Cerro Punta lies at an altitude of almost 2000 metres in the middle of a trough-shaped valley, surrounded by densely wooded mountains.
Since its foundation, more than eighty years ago, agriculture has developed so rapidly that today more than three quarters of the vegetables grown in Panama come from Cerro Punta. It is clearly visible that this boom has taken place at the expense of the forests. Only in recent years the inhabitants have confronted the problem of deforestation and its ecological consequences. They have begun to protect the remaining forest areas and to discover tourism as an alternative and sustainable source of income. The two national parks of the Barú Volcano and the cross-border Parque Internacional La Amistad, adjacent to the village, constitute together the largest contiguous and protected forest area in Central America.
The Talamanca mountain range is a habitat for an unprecedented diversity of flora and fauna. It is home to 180 endemic plant species and one of the last retreats for endangered ocelots, jaguars and tapirs. The bird world comprises 600 species and scientists estimate that four percent of all animal and plant species occurring in the world are represented here. The vegetation zones of the national park range from the tropical rainforests of the lowlands to mountain cloud forests and páramo vegetation with crippled shrubs and over man-high rosette shrubs. The dense mixed oak forest of the cloud forests is covered with mosses, ferns, bromeliads, orchids and other epiphytes.
Along the road that leads from Concepcíon through Volcán to Cerro Punta, which is constantly moving up and down, there are numerous fincas that raise cattle or horses, grow strawberries, onions, vegetables and fruit, or, like Finca Dracula, specialise in the cultivation of orchids. The finca owes its name to the Dracula orchids with their two distinctive sepals, which only raise their flower heads at night or in the dark. With 2200 species of orchids from Central and South America, Finca Dracula is one of the largest collections in the world. It is located in the small village of Guadalupe and is open to visitors except Mondays. Guided tours are offered on site, which are most interesting during the main flowering season in March and April.
Panama’s best-known hiking trail, the so-called Sendero los Quetzales, connects Cerro Punta and Boquete over about 12 km (pure route, without access roads). If you walk the distance from Cerro Punta to Boquete, the way leads essentially downhill, only the last two kilometres to the Alto Chiquero Ranger Station rise again at the “hill of lamentations” (Loma de Lamentos). If you start the hike in Boquete, you will have to climb the 685 meters of altitude with the exception of the beginning. Those who want to have a chance to see a Quetzal should start early and look out for wild avocado trees whose berry-like fruits are considered the favourite food of these rare birds.
The Barú Volcano National Park in the west of the Chiriquí province was established in 1976. It protects an area of 14325 hectares in an altitude range between 1800 and 3475 meters. In the north and northwest it borders the Palo Seco protected area and the cross-border “La Amistad” National Park. Boquete on its eastern flank is considered the best starting point for an ascent. Although the term “ascent” is misleading, as potential summit climbers do not need any technical knowledge, it is advisable for inexperienced climbers to tackle the Barú with a guide. In addition to warm clothes and provisions, at least 4 litres of drinking water per person must be brought.
Theoretically, the 27 km of ascent and descent can be done in one day, but then the ascent has to be done over a steep and muddy path at night, especially in the lower part. The experience of seeing both the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean from the summit after sunrise on clear days compensates for the effort. While the summit itself is spoiled by radio masts, rubbish and graffiti, the route leads through impressive nature with almost untouched cloud forests. Some of the giant trees, including endemic oaks (Quercus baruensis), are 600 years old. In addition to 400 registered bird species – including the Quetzal – the fauna of the Barú National Park also has rare species such as mountain paka or the endangered Underwood’s water mouse as well as numerous bat species to offer. All five species of cats native to Panama, among which the puma is the most common, are also represented.