El Pianista Trail fast became my favorite jungle adventure in Boquete with its narrow canyon-esque path. The trail is just 4km out of Boquete town and is a 3-4 hour out-and-back trail with more than 2000 feet of elevation. The trail leads you into a cloud forest, which essentially means at least half of the trail is inside the clouds. This turns the scenery into a dripping rainforest, where life is buzzing, water droplets are falling to the floor from every leaf, and wildflowers and birds are plentiful.
EL PIANISTA TRAIL IN BOQUETE
In this blog post, I will share everything you need to know about hiking the El Pianista Trail in Boquete.
HOW TO GET TO EL PIANISTA TRAILHEAD
Unlike the hikes in the Bajo Mono area, the El Pianista trailhead is much closer to town and very easy to find. Simply head to the IL Pianista restaurant and the hiking trailhead is another 50 yards down the road to the left as you can see on the map at the bottom of this blog post where the trail is marked with a green dotted line next to IL Pianista restaurant.
To get to the IL Pianista restaurant you can either catch the ‘Colectivo’, which will come through the main street. An alternative is to catch a local taxi. There were three of us so it was more convenient to grab a taxi. The public bus cost us 70 cents per person and the taxi cost us $4.
There is a sign out the front of a small housing complex that states the regulations and such of El Pianista Trail. It actually says no hiking, which is strange but maybe it is outdated. Needless to say, we carried on up the driveway to the right of the sign to kick off the hike. The pictures below will help you identify the driveway where the trail begins. There was no entrance fee for El Pianista Trail as of 2018.
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EL PIANISTA TRAIL
El Pianista Trail is one of the moodiest cloud forests I have ever adventured into. I have a new favorite type of trail. Take me to the cloud forests because I love them. Rain droplets falling to the ground from every leaf and branch while mist floats through dramatically.
While this is a cloud forest trail, the hike begins near the IL Pianista restaurant and begins down a massively long driveway. The early stages of the hike are open fields, with mountains on all sides. You can already see the clouds hugging the summit of the mountain. You know what you are heading into. I enjoyed the early parts of this hike with the beautiful hills on either side and the sounds of the river cascades to the right.
After about 15 minutes you will have made your way to the entrance of the forest. Here you will begin the ascent of more than 2000 feet over the next three kilometers. The trail was very muddy but would have been much worse had the rains been stronger in the previous days. Definitely try and do this hike on a dryer day or after a few days of smaller rains if possible.
Almost immediately after entering the forest, we were engulfed by the lush greenery on all sides. We walked through the tunnel of vines and trees, keeping an eye out for Quetzals, snakes, howler monkeys, wildflowers and strange bugs and critters.
What are my favorite pieces of hiking gear?
There are four pieces of gear that I simply never forget when I go on a hike. These are four items that I using right now and this list gets updated every year! Here are my hiking essentials.
- Arcteryx BETA AR Rain Jacket: This is my go-to rain jacket. It’s super light, folds down into a tiny ball, and protects brilliantly in a storm. This one never leaves my backpack.
- Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking Boots: For the best ankle support, waterproofing, and durable exterior I’m a fan of tough but light hiking boots like these Salomons for my adventures.
- Black Diamond Head Torch: I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve arrived back from a hike unexpectedly late. I always keep this lightweight but strong headtorch in my bag for the unexpected.
- Darn Tough Socks: These are the most comfortable hiking socks I’ve ever worn and last for years. They also have a lifetime warranty and you just send them in with a hole and they replace it no questions asked.
There is a small junction where you will need to make a decision whether to go left or right. The trail to the left goes uphill and the train to the right goes downhill towards the stream, which you can hear. Head down the stream. Luckily for us, a local walked past at that very moment and I asked him which way to go and he pointed across the stream. He was the only person we saw all day on the trail. Below is the photo, you can see both directions of the trail. Josh is on the right trail going in the correct direction, heading down towards the stream.
Once we reached the stream it was such a magical little spot. We had a drink break and Pema decided to take things a little to far with an outfit change (not my idea). This was the final result from this epic little location.
Enough with the photoshoots, it was on with the hike and as we ascended higher and higher the mood and the atmosphere began to change. The fog and the wet conditions added an element of mystery to the surroundings. I really got into looking for unique flowers from this part of the trail onwards as they are truly strange and look amazing in damp conditions.
The fog was really rolling in now after we were two-thirds of the way up the trail. We felt like our path was leading us through an undiscovered island. It was a truly immersive hike and being in the cloud forest was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I’m sure there are plenty around the world but I will really be seeking them out from this point onwards.
We were now in the thick of the clouds and near the summit of the trail. The sides of the trail began to rise and before we knew it we were being dwarfed by the trail. We were inside it. It must have been carved out because there is a definitive trail through the earth. It’s quite remarkable and at times it was above head height, which is a strange feeling hiking beneath the surface of the earth. Once you reach these mini-canyons you are within reach of the summit. It should about 4.2 km to the top according to our tracking as it was an 8.4km return trip.
After a few hours (slow photographer pace) we made it to the summit. Not surprisingly we were completely ‘socked in’ as they say. Otherwise known as inside the cloud and cannot see a damn thing. The funny part about this trail is that you enjoy all of the trees, vines, flowers, canyons, critters, and scenes on the trail, and the viewpoint is just expected to be a blanket of white clouds. Normally on a hike, you hustle through the trail for the reward, which is the viewpoint. On El Pianista you enjoy the trail and have a quick break at the viewpoint before getting back into the trail. It is said to be very lucky to get a clear view of Boquete from the top of the El Pianista trail, although when you do it is supposedly one of the best views in the region.
EL PIANISTA TRAIL HISTORY
This trail harbors some dark secrets. In 2014, two Dutch girls in their early 20’s made it to the summit and then went missing. There was no sign of the girls until a few weeks later. There are huge holes in the story of what happened and how the investigation unfolded. The girls’ backpack was found 8 weeks later, and bones including a foot still inside a boot were also found weeks later. The girls had hiked down past the summit into the continental divide. The area between Costa Rica and Panama. The Ngobe tribe were the people to discover the backpack and would have been the first contact for the girls had they come into trouble and looked for a way out according to the reports.
The conclusion from the local police was that it was a hiking accident. However, some locals and sources think there was a third person involved and the girls were met with foul play out in the jungle. There is now a memorial for the girls at the top of the summit.
You can read all about the investigation of ‘The Lost Girls of Panama‘” in this article as I did the night before trekking the El Pianista.
The trail is considered safe now but it is suggested to stop at the summit. The trail gets knee-deep in mud very quickly and can be a treacherous area. I generally listen to advice and then make my own decisions. In this case, I took one look at the mud and having heard from other hikers and blogs not to go past the summit for a variety of reasons we headed back on down the same way we came out.
I hope you enjoy this trail as it truly is amazing. Below this map are some other photos from our time on El Pianista Trail.
EL PIANISTA TRAILHEAD MAP LOCATION
HAVE YOU CHECKED OUT MY OTHER PANAMA GUIDES
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- 37 AMAZING HIKES IN PANAMA: All of the best hiking trails. Many you’ve never heard of!
- 18 AWESOME THINGS TO DO IN BOQUETE: Hiking, waterfalls, and volcanoes.
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I hope you enjoy my guides and have a great time exploring Panama!
Wednesday 17th of May 2023
The girls were murdered by local gang members they had been partying with. Watch the mother of one of the guys that got killed after Kris and Lisanne on youtube tell her story of what she knows now that her son is gone.
Tuesday 6th of September 2022
Thank you so much for sharing not just your gorgeous photos and also the little tips for the way. We are doing the hike tomorrow. I downloaded AllTrails just in case, not go get lost.
This comment section is bewildering though. Yes, I read the story of the girls, too. It's very tragic. But bad things happen sometimes, it's many years ago and other than being cautious about not leaving the trail or going beyond the summit, I don't see any reason to avoid El Pianista.
Thursday 23rd of December 2021
I am a guy. I would not walk up that trail alone without a machete and a knife. I would like to take a pistol but, based on what I read, it takes a few months to get a permit from the police.
Why? I have read a lot about the murders of the two Dutch girls. Creepy. They are not the only ones to die or disappear on that trail, or in the vicinity of Boquette. Do a google search if you want more information. There is speculation about a serial killer.
Sunday 15th of August 2021
Can someone tell me if there is a waterfall or something really interesting on El Pianista 1-2 hours walk but after Mirador summit ?
Thursday 9th of February 2023
@Rhoma, The parents did not go as far as the girls did, they stopped at a certain point and turned back.
Thursday 9th of February 2023
@NB, There are three waterfalls beyond the Mirador. Perhaps the girls wanted to see them, and that's why they used Google earth once they were on the path passed the Mirador. But the path passed the Mirador is mud up to your knees, however the girls were there during the dry season, but I read it's mud packed year round. I'm sure the girls thought that it would not be a rough hike, now they are gone but never forgotten
Saturday 13th of August 2022
@NB, It's mostly just the same dense vegetation with occasional open pastures, a few small streams, some abandoned fincas, and a few small indigenous villages. I'm sorry for not having/providing links, but I have seen youtube videos of hikers that have documented going past the summit for several hours. The parents of one of the missing Dutch girls embarked on an expedition along the Pianista trail and continued past the summit for a couple of hours. It's interesting to hear their commentary along the way about how they can't see a way way to get lost on that trail and that they never saw any cliffs or slopes where anyone could have had a catastrophic fall. At some point, they decided to stop and turn around because they found it absolutely out of character that the girls would have walked that far into the heart of the rainforest/mountain. The point where they stopped was still a long time/distance away from where their backpack and bones were found and phone logs showed that their first attempt to call emergency services took place way before then.
Sunday 31st of October 2021
I've been wondering the same thing. I don't think it's quite that far from the summit, whatever the attraction might be. Maybe more like half hour.
Saturday 7th of August 2021
I did this walk I preferred the volcan walk this one is narrow and becomes very muddy (its easy to fall since its steep sometimes) when you ascend, and there are no great views The start is easy to find there is the restaurant pianista on the right, along the road (circular road close to boquete) then you go thourgh meadows before entering teh jungle