The above picture was seen around the world on a BBC program about Panama
A RARELY SEEN WONDER
BENEATH YOUR FEET
James Spencer/ David Dell
If you travel between Boquete and Volcan along the Orange Blossom Highway then chances are you will pass over a small bridge at Macho de Monte. Few travelers realize the spectacular wonder that exists right beneath their feet. The problem is the 80 foot deep canyon is narrow at the top only allowing light around midday. If however you take the slightly more risky adventure and walk through the canyon – you will see the most spectacular natural wonder in all of Chiriqui.
On a warm January morning I set out with several fellow adventurers to see if we could find a reasonably safe way to enter the canyon. With climbing ropes, carabiners and a small collection of pitons we felt well equipped. The only safe way to enter the canyon is from the north side at river level. The problem is that the canyon entrance has a narrow mouth no more than ten feet across and the river funnels through here with a vengeance. With fellow Volcans, Marty Berke, Andrea Gonella & Phil Lawson. We attached our safety rope to several well anchored pitons. Gingerly, Marty Berke and I made our way around the rock corner and with the waterfall cascading over our heads, descended into the first big pool. The first job is the toughest as the waterfall is pouring over you and you have to disconnect from the safety line and immediately swim across the 30 foot pool to the gravel bank. This is not for the fainthearted or the out-of-shape. I am nearly 67 years old but regard myself as fit for my age.
Fortunately, the water wasn’t as cold as I thought and on reaching the gravel bank I unpacked my camera and set up the tripod. The Macho de Monte Canyon is breathtaking. The walls rise almost vertically 80 feet above the river.
As the odd shaft of sunlight streams down the cold, forbidding cathedral like walls, you can’t but be in awe of this breathtaking monolithic wonder.
As I mentioned to my adventurer friends, here we have one of the most outstanding and beautiful sites in all of Panama and sadly few people will ever experience it. The canyon walls give evidence of ancient volcanic scouring. Possibly in the distant past when the Baru Volcano exploded it sent huge quantities of rock, pumice and water down this narrow gully and carved the canyon into the natural delight we see today. Enumerable fissures in the rock walls spray high-pressure water jets like some neolithic car wash. The water comes out with such force it almost seems like the canyon has a thousand broken water pipes.
Parts of the canyon walls have a patina of moss and algae and their bright green color contrasts sharply with the dull gray of the basaltic rock. I walked down the riverbed for about 200 yards or more as there was gravel along most of the banks. Unfortunately, I came to a part where there was no way safe way around the rocks, with no extra ropes to ensure I could get back upriver – I had to call it quits. The water in the canyon is crystal clear and there are sand and gravel edges that make walking easy. We timed our trip to be as close to midday as possible – because we wanted to have the overhead sun to brighten this natural wonder.
The best time to explore the canyon would be even further into the dry season, around April or March and then you could safely make your way down to the final waterfall. Several tourists have died here so please always take safety equipment with you and a change of dry clothing.
Getting there is a bit of a trip. You first have to descend this small waterfall and then swim across the pond to the gravel beach.