Oasis among Panama’s Tropics – La Yeguada is a Vacationer’s Dream
Tuesday, October 07 2008 @ 11:30 am EDT
Contributed by: Anonymous
By Matt Sheehey and Teri Milstein for Panama-Guide.com - After getting to know the bustling streets and lowland heat of Santiago, head up the mountain highway past Calobre, where you’ll find cooler temperatures and a serene lake surrounded by pine forests and mist-shrouded peaks in La Reserva Forestal La Laguna de la Yeguada. Conjuring images of the American Pacific Northwest, visitors seeking an affordable, tranquil vacation can camp, swim, hike and relax in the highlands around the tilapia-stocked lake known as La Laguna and the tiny but friendly nearby villages. Elevations range from 500 meters in the town of La Yeguada (pop. 2,200) to nearly 1,300 meters at the peak of the ancient volcano Cerro Verde, which means the forest reserve stays greener and cooler year-round than the lowlands. The dry season (December to April) is sunny and warm during the day—perfect for taking a dip in the lake, river, or hot springs or beneath one of the breathtaking waterfalls cascading down the slopes above the town of La Laguna (pop. 90). To get a better look at the lake and the valley below, arrange for a horseback ride or a hike up one of the many local trails. The views of La Laguna and beyond from the coffee-growing town of El Satro (pop. 150) are especially stunning.
Editor's Comment: Around Panama Peace Corps volunteers are constantly working to improve the lives of the poorest of Panamanians. I have encouraged these volunteers to submit articles from where they are working in order to draw attention both to their efforts as well as to promote the "mom and pop" businesses they are helping the towns and villages where they are working to form. The idea is simple - if more people know about the most remote corners of Panama then there's a greater chance that you just might visit, get the know the place, and spend a few bucks in the process. I'm more than happy to support these efforts.
In addition to the lake, visit the waterfall next to the National Environmental Authority (ANAM) ranger station, the woodshop at the cooperative Alejandro Lopez, and the ANAM tree nursery behind ANAM’s guest house. To access one of the area’s hot springs or a coffee farm, ask around for a guide to hike with or provide you with a horseback tour. Fishing is permitted from shore and by boat on the lake. Boat tours are also available, offering great views of the lush pine-covered mountains.
Many small songbirds grace the landscape, including the red and black sangre del toro (bull’s blood), owls, water birds, green parakeet, and hummingbirds. There are also squirrels, rabbits, sloths, wild cats, zaino (wild pig), and snakes.
The Reserva Forestal La Yeguada was created in 1960 to preserve the San Juan River watershed to provide both clean and abundant water for the hydroelectric plant in La Yeguada. The people of the area, especially women, planted the area’s 7,090 hectares of Caribbean pine beginning in 1967. If you speak with some of the elderly women in El Satro, they will tell you with pride how far they walked, how many trees they planted, and how hard they worked to beautify and protect their home. Project organizers backed by the World Food Program paid workers with bags of food.
Two Peace Corps volunteers are currently organizing a farmers’ and artisans’ market. The market, to be held by the lake on dry season weekends, will give area residents a chance to sell their locally-grown produce, crafts, guide services, and specialty foods.
Amble up the road from La Laguna to El Satro, past tidy concrete homes with flower and vegetable gardens. Greet residents with a big “buenas!” A chilly creek runs through El Satro’s town center, where walkers can take a break beneath a thatched rancho or on the church steps. Follow the road over the creek and look for the highest house in town, where a wide-open escarpment offers amazing 180-degree views.
The more remote Chitra, another two hours into the mountains north of La Yeguada, is famous for its farmers’ fair every March. The town of San Jose, another isolated but incredibly scenic spot to get away from it all, has hot springs accessible by trail from El Satro.
Travelers interested in practicing their Spanish and getting to know Veraguas’ culture more intimately should ask around for a house or room to rent in La Laguna. ANAM also runs a guest house with a kitchen and bathroom for $15 a night. Campers pay $5 a night. By 2009, a new two-story cabana with amenities including hot water bathrooms is expected to open at the base of the hill in La Yeguada.
Non-cooks can get a home cooked meal from one of La Laguna’s stay-at-home moms or head down to either of La Yeguada’s two affordable restaurants.
Copyright 2008 by By Matt Sheehey and Teri Milstein for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.