Panama Vacation Day 2: Rafting, Hot Springs & Poker Night!



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Panama Vacation Day 2: Rafting, Hot Springs & Poker Night!

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Today is my first day back at work and lucky me, one of my assignments is to write about the wonderful Panama Holiday I just had. My conclusion: this is the best vacation I've had in my life! I'll be telling you all about it in fifteen different posts (one for each day) and hopefully this insider information will help you plan the best Panama Vacation ever!

White Water River Rafting the Chiriqui Viejo: 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Drifting down a gorge of the Chiriqui Viejo River

"This is the most beautiful place on Earth that I've ever been to."

This is what my brother in law (Anthony) said in aw when we jumped out of the raft and swam for a couple of minutes while the current took us through an amazing gorge of the Chriqiui Viejo. Maybe it was just a very magical moment, but the truth is the scenery on a Panama Rafting Trip is just stunning, especially the 18 kms that we had the privilege to raft a couple of days ago.

Rafting the Chiriqui Viejo, Panama's whitewater gem

Day 2 of our Panama Holiday was a pretty intense one: we rafted a world class river, we visited the Caldera Hotsprings and we played poker until 2 a.m.

My day started at 6 a.m. because I had to pickup our babysitter (if you need a babysitter for your Boquete tours just let us know and and we'll arrange one). At 7 a.m. we arrived to Boquete Outdoor Adventures office. They are on Boquete's Central Avenue at Los Establos Plaza. Everything was ready and we immediately departed.

Once inside the van Jim, BOA's owner, introduced us to "Papito" (little daddy) and to Jorge who would be our raft guides, and to Rolando, a hiking guide that would be our driver for the day. Jim would be our saftey paddler (the guy on a kayak to scout the river and to also quickly help people if someone falls out of the raft).Something I really like about BOA is that they ALWAYS have a saftey paddler on their trips. In our area they are the ONLY company that can brag about that. And they are our preferred whitewater outfitter in Panama becasue amongst other things they are always exceeding our customer's expectations. Read along and you'll see what I mean.

In Boquete Outdoor Adventures' Bus on our way to Quebrada Las Vueltas, the Rafting Trips' put in

To get us into a nice chilled out mood, Rolando put on some Bob Marley tunes. Jorge joked that this would be Papito's first day as a guide (Papito has been in fact been a raft guide since he was 15, now he's 26) and we all started to get acquainted with the rest of our companions for the day.

At 7:40 a.m. we made a quick stop at El Rey Supermarket in David because I had asked Jim if we could try to get a couple of waterproof disposable cameras. I went into El Rey and found them immediately for $15 each (still haven't developed these pics but I'll post them once I have them). Another really cool thing about BOA is that their saftey paddler carries a waterproof digital camera. During the entire trip he takes nice shots of the ongoing action, and at the end of the rafting trip they burn a CD and give it to every customer for FREE. How many tour companies do something like that? They should mention it on the writeup of their website about rafting... well, I guess they really like exceeding people's expectations and it's a really nice suprise to know that you'll have photos of your rafting trip in Panama!

By 8:30 a.m. we passed the checkpoint just before Paso Canoas (the border with Costa Rica), the border patrol let us pass without asking for our documents (Papito told us that they have invited them for a day on the river but it seems that their schedule is too busy) and started driving up the mountain range. From Paso Canoas to the town of "Quebrada de Las Vueltas" where the actual put in is its about 20 kms. The landscape is just gorgeous!

A view from the road that is right on the border with Costa Rica

We got off the car and we were told to choose our own helmets and life jackets. The guides fill up the rafts, prepare the rest of the gear and we start a 5 minute hike down to the actual river. I'm really impressed with Papito and Jorge: they can carry a 6 person raft by themselves (yeah, I know, I'm a wimp!).

Wearing our Rafting Gear just before starting our trip

Jim's the one who gives the security speech. The word death is mentioned a couple of times (follow the instructions and everything will be OK). It's also really cool that the actual owner of the company is going to be on the trip himself. Again, another thing that BOA can brag about and the other companies in town can't.

So off we go, the adventure has started!

At the put in of the Palon Section of the Chiriqui Viejo

Even though it's the end of the dry season we still get a fair amount of Class III and IV rapids (No Fear, Palón and others).

For the guides the trip is a lot more technical because it's a lot easier to get stuck with low water and can be more dangerous if you fall directly on the rocks!

Even during the dry season you get class 3 and 4 rapids in the Chiriqui Viejo

After about 2.5 hours of paddling we stopped for lunch... when your hungry anything tastes good but I have to say that the sandwiches we had on the river were a lot nicer than what I would expect to have in the middle of nowhere.

Lunch during our Panama Rafting Trip

We also took good photos under the waterfall but those will have to wait until we have the disposable camera's photos.

Waterfall of the Chiriqui Viejo in Boquete, Panama

Off we go again for another 1.5 hours of paddling. For the last 30 minutes I was too tired to really paddle. Papito told me that I was stirring soup. It's my third trip with Papito and on the previous two I fell out of the raft: not this time. At the end of the trip he tried to get me out of the raft but he only managed to throw out my companions!

At the put out (Salsipuedes) we had to hike uphill for 5 minutes where a 4 x 4 was waiting for us. Other companies make their guests walk this last part (another 15 minutes) and others even expect the guest to help with the rafts. This is also a way in which these rafting trips contribute a little something to the community instead of making $10 more in profit.

Our group at the end of our Rafting Trip

We make a final stop at a gas station and Jim gets two six packs of cold Panamas for all of us. Again, something that we weren't expecting but that was really welcomed!

So adrenaline and excitment are not the only reasons to raft one of the best rivers for whitewater in the world: it's also one of the most incredible ways to apprecaite Panama's beauty.

I truly hope a miracle happens to stop the damming of the Chiriqui Viejo. I would invite Panama's government authorities to do the math (and for the ATP to lobby and use their influence to stop these projects): research how many raft companies exist in Costa Rica, calculate how many tourists they attract to that country each year and estimate how much many they spend in the country during their visit (and how many people directly benefit from their visit). I bet that long term sustainable sums win against the millions that the government gets paid by the damming companies (and I'm not including what Panama's loose in wildlife and vegetation richness, which is priceless).

Caldera Hot Springs: 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

We did like 20 minutes from Boquete to the town of Caldera.

From there it was like a 10 minute drive to the bridge over the Chiriqui River.

The four of us on the bridge over the Chiriqui River on our way to the Caldera Hot Springs

If you take a left you'll get to the Hot Springs with four natural pools mentioned in many Panama Guide Books and in the eco-adventure tour section of our website. If you take a right after a 30 minute crazy off road drive you'll get to the hotsprings that we went to (it's really a stone wall pool with hot water in it that comes from a hot spring).

Sign to the Abuela Hot Springs in Caldera near Boquete

It took us just over 30 minutes to cover the 4 kms... why? Check out this video about our drive to the Abuela Hot Springs in Caldera, Panama.

Which Hotsprings in Caldera are better? I prefer the four natural pools. For one thing the water is hotter (considerably). Some people don't like the mud and the lower water levels but I don't mind. You also have the advantage of being able to hop into the river and then back into the hot springs (and if you walk upstream you can get to some really cool waterfalls). The four nautral pools only cost $1 per person and this other one costs $3 per head. You can get to the four natural pools faster (and I can't imagine how much a taxi would cost you for 30 additional minutes of serious off road driving). If you don't want to walk (our case after a long day of rafting) then these last ones are for you. The off road drive is quite a nice adventure and they also have a shower.

My wife, my son and me in the hot water pool of La Abuela

Here is a video that can give you a better idea about these Hot Springs in Caldera.

All in all we really enjoyed our visit to the Caldera Hotsprings and our sore muscles after all of that paddling definitvely apprecaited it (and the Panama beers in the hot water were really refreshing).

Poker Night at Nomba: 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Almost every week some locals and travelers get together to play poker. It's normally Ryan from Hostal Nomba, me and Carlos from Habla Ya, Jim from Boquete Outdoor Adventures and sometimes David from Hostal Boquete. Each of us invite our guests so we're normally six to twelve people playing poker.

Poker night and Nomba Hostal in Boquete Panama

I don't know what happened this week but sixteen people were playing poker. At a $10 buy-in... well it's a really good pot for a Panamanian. This week I didn't have luck, but my partner did so good for him. He split the pot with a guy from Canada. My brother in law did manage to get a spot in the final table and there was even a guy that hit a poker of aces!

The winners shaking hands at Hostal Nomba after the 16 man poker match

Boquete might not be Panama's hottest party town, but with young travelers and locals around it's always possible to find good conversation and cool ways to entertain yourself in Boquete during the week. Thanks to Ryan from Hostal Nomba for providing us with a wonderful night out!


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Search our blog if you're visiting Panama! From must do's, where to party or eat, to which beaches and hiking trails you shouldn't miss, you'll find great insider info about Bocas del Toro, Panama City and Boquete, as well as Panamanian culture, customs and traditions, and certainly tips and advice for learning Spanish while in our country! We've been writing about all things Panama for over 10 years and nothing beats local knowledge from the locals themselves.

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