Daily Archives: September 10, 2012

Hiking in the Chiriquí Highlands

Not all who wander are lost. – J.R.R. Tolkien

Nestled over a mile high in the highlands of Chiriquí Province, Panama, in the shadow of the country’s highest mountain, the dormant volcano Barú, is the boutique hotel and working coffee plantation Finca Lérida.

So, what are you going to do when you get there? There’s no swimming pool, no “rec” room with pool tables and video game consoles. Not a zip line in sight. Well, first of all, you can simply enjoy the tranquility of the lushly landscaped grounds as you wander from your room to the restaurant or coffee shop.

There are flowers everywhere:

And there are quiet little nooks where you can sit and reflect on how lucky you are to have found this place:

But to really capture the place you need to put on your hiking boots and go exploring.

The finca covers 150 hectares (370 acres) of which 43 hectares (106 acres) are devoted to coffee production. But that’s not all there is up there. It borders Amistad National Park, the largest nature reserve in Central America, with nearly one million acres of tropical forest jointly administered by Panama and Costa Rica. The first impression visitors to the finca have is the sense of the immensity of undefiled nature.

Winding through the finca and into the National Park are 10 kilometers (6 miles) of well-maintained hiking trails. Six miles may not seem like a lot to some people, but when you consider that much of the terrain here is more on a vertical plane than the horizontal your legs are probably going to tell you there are are lot more than ten.

There’s a wonderful, painted map of what’s in store for your adventure:

Though the artist did have a bit of a problem grasping a simple concept:

Coffee Tour

If you’re someone, like me, who enjoys a good cup of coffee in the morning you need to sign up for the coffee tour. It’s a four-hour hike through the Finca led either by Eddy or Cesar, both of whom speak English and will explain the process from plant to cup.

That says 5,577 feet above sea level.

You’ll learn that growing coffee is a labor-intensive proposition, especially when harvest time rolls around. It can’t be done by machines since the berries don’t all ripen at the same time. You have to wait until they turn bright red before the “cherries” are ready to be picked. As skillful  as the indigenous pickers are, sometimes one gets away.

The four-hour tour ends at the Beneficio where the coffee begins its transformation from the raw state to the finished cup of perfect nectar. You’ll learn that each “cherry” contains two seeds which we commonly know as the “bean.” and the process starts with equipment designed and patented by the finca’s original owner, Toleff Boche Monniche. Dusty proof of the man’s genius hangs on the wall where the original patent and the drawings submitted to the U.S. Patent Office can be seen.

In the “cupping” room you’ll sample the coffee from three different processes.

(Photo by: Victor Bloomfield)

Panama’s For The Birds

According to Wikipedia there are 927 species of birds Panama, more than 500 of them can be found in the Chiriqui highlands, including the magnificent Quetzal:

While bird books will tell you that the Harpy Eagle, the largest and most powerful raptor in the Americas is Panama’s “national” bird (unfortunately not found in Chiriqui) don’t believe a word of it. Unofficially the national bird is the common chicken which are found everywhere and it’s a rare morning when you won’t hear a rooster crowing within ear-shot of wherever you happen to wake up.

Finca Lérida loves its birds. Once you stop gawking at the magnificent grounds of the finca you can’t miss the fact that there are dozens of birdhouses scattered around the hotel grounds:

The birding trails go deep into La Amistad International Park and is a tour that will be savored long after you return home.

It’s not necessary to take one of the more organized tours the finca offers. Some might just want to stroll through this latter-day Eden. Eddy and Cesar are always available to guide you along the well-maintained trails. . .

(Photo courtesy of: Omar Upegui R.)

. . . leading you to this magnificent waterfall:

(Photo courtesy of: Omar Upegui R.)

You can choose the guided tours or simply explore on your own. If you prefer to strike out by yourself you will be provided with a trail map and given access to them for $10.70.

The Finca is open to the public and it’s not necessary to be booked into the hotel to enjoy the splendor of the Chiriquí highlands. But there is a big advantage to having a room at the hotel. After wearing yourself out on the trails you can go back to your room and decompress on one of these:

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