Panama’s Cool Mountain Air
COOL MOUNTAIN AIR, JUST AN HOUR OUTSIDE THE CITY?
Panama City is hot, and we love it. The heat is a crucial element to the spice of it all, the vibrancy, the feeling, the warm air and the plentiful miniskirts. But sometimes, even if you are already accustomed to the tropical temperatures, you still need a reprieve. You may on occasion find yourself searching out the chance to get your next dose of Freon and some artificial air conditioning. Or maybe you just want to be outside and wear long pants and a sweater without sweating bullets as soon as you walk out the door. This may seem impossible in Panama City, but what if you could get the real thing, without having to significantly change your latitude?
We all know about Boquete, Cerro Punta, Cerro Azul and El Valle, but how about a little known cool weather sanctuary that is even closer and easier to get to from Panama City? A ride out to Capira, just a little past La Chorrera takes less than an hour by car and costs only 1 dollar by bus leaving Albrook Terminal. Just a few minutes past the limits of Capira you will find the entrance to the Altos de Campana National Park located in the town of Chicá. It only takes about 20 minutes in car or chiva from the center of Capira to make the move from hot lowlands to a substantially cooler new altitude and microclimate.
Within Chicá you will find a sleepy town that has experienced only a minor level of influence and change as a result of the tourism boom currently taking a hold of Panama. A few folks from Panama City and a handful of foreigners own homes there that they use part of the year or on the weekends. School groups and environmental aficionados occasionally appear to visit the national park and walk its trails, but for the most part, Chicá basically remains untouched by all the new development that has sprung up in Panama in recent years.
The Altos de Campana National Park offers various hiking trails and many impressive ocean and mountain views. The Pacific can be seen from many points within the park and from the main road in town. Picturesque landscapes show white clouds crawling in over green mountains, at times bringing with them a cool passing rain shower of bajareque even in the hot summer months of the dry season. Once the rain has passed, it is not uncommon to see a rainbow or two circling around in the sky above or sometimes amidst the hills below. Any time of year, the cool temperatures, swift breeze and rugged mountain landscape of Chicá make for a refreshing alternative to the otherwise enjoyable but sometimes monotonous tropical warmth that usually brings us to Panama in the first place.
Depending on what you are into, the lack of tourism infrastructure in Chicá may be either a deterrent or a draw. There are a few small restaurants, a few small hospedajes, and a couple small grocery stores in town. On a weekday you should have no trouble arriving and finding someplace to stay. Weekends tend to bring in a little bit more of a Panama City crowd, at times filling up all the few local hotel accommodations, causing many to come prepared with a tent and camping gear if need be. Many of the hotels have kitchens available to guests, so stock up on some culinary supplies at the supermarket in Panama City before you go. Once you’re there, prepare yourself the perfect picnic lunch to feed a day of hiking, and later on at night cook up a hearty cool weather mountain meal for dinner to set up a good night’s sleep under a warm blanket.
The diversity of Panama is its greatest strength, and it has a lot more to offer visitors than just its famous casinos and beaches. Check out Chicá and the Altos de Campana National Park for some fresh outdoor fun that makes for an easy weekend trip or a quick cool weather pit stop on a Panamanian vacation.
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