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Western Panama is home to the cool highlands of the Chiriquí Province, a tropical mountain paradise brimming with lush rainforest and trout-filled streams, and dotted with storybook villages nestled on the verdant slopes of the region's dominant peak, the 3,478m (11,410-ft.) Barú Volcano. Given the region's fertile soil and ideal year-round temperatures, the Chiriquí area is Panama's agricultural breadbasket, and many of the mountain's valleys and hillsides are blanketed with a colorful patchwork of fruit trees, vegetable fields, and coffee plantations -- one of the country's signature products. The air is fresh and sweet here, and the roads that wind through the peaks and valleys overflow with pretty pink and white impatiens and exotic flowers.

The Chiriquí Highlands region is a mecca for adventure, and travelers can participate in activities such as white-water rafting and kayaking Class II to Class V rivers, canopy rides, or hiking through primeval forest dripping with vines and bromeliads and interlaced with creeks. Laid-back activities include scenic drives and tours of coffee plantations or orchid farms. The Chiriquí region is well-known as a hot spot for bird-watching, and hundreds of species have been recorded in the area, including showcase birds such as the resplendent quetzal, blue cotinga, trogons, and toucans. The area is a corridor for migratory species that pass through from November to April.

The eastern side of the Barú Volcano is home to Boquete, an enchanting valley town that has received a lot of press lately as a top retirement area. Indeed, it's not uncommon to see a number of foreigners here. On the volcano's western side are picturesque agricultural communities such as Cerro Punta. Both towns are linked by the Los Quetzales Trail that winds through the gorgeous forests of Parque Nacional Volcán Barú. Additionally, the western side offers access to one of the most important parks in Central America, Parque Internacional La Amistad, which Panama shares with Costa Rica.

The Highlands are accessed from the province's capital David, a service-oriented city located on the hot and humid lowlands. A little farther south is the Gulf of Chiriquí, Panama's up-and-coming travel destination that offers outstanding scuba diving, snorkeling, and sport fishing in the crystalline waters around such revered sites as Isla Coiba, and the islands in and around Parque Nacional Golfo Marino. This section covers the extensive region that includes the Highlands, the Gulf, and even the remote village Santa Catalina, for its epic surfing and direct access to Isla Coiba.

The Chiriquí Highlands have microclimates that produce cloud forests and phenomena such as the misting rain bajareque, so it is important that you bring clothing that is waterproof if you plan to spend time outdoors. Also, temperatures here are decidedly cooler than in the rest of Panama.