Santa Fe is a beautiful little town, nestled in the towering mountains Veraguas. Almost exactly in the center of Panama, Santa Fe is one of the adventure hotspots for hikers and waterfall enthusiasts. I stayed in Santa Fe for ten days and went on a hike or visited a waterfall every single day. From exploring waterfalls to adventuring on the Santa Fe hiking trails, this charming mountain town was one of the highlights of my 3-month Panama journey!
Be warned: If you stay for a week in Santa Fe, you will burn some serious calories and tone your calves. The incline is real.
HOW TO GET TO SANTA FE
- From Panama City: The bus will take you 5 hours. Transfer in Santiago. The car journey is about 3 hours.
- From Boquete: I came from Boquete as do a lot of tourists. Catch the bus from Boquete to David. David to Santiago (taxi for 2 minutes to a different station) Santiago to Santa Fe.
SANTA FE TOWN: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
- It’s super small. There is no ATM I believe.
- There is a couple of grocery stores but the fresh produce is limited.
- There are numerous restaurants. Most are local style.
- The WiFi is very rough. In our hostel, we could get WhatsApp and Facebook Messages (Maybe a cheeky Insta-upload) but it was only in the lobby. I bought a DigiCell sim-card for $5, which gave me seven days of unlimited data. Highly advise doing the same if you wish to stay online.
- You don’t need a car to get around and see the attractions. The local bus system is split into three buses. Guabal, Santiago and Santiago Alto. These three buses will drop you at pretty much every adventure, hike, and waterfall on this list. There is, of course, some walking involved when it is a DIY adventure.
- The temperature in Santa Fe can be a little cooler as it is up in the mountains. Definitely bring a rain jacket for the Santa Fe hiking trails. However, when it was hot it was boiling hot. A bit of everything really.
- There are a couple of hostels and a few hotels. Hostal La Qhia seemed to be the most popular place for economic travelers and always had a decent amount of visitors and a good vibe.
BEST SANTA FE HIKING TRAILS
As I mentioned earlier, I stayed in Santa Fe, Veraguas for a week and a half. Most travelers stayed for 2-4 days but when I saw the map on the wall in Hostal La Qhia, with all of the hikes and waterfalls in the region, I knew this was a great place for lots of adventures.
Every single day I went on a hike or visited a waterfall. I never paid for a taxi or rented a car. I used the public bus system, which was really good and my own two legs. Food was cheap, the showers were hot and the hostel vibe was good. It’s all that you could ask for! These are my favorite Santa Fe hiking trails and waterfalls. I have written an individual blog post for each hike or waterfall with directions and a more in-depth guide and lots of photos to help you decide which adventure is for you.
CERRO TUTE HIKE
To find the trailhead you just head down to the town center and head south along the main road towards the ‘Alto De Piedra; sign. As you walk south down the road out of the town center this ‘Alto de Piedra’ sign will be on your right. Walk past this for another 20 meters and there will be a dirt road, big enough for a car, on your right. This is the start of the trail.
The trail is dirt the whole pay and a car-width the whole way. You will only need to make two turns and I will make it clear where those are with photos. It begins alongside some houses and quickly becomes quite muddy. The mud was only in this early section, which also had a couple of easy river crossings. Stepping stones made it possible to cross without getting your feet wet.
As I neared the mountain, I thought I was going to have to find a small trail but you continue all the way to the back and there is a very clear, wide path that will lead you all the way to the top. Below is a photo of the trail you need to take to lead you to the summit.
I ran up the third rock and there is actually a decent path that will lead you there if you don’t mind a bit of a scramble. It isn’t too crazy but definitely not for everyone. As always know your limits and just trust your instinct whether a climb, jump or trail is for you.
I really loved Cerro Tute and it was a great first experience in Santa Fe, Veraguas. I recommend doing it as your first Santa Fe hiking trail even though it is quite long. You will get great views of the area and can even pick out a few other peaks you might want to summit also!
Read the full blog post: EPIC CERRO TUTE HIKE
ALTO DE PIEDRA WATERFALL HIKE
From Santa Fe town you have three options. Walk, Bus, Taxi (or private car). Normally, I am all about the walk. This is an adventure blog, not a luxury travel blog that pretends to be adventurous from time to time. However, this walk was not that fun!
The walk is on a road the entire way from Santa Fe town. It is 5km of pure incline on a road as cars speed past you. It didn’t feel like hiking and it was far from it. It is, of course, the cheapest option and wasn’t a horrible afternoon but the other options might provide a better option and one I would suggest. If you do walk this is the road to the left you will take.
I think you should catch the bus from Santa Fe town. Catch the bus headed to Guabal from the central bus stop and tell the driver to let you out at Alto de Piedra Waterfalls. The bus driver will know the one as he drives past the sign every single day and it is a pretty common hike.
Not long after the jungle had engulfed me on all sides as I descended down to the first of the Alto de Piedra waterfalls. The trail is pretty easy and worn as this is a common hike for many tourists staying Santa Fe. However, it is still pretty wild and not for everyone.
The first waterfall was a beautiful 20-footer that quietly flowed into a small blue pool. Vines and ferns crowd the small amphitheater in what as a very peaceful spot. I hung out here for almost half an hour by myself taking photos and then I just sat on the rocks taking the tranquility in. That’s the beauty about Santa Fe, you don’t have to share it with many other tourists.
I continued on to another trail that I stumbled across and this waterfall was quite unique. It was several tiers in a slot canyon. The landscape here was quite bizarre with water flowing in all directions. I had never seen something quite like it and climbed down as far as I could to explore.
I now backtracked all the way to the front gate and decide that I would try the trail on the far left. It was the only trail I had not yet visited because I entered the far right trail and emerged in the middle trail. I had seemingly done a loop. But I hadn’t yet visited the far left trail so off I went. It turns out that this is actually the trail to the biggest waterfall and maybe the most popular as the trail had tires placed to help with the mud and was the most well defined and easy to follow.
At the bottom of this trail was a huge waterfall, the biggest of the day. I felt like the waterfalls in this region just never ended but that’s Panama for you. A shallow pool once again collected the water at the bottom of this pool. It wasn’t the best place for swimming in waterfall pools. However, there were lots of swimming spots along the route. Just none at the foot of a waterfall per say. Having a shower under the waterfall would definitely be possible.
This was one of the best Santa Fe hiking trails with multiple waterfalls to explore and so much action!
Read the full blog post: ALTO DE PIEDRA WATERFALLS HIKE
BERMEJO WATERFALL HIKE
Bermejo Waterfall was a scene of beautiful destruction. As I sat atop a wet rock, alone in the amphitheater of Bermejo, I could only envision the events that had unfolded over the years to leave this magical place in the state it remains today. Boulders the sizes of houses are covered in moss with trees growing readily from their surface. Freezing cold water swirls viciously, inviting you to test the danger. And then there is the waterfall itself. A multi-tiered, dual-directional flow of pure aggression, which slices through the earth in the middle of the Santa Fe Jungle with an exclamation point.
There was a defining moment. A fork in the trail. The waterfall could be heard to the left but I thought I would stick to the straight trail. This turned out to be a mistake but an adventurous one. If you want to visit the waterfall you need to take this left.
It’s an aggressive waterfall without a place to swim directly below it. However, the first pool is deep enough to at least cool off. I definitely suggest packing lunch and hanging out in this area for a few hours to appreciate the region and recover from your trek in!
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EL SALTO WATERFALL HIKE
On my last day in Santa Fe, I decided to head out to find El Salto Waterfalls. It was an incredibly hot day and a pretty strenuous hike up some serious hills. However, after arriving in the small village, what I found was nothing short of amazing. El Salto is a collection fo 22 waterfalls (if not more) in the middle of the mountains near Santa Fe. I explored two by foot and one other with the drone. It is possible to explore all of them but takes expert knowledge of the area, ropes and some serious skills and planning.
When I arrived at the waterfalls, I was pretty tired. I didn’t think this was such a big trek from the bus stop. I had gone for a 10-kilometer run that morning, which was an indication of what I thought this adventure would be like. The hike in was incredible. There were beautiful views of the mountains in all direction, maybe the best I had in Santa Fe. You can even see several waterfalls on the other side of the valley as you near the village.
I finally, made it up the hill and was ready to see what El Salto had in store. The first falls were a great little spot with two waterfalls coming down into a small pool. This is the spot where I swam in the refreshing water. The striking part about El Salto was the huge boulders that were scattered throughout the canyon. I always love to consider the crazy situations in which these sorts of landscapes were formed. Just imagine the force needed to drop a boulder the size of a house into the river.
The second waterfall was where things started to get very impressive. Three waterfalls streamed down the flat cliff. It was almost like a water feature. It wasn’t a booming fall like Golondrinas, it was an elegant, triple waterfall tucked away in a corner. From the observation spot of the second waterfall, I spotted the third.
Up in another canyon, a third waterfall looked even more impressive. It was the waterfall you could see on the other side of the valley while on the hike. It looked very tempting, but the rocks were very slippery, I was by myself and I just thought it was an adventure for another time. I did, however, explore it quite thoroughly with the drone and it was my favorite of all three waterfalls. If you can it would be explored to explore the third waterfall with ropes or a guide and maybe even more of the 22 waterfalls in El Salto.
It’s definitely one of the longer Santa Fe hiking trails but you usually get out what effort you put in and it’s is true in this case. Remote paradise!
Read full blog post: EL SALTO WATERFALLS
NUCA DEL TORO HIKE
Amidst a myriad of amazing waterfalls and trails, Nuca Del Toro, is a basic trail without much of an epic viewpoint. However, if you give the trail a chance it can be a fun afternoon activity with a change of scenery from the Panamanian Jungle. Huge pine trees surround you on top of the hill with snippets of the mountain range visible depending on what giant boulder you can clamber onto.
It’s always an adventure in Panama and this short but fun hike was no different.
The trail led to the top of the hill, where I found two crosses. I think this may be a burial site at the top of the hill. Trekking to the top took less than ten minutes again. I had prepared for a couple of hours of hiking but it turned out to be a hill, not a mountain. The environment was much different from the other hikes. Pine trees and a forest vibe were par for this hike.
At the top there as no real viewpoint, which is a bit disappointing. Not because you have hiked for hours but because the bus journey and the effort to get here is quite a lot for being stuck in the middle of some grass. I decided to power on and found my way onto some huge boulders. Here I had a decent view of the mountains beyond Nuca Del Toro.
There was a rock platform in the middle of the pine trees, which turned out to be my favorite part of the entire hike. I hung out here for a while in the middle of this little forest, on the hill all by myself taking it all in. The drone had a little run from this rock also.
If you only have a couple of days in Santa Fe I recommend some of the other Santa Fe hiking trails and waterfalls in the area but if you are into your second week in Santa Fe like myself, then it is a fun little adventure!
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NATURE NIGHT TRAIL
Take a walk into the dark, armed with your flashlight! In the jungle at night the creatures come out to play and we had an epic time exploring. We saw frogs, snakes, a shy sloth, cicadas, butterflies, tarantulas and all kinds of crazy bugs.
The interesting part is that in Santa Fe there are lots of motion-sensor cameras and Edgar showed us the photos they had captured within the last 2 years. It is pretty shocking. Jaguars, Ocelots, Pumas and lots of other large mammals are out here in the jungle, but they are seldom seen!
We walked for about 1.5 hours total admiring all of the amazing creatures along the way. Let’s just see the bugs are bigger in Panama. If you are interested in this experience I do recommend it. Just drop into Hostal La Qhiaand let them know. Edgar is so stoked on the creatures and you can tell he really loves that part of being involved at the hostel. It was $25 per person and the only paid tour I did in Santa Fe. The rest of the Santa Fe hiking trails were free!
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LOMA GRANDE WATERFALL HIKE
Loma Grande Waterfall near Santa Fe, Veraguas is one of the most spectacular little spots to visit in the region. Not only is this waterfall an epic natural sight but the amphitheater within which it is found is out of this world. Slopes on either side are covered in tropical plants, dripping from the spray of the waterfall. Moss covered rocks are scattered throughout the stream that leads up to the fall. The best bit, however, is the unexplainable pool of blue water that sits to the side of the waterfall.
The trail down to Loma Grande Waterfall is pretty raw. Along the way, you will find banana plants and huge century old trees. I was waiting for a jaguar, a huge snake or something to jump put the whole way. I really felt deep in the jungle and I guess I was. Santa Fe was miles away and so was Guabal. There was nothing out here except the promise of an epic waterfall.
A few cuts and bruises later, I laid my eyes on Loma Grande and what a sight she was. This amphitheater really blew me away. It was almost like the pool of youth next to the fountain of youth. An unbelievably blue pool sat still, next to the beast of a waterfall, which came crashing down just meters away. I think this might have just been my favorite Santa Fe hiking trail.
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LAS GOLONDRINAS WATERFALL
I had heard about this goliath waterfall but never envisioned it to be quite so epic. Las Golondrinas Waterfall is a mammoth falls near Santa Fe, Veraguas. The trek to the falls takes only 20 minutes but leads you through a wonderland of vines and river crossings before revealing the gigantic waterfall.
The trail is very clear to follow and has handrails in some points. However, because of the conditions, it is very muddy and you will get wet and dirty on this trail. If the trail doesn’t get you wet, the river crossing will.
You need to cross the river at least two times to reach the waterfall if you access the waterfall from the left trail. It was pouring anyway so it didn’t matter to us. After about ten minutes we got our first glimpse of the waterfall. From this far back, it looked incredible. I let my friend, Angel, wander ahead and shot a few photos of him on the rocks for scale. It felt like a magical place. Two small adventurers in wonderland, no-one else about. Just the roaring thunder and rain hammering down on us.
Finally, after lots of photos, rain, and adrenaline running high, we reached Las Golondrinas Waterfall. What a beauty! There was a slalom at the very top of the waterfall that weaved in and out before it all came crashing down with extreme force into the pool of blue water below.
There are several nice viewing spots to the sides or you can get up close and personal… and wet if you so desire. It is one of the shortest but most rewarding Santa Fe hiking trails for those who want an epic waterfall without all the effort.
Read full blog post: LAS GOLONDRINAS WATERFALL TRAIL