JAGUAR FALLS HIKE AT KALU YALA IN PANAMA
Jaguar Falls is a beautiful waterhole and waterfall at the end of a 5.3km hike through the jungle. It’s called Jaguar Falls because it is indeed a site where the Jaguar is present at night. It is not known how many but sightings are not uncommon. During the day, however, it is safe to visit Jaguar Falls. There is a great cliff jump of about 8m or even higher at the falls too!
HOW TO GET TO JAGUAR FALLS
Getting to Jaguar Falls is not straightforward. It is possible to do all in one-day but unusual. Most people spend one night in Kalu Yala or camping near the falls.
We drove from Panama City and it took about 1.5 hours. We parked our car at the Kalu Yala basecamp facility. From here you can take the daily shuttle, which you can book when you book your accommodation or by calling Kalu Yala. In our case we arrived in the morning an had found out that the only shuttle that day was at 4 pm. We decided to walk into Kalu Yala. It took us about 1.5 hours to walk in and was up some seriously steep hills with all of our gear. This is an option for those adventurous people or those on a very tight budget who don’t want to pay for the shuttle.
Kalu Yala is an interesting place. It is essentially a town in the middle of the jungle, that is an institute of learning and meant to be a sustainable village. Students live, work and study there. It is a bit controversial and VICE did a series called Jungle Town about it. It questioned whether it was doing more harm than good and where the money of the students was actually going. A single semester at Kalu Yala (while sleeping in a tent) could cost up to $7,000 USD.
Anyway, I’m not here to debate about Kalu Yala but thought it was worth providing a small anecdote. Bodhi Hostel opened a hostel within the village of Kalu Yala. This hostel is more or less a bunch of tents on a platform but the food is provided and you eat from the same kitchen and use the same toilets and facilities as the students. It’s pretty good and I would recommend the experience. Bodhi Hostel at Kalu Yala only costs $30 USD a night and includes three meals. It is a good value in my opinion as the meals are quite good but be warned they are vegetarian meals only. Technically it’s only about $15 a night but you will have to buy their meal plan because there is nothing else around so it is $30 per night with your meals included. Here is some more info below:
$15 Accommodation at Bodhi Hostels
$15 3 Meals from Kalu Yala
$10 4×4 transportation each way from Kalu Yala Basecamp ($20 roundtrip)
$15 Jaguar Falls Hike
You can book Bodhi Hostel on Booking.com by clicking here.
Now, from Bodhi Hostel and Kalu Yala you can organize a tour guide for $10 per person. There are students who act as tour guides or there can be a dedicated tour guide who takes you on the journey. We had a dedicated tour guide who works at Kalu Yala. He was quite good, knew the way well and was a friendly guy.
So as you can see it is a quite a detailed process to visit Jaguar Falls but what that means is that there will likely be no other people visiting the falls and you are in a unique isolated area. Essentially, this is the furthest thing from a popular tourist attraction so enjoy the magic of the Panamanian jungle in its raw state!
HIKING TO JAGUAR FALLS
The hike to Jaguar Falls is a 10.6km out and back trail. That means it is 5.3km to the waterfall and 5.3 km to return. That might seem quite short but because a lot of the trail is through the river or across slippery rocks, you move slower than walking along a path. From start to finish including a 30-45 minute break at the waterfall, we took roughly five hours to complete the adventure. Our group was not quick at all and if you hustled this could be a 3.5 hour round trip quite comfortably.
The trail crosses the Iguana River 11 times. Your shoes will be getting wet from the first minutes of this hike and until the last so be mentally prepared for that. This is the reason why the trail is only attempted during fair weather. If you try and hike to Jaguar Falls and get caught in a storm, you are in danger of having to cross the rising river and putting yourself in a risky situation. We were lucky enough to have a clear day, but keep that in mind. We were even told we might not be able to go if it started raining heavily. It is a long way to go and a lot of organization but it’s safety first always and not worth getting caught in a dangerous situation.
After all of the crossings have been completed the final section requires you to scale a hill, which is quite steep. You will then descend down the other side of the hill with ropes that have been installed. This is a very steep section but with the ropes and a degree of caution, it is quite safe. Once at the bottom of the hill you will finally reach Jaguar Falls.
Jaguar Falls is a single waterfall that pours down into a beautiful watering hole. The water here is quite deep in the middle. In fact, it is deep enough to jump into from various spots around the watering hole. You will NEED to check the depth for yourself. Tree branches may be lodged underwater or rocks may have moved. Just because you jumped last time or you saw a photo of someone jumping doesn’t mean the water is still safe and the depth is the same. You are responsible for your own landing so take a moment to check your landing area is all good.
You can climb up the right-hand side of the waterfall and find a ledge to jump off. You need to push out quite far as there are some rocks you will need to clear. However, if you do push off you should be fine and land in the middle of the pool. I have heard you can also jump from the top rock but I didn’t fancy it from that height. Generally, if I am with a local or someone who does a jump like that first I will follow but I don’t like to be the first when I don’t know the area and the conditions. You can analyze the risks and your abilities and make that call.
After hanging out at the waterfall and having a quick lunch we made the hike back through the jungle to Kalu Yala!
WHERE IS JAGUAR FALLS
Jaguar Falls is in Los Tres Brazos near Kalu Yala Camp. To get to Kalu Yala Camp you will need to first arrive in the base camp, which is about 1.5 hours from Panama City. Here there is a daily shuttle or you can hike into Kalu Yala as we did in 1.5 hours. It’s a rough uphill trek but we didn’t want to wait for the bus. At Kalu Yala, we stayed at Bodhi Hostel, which is essentially just tents under a shelter. I have pinpointed the base camp on the map below. You can book the shuttle when you book the nights at the hostel by clicking here.
ADVENTURE BAG FROM JAGUAR FALLS HIKE IN PANAMA
This is an adventure bag. It is full of trash. Every time I go on an adventure I collect one adventure bag full of trash. It’s my small way of saying thanks to mother nature for allowing me to enjoy her beautiful creations. If we have time to go on an adventure we have time to collect an adventure bag on the way back out of the trail once we have enjoyed the waterfall, the hike or the beach. Adventure hard!
Tag your #ADVENTUREBAG on Instagram and mention @adventurebag in your Instagram stories to be featured and inspire your friends, family, and followers to join the movement!