Santa Fé is a lovely town located in the province of Veraguas, close to the Cordillera Central, the mountain chain that runs across the country. It's the perfect place to visit if you like outdoor activities, natural splendour, and an authentic Panamanian village experience. In facts Santa Fé it's still not too developed to lose its original atmosphere, the kindness of local people and the traditions of the past. This doesn't mean you can't find here all the facilities for a great holiday.
In this area you can feel a true spirit of collaboration between Panamanians and foreigners. This could be maybe thanks to the work of the catholic Father Héctor Gallego who in the late 1960's started a cooperative that helped farmers to win back the profits of their harvest and to end the monopoly imposed by the local coffee barons. Afterwards the priest disappeared in 1971, but the cooperative lives on and today many of Santa Fé's locals can still sell their small production to this institution. The legacy of Father Gallego can be summed up by his final words: “If I disappear, don't look for me: keep on fighting!” There is a lovely monument in the centre of town to remind people of the courage and strength offered by Father Gallego in helping local people organise and thrive over 50 years ago.
Santa Fé is 450 meters above sea level and has temperate days and cool nights and it is generally less rainy than the Chiriquí highlands. It's 56 km from Santiago and 50 km from the Caribbean sea, where there's an unspoiled wonderful stretch of coast made of pristine beaches and virgin forest. At the moment it's connected by a rough dirty road or by boat from the nearby provinces.
Activities and attractions
The area around the town is home of the National Park of Santa Fé. It features 72000 hectares made up of pristine forest that is home to more than 300 species of birds such as the Bare-necked Umbrella bird, Three wattled Bell-bird, the Glow Throated Hummingbird, and the resplendent Quetzal. The park is home to other animals such as jaguars, tapirs, and monkeys as well as a huge variety of orchids, the typical flower of this region.
One of the most popular trails of the park leads to Bermejo waterfall and you can explore the zone with tours, by 4X4, horseback riding, or self-guided hiking excursions.
Other popular waterfall excursions include Alto de Piedra, Guabal, and El Salto, which all are relatively close to Santa Fe, and can be reached by tour guide or self-guided tours.
An outstanding activity in Santa Fé is indeed bird watching: Cerro Tute offers great opportunities to spot several kinds of birds. Hiking trails through the primary and secondary forest are also present in the area around Alto de Piedra. Close to the town you can chill in the fresh waters of the Bulabá and Santa Maria Rivers, where there are many swimming spots and a popular business run by "William" who rents inner tubes and will guide you down the river.
In the centre of the town there's a nice open air market where you can buy fruit, vegetables and local handicrafts such as bags, hats and wooden plates. Across from the market is the house of Orlando, Santa Fe's guitar-maker. He has been crafting single-piece-of-wood guitars (or Mejoraneras) for decades. The Mejoranera is a unique, 5-string small guitar that is only found in Panama.
Other attractions are Café El Tute that offers plant and plantation tours and sells roasted coffee beans, ground coffee, as well as green coffee beans. There is an artisan shop in Santa Fe that features local jewellery and other handicrafts as well as a small orchid collection. "Edgar" at The Hotel Santa Fe offers a very interesting night jungle tour, and "Cesar" offers a great horseback ride to Bermejo waterfall. For the very adventurous traveller, you can hike to the peak of Cerro Tute, where the panoramic views are absolutely spectacular. There is a very good general guide operator in Santa Fe (English and Spanish spoken) who can custom-tailor any tour to a traveller's desire.
The organic farm of Chon y María is an interesting way to know more about orchids, coffee and vegetables cultivation. A very nice elderly couple of Panamanians many years ago decided to plant and grow organic products and then open their doors to visitors loving authentic experiences.
Restaurants and lodgings
Santa Fe offers many options for dining out, including a Cambodian restaurant, an up-scale Panamanian restaurant, as well as several smaller restaurants and fondas offering traditional Panamanian fare. There are at least 6 hotels/B&B's in Santa Fe offering travellers many lodging options. There are two very good, large supermarkets (as well as several smaller tiendas) in Santa Fe where tourists can purchase virtually anything needed to prepare their own meals, and buy tobacco and alcohol.
At the moment, there are no banks in Santa Fe, and the nearest ATM is in San Francisco. The nearest gasoline/diesel fuelling station is in Santiago.
Santa Fe has a very good health clinic staffed 7 days a week, which also contains a lab, a pharmacy, and a dentist's office as well as ambulance services.
By bus: busses depart from Santiago every 30 minutes. Busses run regularly each day from both David and Panama City (and all points in between) to Santiago.
By car: drive on the Pan American Highway to Santiago and take the northbound turnoff directly beneath the driving overpass that crosses the Pan American highway. Follow this main road for about 56 Km, through several small towns and villages until you arrive in Santa Fe.