Sitio Barriles -- Located 5.5km (3 1/2 miles) southwest of Volcán, Sitio Barriles is an archaeological site on the private land of the Landau family, whose grandfather discovered hundreds of artifacts when excavating to build a coffee plantation. The artifacts are from the Barriles culture, an indigenous population that lived in the area from 600 B.C. to 300 B.C. before being forced to evacuate after the eruption of Volcán Barú. It's a curious attraction because hardly anything is known about the culture, and, accordingly, there's little interpretive information available to visitors. Artifacts include a burial tomb with funeral urns, pottery, and tools made of basalt. One basalt slab, when doused with water, shows ancient etchings. The site is open daily from 7am to 5pm, and can be reached by following the Río Sereno road west out of Volcán; the turnoff is on the left (tel. 575-2121; there is no charge to visit, but donations are appreciated). The Landau family sells fresh cheese and homemade jams, too.
Lagunas de Volcan -- About a 15-minute drive from Volcán, along a rough, poorly maintained road, sit the highest wetlands in Panama: Lagunas de Volcán. The wetlands comprise two lakes surrounded by exuberant forest, with dramatic views of Volcán Barú rising in the distance. It's a lovely spot to visit, but it especially draws bird-watchers who come to see northern jacanas, tanagers, collared trogons, emerald toucanets, masked ducks, and the rose-throated becard, among others. Western Wind Nature offers canoe trips here, too. To get here you'll need a 4WD vehicle. Turn left off the main road at the sign for Vía Aeropuerto at the Agroquímicas Volcán building, and follow the signs for Lagunas de Volcán. There is no entrance fee. Considering that the Lagunas are close to La Torcaza Estate coffee farm , you might want to tie in a visit to both.
La Torcaza Estate -- The Janson Family produces extraordinary coffee, and a visit to their estate gives connoisseurs a chance to learn how coffee is processed (and, of course, to sample and buy coffee at the on-site shop). The splendid views of Volcán Barú and the Janson's lovely farm are worth the visit alone. The Jansons pride themselves on environmental protection, producing shade-grown, organic beans that are handpicked and roasted in small batches, then packed up and shipped overseas to the U.S. and Europe. Their tour is in Spanish and English, and lasts about an hour; tours include a visit to their production facility, followed by coffee tasting. To get here, head west on the main road and turn left at the sign for the Vía Aeropuerto, at the Agroquímicas Volcán building; continue until you see the sign for Janson Family Coffee, turn right, and continue to the airport strip, where you'll turn right and follow the signs. The tour is $10 (£5) per person, or you can visit the coffee shop for free (tel. 771-4306; www.estatecoffee.com; Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm, Sat 8:30am-1:30pm).
Los Pozos Termales -- It's not Baden Baden, but these natural hot springs do offer a place to soak your sore muscles after a day of adventure. The hot springs are located west from Volcán on the road to Río Sereno, 8.5km (5 miles) from the Berard Supermarket. You'll need a 4WD to get through a couple of sticky ruts as you get closer to the hot springs, and because a river crosses the road, it can be impossible to cross after heavy rain.
Shopping for Handicrafts
Just before entering Volcán, on your left-hand side is Artesanías Cruz Volcán tel. 6622-1502, a shop that showcases exquisite woodworking and glasswork crafted by the talented José de la Cruz, who studied his craft in Italy. He's usually there between 8am and 12pm and 1 and 5pm, and you can watch him work for as long as you like. José has many ready-made items for sale, but given a few days he'll also custom-carve everything from signs to furniture to doors, which can be shipped or picked up later -- so stop here on your way into the area rather than on your way out. You can also pick up handicrafts at the gift shop at San Benito Crafts School in town, which donates proceeds to the school. The Crafts School holds a market every weekend.
A Nature Sanctuary & Coffee Farm West of Volcan
Part of the allure of a visit to Finca Hartmann (tel. 775-5223; www.fincahartmann.com) is the drive there, which surely ranks among the top-five scenic drives in Panama. The twisting road requires that you take it slowly to avoid oncoming traffic, which whips around hairpin turns; you'll pass through beautiful dense forest that opens periodically for sweeping views. If you have a rental vehicle, this is a highly recommended day trip -- or a tour operator can provide transportation.
Finca Hartmann is a boutique coffee farm producing shade-grown, high-quality beans typically sold to small specialty distributors. What's fascinating about their tours is the care that goes into producing such flavorful beans, and the Hartmann family's devotion and passion for the natural environment that surrounds them. More than anything else, the finca (farm) is known for is its position in the north-south corridor of migrating birds, thus ranking it as one of Panama's bird-watching hot spots, and many specialty bird-watching tours include this as part of their itinerary. Finca Hartman sits on the edge of La Amistad Parque Internacional; though they are not "official," hiking trails do exist and can be walked if reservations are made in advance so that a guide can accompany you. The only people you will see around the finca and along the trails -- if you see anyone at all -- are traditional Ngobe-Buglé Indians.
There is a wooden rancho with an attractive coffee-tasting area and a small museum containing extensive bug collections and indigenous artifacts collected in the century that the Hartmanns have lived here. Coffee tours cost $10 (£5) per person, but a better bet is to plan a walking-and-coffee tour that includes lunch -- contact Finca Hartmann for prices as each full-day tour is organized and priced individually. The Hartmanns have two picturesque but rustic cabins (with no electricity) tucked away in a small cloud forest at the end of a very rough road. Finca Hartmann is located in the tiny community of Santa Clara, on the road to Río Sereno. The turnoff is 27km (17 miles) from Volcán. Turn at the signed road and drive 1km (1/2 mile) until you reach the finca.
Blackberry Wine: ¡Salud!
For more than 10 years, Abelardo Coba has been producing delicious organic blackberry wine, which he claims acts as a treatment for and prevention against circulatory problems. His wine is also rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, so you can feel good about drinking it. The blackberries are fermented for 20 days and matured in a barrel for 3 months. Coba has recently been testing out other fruit wines, such as guayaba (soursop), mango, and similar exotic fruits. Pick up a bottle at his small facility, just before Volcán, located on the right side of the road. (You'll see a sign for VIÑA DON COBA). There are no regular hours.