Santa Fe, Panama: For the Curious Traveler

Follow the scent of coffee and chase after waterfalls as a daily adventure. Santa Fe is the un-touristic version of Boquete.

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Nestled inside the Panamanian rainforest, the town of Santa Fe is Panama’s undiscovered town. With more than a hundred coffee farms and dozens of waterfalls in its surroundings, Santa Fe acts as a comfortable base for hiking and exploring the area. The locals that recommended Santa Fe to us called it “a non-touristic Boquete,” and they were right.
So, if you plan on arriving in Santa Fe, you better start practicing your Spanish because few know English in the town.

The Best Time to Visit Santa Fe and Panama

Panama has two seasons.
The locals refer to them as summer and winter. For us people who live farther from the equator, it will be more comfortable to call them the wet and dry seasons.

Dry season

Panama’s summer or “dry season” is between December and April. Summer means hot days, bright skies, and a night breeze. The dry season also means much more tourists escaping from their cold winter back home in Europe and North America. As a result, the prices of hostels and hotels rise, and it is much harder to find affordable accommodation. In addition, most places are full, so you will have to book way in advance.

Wet season (Green season)

You should consider traveling to Santa Fe in Panama during the wet season, also called winter and known as the “green season,” starting from May to November. Because of short bursts of afternoon downpours, the vegetation stays green, creating one of the most picturesque times of the year. At the same time, you’ll enjoy warm temperatures from 32°C during the daytime to 21°C. At last and most important, mainly for the budget travelers among us, if you’re not bothered by the rain, you will also enjoy lower accommodation prices during Panama’s wintertime.

However, it’s not recommended to visit Panama during November because it’s filled with national holidays. The story tells there isn’t even one free inch on the beaches, and it’s hard to find accommodation.

Our expirience

We visited Santa Fe at the end of October and were mesmerized by the bright green shades. It was raining nearly every day, but just for a few hours, and it was still warm. We used the rest of the day that was usually sunny or cloudy, to go out and explore. So if your trip to Panama is a part of more extensive travels and it’s hard to make a plan and arrive in the dry season, don’t panic, don’t let it stop you, and enjoy lower prices.

What’s in Town

Santa Fe has two supermarkets in the town’s Square and a big one named Cooperative 5 min walking from the center. In the Cooperative you can find an ATM as well.
In addition, fresh fruits and vegetables are sold in the different stores scattered around the town.
During your stay in Santa Fe, we recommend you to follow the smell of roasted coffee beans and visit El Tute’s coffee factory. There you can buy one pack for yourself.
Furthermore, Santa Fe has a well-put-together visitor center, with employees happy to provide information about the area. They were a great help for us when we were looking for a place to sleep in Calovébora. To read more about Calovebora, Panama’s hidden Caribbean village. And know everything there is to know about the hiking trails and waterfalls in Santa Fe’s surroundings.

Things to do in Santa Fe

What we love about Santa Fe is the wide range of adventures and attractions—visiting a coffee plantation, taking a short walk to suntan in the riverbank, discovering a new waterfall, or getting stuck with mud up to your knees. Santa Fe has it all!

1. Visit the Three Waterfalls of Las Golondrinas

Visiting Los Golondrinas was our favorite hike in Santa Fe. It has the perfect combination of a short bus ride, an easy-to-walk jungle trail, and massive waterfalls you can bathe in.

How to Get to Las Golondrinas:

Take the bus from Santa Fe to Guabal, and ask the driver to drop you off at Llanita, the name of the first waterfall. the buses depart from Santa Fe at 8:00, 10:00, 12:00, 13:00, 15:00. Make sure the bus driver drops you off by the bridge in front of the parking lot. I’ll tell you more about it in the next paragraphs.

The trail to Las Golondrinas:

Los Golondrinas is the name of the two last waterfalls. Hiking to them is easy, fun, and effortless. Moderate ascent by the river, so you can’t go lost. Get ready to see three waterfalls in 40 min!

a trail in the woods leading to Las Gordolinas
Cross over the log to start the trail

The path of Los Golondrinas is circular, but we recommend you to go back and forth on the same trail by the river. I’ll tell you why: first, the other trail runs in the woods and can be a bit tricky to cross. Second, the other trail crosses in private land where the owners will ask you for money to pass. Third, all three waterfalls are on the same path on your way up by the river, So You don’t have to complete the circle to see more waterfalls.

The path starts after the car bridge on the same side the bus drops you off and in front of a small gravel parking lot.

a parking lot by the roas in the jungle of santa fe
The parking lot on the other side of the road to where the trail begins

No. 1 Llanita Waterfall

After 5 min you’ll reach the first waterfall. Llanita is its name. 10 m’ high and 2 m’ wide
with a natural pool and a small beach beside it.

Llanita Waterfall in santa fe
Llanita Waterfall

Continue walking up. There’s a railing through the entire trail made from a plastic pipe. Just follow it. There is no way to get lost.
Follow the rail marking to cross the river.
It will be best to take your shoes off, as we did not and are still walking with wet shoes to this day. Indeed it’s a tough job to dry off hiking boots.
After the river cross, put them back on.

Llanita Waterfall in Santa Fe
Llanita Waterfall calls you to have a swim

No. 2 Las Golondrinas- Bottom

the bottom waterfall of Las Gordalinas in Santa Fe
Las Golondrinas- Bottom

The path continues up in the vibrating woods where everything is constantly moving and whispering.
After 15 min walking, you’ll reach the second waterfall. that’s the bottom and the second part of Las Golondrinas if you take into consideration that waterfalls start from the top 🙂
There’s a small pool you can swim in and take a break. The area has more shade, and it seems like sun rays can’t penetrate the dense forest.

No. 3 Las Golondrinas- Top

The third waterfall is above the second one. To see it, you must cross the river and walk up for a couple of minutes. It’s 28 meters high and falls gracefully with the jungle view around.

the top waterfall of Las Gordalinas in Santa Fe
Las Gordalinas- Top

In the end, you can follow your steps back or complete the circular path.

2. Hike to Bermejo Waterfall

Bermejo waterfall is one of many water adventures surrounding the town of Santa Fe.
The distance from the town center of Santa Fe to the waterfall is 5.3km. Which makes the journey a 10.6km round trip. You have an option to take a taxi that brings you to a point where you’ll have to walk 1.3 km, and it costs 5 $ for one way.

A sign directing to the waterfall
Signs scattered along the trail directing the way to the waterfall, ‘Cascada’ in Spanish

The other 1.3 km may sound like a piece of cake but can be challenging. Especially if you’re arriving on a rainy day or after it rained. In this part of the hike, we sank in mud up to our knees, so use good hiking boots and be ready to get messy.

The Trail to Bermajo Waterfall from Santa Fe:

If you choose to go all the way and hike the 10 km, we’re here to tell you everything you need to know.

Start heading out of the village to the direction of the riverbank at Las Lajas where you can have a swim. The trail is not marked, but there are signs when the road splits directing the way to the waterfall.
In addition, you can enjoy picking fresh oranges from the trees growing on the side of the trail (and I’m not referring to those behind the fences!)
Sometimes it will seem like you’re the only one left in the world with the jungle around you. But guaranteed a home will pop out of nowhere and diminish your loneliness. Some even have a kiosk offering Doritos, Duro, and additional snacks.
If you still haven’t tried Duro, you better start looking for one. It’s a delicious homemade fruit popsicle.

bridge over the river in Santa Fe
Bridge crossing on the trail

Some hippie thoughts about the hike

Like many other trails around Santa Fe, the path keeps you in the presence when everything around is active. It’s hard not to be in awe as it looks like the flora and fauna term was invented here!

Animals shake the plants around but disappear before you can see them, leaves the size of a man, and trees that look like humans.

We usually talk a lot, but on this trail, we didn’t exchange a word. Even our babbler baby was quiet throughout the way to Bermejo waterfall.

Cocoa on the trail leading to Bermejo waterfall
Surprises on the road

The last part of the hike to Bermejo Waterfall

The last section of the hike is 1.3 km long, with short ascents and descents, which feels like climbing up and down a camel hump. It can be fun and easy if the path is dry, but it can also be challenging due to the slippery mud if you arrive in the rainy season. In addition, you’ll have to cross two small river streams during the hike.

The last part can sometimes feel like the trail is a river

You made it!

You’ll have to jump or slide on huge slippery rocks on the last 20 m of the hike to see the waterfall.
Bermejo waterfall is a unique sight with a vicious stream and freezing water. It seems like gravity forces work harder in this part of the world.

Choose carefully a place to dive inside the natural pool as it can be dangerous. We have heard many decide not to go inside because the water flow is unexpected and robust.
In this case, enjoy looking at the forces of nature Barmejo offers.

When we arrived at Bermejo waterfall, god decided to laugh at us, and all hell broke loose. An abundance of rain fell from the sky and prevented us from taking pictures of this mad waterfall. So.. sorry about that. If you have some pretty pretty photos of the waterfall please send them to us and we’ll post them here, with credit of course. Thank you, love you.

3. Have a Day of Chillin’ at Las Lajas Riverbank Beach

riverbank of Las Lajas in Santa Fe
Riverbank of Las Lajas

Don’t we all promise ourselves to calm down at our vacations and slow down, but eventually end up moving from one place to another with a desire to eat the world. It’s great and fantastic to have that enthusiasm though we should try slow travel at least once. For one vacation or even one day. Maybe in this one day before we head home when it’s the hardest to slow down.

river stream of Las Lajas with the jungle around
Flow in the freshwater river stream

Have a day to enjoy the river beach at Las Lajas. It’s most likely different from what you know back home. Take the time to look around, maybe if you’re lucky and it’s the weekend you will meet some people and practice your Spanish. Or maybe you’ll meet some children and they will share their secrets about the best places to dive headfirst.

It’s 1.5 km away from Santa Fe’s center, around 30 min of a leisurely walk on the car road.

A car bridge over the river in Santa Fe
Cross over the bridge and reach the Riverbank
A sign showing its allowed to have a swim in the river
The sign directing you to do the inevitable and have a swim

4. Visit Chon Y Maria Organic Farm

For a laid-back afternoon, visit Chon and Maria’s organic farm. Located 3 km away from Santa Fe’s center, the farm is non-mechanized, and the couple produces unique organic products. You will be guided through the small farm and get a full explanation about coffee production and agriculture in general. The tour includes a fresh, tasty lunch, fruits, and home-grown coffee. Chon and Maria are welcoming and lovely. the cost is 10$ per person

Where to Stay in Santa Fe

Santa Fe offers a variety of accommodations, from hostels to fancy eco lodging. We obviously present to you three affordable hostels. The price written here is the same as in If you stay for more than a night and speak some Spanish, you can get a discount. Panamanians usually don’t like to haggle, but you can get a discount if you do it politely.

Hostel Bulaba

Located next to the town’s main square, Hostel Bulaba is an affordable option for accommodation in Santa Fe. Victor, the hostel manager, will be happy to help you with everything you need during your stay. From scheduling Coffee Tours to giving you advice about the best hikes in the area. Like most people we met in Santa Fe, he speaks a bit of English but mostly Spanish. The rooms are simple yet clean, with a shared bathroom, and in addition, there are a few communal areas to pass the time. room price starts from 40$ for a double room.

La Qhia Eco lodging

La Qhia Eco Lodging is for sure, the most popular hostel in town. They have a beautiful garden with hammocks you can chill and a bar in the house. In addition, they have a big wall with maps of the hiking trails and waterfalls of the area. La Qhia offers wooden cabins and a great vibe. The price starts from 44$ for a double room.

Rainforest Yasmin Hotel

Surrounded by Santa Fe’s wild nature, Yasmin Hotel offers wooden cabins and a big garden. The owners, Yasmin and Ricardo, are certified guides and will be happy to take you on tour to the coastal town of Calovebora. The rooms are comfortable, and there is a shared kitchen if you are the cooking type. Oh, and they have a swimming pool. the price starts from 54$ for a double room

What to Pack

You should pack a bit of everything before going to Santa Fe. 

It has a combination of sunny and cloudy days with occasional showers, especially in the rainy season.

Arrive with your beloved backpack and an additional daypack for your hiking days. You should always have sunscreen along with a rain poncho and a water bottle. Places like Santa Fe with excellent fresh tap water are an opportunity to reduce plastic waste. 

In addition, our waterproof hiking boots were essential when we sunk knee-deep in mud. 

Take a Kindle with you if you like to read and plan to spend a day chilling by the river, together with a swimsuit for Him & for Her and a quick dry beach towel.

For those of you backpacking with a baby or toddler, choose a baby carrier comfortable for your baby and yourself. Our baby is two years old, and we are still using the same baby carrier since he was born. It’s an essential item if you plan on hiking. 

How to get to Santa Fe

Public transportation in Panama is relatively convenient and easy to use. Many buses arrive and leave on time, and the destination is written on the bus’s front window. So if you don’t have a car, you can easily travel the country using public transportation.

From Panama City

To visit Santa Fe by bus, you will have to first arrive at Santiago, the biggest city in the Verguras province. Buses depart every half hour from Panama city central station (Albrook) to Santiago. The ride takes about four hours and costs 9$.

Santiago Central Station is pretty small, and you will easily find the bus to Santa Fe. A bus leaves every half hour, and the ride takes 2 hours. Cost 2.90$

Final Thoughts

Santa Fe provided us with what we were looking for. We wanted to enjoy the coffee region of Panama and heard so much about Boquet, yet wished to explore a Panamanian village inhabited by Panamanians. Furthermore, its proximity to Santa Fe’s national park with dozens of waterfalls and hiking adventures made it a dreamy destination that also made it very hard for us to get bored and concentrate on tasting coffee ;).
Though we got lost several times in the national park and also walked kilometres to see waterfalls that we couldn’t reach, Santa Fe rooted the idea that it’s not the destination but the journey that counts.
Go there!

So, where should you go next?

Well, that’s easy, two hours drive from Santa Fe lays the Hidden Caribbean Village of Calovebora. It’s the cheapest and most authentic caribbean destination in Panama. And the only way to reach Calovebora is via Santa Fe.


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