Volcán and the Western Highlands

The western section of the Tierras Altas (highlands) de Chiriquí is bounded on the north by the Cordillera and on the west by the Costa Rican border, a prosperous and dynamic agricultural region renowned for vegetables, flowers, superb coffees, and the brown Swiss and Holstein dairy herds that thrive in the cool highland pastures. The area is a birdwatchers' mecca and is also popular with residents of Panama City wishing to cool off for a few days.

Heading away from La Concepción there is a very good paved road north, rising 1200 m in 32 km to Volcán. From Cuesta de Piedra, a turning to the right will take you to the canyons of the
Macho de Monte
, a rather small river that has worn deep, narrow gorges. Further on, to the left, is the
Mirador Alan Her
, with good views from the purpose-built tower to the sea, and on a clear day, the Punto Burica peninsula that marks the Panama-Costa Rica border. Local cheeses on sale are very good, especially the mozzarella. Near Volcán, you can get excellent wood carvings at
Artes Cruz
where Don Cruz, who speaks English, will make charming souvenirs to order and have them ready on your return trip.

Volcán and around

Volcán sits on a broad 1450-m-high plateau formed by an ancient eruption of Volcán Barú. The pumice soil is extremely porous and dries within minutes of the frequent torrential downpours in the rainy season; in summer the area is tinder dry.

The town is very spread out. The centre (with police station, gas station, supermarket and bakery) clusters around the crossroads to Cerro Punta and Río Sereno. Volcán is a rapidly growing farming town, with nurseries cultivating ferns for export, the
Beneficio Café Volcán Barú
(interesting tours during October-February harvest season), and a small factory owned by the Swiss Bérard family producing excellent European-style sausages. San Benito school is noted for hardwood furniture, woodcarvings using
cocobolo
hardwood and hand-painted ceramics sold for the benefit of the school. Brother Alfred will let you browse through his warehouse full of English books from the now- closed Canal Zone libraries and you can take away what you will.
Cerámica Beija-Flor
is run by local women who market their own wares.

Southwest of town is the
Las Lagunas de Volcán
nature reserve, with two beautiful lakes, abundant aquatic and other birdlife. High vehicles or 4WDs are required in the wet season.
Sitio Barriles
, 6 km from town on the road to Caizán, has interesting petroglyphs; also past Fina Palo Santo, 5 km from town on the road to Río Sereno.
La Fuente Park
 (signed from the main road) has playing fields and a spring-fed swimming hole (source of Río Gariché) that's excellent for children.

Volcán is a good jumping-off place for the ascent of
Volcán Barú
. It is possible to climb the west side in one or two days, camping about halfway by a small spring (the only reliable water in the dry season) or in a crater near the top (no water), descending the following day to Boquete on the vehicle road . The trail is beautiful, climbing gently at first through lush cloud forest (many birds, butterflies, and orchids), then scrambling steeply over loose volcanic sand and scree - a challenging but rewarding hike. Guides can be arranged in Volcán; climbers sometimes get lost.

The road divides at the police station in Volcán. The right branch continues north to tiny
Bambito
and
Cerro Punta
(22 km), following the Chiriquí Viejo river valley up the northwest foothills of Volcán Barú. Cross the dry plain known as
Paso Ancho
, with coffee farms in the hill to the west.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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