn right before Parita at the large park sign. After about three kilometers, turn left onto the dirt road and follow some more signs into the park.