Two appealing places to stay along the Fortuna Road are aimed at ecotourists and are essentially nature sights in themselves. (A third one, Rancho Ecológico Willie Mazu, was badly damaged in a terrible storm and is temporarily closed. The owners plan to rebuild it eventually. For its status, contact Nattur Panama, tel. 442-1430, info [at] natturpanama [dot] com, http://natturpanama.com.) They are also good bases for exploring the area.
Sort of a cross between a mountain guesthouse and a nature reserve, Finca La Suiza (tel. 6615-3774, www.panama.net.tc, US$44 s, US$55 d, two-night minimum) is well worth a visit. It consists of 205 hectares of mountainous primary and secondary forest through part of which the friendly Swiss owners have built terrific trails.
Those owners, Herbert Brullmann and Monika Kohler, rent out three large and cheerful bedrooms with private bath in their small house, which is set on a ridge 1,220 meters above sea level. The views are spectacular. On a clear day, you can see lovely valleys, Pacific islands, Volcán Barú, and even a slice of Costa Rica.
The food here is gourmet and includes such unexpected treats as pesto, gnocchi, watercress and endive salad, and blackberry parfait. The produce is from the organic garden. Three-course dinners cost US$14.50. A big breakfast featuring homemade jams is US$5. They can also fix sandwiches for a lunchtime hiking stop.
Note: The lodge and trails are closed in June and September 1–November 15. Reservations can be made by email, but note that Herbert and Monika can only check email once a week. Phone reservations should be made at least three days ahead of time. The best time to call is between 7 and 9 p.m.
Finca La Suiza is 55 kilometers from David on the road to Chiriquí Grande, just past Los Planes and the one gas station on the road. A sign for the finca is on the right. The lodge is not visible from the gate. Try not to arrive after sundown. The gate is always closed at 6:30 p.m.
Only those with a four-wheel drive with high clearance can drive up to the lodge. Otherwise park just inside the fence, watching out for muddy stretches, and walk up the steep dirt road. You’ll pass the trailhead on the left. Finca guests can continue straight to get to the house. If you don’t have a four-wheel drive, leave the luggage in the car or at the house up the hill. The owners will help you retrieve it. Do not venture onto the property without permission; large dogs patrol the premises when the owners are out.
Lost and Found Eco-Resort (cell 6462-8182 or 6920-3036, www.lostandfoundlodge.com, US$12 dorm beds, US$30 s/d private room) is, depending on your perspective, either an ecolodge for the backpacking set or a hostel for nature lovers. Opened in 2007 by a couple of Canadians named Andrew and Patrick, it’s got a great location on 30 acres of hilly, forested land just south of the Continental Divide at 1,255 meters above sea level.
Lost and Found is aptly named, as it’s not visible from the Fortuna Road. Getting there requires a 10-minute climb up steep stairs carved into the side of a hill; those lugging a heavy backpack will get their day’s exercise.
The hostel consists of a series of terraced platforms that hold an open-air kitchen/dining area, a dorm, private rooms, a “chill-out” room, and outhouses with clean, hot-water showers and flush toilets. The wooden dorm has multiple tiers of bunk beds with double mattresses. A bed costs US$12; every third night is free. There are also three bare but perfectly adequate private rooms for US$30 s/d. Two of these have a view of Volcán Barú. Guests are welcome to use the communal kitchen (and provisions are sold onsite) or pay US$4–7 for a prepared meal.
The hostel consists of a series of terraced platforms that hold an open-air kitchen/dining area, a dorm, private rooms, a “chill-out” room, and outhouses with clean, hot-water showers and flush toilets. The wooden dorm has multiple tiers of bunk beds with double mattresses. A bed costs US$12, or two can snuggle on a mattress for US$20 total. There are also a couple of bare but perfectly adequate private rooms for US$25 s/d (US$5 less in low season). One of these has a view of Volcán Barú; the one behind it is windowless. An alternative is to pitch a tent on the camping platform (US$8 including a tent, or US$6 if you bring your own). Guests are welcome to use the communal kitchen or pay US$3.25 for a prepared meal.
The hostel is a pleasant, friendly, and well-equipped place, especially given its isolation, but the surroundings are the star attraction. Guests can watch the sun set behind Volcán Barú and go for day and night hikes on the network of trails, which connect with trails used by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Hikers can sometimes glimpse the Pacific from the trails, which climb as high as 1,800 meters above sea level.
There’s a one-time US$3 fee to use the trails. A guided hike is US$7 per person or US$24 for groups. Guests don’t always have to go hiking to spot wildlife. Kinkajous and sloths sometimes come to the hostel looking for food, and white-faced capuchins are occasionally spotted on the property as well.
The hostel offers a variety of tours, including a coffee tour (US$23), an overnight jungle safari tour (US$40), a trip to a hot spring (US$10), beach excursions (US $20–$25), a guided jungle hike (US$15), and horseback riding (US$35). Panama-wide tours are also available. Those in need of transport to their next destination can also opt for the hostel’s “transportation tours,” which combine a visit to local attractions with a drop-off in Boquete (US$20), Las Lajas (US$20), or Boca Brava (US$25). All prices are per person. Lost and Found can also pick up arriving guests in David for US$30. For the more sedentary, the chill-out room has a foosball table, book exchange, karaoke machine, and a TV and DVD player with 200 movies available to rent.
Lost and Found is just beyond kilometer marker 42 on the Fortuna Road. It’s north of the weigh station and the sign for Valle de la Mina. Look for the sign that reads, “You have found the Lost Paradise.” Those coming by bus (US$2.50 from David, US$5 from Almirante) can ask the bus driver to stop at the “casa amarilla” on the Fortuna Road. Those with their own transportation can park at a neighbor’s house for US$2.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition