David and the Chiriqui Highlands
Chiriqui, in southwest Panama, is the traditional home of the Guaymi people. Bounded by Bocas del Toro province to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south, this diverse province includes hot and humid lowlands as well as steep volcanic highlands. It’s a beautiful landscape, full of history, culture, and natural wonders.
David, officially San Jose de David, is the third largest city in Panama and home to approximately 85,000 residents. The city, known for its large and gracious Colonial town square, is home to the elaborate St. Joseph’s Cathedral as well as a host of local retailers and markets. The city also boasts the Jose de Obaldia History and Art Museum, a treasure trove of local artifacts, paintings, and sculpture. David draws thousands of visitors each March to the David’s fair, a sort of combination state fair and art festival, with livestock competing with fine art for visitors’ attention.
The highlands outside of David offer visitors a chance to escape the heat of the city and coastal area and witness the lush, green volcanic countryside of the mountains. For those in good physical shape, climbing the Baru Volcano is a must-see experience. From the peak of this 3,477-meter summit, one can see the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean!
River rafting along the Chiriqui River is another popular pastime here. The best rafting is found during the rainy season, from May to December.
Meet the Guaymi People
The Guaymi, also known as the Ngbe-Bugle people, live in the central mountain highlands in the middle of Chiriqui Province. They are the best known of Panama’s native tribes outside of the Kuna people of the San Blas Islands. The Guaymi are a simple people, famous for their colorful textile work and beaded jewelry.
The coastline of Chiriqui is long and filled with wide and uncrowded expanses of white sand beach as well as picturesque cove beaches. Two of the most popular beaches are Las Lajas and La Barqueta, both about an hour’s drive outside of David along the Interamerican Highway. Offshore snorkeling and diving, although not offering as much diverse marine life as Caribbean waters, still entice visitors with crystal clear water and interesting rock and coral formations.
David is located just off of the Interamerican Highway and is easily accessible by car or bus from Panama City. Daily commuter flights also connect the capital with the city of David. The fare is reasonable and the flight takes just under an hour.
Accommodations in Chiriqui, in the larger cities of David, Volcan, and Boquete, run the gamut from large, corporate hotels to quiet, residential bed and breakfast inns. In the highlands and near the coastal areas, visitors will find small lodges and inns, but no large tourist resorts. The remoteness of these areas is part of the countryside’s charm.
A visit to Chiriqui is a chance to see provincial Panama, away from the cosmopolitan bustle of Panama City. It is here where true Panama lives, with its inviting beaches, friendly cities, and beautiful green hillsides.