Cerro Gaital, on the banks of an ancient volcano

Years ago I realized that it is difficult to count on friends or family for travel. Many times they do not have the same tastes or they get complicated due to lack of time. Ads appear on Instagram for pages that promote adventure tourism trips. I answered a publication promoting Cerro Gaital thinking it was Cerro La Gaita. The first is in El Valle de Antón while the second is in Altos del María and is famous for its wooden platforms. Nonetheless, I decided to join the group.

A difficult path

We left Panama City at 6 a.m. to reach the market at 7:30 a.m. The ideal would have been to sleep in a hotel en el El Valle de Antón. Of course, the group was late and it was not until 8:30 a.m. that we drove to the base of Cerro Gaital. I already knew the road through Chorro El Macho because it is the same route that I took to go to Finca La Gira.

The group introduced themselves at the base of the hill while stretching to prepare for the climb. Our guides were Nidia Ballesteros and Nariño Aizpurua del Cid. They told us that there are two ways to do the hike: the easy way is goint to a lookout and the difficult way is getting to the top.

To get to the top you have to work as a team. There are areas where you have to go up or down with cables, which were not always well placed. Slipping means to end up in the ravine, literally. Therefore, the help of our guides and the most experienced of the group was essential.

If you go in the rainy season, like us, it is recommended to start very early in the morning. Being in a hill with rain on muddy grounds without borders is dangerous. Besides, the view from the viewpoint and the top is more clear in the morning. Those in excellent physical condition take 1 hour and a half to reach the top. Our group was large so we took 2 hours.

Cerro Gaital has a maximum height of 1,185 meters above sea level. It is one of the highest peaks at the edge of the volcano that includes the town of El Valle de Antón. Together with La Yeguada and Volcán Barú, they are the oldest in Panama.

Cerro Gaital is a natural monument

There are people who go hiking because of the challenge of pushing their bodies to travel to extreme places. There are others who do it for photos and fashion. I do it for nature. The group was going at a fairly fast pace and I was in the back with Nariño appreciating the flora and fauna of Cerro Gaital.

This hill in conjunction with Caracoral and Pajita Hills were recognized as a priority area for conservation in 1987. However, it was not until 1995 that they were included in the list of protected areas in Panama.

The vegetation of Cerro Gaital is very varied. It has a tropical humid forest, premontane humid forest and very tropical humid forest. At the beginning of the trail you will see very large trees. The more you go up, the smaller the size of the vegetation and you begin to see bushes.

There are zones that are marked with signs like “heliconias station”. There are many tropical flowers and orchids. You can even find one of the oldest living plants, the zamia.

Within the protected area, there are 39 species of birds, 34 species of mammals including 10 types of bats, 19 types of amphibians and 11 types of reptiles.

While we were walking, Nariño identified a footprint of a cat, which could have been a puma or a jaguar.

Adventures Entrepreneur

Nidia started hiking when she was 14 years old. When she was little, she liked nature. When she grew up she saw pictures of hiking groups on the Internet and decided that was what she wanted to do. Her company is called NB Adventures which means Nature Building Adventures. But they are also the acronyms of her name.

Her favorite trail in Panama is Los Quetzales and the most difficult one she has traveled is Salto de los Monos in Portobelo. She discovers new places through other people who have gone or explores with other guides. Every week she has activities that she publishes on her social networks. Between 15 and 25 people enroll in these activities. Some people repeat but there are always new people.

There are trail options for all resistances. Some easy trails in Panama are Pipeline Road and Plantation in the Soberania Park, the Metropolitan Park, La Cruz Trail and Cerro Picacho. If you practice hiking, she recommends wearing appropriate clothing such as long pants, lightweight long-sleeved shirt, hat, sunscreen and organic insect repellent. In addition, you can carry a backpack with personal documents, water, chocolate to stabilize energy, bags of nuts and fruits.

Hiking School in El Valle de Antón

In 2018 Nariño started the first hiking school in Panama called India Adventure in Finca Casa Antón. Children can go from 3 years of age. The concept is totally familiar for parents to share their love for nature with their children.

The most visited trails in the area are India Dormida, Chorro El Macho and Piedra Pintada. But there are also more challenging options such as The Crown of the Pacific that takes 7 days to travel around the edge of the crater.

With so many groups in social media there is no reason to be without a weekend plan. Join a group and start exploring Panama.

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