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Hiking & Bird-watching Outfitters/Guides

The following tour outfitters and local guides offer hiking, bird-watching, and other general excursions to destinations and attractions listed below in this section. With their new office in Boquete, the reputable Panama City-based adventure company Ecocircuitos, on Avenida Central next to Chiriquí Rafting Company (tel. 720-1506; www.ecocircuitos.com) is a one-stop shop for short adventures in the Chiriquí area. They offer kayaking, hiking, family-adventures, and bird-watching day trips. Another company, Coffee Adventures, offers guided excursions around Boquete even though they are more commonly called upon for their popular tours of the Kotowa coffee estate. Coffee Adventures offers cultural excursions to a Ngobe-Buglé community near the Caribbean coast, guided hikes on Los Quetzales Trail from Boquete to Cerro Punta (or vice versa), and low-key excursions like bird-watching and trips to the Caldera Hot Springs. Feliciano González is a local guide with more than 20 years' experience in the Boquete area (tel. 6632-8645 or 6624-9940; www.geocities.com/boquete_tours). He has a 4WD vehicle, speaks basic English, and can customize tours of Boquete as well as day hikes on the Quetzales Trail, the Pianista Trail, and the full-day hike to the summit of Volcano Barú ($100/£50 for up to four people). Based in Volcán, Nariño Aizpurua (tel. 6704-4251; westernwindnature@yahoo.com) is a fun and friendly guide who specializes in bird-watching; he is a recommended guide for Los Quetzales Trail if you plan to start on that side.

For birding, you can't beat local guide Santiago "Chago" Caballero (tel. 6626-2200; santiagochagotours@hotmail.com) or one of his protégés. Want to see a quetzal? If you're here from December to May, Santiago can guarantee you will -- the reason he is such a valued guide in the region. Santiago typically takes birders to Finca Lérida but can customize tours, including searches for wild orchids in the rainforest.

Exploring el Parque Nacional Volcan Baru

As the name states, this national park is centered around the 3,475m (11,500-ft.) extinct Barú Volcano, the highest point in the country and the beloved center of adventurous outdoor pursuits for bird-watchers, hikers, rafters, and nature lovers. The park is situated on the Pacific-facing side of the Talamanca Mountain Range, and encompasses 14,000 hectares (34,600 acres) of rugged topography cloaked in primary and secondary rainforest. This rainforest provides a home to nearly 250 species of birds, the most notable of which is the resplendent quetzal, whose extraordinary beauty puts the bird in the number-one spot on many a bird-watching list. Other rare birds here include the silky flycatcher, the three-wattled bellbird, and the hairy woodpecker. Owing to the volcano's height and isolation, this area is considered a "bioclimatic island." Its forest is home to unique species of orchids and uncommon flora such as magnolia and giant oak trees, some of which are between 600 and 900 years old. You'll also see wild bamboo gardens and gigantic, gnarled trees dripping with vines and sprouting prehistoric-looking bromeliads from their trunks. In higher reaches, an intermittent cloud forest provokes an eerie ambience. All said, it's a wonderful place to hike and immerse yourself in wild beauty, but come prepared with waterproof outerwear and shoes and a dry change of clothes just in case. In this national park, temperatures average 50° to 60°F (10°-16°C).

Natural beauty aside, the park is economically important because it protects the headwaters that provide irrigation to the country's prime agricultural region, concentrated in the fertile areas of the volcano's skirt. These rivers are also revered by rafters and kayakers for their Class III to Class V rapids, which provide thrills and a sense of remote solitude -- a sure recipe for adventure. For more information about rafting, see below.

Volcán Barú National Park is administered by ANAM, which has ranger stations at the Los Quetzales trail heads in both Boquete (Alto Chiquero) and Cerro Punta (El Respingo), and charges a $3-per-person (£1.50) entrance fee. Both ranger stations have a handful of truly rustic bunks with shared bathrooms, which cost $5 (£2.50) per bed. There's not much ambience at the Boquete station to encourage even the hardiest of nature lovers to lodge there, however. A taxi to the ranger station, about 8km (5 miles) from Boquete, costs $3 (£1.50).

Biking

Boquete provides visitors with kilometer upon kilometer of picturesque, winding roads; moderate terrain; and pastoral views. Bicyclists on main paved roads will need to keep an eye open for speeding motorists, as there are virtually no shoulders and lots of blind curves. For bike rental, check out Panama Rafters on Avenida Central or Boquete Tree Trek. The cost to rent is $3 (£1.50) per hour. A half-day bike tour around Boquete is offered by Aventurist (tel. 720-1635; www.aventurist.com). Tours begin by traveling by vehicle to the scenic heights at Alto Quiel, where bicyclists and their guide descend for 2 hours for a total of 26km (16 miles) until they reach town. Tours leave at 7am and 1pm, and cost $25 (£13) per person.

Canopy Tours

Canopy tours, the new adventure fad of zipping through the treetops suspended by a harness attached to a cable, are available through Boquete Tree Trek at Avenida Central (tel. 720-1635; www.canopypanama.com). This exhilarating ride is appropriate for kids as young as 3, and the weight limit for each rider is 113 kilograms (250 lb.) for men, and 91 kilograms (200 lb.) for women. The zip line is 3km (1 3/4 miles) long, with a drop of 351m (1,150 ft.), and is located in the upper reaches of the Palo Alto valley, about 45 minutes from town. A 2 1/2- to 3-hour canopy adventure costs $60 (£30). Women should avoid wearing skirts because of the harness seat. The best attire is long pants or shorts that do not ride up too high and closed-toe shoes like sneakers or hiking boots.

Horseback Riding

Eduardo Caño (tel. 720-1750 or 6629-0814), a local guide from Boquete, is the man to go to for horseback riding tours of 2 to 5 hours, loping along trails on the outskirts of Boquete in areas such as Volcancito and Jaramillo. The views of Boquete and the surrounding area are simply splendid, but Eduardo speaks limited English, so unless you know Spanish, you'll need your hotel to call and make arrangements. Sample prices for two are $40 (£20) for 2 hours, $60 (£30) for 3 hours. Also, contact Ecocircuitos for horseback riding or to hire an English-speaking nature guide to accompany you and Eduardo on your ride.

Hot Springs

The Caldera Hot Springs comprises four undeveloped pools in natural surroundings, with mineral water in varying temperature grades. It's worth a stop if you're a huge fan of hot springs, are already in the area, or are looking for a pretty low-key activity -- otherwise, I can't figure out what the big to-do about Caldera is, especially considering that it's a good half-hour drive from Boquete. The hot springs are next to the Caldera River, which you can bathe in as well. To get here, you'll need to be part of a tour, or have a 4WD (you might make it in a regular car, but just barely). Head south from Boquete, and 11km (7 miles) later, turn left at the sign for Caldera; once you arrive in Caldera keep driving until you see a sign for the hot springs. Follow a rather brutal dirt road to the end and then walk about 10 minutes to the hot springs.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.