Don’t listen to your guidebook when it suggests skipping archaeological site Sitio Barriles located just outside the small town of Volcán. If you are in the Boquete or David area, I suggest making time for one of the most interesting archaeological sites I have seen in Panama. One can tour the area on their own, but I suggest paying $3 for a guided tour in English or Spanish by Edna Landau, whose family has lived on the property since they settled here from California in the early 1900’s to raise coffee. (The site is well kept by Edna’s family and not funded by the Panamanian government.)
While preparing the earth for planting, the family discovered stones with carvings, pottery, and tools that led to a larger exploration of the area by archaeologists. The area is thought to have been an important town and ceremonial site for a culture that flourished here between 300-600 B.C. From artifacts such as human sized statues that have been unearthed, the people who lived here are thought to have had African or Asian ancestors.
An ancient tomb has been discovered on the premises with urns that held cremated ashes. One can actually walk down three meters into the tomb and see pottery and urns still encased in the earthen walls. Many of the larger statues and ceremonial tables can be seen in the Reina Torres de Araúz Museum in Panama City, while a plethora of artifacts still remain housed in an on-site museum. One of the most fascinating pieces sits exposed to the elements as it has for thousands of years: a magnetic stone engraved with a map of the area. The map has been studied using GPS technology and shows to be an accurate diagrammatic representation of the site’s situation in relation to Volcán Baru, other ancient towns, and both coasts.
The guided tour can last from 45 minutes to two hours. Edna is the granddaughter of one of the original settlers and gives a friendly and very thorough tour of the archaeological site as well as the grounds where tropical plants from around the world thrive. There is soon to be a restaurant on the premises, but meanwhile a nice offering of homemade cheese, lemon or papaya preserves, and duros are available.
Today, metaphysical groups come to Barriles to experience its energy, which is said to be better than that of Machu Picchu. It is believed that this ancient culture was put to an end by several eruptions from Volcán Baru located just 16 kilometers away
The area is simply magical and holds a feeling of peace. Bring a swimsuit if you are interested in taking a dip in the cool spring that leads to a stream flowing uphill for over one kilometer to the Chiriqui River. Also bring a water bottle to fill from the spring that is the perfect temperature for drinking and is 99% pure water.
To get there, go through the center of Volcán on the road to Rio Sereno. There’s a blue sign on the left, just before the Ortega Panderia. Turn left and keep going for about 6 kilomenters. The entrance to Sitio Barriles is on the right.
Contact info for Sitio Barilles (open form sunup to sundown):
Edna Landau Telephone: 507-6575-1828
Jose Landau Telephone: 507-6607-5438