Perks of night hiking Volcán Barú: hitting the peak before sunrise and watching the sun rise over both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean sea
Downfalls of night hiking Volcán Barú: freezing cold temperatures, long distances, and exhaustion
It’s 4am and Tiffany and I are huddled together on a rock face at approximately 3470 meters (11 000 feet) high with winds blowing below zero. All I’m thinking is “no sunrise can be worth this awful cold feeling right now”.
Tiffany and I met at Bambuda Castle two days ago and she mentioned she wanted to do the night hike to peak Volcan Baru. One of the main challenges that I wanted to take on during my 5 month trip is to complete some hikes so I thought – perfect! We agreed to go on Friday night. Together we ensured we had all our supplies including warm clothing, good hiking shoes, headlamp, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, water, and our cameras.
The hike started with a taxi ride to the trailhead at 11pm. We arrived at approximately 11:20pm and we’re off on our 13.5k journey. The trail was supposed to take between 5-6 hours depending on how fit one is and how often they hike. The trail is well marked and easy to follow even in the dark. With just the two of us, our backpacks, and our headlamps we embarked up.
The trail was made up of very steep parts and lots of loose rocks but we got used to it quite quickly. We were making good time, having nice conversation and stopping to take breaks for snacks and water. We felt like badass hiking chicks.
We hiked so well that we ended up getting to the top early… at approximately 4am. There was a fair amount of true rock climbing at the end to get to this rock face where we could wait. This was troublesome because it was freezing! We had to wait until 6am for the sun to rise and we only had so many layers. This was by far the worst part of the night. If you decide to do this hike, hike slow and get there for 6 am!
Finally, the sun started to rise and we enjoyed what we came to see! At 3475 meters, we were at the highest peak in Panama and had the visibility to see both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea!
I made the assumption that there would be a number of 4×4 tours that we could catch a ride with on the way down. Wow was that wrong! There were none up there to ask so we ended up walking the exact way we can came… another 6 hours hike, in daylight this time, down a loose rock path. Tiffany kept me in good spirits but my body and mind were exhausted after hiking all night. After 6 hours (now 11am), we made it to the trailhead where I begged the park guard for a taxi because I couldn’t walk one step more (yes I was crying from exhaustion).
Am I proud that Tiffany and I completed one of the hardest hikes in Central America? Yes. Would I do it again? Nope. Being tired and cold – I am definitely at my worst!
This was a great learning experience and after a long hot shower and a nap, I’ve reflected that this will definitely be an experience I will not forget and will look into more details before booking any future hikes in South America. My body will be hating me for a few days, especially my hip flexors.
If you decide to hike Volcan Baru, bring:
- 2L water (at a minimum)
- Snacks and sandwiches (we made 3 pb&js and had granola bars)
- Camera + batteries
- Waterproof coat
- Extra pair of warm socks to change into on the way down
- Extra layers to add or change into
- Good hiking shoes (you need to rock climb to get to the good photo spots)
- A really positive attitude
This hike is not for the faint of heart! There have been cases of altitude sickness and hypothermia during this hike so prepare wisely. If I had prepared better with warmer clothes and more food, this would have been a much more enjoyable experience.