Hotel Cerro Punta (tel. 771-2020, US$45 s/d) is on the left just as one approaches downtown Cerro Punta . It offers 10 decent rooms with okay beds. Six of the rooms are in an annex facing a gorgeous view of the mountains. Perversely, the windows are in the back, looking out on nothing. The rooms in the main building are nicer, and two have a good view for no extra charge. The service here is friendly.
Easily the best-run place to stay on the entire west side of the mountain is Hostal Cielito Sur Bed and Breakfast (tel./fax 771-2038, cell 6602-3008, www.cielitosur.com , starts at US$99 s/d, closed in Oct.). Along with Los Quetzales Lodge and Spa, it is also the coziest and most pleasant. Actually 4 kilometers south of Cerro Punta and 10 kilometers north of Volcán in a postage stamp–sized “community” called Nueva Suiza, Cielito Sur sits by itself on 2.5 hectares of land just off the main road but within easy driving distance of most of the area’s attractions.
It consists of four modern, spacious rooms, each with decor inspired by one of Panama’s indigenous peoples—the Kuna and Teribe (US$99 s/d), rooms, and the larger Ngöbe-Buglé and Wounaan-Emberá rooms (US$110 s/d, add US$40 for a third person), which also have a minifridge and microwave. Even if you don’t stay in the Wounaan-Emberá room, you should ask to check out the especially beautiful specimens of their woven baskets mounted on the wall.
Everything here is done just right. The back patio of the bed-and-breakfast overlooks a spring-fed stream that runs through a carefully tended garden that attracts 10 species of hummingbirds. A stay includes an enormous breakfast in a sunny dining room and use of a private, enclosed hot tub. There’s a common lounge with a fireplace, CD player and CDs, library, and Internet-connected computer (free).
Your hosts are Janet and Glenn Lee, a Panamanian-American couple who speak fluent English and Spanish and are a good source of information on just about anything you’d like to know about the whole area.
They can arrange transfers to or from David  for US$35 each way, and ground transportation to or from just about anywhere else in western Panama, including Bocas  and the Costa Rican border at Río Sereno , as well as make domestic plane reservations and ground-transfer arrangements to or from Panama City . Rates depend on the destination.
Los Quetzales Lodge and Spa (tel. 771-2182 or 771-2291, fax 771-2226, www.losquetzales.com , starts at US$75 s/d/t, including breakfast) is really a destination in itself. Mostly this is because some of the accommodations are in a 350-acre private cloud-forest reserve that’s inside both a national park (Parque Nacional Volcán Barú ) and an international one (Parque International La Amistad ). The owner bought land here in 1968, before the parks were founded. Los Quetzales was one of Panama ’s first ecotourism operations and remains among its most committed.
As the name suggests, there are actually two Los Quetzales: a hotel in the little town of Guadalupe, three kilometers past Cerro Punta , and five “chalets” (large cabins, really) in a forest farther uphill. The hotel is an attractive place with lots of handsome woodwork, on the edge of a fast-flowing river. It features 10 rooms next to the main building and five large suites and dorm rooms in a nearby annex.
The main building resembles a comfy ski lodge, and the smells wafting up from the bakery/pizzeria on the 1st floor add to the cozy feel. There’s an Internet café (free to guests, US$1/hour for others), bar, restaurant, and rec room on the 2nd floor. The paintings everywhere, some of them rather spooky, are by Brooke “Cookie” Alfaro, your host’s brother and one of Panama’s most famous artists.
Small rooms have one queen and one single bed and a shower. Larger, considerably nicer and brighter rooms with terraces are US$85 s/d/t. Suites go for US$95–110 and sleep up to four people. These are quite large and have fireplaces, sitting rooms, and balconies. One of the suites is wheelchair accessible. All the rooms have orthopedic beds and phones that can be used for local and international calls.
There are also three dorm rooms crowded with bunk beds, featuring the same warm wood as the private rooms. Each has a shared toilet and shower. The smallest dorm room has lockers. Dorm beds are US$18, or US$5 more with continental breakfast.
A health spa right next to the river helps guests recover from a grueling hike with a massage, sauna, or dip in an outdoor hot tub. Guests get 30 percent off spa services including massages and facials. They also get free use of the sauna, hot tubs, small gym, horses, and mountain bikes.
My favorite cabins in the park, Chalet 2 and Chalet 3, are slightly rustic in the mountain-cabin sense, but they’re very comfortable and nicely designed. None of the cabins have electricity, but all have wood-burning stoves or fireplaces, hot water, and a kitchen. Ten kinds of colorful hummingbirds are among the more than 100 species of birds identified near here. You’ll see them buzzing around like mosquitoes.
Chalets 2 and 3 are large, wooden, two-story structures built at more than 2,020 meters above sea level, right in the middle of a stunning cloud forest. The Chiriquí Viejo River runs through the property. There’s a hot tub outside Chalet 3, but it’s not always working.
Prices for the cabins are the same regardless of group size, so larger groups can get a great deal. Rates are US$105–160, sleeping between five and eight people. A newer place, Cabin Bajo Grande, is outside the park. Chalet 2 at Bajo Grande sleeps up to 10 people for US$175, while Chalet 1 is US$100. All chalets offer enough privacy that friendly acquaintances can share them to save money. Daily guided hikes are included.
Eight trails originate from the area around the chalets. Foggy mountains, trees draped in moss, waterfalls, orchids, the lovely songs of countless birds—it’s like a fairy kingdom up there. Daily tours, led by Ngöbe-Buglé guides who speak only Spanish, are available. Los Quetzales can supply boots, rain jackets, and horses. There’s a very good chance of seeing quetzals here January–May.
The park chalets are only 2.5 kilometers from the main hotel in Guadalupe, but the road is so ferociously bad it takes about 25 minutes to get there by four-wheel-drive vehicle. (Transportation is included with cabin rental.) Among other things, vehicles must ford a shallow river. That’s something to bear in mind if you decide to hike in. Even if you go by four-wheel drive, it’s a short but steep walk up to Chalets 2 and 3.