Imagine hiking in a lush green forest covered in moss, bromeliads, and dense trees with moody mist surrounding you from a passing cloud. Sound magical?
After hiking El Pianista Trail in Boquete, Panama I can vouch it is indeed a magical experience. One I recommend every visitor to Boquete, Panama has at least once during their trip here.
El Pianista Trail is one of the top places to hike into a cloud forest in this region. But getting there and traversing this trail is a bit tricky.
This guide to El Pianista Trail in Boquete, Panama will share everything you need to know about hiking here. Including safety (a big concern after the disappearance of two girls in 2014), how to get there, what you expect, and other helpful tips before hiking.
Quick facts about El Pianista Trail in Boquete
- Distance: 4.4 miles or 7.08 kilometers
- Elevation gain: 1,981 feet or 603 meters
- Cost of entry: Free
- Difficulty level: Moderate (steep inclines, muddy conditions, and uneven rocky ground)
- Trail type: Out and back
- Time to complete: 4 to 5 hours
- Trailhead location: Google Map pin
Is El Pianista Trail safe to visit?
El Pianista Trail got a bad rap after two female Dutch hikers went missing on the trail in 2014. The case, which is often referred to as “The Lost Girls of Panama” made global headlines.
The girls were missing for several weeks before their backpacks, cameras, and bodies were discovered far off-trail (past the summit) in the Continental Divide between Costa Rica and Panama. There is a memorial for the girls at the summit of El Pianista Trail.
Official reports state the girls died as a result of a hiking accident. However, some believe foul play could have been involved. No one will ever truly know what happened to the girls on the trail, but their loss (as sad as it is) doesn’t mean El Pianista Trail is dangerous for other hikers.
We personally had no issues with safety on the trail without a guide. However we quickly realized after two wrong turns how easy it is to get lost in the jungles here.
If you are concerned about safety you can hire a tour guide who will take you to the mountain summit. We passed a tour group of around 6 people with a guide on our trek up the mountain (but it was the only people we ran into).
Of course, you can hike on your own. Just make sure you turn around at the summit of the hike and return down the mountain the same way you came. And make sure you never hike alone in the jungles of Chiriqui, as jaguars and mountain lions frequent the area.
In June of 2023, a jaguar attacked and killed a lone hiker (middle-aged man) in the middle of the day. El Pianista Trail isn’t as well traveled as other hikes in the Boquete area. Its remoteness and super undeveloped tropical jungle make it the perfect habitat for wild animals like jaguars.
Safety tip: Jaguars and mountain lions are abundant in the jungles of Chiriqui. Never hike alone in the forests here (especially on El Pianista Trail). Rather, it’s best to explore in groups of 2 or more. We didn’t see a jaguar on our hike but we did see evidence of one from a MASSIVE paw print! 😳 🐾
How to get to El Pianista Trail
El Pianista Trail is located about 15 minutes outside of Boquete down a fairly rural and remote road. There is no official trailhead for the hike, but you can map to El Pianista Restaurant.
There aren’t many taxis or collectivos (public buses) that travel to this area, so we recommend pre-arranging transportation or driving your own vehicle to the trail. We rented our car in David, where the international airport is located.
If you don’t have your own rental car expect to pay around $6 to $8 one-way for a taxi depending on the time of day, demand, and how good you are at haggling.
Plan to have them pick you up at a set time (get their WhatsApp # to confirm). Taxis don’t come directly to this area very often and this road is super remote. Not pre-arranging this could leave you stranded with a long walk home when you are done hiking.
The road was paved the entire way there, and there was a small area off the side of the road where we parked our vehicle. There is a super old faded white sign in front of a few homes on the side of the road.
This was the official sign for the trailhead, but when we visited in July 2023 it was completely illegible. Walk down the driveway between the sign and the restaurant and you’ve officially begun the hike!
Looking for more awesome activities to do in Boquete? Check out some of the recommended tours below.
What to bring on El Pianista Trail hike
El Pianista Trail in Boquete, Panama is located in the highlands and jungle of Panama. Rain in this area is super common during the rainy season (June to November). Showers frequently come and go with little to no warning.
It rained on us three times during our hike. It’s a good idea to have a light rain jacket with you for when it starts to rain.
El Pianista trail path was super muddy in several areas. Make sure you have comfortable hiking shoes that can withstand mud and water. Dennis loves his Altra hiking shoes while Liz wore her Allbirds sneakers (they are washable)!
Of course, you’ll want to bring any photo or video gear with you and binoculars! Just don’t forget to have a dry bag or other safe storage solution that can withstand water or rain as you’re hiking.
Lastly, don’t forget your reusable water bottle. We each had a liter of water on us with refills in the car and wished we had carried more for the hike.
You are high in elevation and it’s really humid here, so you’ll definitely need to stay hydrated. We recommend this reusable water bottle which has a built-in water filter or this camelback hiking backpack with a water bladder.
We love adding an LMNT hydration pack to our water when hiking. This will replenish the electrolytes you’re losing without adding nasty ingredients or unnecessary sugars to your drink.
Get the gear here:
- Packable rain jacket
- Camelback hiking backpack (with water bladder)
- Hiking shoes or Allbirds sneakers (washable)
- Dry bag
- Camera equipment
- Reusable water bottle + snacks
- LMNT hydration packs
- Binoculars to see birds + wildlife
What to expect on El Pianista Trail
The hike starts by walking up the driveway between the few homes and the restaurant El Pianista. You’ll walk down this driveway for about 10 minutes passing two small makeshift suspension bridges and several more housing complexes.
The area out here is very primitive. The houses are super basic (but lovely) and have loads of chickens, roosters, and dogs running around.
At one point after crossing a suspension bridge, we ended up in a large grassy field. We quickly realized we were walking through someone’s pasture. We looked back and saw a small area to cross back onto the road through a cattle gate. It was a tight squeeze and super easy to miss!
Make sure you don’t pass this and are walking on the dirt road for the majority of the hike at the beginning.
After about 20 to 30 minutes we finally got to a more open area that had pastures on both sides. We saw cows calmly grazing and got our first glimpse of the mountains towering ahead. The tips of the mountains were already encompassed with slow-rolling clouds giving us a super moody feeling.
The walk up to the dirt road surrounded by pastures lasted about 15 to 20 minutes. Finally, we got to the jungle entrance. Once again, there was an old faded sign at the start of the trail that was completely illegible. But we knew we were at the start of the trail.
The second we stepped into the jungle the entire mood changed. We were instantly surrounded by the most beautiful green forest that felt caked in dew.
There were bright flowers everywhere we looked and the trees were covered in moss. The only sounds we could here were our footsteps, rain droplets, and birds cawing from a distance.
It was absolutely magical. We tried to spot a Quetzal bird, an elusive bird home to the jungles of Chiriqui Panama and the national bird of Guatemala. But the bird evaded us. We didn’t see as many “nature treasures” as my nieces call them on this hike, but we did see (and hear) evidence of life all around us.
The walk continued in the dense jungle for about 30 minutes before we reached a junction to either go left or right.
We first took the path to the left which required crossing a makeshift plank over a river. However, after about 5 minutes we quickly realized we were on someone’s private property and promptly turned around when we heard the dogs barking.
When you get to the fork in the trail, take the trail on the right that leads down toward the stream. The stream cascades down rocks making it a beautiful picture opportunity.
The trail is actually fairly easy to hike. My five-year-old niece was able to climb the trail with us (although there was definitely some complaining toward the end).
Aside from the muddy conditions, there isn’t a lot of tough terrain to traverse. There are several river crossings and some rocky areas, but the difficulty of this trail comes from the constant uphill climb.
You will gain nearly 2,000 feet in total in just over 2 miles. You don’t notice it right away, but about halfway through our legs were screaming. We really started to notice the steep grade after following the stream path.
After about 30 more minutes of walking, you’ll notice clouds taking over the forest. The foggy mist took over everything. It was my first time hiking in a cloud forest like this and I absolutely loved being up high with the clouds. It truly is a unique experience!
Because of the little legs and wrong turns, we weren’t able to make it fully to the summit. We turned around about 20 minutes before the final summit (where it started to get a bit rocky for my niece). I’m sure it would have been awesome on a clear day to get 360 views.
But with the rain and cloud cover that day, we know we would have only been greeted with gray fog in all directions. We hope we’ll get to return and complete this hike fully. If you found this guide helpful, let us know in the comments below. And as always, check out some of our other Boquete Panama guides below, too.
CHECK OUT MY OTHER BOQUETE PANAMA GUIDES
- Caldera Hot Springs: A Must-Do Activity Near Boquete Panama – One of our favorite activities from our entire trip.
- How To Take a Coffee Tour in Boquete, Panama (Complete Guide) – Great guide for coffee lovers who want to get to know the process of growing, processing, and roasting coffee more intimately.
- A Complete Guide to Hiking The Lost Waterfalls Trail – A great hiking guide for one of the top hikes in Boquete.
- 10 Must-Do Activities in Boquete, Panama – The perfect travel bucket list to help you plan your Boquete vacation.