Volcano Barú: a midnight hike to the top
So you’re thinking of doing a midnight hike on Volcano Barú?
I don’t have an introduction, let’s just start!
Table of Contents
Volcano Barú in Panama
Volcano Barú is the highest mountain of Panama with 3474 meters. It lies close to a little town called Boquete – a backpacker hotspot and a hiker’s paradise. If you are travelling through Panama, you might have come across this name before.
The view from volcano Barú is amazing. On a clear day, you can see both the Pacific Ocean on one side, and the Carribean Sea on the other side. This sight is quite rare though, so don’t count on it. Even if you cannot see both seas, the view is still stunning!
The volcano is part of a national park: Volcán Barú National Park. Here, you can do several hiking trails at the bottom of the volcano and surrounding mountains. The most popular trail to hike is the Los Quetzales Trail, named after the bird Quetzal. It is also possible to go up the volcano.
Ways to go up Volcano Barú
There are several ways to go all the way up to the top of Volcano Barú.
- Go up with a 4×4 tour.
- Hike up with a tour guide.
- Do the midnight hike on Volcano Barú.
In this blog, I will be focusing on the last option.
Preparation for the midnight hike on Volcano Barú
If you do not want to pay that much money to visit Volcano Barú – which was my case – you can hike up without a guide at midnight. This means that a shuttle will take you to the entrance of the park and from there you hike up in the dark. The hike takes about 4-6 hours, depending on your speed, strength and fitness.
Is this illegal? I’m not sure. Yes, the park is closed. Yes, for the first 10-15 minutes you have to be quiet so you won’t wake up the police that is sleeping in a cabin just inside the park. On the other side, hostels do offer these shuttles and almost every night, backpackers hike up the volcano.
Preparing for the hike
First of all, make sure you get a couple of hours of sleep before the hike. Whether that is in the afternoon or in the early evening, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you are well rested when you start the hike.
Second of all, take care of yourself during the day before the hike. Eat well, don’t do too many activities, stay rested. Don’t go on a hike in the afternoon if you’re doing this hike at midnight.
Also, make sure you have the right equipment. That is both clothing, tools and water and food. I made a packing list for you.
- Hiking boots. The road up the Volcano is quite rocky, so make sure you were good boots or shoes.
- Layers of clothing. You are hiking in the middle of the night, so it can get cold. On the other side, you are hiking, so you will get warm. On yet another side, on the top of the Volcano, it is reallycold and you will be standing still. Make sure you can take clothes off and put them on again whenever necessary.
- A backpack. To carry all of your things.
- Water. You wanna stay hydrated for the whole hike.
- Snacks. You will be hiking literally the whole night. Take some snacks with you for on the way and, also, for the way down!
- Sugar. If the hiking doesn’t get to you, the altitude can. Make sure to pack some candies or whatever, for when you feel the altitude is making you dizzy.
- Light. You will be hiking in the middle of the night, and the trail isn’t lit with lanterns or whatever. Take light with you. Whether that is a flashlight you hold in your hand, or one you can place on your head: either is fine.
- Your phone. Or a camera. To take pictures of the stunning view!
- Money. I recommend taking at least $64 with you. Why? The shuttle to the entrance costs $7, and the shuttle back to the hostel costs around $7 as well. The entrance to the park is $5. Since the park is closed at midnight, they will not ask you to pay when you start. However, you might be asked to pay the entrance fee on your way out. The other $45? I will explain that in a second.
Hiking volcano Barú at midnight
Alright, so now you know how to prepare for the hike. It is time to actually go for it! Here is what will happen.
You can book your shuttle with your hostel (probably), or ask the reception of the hostel how to arrange it. I know that at least Selina Boquete and Bambuda Castle arrange shuttles to go to the Volcano at midnight.
That night, you will be picked up between 11.30 p.m. and 12.00. The shuttle will take you to the entrance of the National Park. From there, you start the hike into the park and up the Volcano. About 10 minutes into the hike, there is a small cabin with police men sleeping inside, to guard the park. Make sure not to talk or play music while walking past it, so you won’t wake them up. After that, talking and music is fine.
The course of the hike
This hike is not for the unprepared. I found out about that the hard way. I have heard people call this the most challenging hike of the world, the hardest Volcano climb.
The course of the midnight hike on Volcano Barú can be divided into multiple sections. You start off with already a challenging road. Luckily, in the start, this is alternated with flat parts so you can catch your breath.
Then comes a really hard part. A really steep road where there are no easy parts. Here, you just have to keep going and push through. It will be hard.
After that, suddenly, you will descend. It will feel like the whole hike you did before is now worthless, because you’re going all the way down again. I felt a little angry while hiking. We only had about an hour and a half to go, but I could see the volcano grow higher and higher.
Then comes the last part, where you actually climb volcano Barú. It seems impossible to, after a night like that, still have the energy to climb the last part. But you do it anyway, because you don’t have a choice.
On top of Volcano Barú
And then, after a full night of climbing, you will reach the top of the Volcano. It took me 5,5 hours to reach the top in total. It is very cold on top, so make sure you put those layers of clothing to use now. Here you can take the time to have snack, drink some water and rest from the hike. Oh, and don’t forget to take pictures!
Descending from volcano Barú
To go down from the volcano, you have to hike all the way back. Now, however, you won’t have the pressure of time (arriving before sunrise) and it will also be light. However, since you’ll be hiking down all the time, this can put quite a strain on your knees.
Another option (one that I took) is to see if there is a 4×4 on the top of the volcano. You can ask them to drive you back, if you pay for it. This will cost you $45 (remember when I mentioned that earlier?).
Personally, I was exhausted and could not imagine hiking all the way down again. I waited for the people of the 4×4 tour to be done with breakfast and pictures, and then I joined them in the car. The car ride down takes two hours (imagine how long the hike down takes!).
If you go back with the car, you’ll be back in your hostel around 9.30 a.m. If you decide to hike down (good for you), you’ll probably be back around midday or early afternoon.
This is by far the hardest hike I have ever done. I read on the internet that it was hard, but I still underestimated it. I’m young, I’m fit, I hiked before – what could go wrong?
It is definitely not an easy hike, but the views are amazing. When we got to the top, the sun was just starting to rise. We could see the whole sunrise from there. We watched the sky turn all shades of colours. The landscape around the volcano is really pretty, and you can see the jungle surrounding the area.
If you’re looking for adventure or a challenge, definitely do this hike and enjoy the way up. If you wanna see the views but you don’t wanna hike up, take the tour. But if you’re traveling on a budget and you don’t wanna hike all the way up… there are enough other beautiful hikes in Boquete. You don’t have to do the midnight hike on Volcano Barú.