Hiking Volcan Baru without a guide in Boquete isn’t tough, but it does require some advance planning. Find out all the details to enjoy a beautiful sunrise overlooking both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans!
Where is Volcan Baru?
Volcan Baru is located along the continental divide, separating two of the world’s great oceans. The volcano is located roughly in the middle of the Central American isthmus at the northern end of Panama. Due to its elevation and proximity to the equator, the area is prone to rain and microclimates owing to the contrast in temperatures nearby.
How to Climb Volcan Baru
There are several ways to climb Volcan Baru in Panama, but you need to be at the highest point for sunrise to witness the best views. Although there are 4×4 jeeps that can make the summit easier, they tend to be pricey ($150). We at DIY Travel HQ prefer to put in the effort, and earn the reward when we reach the summit.
Hiking Volcan Baru Without a Guide at Night
The best way to hike Volcan Baru without a guide is to take the tourist shuttle ($5) that most hostels in town can arrange for free. Although sharing a taxi with friends would work out cheaper, it may be difficult to find one around midnight when you need to make the journey to the base of Volcan Baru.
There are at least two companies that service trips to the volcano, but I don’t recommend the one booked by El Machico despite being a fabulous hostel (dorms $13-16). Their safari painted truck kept overheating, and required donations from the drinking water to make it to the start! We’re not sure what is worse, not reaching the destination or having insufficient drinking water for a 12 hour hike?
The only other group was a French couple that had a guide for hiking Volcan Baru ($85). This is 100% not required as there is only one road to the peak marked by antennas. This did lead to an awkward situation though since I wanted someone to talk to as Sheena was recuperating from our three day hike in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica.
It felt weird joining their guided tour when I didn’t pay for it so I branched out on my own after an hour. There isn’t much to see in the dark along the way except to watch your footsteps over the uneven gravel road. It isn’t immediately clear why only serious 4×4’s can make it to the top until the 2nd half of the climb. The ruts become very serious at times!
Depending on your fitness level, it only takes around 4 hours to climb. I found myself stopping and chatting with anyone I passed just to pass time. I knew every step I took dropped the temperature a corresponding amount. I found myself sitting at lower elevations not because I was tired, but to prevent sitting at Volcan Baru’s frigid peak. Most people don’t think about freezing when in tropical locations, but it can happen.
In the dark, the highlights were a few lookouts to see Boquete’s lights, a bird, and a few mysteries that would need sunlight to better understand. Scouting for night eyes along the trail to the top of Volcan Baru was pointless as there was no wildlife to be seen.
Volcan Baru Summit
Reaching the Volcan Baru summit is very rewarding as the hike is half done, and the sky is starting to brighten if you timed your ascent correctly. I was still a bit too early, so I huddled in between a few buildings that helped minimize the chilly wind. There was a group of three others from the other shuttle that hiked Volcan Baru without a guide that had the same idea. They were all independent hikers before the trip, but teamed up for the climb.
When you get to the top of the volcano, you really want to maximize taking pictures to the east before the sunrise. Don’t wait until the sun rises thinking the lighting will get better, as you will only get glare! There is a well-worn path just past the antenna station on the left that is ideal for watching the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean, and shining light on the Pacific Ocean at the same time. I can’t think of anywhere else where you can see the world’s two great oceans at the same time.
The hues from the impending sunrise are magical as they spread across the layer of clouds below, until the sun finally pops above them to greet you. Slowly, the sun rises casting prolonged shadows from the peaks above the clouds onto the adjacent countryside of Panama.
Once there is ample light, then you can safely (relatively at least) make your way to the true peak of Volcan Baru. You can follow the same path further on until you have to boulder to the top of a rocky ledge protected by a cross. This is when you can bask in the warming sunlight, and appreciate the hard work it took to reach the summit before retracing your steps.
Descending Volcan Baru Without a Guide
Typically, you can descend a mountain, or volcano in this case, in half to two-thirds the time it took to climb to the top. However, the descent down Volcan Baru seemed to take roughly the same amount of time. This was a combination of slippery loose gravel, finally being able to see what you were hiking past in the dark, and having met other hikers to chat with.
There still wasn’t much to see along the way, but the road was lined with colorful flowers, and a few oddities. You could properly explore the run down camping area, and a zipline/hunter’s cage. The most wildlife were the sheep in the cliff strewn pasture towards the bottom. The only thing left to do at the end was to “check-in” at Volcan Baru’s entrance ($5).
Volcan Baru Transportation
The easiest way to reach Volcan Baru is to take a shuttle for $5 arranged by your hostel. Getting back can entail taking a bus (minivan) that runs semi-regularly to Boquete, or a taxi with fellow hikers ($2-3 per person).
Volcan Baru Accomodation
Since the best way to visit Volcan Baru without a guide or tour is to start hiking at midnight, most hostels and hotels will require you to pay for the night even though you are not there most of the time. Your only other option is to climb Volcan Baru for sunset, camp overnight, witness sunrise, and then descend.
We did see one couple hike up at midnight for sunrise, sleep during the day, catch sunset, and then return. This saves you the park fee, but becomes more expensive due to hostel costs.
Volcan Baru Weather
Whether you are camping or doing the night hike up Volcan Baru, you will need warm clothes as it gets cold near the 11,398’ (3,475 m) summit. The obvious reason to climb to the top is for the views so check the weather on Mountain Forecast. A simpler method is to check whether you can see the antennas on the volcano before the sun sets as that is a good determinator.
Know Before You Go
Location: Volcan Baru is located near Boquete, Panama
Price: Entrance to Volcan Baru National Park is $5, with transportation adding an additional $7-8.
Duration: 12 hours return
Transportation: Volcan Baru shuttle around midnight for the start, and taxi or bus for the return.
Weather: Check the forecast, view the volcano, and have warm clothes for the peak.
Things to Pack: Water, food, and a headlamp!
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***The Final Word – Volcan Baru is a relatively easy climb to do it yourself without a tour or guide, and the views are amazing from the top of Panama.***
How do you decide when the effort required is too much, and the tour is worth the price?
Easy DIY travel outside city centers using local transport