01 Dec Fun Climbing in Boquete, Panamá
Only four hours away by bus from the islands of Bocas del Toro, the mountainous region of Boquete offers amazing rock climbing for all levels. I booked a one way ticket with Hola Panamá shuttle, though they couldn’t assure me that the road was finally open. There have been protestors who blocked the road the past few days causing cars to turn back and making it totally impassable.
“So do I get a refund if we can’t get through?” I asked the man who issued me a receipt from their Bocas del Toro office. After beating round the bush, his answer was a “No”. But I proceeded and decided to take the risk anyway. Halfway up the zig-zagging road, I felt so dizzy and couldn’t even walk properly during our stopover. Thank goodness, the German backpackers in the shuttle had motion sickness tablets with them. I popped one and slept for a couple of hours.
Next time, I will go to the pharmacy and buy some. This phrase may come in handy someday: “Señorita, me regala pastillas Mareol por favor. Gracias.”
I woke up to a massive traffic jam, our driver and his assistant spoke in Spanish and advised us to start walking instead. They had no patience to get through the congestion and just wanted us out of the shuttle so they could turn back. The girls and I were hesitant to step out, we simply didn’t want to carry our entire lives and walk 2 kilometers to the town’s center where the hostels were.
Dreading the long walk down, we strapped our backpacks on and started walking into town, along with the locals who were celebrating that weekend. It was the 28th of November, Panama’s Independence day from Spain. Great.
Our bags started getting heavier and heavier, I was dying from back pain. @#$% Curse words in every language popping up in my head! I started lagging behind the girls as I couldn’t keep up any longer. In the corner of my eye, I saw one of the guys from our shuttle take a left turn to an old fashioned looking sign: Refugio del Rio. I did not care and followed him towards the hostel. Getting there was a relief. I could no longer carry my bags. They were fully booked that weekend of course, but had a last minute cancelation on a dorm bed and without questions asked, I took it.
I needed a whole day to rest from yesterday’s ordeal but was happy to just chill at the hostel. Everyone from the owner, staff and volunteers were very warm and welcoming. A calm river runs through the back garden of the property, lots of orange trees, an herb garden, hammocks for siesta, daybeds for sunbathing and lots of space for yoga.
The kitchen was fully equipped with everything you’ll need to cook, even if 3 or 4 people were cooking at the same time. Free coffee in the mornings, breakfast is served at a reasonable price and pizza nights twice a week. It was pricey at $14 per night, but I loved it. Did I mention that you can cuddle with any of their two resident cats while you sleep?!
Hungry climbing buddies Ruben, Alejandra, Luis & Corina
There are very few local climbers in Boquete, so they are really happy to see curious people come to see the routes. Surprisngly, the rock climbing spot is just a 10 minute ride further into the mountains. I imagined that like Costa Rica, you’d have to hike down a steep rocky road for half an hour so I was ecstatic when I saw that it was literally on the side of the road. The taxi ride will only cost you a few US dollars.
I tagged along the local climbers, they were happy to belay and even coach me everytime. The rocks look very similar to the ones in Cachi, Costa Rica. Layers and layers of granite, they form such an interesting texture. Sadly, lots of unwelcome graffiti. Some easy routes and enough holds for a beginner like me.
View from the top
It was warm and sunny during the day. Blue cloudless skies the whole time I was there. I would’ve stayed there longer if the temperature didn’t drop down to 16*C at night! Sunday funday here is different from what it is in San Juan del Sur, the locals drive to the mountains to gather for a picnic, rock climb, slackline or highline all day. So much better than shotguns and getting totally wasted, right?!
Watch them skim the rocks all the way to the top in mere seconds. They also like a challenge, climbing blindfolded! I have never seen this anywhere else before. Such good way to develop your sensory skills, but it would’ve been too difficult for a person who hasn’t memorized the holds.
Luis climbing blindfolded
Ruben is certain that there are endless possibilities for adventure sports in Boquete. Fresh from a month exploring Colorado, his dream is to have his own slacklining school and develop more routes in his hometown. If you’d like to climb the routes or know how you can help his project, please get in touch with him through his Facebook page or send him a message on +1 (970) 4925089. Check out his crazy videos on his Youtube channel or stalk him on Instagram @slacklineruben.
Cristian heads Boquete Rock Climbing School and offers different climbing and belay courses in English, Spanish or German. Best to book through the hostel for last minute bookings.
Panama may not have as many routes as Suesca, Colombia yet but I loved climbing here because of the warmth of the community. They were happy to bring me along, we shared car rides, equipment, chalk and even cooked for each other after a tiring day of climbing. After just a week, I really felt I could climb better because of their support. I can’t wait to go back one day and see Ruben’s dream turn into reality.
Special thanks to Alejandra for her never ending patience in coaching me. You’ll make the perfect climbing coach one day, I’m sure of it!