Guide to Santa Fe de Veraguas, Panama
Santa Fe de Veraguas
Think Boquete, but without the numerous tour agencies and tourist oriented international restaurants. Santa Fe de Veraguas is a small village about an hour north of Santiago de Veraguas. Just like Boquete, Santa Fe is not as hot as the rest of Panama due to its geographic location in the highlands. The area offers tons of hikes (where you might not encounter a single other tourist), and my favorite: river tubing! While walking in Santa Fe I was greeted warmly on the streets by several locals.
How to get to Santa Fe de Veraguas?
The only way to get to Santa Fe de Veraguas is by minibus from Santiago de Veraguas. Literally all buses that run between Panama City and David make a stop in Santiago. There is also a direct bus service that runs between Albrook Terminal in Panama City and Santiago. Buses from either David and Panama City to Santiago take around 3.5 hours and cost less than $10.
Note: buses that run between Panama City and David may stop at a strip mall along the Pan-American Highway. Buses from Santiago to Santa Fe leave from “Terminal de Transporte de Santiago”, about 2km from the highway. A taxi from the highway to the bus station should cost less than $2. When taking a bus from Albrook Terminal in Panama City, look for buses specifically going to Terminal de Transporte de Santiago, as there are also direct buses that have Santiago as terminal station. These buses stop directly at the right bus station in Santiago.
Once in Santiago, just ask or look for the sign that says “Santa Fe”. Bus services run nearly every 30 till late afternoon. The bus ride from Santiago to Santa Fe takes about one hour.
What to do in Santa Fe?
There are lots of hiking trails you can do you by yourself in the highlands around Santa Fe. Hostel La Qhia provides excellent detailed information about the various hiking trails in the area. Just like in Boquete it is possible to visit a coffee plantation, or an organic farm. Unfortunately I only had two full days in Santa Fe. I choose to do the following two activities:
River tubing on the Río Santa Maria
Enjoy a ride on the Santa Maria river on an inner tube! About 10 minutes walking from Santa Fa (map) you can find William, who takes you tubing 2km down the river (in-between his shifts as bus driver). I really loved enjoying the nature while going doing the cool river on a tube. A video says more than 1000 words, see for yourself how much fun I had:
Price: less than $10 a person including taxi back.
Call William to check when he has time in advance: 65835944.
Water shoes highly recommended.
Hikes and waterfalls
I hiked to the El Bermejo waterfall. Normally the trip back and forth should take around 4-5 hours. The hike was beautiful and I did not encounter any tourists. The last part of the hike was extremely muddy as it had rained a lot, so the only way was to go slow and careful which made the hike much longer than anticipated. The reward was amazing though: a beautiful butterfly valley with a (since it had rained so much) very powerful waterfall in the end. Moreover there were natural swimming pools at the bottom of the waterfall, where I enjoyed lunch (tip: bring food and lots of water) after a nice swim to cool down.
You should always hike this trail in a group as the last part of the hike can be very slippery. Make friends in the hostel if you are alone and go together. If you slip or fall in the last part of the hike, you might not encounter anybody else the same day to help you as there are not always other people walking this trail.
Where to eat in Santa Fe de Veraguas?
There are only two or three restaurants which are open until 9PM in Santa Fe. One of them had the best value of food I had during the entire trip in Panama. Cafe Dorado, which is located at the entrance of the village (map) provides excellent local food and drinks for very affordable prices. Cafe Dorado also offers free WiFi (although not working every day), and breakfast starting from $2,50. Must go if you are in Santa Fe!
Where to stay in Santa Fe de Veraguas?
I stayed in La Qhia Eco Retreat (formerly Hostel La Qhia), located close to the supermarket and bus station (coming from Santiago: do not get off at the main square where the bus stops, wait till the last stop which is at the cooperativo / terminal station). The major advantage of staying at hostel La Qhia (besides the lovely garden and view), is the detailed descriptions available for hiking routes and activities to do in the area.
Buying souvenirs in Santa Fe de Veraguas
I found souvenirs in Santa Fe to be cheaper than anywhere else I went Panama. There is a local woman selling her beautiful own hand craft right next to Cafe Dorado (check opening hours, as she does not open every day). Another small indoor market on the main road does not only sell vegetables and fruit, but also local souvenirs made by indigenous people from the area.
Visited: December 2016