We drove up to Altos de Campana yesterday, aiming to do Sendero La Cruz with the kids. It was our first time here, and we ended up having a lovely walk, just not the one we had hoped to do! We will definitely go back, as there is loads of trails to explore from this point. Here’s what we found out.
Its about 1hr 15 from Panama City. It’s a steep, gorgeous drive as soon as you turn off the Inter-Americana Highway. Follow the road for about 10 minutes. You’ll go past some cabins and nurseries and come to a little national park office. Then you come to a stunning look out point (mirador) where you can see all the way down to Punta Chame and the Pacific Ocean. Go on a little bit further and you’ll come to a big map and the signposts for the hiking trails on the right. You can park there.
The Trails at Altos de Campana
When we parked, there was a national park ranger on a quad bike. He was friendly, but stern, telling us that we were not allowed to do the Sendero La Cruz. We had heard that it was only 2km, but a challenging route with ropes and bits you have to climb which would take 2-3 hours. We thought that would be fun with the kids! He was emphatic that we were not allowed, and it would be too difficult for them. I tried to explain they were Irish and used to dealing with Glendalough, but he was having none of it.
To do Sendero La Cruz, apparently you need to register 3 days in advance by emailing email@example.com. Whether that’s a new covid regulation, or because gringos often need rescuing, I don’t know. He said it was only for adults, but I think if you registered and hired a guide maybe you would be allowed to bring kids. Definitely no dogs though. It sounds like a challenging hike – short at 2km, but steep and slippery. Maybe next time!
Instead, the ranger recommended we follow Sendero Panama, which would be only 45 minutes and much easier going. Then he suggested we could add on the loop called Sendero Podocarpus, which would take us another hour. We agreed, and were about to start off but a torrential downpour started, so we got back in the car to stay dry! The park ranger buzzed off on his quad bike. By the way, I asked him if dogs were allowed in the National Park, and as usual, the answer was no.
There was no point starting out into the pouring rain, so when we decided there was no chance of it stopping, we headed back down to the Inter-Americana Highway. We had lunch at the first road-side restaurant place we came to, Rancho Interiorano. The kids were very relieved not to be hiking in the pouring rain. They happily ate sticky pork ribs, plantains and rice while the huge trucks of the Inter-Americana hammered past, engine-braking their way down the steep hill beside us.
The day brightened and we decided to head back up into the hills to give it another go, even though the peaks were still covered in heavy clouds. We parked again and set off into the dripping, glistening forest, following the Sendero Panama. The trail is great! Well-maintained steps, rails at the very steep bits, loads of birds, frogs and insects making a racket though difficult to spot.
We turned off onto the Sendero Podocarpus which bought us round in a loop. We came through a rather creepy camping area near some derelict buildings where I don’t think we will be camping any time soon, and eventually rejoined the road. So the last 10 minutes of the trail was walking along the road. All in all, I think our hike took about 1 hour 20 mins, so not very long, but great to get an idea of what’s up there!
We will definitely return to do Sendero La Cruz, but probably if we can escape for a day trip without the kids. Or we might try and get them pre-approved and maybe hire a guide to come with us. Not sure how you would do this yet, but I guess I would start by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t let the rain put you off. We went in mid November and it was wetter than a haddock’s bathing costume. We just had to wait a bit, then we had a great walk. You might drive through torrential rain to get there, and come out above the clouds. Or start in rain, and it lifts two seconds later. The glimpses of the view we had between the clouds were magical. I took the photo below from much further down.