EL PIANISTA TRAIL IN BOQUETE, PANAMA
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.
HOW TO GET TO EL PIANISTA TRAILHEAD
Unlike the hikes in the Bajo Mono area, 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 It actually says no hiking, which is strange but maybe it is outdated.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.
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.
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 the 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 4.2kms 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 cloud. 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.
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, 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 looking for a way out according to the reports.
The conclusion from 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.