Among must-sees such as the Parque Nacional Marino Golfo de Chiriqui and Volcan Baru, Chiriqui plays host to a number of lesser-known attractions. A variety of ecological, geological, and cultural wonders lie just off the beaten path, waiting for curious travelers to stumble upon them…
However, you’ll be ambling in like a local once you’ve got the inside scoop on Chiriqui’s hidden gems. Check out our top 3 picks for the un-tried but true adventures you can find in Chiriqui’s green highlands:
1. The Carta Vieja Rum Factory
Miles and miles of sugarcane fields stretch to the west of the city of David, concealing one of Panama’s oldest factories. After nearly a century of operation, Carta Vieja has achieved a certain renown for its signature rum, the Carta Vieja Anejo. This spirited blend, considered by many to be the best rum in Panama, features a sweet aroma, full-bodied flavor with notes of anise and licorice, and a smooth finish. Each batch of Carta Vieja Anejo is brewed in a cask made from the heartwood of a white birch tree and is aged for four years.
The Carta Vieja Rum Factory offers weekday tours that start in the canefields and end in the distillery with plenty of samples along the way. For an unforgettable tour of this Panamanian institution, visit Panama during Holy Week (beginning on April 1st in 2012) – you’ll witness nearly 10,000 religious devotees making their annual pilgrimage to the neighboring village of Alanje to pay homage to a “miraculous” sculpture of Christ.
The Carta Vieja Rum Factory, also called the Central Industrial Chiricana, is easily accessible to Chiriqui travelers, located ten minutes from David’s city center.
2. The Islas Secas Archipelago
The Islas Secas Archipelago is a privately-owned string of sixteen jungle-covered islands near the southeastern edge of the Parque Nacional Marino Golfo de Chiriquí. Located about 45 minutes from Isla Palenque, these islands offer scenic hiking trails and a wealth of ocean wonders just offshore. The Isla Palenque team will be leading regular scuba and snorkeling expeditions to Isla Secas, where the warm Pacific waters mean wearing a wetsuit is optional. Prime sport fishing opportunities abound; healthy populations of spirited marlin, billfish, and tuna churn the crystalline sea into froth to give anglers a thrilling experience.
The Ngöbe-Buglé settlement of Tolé is more accessible than any other outpost of the Ngöbe-Buglé, yet it remains an oft-overlooked attraction in Panama. 50 miles from David and an easy drive down the Inter-American Highway, Tolé makes for an engaging day-trip. This settlement spans the foothills of eastern Chiriqui, not far from Boquete, where many Tolé residents commute to work seasonally on coffee plantations. Within their own farming community, whole families of Ngöbe-Buglé work together to cultivate a variety of crops: corn, rice, beans, otoe, tomatoes, peppers, mangos, oranges, nance, and cacao. Visit Tolé to taste the ripe fruits of their hometown harvest, all organically-grown with no preservatives, chemicals, or hype – the Ngobe-Bugle have simply been growing this way for centuries. Women of this indigenous group continue to practice traditional handicrafts, making their signature nagua dresses and colorful beaded necklaces known as chaquiras.
Whether you’re interested in sampling native Panamanian flavors, immersing in lively local culture, or discovering the beauty of Panama’s unspoiled wilderness, you’ll find any of these attractions a memorable escape from the ordinary. As the Ngöbe-Buglé say (forgive the phonetic translation)… Bron hoovay: Let’s go!