After six hours of travel we pretty much spent our first afternoon in Santa Fe trying to locate places we could eat without bankrupting ourselves. We couldn’t find anywhere to stay with a kitchen (we found out after that there are at least two hostels with kitchens, just not on the booking apps) so we resigned ourselves to alternating between the bloke selling fried chicken and a couple of other restaurants with opening hours you could only guess at. La Qhia does have a restaurant but it’s way too expensive for what it offers. Casita Sazon became our go-to with fried chicken guy being a last resort if we couldn’t find anywhere else.
Once we’d ascertained the location of establishments designed to stop us from starving to death / chewing the limbs off the American church group also staying at La Qhia we began the assault on our livers with a lovely Canadian couple we met on Instagram. It was them who told us about Casita Sazon actually, it’s a cracking little gem of a place. They’ll be fed up of the sight of us by the time we’re done here.
Another thing you need to know about Santa Fe is that despite the fact it’s a cute little village nestled in the hills at the end of a winding road that the overstuffed buses whine and groan to get up as you’re wondering if you should offer to get out and push, it is by no means any manner of fucking peaceful. You’re lulled to sleep by the chorus of dogs barking and howling until ungodly hours. Then you get maybe a few hours where your brain just sort of shuts down before the roosters start up around 3.30am.
This is talked about more than once when you book at La Qhia but we thought how bad can it be? Surely we’re used to this now, especially after the frequent rude awakenings in Greece. Ha. No. I cannot stress how many roosters there are here. It’s a cacophony of strutting fowl singing the song of their people. It’s RoosterFest 2023. The roosterocalypse. It’s not surprising once you’ve walked around town though, there are hens and roosters wandering around everywhere which does mean you get to spend a significant portion of your day pointing at huge poultry and saying, “My, what a big cock!” and tittering like a child. Worth it.
So, first full day, let’s walk up a fuck off great big hill, shall we? Y’know, whilst we’re all warmed up after El Valle. The hostel gives you access to a hiking app where you can download all the walks in the area, it’s brilliant! We decided to do something called the Toucan Trail which eventually leads up to Alto de Piedra waterfall. Maybe we’d actually see a toucan? Who knows?
Kristi and Miles, the Canadians said we were brave for walking to the waterfall rather than catching the bus. In this context I think by “brave” they meant “stupid” but were just being polite which was sweet of them. We did fancy the walk though but fuck me, it’s a hill! You’re on a wide dirt road for most of it with some epic inclines. We stopped a lot under the guise of staring really intently into the trees in search of a toucan. Or anything with feathers really, we could see bugger all. Eventually the road finished and we turned onto a hiking trail which wasn’t quite as steep. It was brilliant actually, a really pleasant walk.
Still no bastard toucans though. They’re definitely a myth. We enjoyed the stroll, picking our way through mud and puddles. It’s the dry season but apparently it does rain pretty much every day, I don’t know if that’s just how Santa Fe rolls or if it’s because the rainy season was lurking around the corner. Eventually we were spat out onto a road, swung a left and picked up the trail for the waterfall.
It’s not long but it’s steep and it’s wet. We made our way down pretty fucking slowly, hoping all of our joints would be the same shape at the bottom as we started with at the top. It’s worth it though. It’s only a little waterfall but it cascades over an overhang rather than trickling down the rock face and the plunge pool is shallow enough to stand up in which basically means you can shower in it like you’re in some manner of posh shampoo advert. Obviously don’t use actual soap in a waterfall, I will harshly judge anyone who does that. But it does make for a lovely massage or accidental brain damage as it thunders down onto you.
After we’d climbed back up we popped to a cafe with organ harvesting vibes for a cold drink before starting the walk back down. We did consider waiting for a bus but we didn’t know how long it would be and it’s a nice walk. Still no toucans. The Toucan Trail isn’t very toucany at all. Should call it the Toucanless Trail. Or the Toucans? Are You On Crack, Mate? Trail. We did startle a small snake which proceeded to scare the absolute fuck out of us in return. We weren’t looking at the floor, we were gawping at the treetops. This snake bolted out of the dry leaves in the middle of the road. Whatever it was chasing, possibly a frog, ran towards us with the snake in pursuit.
I mean, fair enough to the snake for complete disregarding the shrieking hairless apes as it chased its dinner, eyes on the prize, little buddy, but we had no idea if it was venomous or aggressive or what. Tarrant pushed me in front as a human shield. I panicked even more and hit the poor bastard with a hiking pole, sending it slithering the other way. It was fucking quick! We retreated down the hill a bit and turned to watch it.
I mustn’t have hurt it which I was very pleased about, I never want to hurt a reptile. It carried on stalking it’s prey before it darted back over the road and emerged triumphant with legs sticking out of its chops. Well done, snake. Sorry I hit you. By the time we got back to town our favourite little café was closed so we bought four chunks of fried chicken from Rosticero and took it home to tear it apart like savages. I do like fried chicken but it’s not something I want to eat every day. We need to find somewhere that does a nice soup.
We ended up having a couple of days lounging in the hammocks, one day of which was a planned Day Of Fuck All but the other was enforced on account of all the rum we drank the previous night. I say “enforced”, clearly I mean self inflicted. To be fair we didn’t have much planned, just a short walk and I bit of swimming but when I woke up I had to forcibly eject whatever remained in my stomach just so I could get more sleep. Fuck me, I’m getting too old for this. I’m blaming the other people at the hostel for being good company thus encouraging me to stay up and consume my body weight in Abuelo rum. Those bastards.
Our last full day though, we figured we’d walk to another waterfall because I’m a grown up and I’ll chase as many as I like thankyouverymuch, TLC circa 1994. You can take taxis to trailhead if you like, they’re all Toyota Hiluxes around here, but we prefer to walk from town because I’m currently a tubby fucker whose trousers don’t fit and had to buy new singlets mid trip because her gut was making a break for freedom. I’m definitely in need of the exercise.
It turned out to be really, utterly enjoyable. Instead of an incessant uphill all the way followed by a knee breaking downhill all the way back there were a few steep inclines with a few steep declines and plenty of flat bits so by the time we reached the trailhead proper we weren’t completely bollocksed which was nice. The weather helped, it had been overcast all morning. Still muggy as fuck, mind, the sweat was literally dripping from my big, red face, but at least it wasn’t bastard hot.
Once we were on the trail with the muddy hills the rain started. Not proper rain though, just sort of an aggressive drizzle but it’s also the Tropics so it wasn’t freezing. It was actually a lovely, refreshing temperature though I’d have preferred it not to turn the hills into failure and treachery. The trail followed the same pattern as the road; a lung searing slog up a hill, a lovely bit of flat recovery, then a terrifying downhill made slow going by the wet surface. The last half a kilometre though, that can fuck right off.
It suddenly got very rocky and the fact the now-wet rocks were covered in wet, slippy leaves helped matter exactly zero percent. We picked our way very, very slowly. Tarrant really wasn’t sure, between her overpronating feet and her crap footwear she didn’t really want to do it. It seemed ridiculous to come this far and not finish the trail and to hell with what my ankles thought about any of this. We carried on until finally we got to Bermejo Waterfall, which is actually several waterfalls. You can’t get to the biggest one unless you’re very intrepid or a literal mountain goat but that was fine. I was still going into the tiny one we could get to.
I would like all of my hikes to come with a refreshing, natural waterhole from now on, please. Not too cold, I don’t want to be able to fashion diamonds with my nipples, just chilly enough so you make the involuntary monkey noises as you get in but then insist on telling everyone within earshot that it’s “lovely once you’re in, actually”. I splashed around in that for a bit as the drizzle subsided and the sun tried desperately to make an appearance.
The walk back was via a slightly different route but still offering that perfect blend of up and down. This really is a great walk. It also goes past an amazing swimming hole just 1.5 kilometres from town and by the time we got there the clouds had buggered off and the fiery skyball was in full attendance. We got to Las Lajas and got straight into the water. Fucking lovely. There are loads of rocks perfect for sprawling on and they were warm and perfect and I’m quite sure I was a lizard in a former life.
We hung out there for an hour before the clouds rolled back in and our stomachs started loudly complaining that we’d not put anything in them for a while. We dragged ourselves back to the hostel, changed into dry things and headed to Casita Sazon for a good old feed. Santa Fe has been great. There are hikes that we didn’t do, we didn’t bother with Cerro Tute for example, because we’re actually quite lazy. We also wanted to save some of that hiking energy for Boquete. Tomorrow though we head to Santa Catalina for a few days of being far too bloody hot by the sea. Sounds fab.
Jump to “Useful shit to know…”
Santa Fe, Veraguas, Panama
Stayed at: La Qhia Eco Retreat, Santa Fe
Useful shit to know…
- All the hikes and waterfalls around here are free.
- If you don’t have a kitchen where you’re staying there are places to eat but you can’t guarantee they’ll be open when they say they will be.
- Our favourite was Casita Sazon. They’re open early for breakfast. Definitely try the naranjita juice, it’s life changing. They also do a delicious and filling almuerzo for US$4. They close around 4pm.
- Café Dorado has its opening hours listed as Wednesday to Monday from 8am to 8pm but friends said they’d showed up and it had been closed. If you do get to go the pork or beef are the kind of delicious you think about for days. They’re US$7 with rice but it’s not as filling as the lunch at Casita Sazon. They also sell beer and accept card payments.
- Rosticero sells fried chicken, empanadas and tortillas (which are a fried disc of something or other here). It’s cheap. You might have to ask for takeaway as there are only two small tables.
- We didn’t eat at Restaurante Hermanos Pineda but friends said it’s only average. Another guy ate there, he said there was no menu, you have to ask what’s available (obviously in Spanish) and I think he said it was US$6 for rice, beans and some manner of dead thing.
- Fonda Santa Fe was never open when we walked past.
- If you want a hostel with a kitchen try Hostal Tierra Libre or Hostal Bulabá. I’m not sure how you’ll contact them if you don’t speak Spanish though.
How To Get From El Valle De Antón To Santa Fe By Bus
- Loads of minibuses head to Las Uvas from El Valle. We just stood opposite the hostel and hopped on the first one.
- It cost US$2 and took about an hour.
- We waited on the main road for a bus to Santiago. It was a bigger bus with the destination written on the front.
- It cost US$6 each and took about three hours.
- We were dropped in front of a terminal in Santiago. We just had to walk through to the platforms with loads of buses, turn left and there was a minibus to Santa Fe.
- They leave from stand A.
- Toilets at the bus terminal need a 25c coin for the turnstile.
- Despite it having Santa Fe written on the front we still had to get off in San Jose. It cost US$1.55 each.
- We got on another minibus all the way to Santa Fe which cost US$1.35.
- Santiago to Santa Fe took about two hours.
- I’d read that there was more than one terminal in Santiago. Fortunately we were dropped at the one we needed to get to Santa Fe. It’s located at 8.104872, -80.974001
- Total cost: US$10.90 each.
- Total time: About six hours including waiting between buses.