Exploring the Cloud Forests of Panama

Boquete was far from what we expected – although maybe that was our mistake. Described by Lonely Planet as “The mountain town of Boquete, the Napa Valley of coffee, is known throughout Panama for its cool, fresh climate and its pristine natural setting. Flowers, coffee, vegetables and citrus fruits flourish in Boquete’s rich soil and the friendliness of the locals seems to rub off on everyone who passes through.” When we got there, we quickly realized the only things to do in Boquete were tours, nothing was free. The only free thing people we met had done was wake up at midnight to climb the Volcano for sunrise – a grueling climb in the pitch black. We settled for a coffee tour (which turned out to be a very nice afternoon, the tour was in English and the farm was run by Canadian expats) and renting a scooter the next day.

DSC07378 (1024x683)

Drying racks for the coffee cherries at the coffee farm (empty because it is off-season)

DSC07425 (683x1024)

We got to roast our own coffee! (and even take home a bag of it)

IMG_5421 (1024x683)

Holding the box of freshly roasted coffee beans

DSC07328 (1024x683)

Basalt rock formations

DSC07352 (1024x683)

Another stop of our scooter trip, a small waterfall off the side of the road

IMG_5418 (1024x768)

Our scooter

Lost and Found Lodge

From Boquete we booked a shuttle to Bocas del Toro (on the Caribbean coast) that dropped us off at the Lost and Found Lodge (well, on the side of the road beneath the lodge) and would pick us up again in 3 days to continue on. We read about the Lost and Found Lodge in our Lonely Planet book (Central America on a shoestring) and it sounded like a cool place to check out. Once our shuttle dropped us off, we had a grueling 20 minute walk up the mountain to the lodge, which really wouldn’t have been that bad had it not been for the giant overweight packs on our back.

After meeting the staff, it seemed like you had to have done more drugs than the average human body could handle and slept with more people than the average rock-star to work there – one of the owners even wrote a book on his psychedelic travel/sex adventures… The perma-stoned look was common among the staff; however, the travelers varied much more. The place advertises itself as an Eco-Lodge but other than the fact it is run by two liberal socialists and is located in the jungle, it is far from an eco-lodge. They had one of the strongest wifi signals we’ve had in weeks along with on-the-grid electricity. Somehow, you still felt like you were in the middle of the jungle. Our first day we lazed around the large complex in the hammocks and on the benches browsing our phones all while listening to the sounds of the jungle, spotting tiny hummingbirds and watching the clouds roll in around us until we were completely surrounded – hence the name, The Cloud Forests.

DSC07478 (1024x683)

The Lost & Found Lodge

We had read that the lodge had stocked food shelves with items for sale; thus, there was no need to pack up food for cooking in the large open-air kitchen. For some reason, maybe the “Eco-Lodge” title or maybe our vicinity to organic vegetable and citrus fruit growing Boquete, we expected the stocked food to be organic vegetables and fruit along with a few pantry items. We were far from correct; while chips, Pringles, chocolate bars, canned tuna and veggies, spaghetti and tomato sauce were plentiful and reasonably priced, the only vegetables were a few potatoes, a tomato and some onions. Disappointed, we signed up for the 6$ dinner of beef, rice and salad. We were on our own for breakfast and lunch though (luckily we had brought enough food to get us through the first day). The one fruit available were oranges from the citrus grove a couple hundred meters past our cabin. We went in the afternoon and Dan climbed up the trees throwing down enough oranges to make two large and delicious glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice.

IMG_5427 (768x1024)

Dan with a shirt full of freshly picked oranges ready for squeezing

After dinner, we visited Rocky, a kinkajou that was rescued from his previous owners that did not treat him very well (he was castrated, therefore, couldn’t be released into the wild). A kinkajou, also known as a “honey bear”, is related to the raccoon family, but is often mistaken for a ferret or monkey. It seemed like Rocky was treated very well at the Lost and Found because he looked very healthy and loved all the attention he received.

DSC07476 (1024x683)

Rocky! We weren’t allowed to take our photos (this is a photo of a photo)

To us, the main appeal of the Lost and Found Lodge was the fact that we didn’t need to sign up for a tour to go hiking or see some of the natural sites in the area. (On a side note, they do offer tours and for a much more reasonable price than in Boquete). Our second day, we grabbed directions and a rough map to Los Cangilones (River Canyon) which required hiking down to the main road, catching a local bus heading towards David, and getting off in the small town 35 minutes away. While the weather on the mountain was cloudy and not very warm, the canyon was 30 degrees and sunny – perfect swimming weather. The water level was relatively low but still plenty high enough for jumping in – just more of a climb up the steep rocks out. A couple young local guys showed us the route out pointing out the hand and foot placements after watching us struggling (you can also swim downstream a short distance and step out on the lower rocks). On the way back, we picked up a few veggies in the town although their selection surprisingly wasn’t much better. On the bus ride back, the weather worsened with the altitude changes and when we got dropped off we were in a torrential downpour. We hid inside a café at the bottom for around half an hour hoping the rain would pass before hiking up in a mild sprinkle.

DSC07446 (1024x683)

Dan jumping into the River Canyon

Our last day, we slept in and then switched from our private cabin to a dorm bed as your third night is free in a dorm bed (in low season). The dorm room had three sets of double beds and two sets of single beds all stacked three high, accommodating a maximum of 30 people in one room! Luckily, that morning about 13 people had checked out and we got a bottom bunk – I’m not sure how I would have felt climbing up to the third-high bunk. Once we moved our bags, and made a quick lunch we left to explore the surrounding trails. We chose to hike up to the “Continental Lookout” which proved to have a beautiful view. We got spared the rain and thick clouds for a semi-clear view. Assuming it would start to rain again soon, like it does every afternoon for at least an hour or two in rainy season, we headed back to the lodge to relax a bit more before making dinner.

DSC07497 (1024x683)

The view from the top of the Continental Lookout

DSC07474 (1024x683)

Trail map of the area surrounding the Lost & Found Lodge

That night, we went to the bar for happy hour and played a few rounds of foosball. Drinks are cheap – beers/mixed drink $1/1.5 at happy hour and $2/2.5 after 9PM; however, like everything else, drinks are just checked off on a sheet and you pay at checkout the next day. The bartender during happy hour was very good about showing what he checked out but later in the evening we never saw what was being marked down. The next morning we somehow owed 34$ which would have involved us buying everyone in the bar a drink on top of the three drinks each we had. Obviously impossible, we were running late and didn’t have time to argue – just be careful if you go there!

DSC07479 (1024x683)

The bar

IMG_5439 (1024x754)

Beautiful sunset on our last night

In retrospect, we should have skipped tourist Boquete and went straight to the Lost and Found Lodge.

For more photographs from Boquete, click here.

For more photographs from the Lost & Found Lodge, click here.

One thought on “Exploring the Cloud Forests of Panama

  1. Anna Jean Msllinson says:

    I loved this! The basalt rock formations are amazing — some geological upheaval — and I liked the old coffee mill, the photo of Dan leaping into the canyon, the tale of him climbing the tree and throwing oranges down. Talk about freshly squeezed juice! I can see you have to be flexible. you never know quite what awaits you. Travel and learn!

Leave a Reply