The young ayudante holds his balance gracefully when the colectivo (the mini-van turned local bus), sets off to the next bus stop on the winding road. The engine makes more noise as the gradient of the road gets steeper and the view on the rolling hills surrounding us more beautiful. Behind the next curve lays the remote mountain village of Santa Fé, about five hours South-West of Panama City.
Surprisingly, Santa Fé is the home of about 3000 inhabitants, mostly indigenous. The houses are spread out along the mountainous slopes, at the foot of the Santa Fé national park.
With such a setting, it is a paradise for hikers and bird-watchers. Swimmable rivers flow among lush landscapes planted with banana and citrus trees, steep hiking trails lead to hidden waterfalls with swimming holes, dirt roads link isolated farms, the air is pure, and the scenery superb.
Locals are welcoming, inviting us to pick up some of the many ripe citrus lying along the trail: mandarins, oranges, grapefruits the size of a hand ball and lemons, one being easily the size of a soccer ball! Youngsters are bathing in the river, jumping in from a five-metre-high cliff thanks to an improvised rope swing. Back in Santa Fé, many women hang out by the local cooperative, the gathering point and only supermarket in town.
After a long day of hiking, we are contemplating the sunset over the stunning mountainous scenery from the terrace overlooking a peaceful and harmonious garden. We are thoroughly enjoying our delicious home made citrus fruit salad that couldn’t have been more local.
With only a few days left in Panama, we are really happy we spent a bit of time discovering Santa Fé, and already sad about leaving Central America with only a few more stops on the road left…
Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau (text & photographs)
- There are not too many accommodation options in Santa Fé, and we strongly recommend Hostel La Qhia. It is a very peaceful place, beautifully set up and with a very kind staff.
- Santiago de Veraguas on the Panamarican Highway is the hub to reach Santa Fé by bus. It is a major city that is quite depressing and can be easily skipped.
- El Valle is a quite popular weekend destination as it is only 2 hours from Panama City, but the authenticity, beauty, and peacefulness of Santa Fé are definitely worth the few more hours on the road to get there.
- Take a visual tour of Panama!
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!
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