Cerro Mariposa, Santa Fe Veraguas

I’ve always been intrigued by Cerro Mariposa.  It’s one of the two mountains that make up the western arm of Santa Fe National Park; it’s mentioned by birders and scientists, as a refuge for species, but it’s not that popular with tourists because it’s hard to access. Unlike Cerro Tute, where you have farms and a 4×4 road to the top, Cerro Mariposa is a six hour round trip hike on a footpath some of the year (and with a machete the rest of the year) in mud and rainforest to reach the peak – and a guide is a must.

We recently had a group of more adventurous guests make it up there, and I’ve asked Edgar, the guide, to guest write a post:

Just the Facts

Elevation: 1,424m

Location: Western Arm, Santa Fe National Park

Type of Vegetation: Rainforest

Hike Duration: 6hrs Round Trip

Ascending Cerro Mariposa

Sunrise through the forest ascending Cerro Mariposa in Veraguas
Sunrise through the forest ascending Cerro Mariposa in Veraguas

It was 7AM, March 15, 2016 when the group of explorers, Josepus, Oliver and Edgar (me, the guide), prepared to set off on the hike to Cerro Mariposa, located in Santa Fe National Park, at an altitude of 1,424m.  We spent 20 minutes driving from Coffee Mountain Inn to where we began the hike in Alto de Piedra.   We began our hike accompanied by the songs of diverse bird species. And we weren’t alone.  100 meters from where we began, we spotted Jaguar and Ocelot tracks and soon came across a Trogon (Trogon aurantiiventris) very close to the trail.  600 meters later we found one of the Jaguar monitoring stations that use trigger cameras to capture night life with a motion sensor (take a look at other work of  AMIPARQUE (Amigos del Parque Nacional Santa Fe)).  I showed them some previous fotos that had been taken by the cameras.  We could also hear Keel-billed Toucans and a Great curassow (Crax rubra).

Calathea species along trail: Cerro Mariposa, Santa Fe, Veraguas
Calathea species along trail: Cerro Mariposa, Santa Fe, Veraguas

In the midst of the forest, we saw many different plants with flowers like the newly recognized species of Calathea (Calathea galdameciana), endemic to the area and discovered by scholarship student through Smithsonian Tropical Reseach Institute (STRI).  Orchids, bromiliads, mosses, ferns, athurium and philodendrons were plentiful.

After walking for three hours, we ascended from the rainforest to the dwarf rainforest of the ridgeline.

Arriving to the Peak of Cerro Mariposa
Arriving to the Peak of Cerro Mariposa

We reached the peak.  At first it was cloudy, but then we hit a break in the clouds after a few minutes. The ridgeline of El Tute extended before us, the town of Santa Fe far below, and the rainforest of the National Park on the hills below us.

Cerro Delgadito, Southward View from Cerro Mariposa, Santa Fe, Veraguas
Cerro Delgadito, Southward View from Cerro Mariposa, Santa Fe, Veraguas
From Cerro Mariposa, looking over Santa Fe National Park, Panama
From Cerro Mariposa, looking over Santa Fe National Park, Panama

We rested, taking in the beautiful views offered to us, with the clouds in our face, the constant wind, cool temperatures before descending again.  Halfway through the decent we were surprised to spot a rare lizard (Anadia Vittata), hard to spot because of the camouflage in dry leaves.

We arrived at the end, in perfect health, happy and thrilled with the adventure.

Exploring Santa Fe, Panama Trails, Part 2

Second Waterfall, Alto de Piedra

Second Fall, Alto de Piedra
Second Fall, Alto de Piedra

There are a series of three waterfalls at Alto de Piedra.  The second is my favorite, and the hardest and most dangerous to get to.  The waterfall is made up of four mini waterfalls, cascading about 80-100ft to the forest below.  Beautiful!

How to get there:

The safest way to get to the waterfalls is to take the trail to the first waterfall, described in the previous post.  About 100ft before you reach the first waterfall, there is a footpath from the main trail, leading upwards.  Take this trail, and follow for about 8 minutes and you will reach the falls.  I just was on this trail today. Be very careful, it is very muddy, narrow, not maintained and with very steep drop offs. There are areas where you will need to grab on to roots to balance yourself, and you should wear boots.  If you have poor balance or mobility issues, this trail is not for you.

TRAIL LENGTH FROM TRAILHEAD: Approx 800m; Plan 1 hr for a round trip visit to the second waterfall.

Check out my new birding list for Santa Fe

Birding Santa Fe

300 Bird Species near Santa Fe!

I spent last weekend checking and cross-checking bird species for the Santa Fe region in Panama to compile a list of totaling 300 species found in this region (!).  This list represents a compilation of a variety of records, from the Smithsonian, Panama Audubon Society and online trip records.

I’d be willing to add or subtract and would love to hear from birders out there.

See Complete Bird List of Santa Fe

A Note on Scientific Names

There were times that the Smithsonian’s Scientific Name used was different than the Panama Audubon Society’s.  This happens with species over time as someone decides that one species is actually a type of another genus.  In this case, I did not research each discrepancy- I went with the Smithsonian’s naming conventions.


Would a frog by any other name…croak as sweet? Amphibian life in Santa Fe

Rhaebo haematitcus,  on the Mulaba River.  Recently hatched.
Super tiny Rhaebo haematitcus, on the Mulaba River (about the size of a thumbnail).
Waterfall, Mulaba River, Parque Nacional Santa Fe
And the waterfall in Santa Fe National Park, Mulaba River

Alright, I admit, I’ve gone on a nature streak in my recent posts.  Yesterday Cele went on a hike up the Mulaba River that has its headwaters in Santa Fe National Park.  Found an amazing waterfall and this cutie of a toad.  What was most surprising was how small he was – about the size of a fingernail.  According to Heidi Ross, of the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center,   he is a probably recently out of the water, and will grow to be about 3-4 cm long.  His call (termed vocalizations by people in the know) sounds rather like an alarm clock – check it out from the Smithsonian Recordings


What’s amazing about amphibians in Santa Fe?

First, there is a lot of diversity of species and even some morphs or forms that are specific to the Santa Fe region!  For example, there is a type of poison dart frog (Dendrobates auratus) that has a specific color pattern that’s only been found around Alto de Piedra, near the west end of Santa Fe National park.  There is the same species, but with other color patterns found around Panama.  But here, it’s unique – that’s very neat!

Alto de Piedra Morph of Dendrobates auratus, Poison Dart Frog, . Source: http://www.dendrobates.org/biology.html

 What’s the deal with conservation of frogs in Panama?

Like with the example of the poison frog above, there have been noticeable declines in species.  While habitats are changing, there is a specific culprit that many point to – the Chytrid fungus.   Amphibians infected can slow down, not look for refuge, and die.

Once again Africa takes the wrap. As with the origin of much life, the fungus is thought to have originated in Africa, and spread throughout the world, particularly in the past 30 years, though theories vary.

Why now?  Some scientists hypothesize that the exposure to pesticides make amphibians less resilient to fight off this infection others point to the increased traffic and imports leading to contamination of uninfected individuals.

Locally, in Santa Fe, scientists believe that the locally observed declines in populations such as the d. auratus above are primarily due to this infection.  Read more about Chytrid here

 How the heck do you protect a species against something you can’t even see?

So, let’s admit it.  If a population is declining due to a loss in habitat -it can be fixed if people want it badly enough.  At least, conceptually you say, ah, we need more habitat.  But what do you do about a fungus?

In Panama, the Amphibian Rescue Committee  has started a couple of programs for captive breeding of amphibians.  They also have a lot of info on their site about the different types of frogs and toads in Panama.  Check it out!

What do I want to do?

I’m going to see if I can find the different types of frogs known to occur in Santa Fe while we’re out and about.


New Signs for Waterfalls in Santa Fe National Park, Panama

UPDATE: Signs to many destinations

If you’re driving or hiking around Santa Fe, you may benefit from some of the new signs that my husband organized to be constructed to mark the waterfall trailheads for hiking near Santa Fe National Park. I’m so proud of him for organizing this  – even though it doesn’t directly benefit us.

So here’s the story.

Over Carnavales, which is the five days before Ash Wednesday in Mid February this year, we were super busy.  We’ve had guests go out hiking before and not find the waterfall they were looking for. However, over carnavales we had two great Panamanian ladies who  wanted to go exploring and hiking – and when they got to Alto de Piedra, where one of the waterfalls is in the National Park, down a trail that leads off from the road, people wouldn’t tell them which path to take, saying that they needed to hire a guide.

I can understand that you hire a guide to give an enriched experience.  We do this in our tours.  Our guests enjoy this.  And we do it proudly. (And I guarantee you will have a better experience for going out with us). Now, maybe these people were visitors to Santa Fe themselves, and just didn’t know… BUT you don’t hire a guide for directions to a public location.  Giving those directions is just part of being human.

So, my husband, Celestino, went to talk with ANAM, the natural resource management agency that manages Panama’s national parks.  He got permission from ANAM to put in signs and talked them into throwing in sign supplies, talked with the local tourism coop, and now there are signs marking the trailhead locations and directions to some waterfalls.

I love that he did this.  I will post a picture tomorrow!

Do you like that he did this?  Want to help?  Stop by and let us know!