For a lot of young backpackers, it can feel like the golden age of backpacking is over and we missed out on the opportunity to truly get off the grid and find those hidden places and experiences that make backpacking so worthwhile. So many hostels these days can seem the same, regardless of the country that they’re located in. But, for those of us who aren’t satisfied with the run-of-the-mill hostel and tour experience, the Lost and Found Hostel is every bit as unique, authentic, and natural as we could possibly hope.
When you make the hike up to the Lost and Found Hostel, you immediately feel like you’ve been let in on a well-kept secret. Located high up in the mountains of Panama’s Chiriqui province, the hostel itself is the perfect combination of rugged and cultivated. On all sides of the hostel is untouched jungle and all of the incredible wildlife that comes with it. At times, you may find yourself surrounded by butterflies or hummingbirds, feeling as if you’ve just been transported into a scene from Planet Earth or even Disney’s Fantasia. The trails that lead around the hostel feature gardens full of vibrantly colored local plants and viewpoints where you can admire the gorgeous vistas of the surrounding terrain and Volcan Baru, an active volcano across the valley.
The overall ambiance at the hostel is sincere and welcoming. This is not a place where you’ll struggle to find friends, or have someone shrug you off in favor of staring at their phone screen. Upon walking into the Lost and Found Hostel, you’ll probably run into a group of travelers chatting in the common area or just returning from a hike, all willing to invite you into their group and buddy up with you for all of the hostel’s many activities. The staff, most of which are from the surrounding town of Valle de la Mina, are equally as friendly and accommodating.
If you find yourself traveling through Panama, stopping at the Lost and Found Hostel is an absolute must. Here’s what makes this place so great:
Hidden in Plain Sight
The majority of travelers in Panama start their journey in Panama City and then make their way west over to the Caribbean Islands of Bocas del Toro. You can either fly from one location to the other, or you can go by bus or private van. If you find yourself driving between these two destinations, you’ll inevitably end up on Route 1, or the Pan-American Highway. As you near the city of David, one of the larger cities in the country, you’ll see a group of inconspicuous yellow buildings hidden up in a mountain on the side of the road. Congratulations, you’ve just found the Lost and Found Hostel.
The fact that the Lost and Found Hostel is located right along the Pan-American Highway makes it the perfect place to stop for a night or two and break up the long bus ride from Panama City to Bocas del Toro. And because the Lost and Found Hostel is still relatively off-the-beaten-path, it offers the perfect opportunity to depart from the normal tourist route for a little while.
To get to the hostel, you should get on a bus that goes from Panama City to David, or vice-versa. Once you’re on the bus, you should tell the driver that you’re going to the Lost and Found. All of the locals along this bus route know about the hostel, so they’ll know exactly where to take you. Then when they drop you off and you see the big “Lost and Found Hostel” sign on the side of the road, you’ll have to make a 15-or-so-minute hike up to the actual hostel. A hostel that you have to hike to get to? Yeah, this is a place for those who truly embody the spirit of wanderlust.
The Lost and Found Story
The Lost and Found Hostel was created by two Canadian friends, Andrew and Patrick, who met each other while teaching English in Korea. They shared a vision to create a hostel where backpackers could get away from the hustle and bustle of the urban world and connect with each other and their environment with minimal outside distractions. The Lost and Found is a place that promotes harmony with nature, creativity, and self-expression in all forms, and a welcoming environment for people from all walks of life.
The hostel has humble beginnings. It started as just a single building with enough room to accommodate just a few people; however, with an attitude of constant improvement, the owners were able to build the Lost and Found Hostel up to its current glory. Today, the hostel features several comfortable dorm buildings, a common area, a recreation room, a guest kitchen, a fully staffed restaurant, a bar, and several observation towers. And, of course, one of the hostel’s biggest assets is the network of hiking trails that weave through waterfalls, jungle passes, and up to some breathtaking viewpoints.
Things to Do At the Lost and Found Hostel
It’s easy to pass time at the Lost and Found Hostel sitting around, drinking a Balboa beer and chatting with the other guests. There are plenty of hammocks to relax in, murals to admire painted by past volunteers, and a soothing sound of the swaying jungle leaves all around you. However, for the more active traveler, the hostel also has a ton of different activities and tours that will make your Lost and Found experience even better.
Horseback Riding Tour
If you want to get an authentic experience of what life is like on a Panamanian farm, the Lost and Found’s horseback riding tour is a great way to do so. Fear not if you’re not experienced on horseback, the lovely family that leads the tour will help you on and off the horse and will make sure that your trusty steed trots along at a leisurely pace.
The tour takes you through the family’s farm, where you can learn about how subsistence agriculture in Panama’s Chiriqui province works. The tour also includes an authentic Panamanian lunch in the family’s dining room followed by an incredible ride along the ridges of Chiriqui’s mountains. The views that you get along this tour are sure to stick with you for the rest of your life.
The Lost and Found’s coffee tour is one of the best ways to experience the famous geisha coffee from the Chiriqui Highlands, which is renowned all over the world for its smooth and earthy taste. The tour takes you to a farm owned and operated by Don Cune (a local legend and icon among Lost and Found visitors), who takes you around the farm and even allows you to take part in the coffee production process.
The tour ends with a beautiful lunch prepared by Don Cune himself which features as much coffee as you can drink, homemade queso fresco, fruits, and honey produced right on the farm, and the classic Panamanian staple foods rice and lentils.
Some of the hostel’s most unique attractions are the treasure hunts, which are based on the Lost and Found novel, written by one of the hostel’s owners. One of the treasure hunts, known as Indiana Jones, takes you through the jungle where you hike around and search for clues to solve mysteries based on local lore.
The other treasure hunt, which goes by the name Sherlock Holmes, takes you around the hostel grounds and inside the hostel buildings. While going through this treasure hunt, you’ll realize that there’s a lot more than meets the eye at the Lost and Found Hostel. Many of the paintings, symbols, and features around the hostel transform into integral clues to unlocking hidden secrets. For those with a fascination with mystery and adventure, the Lost and Found’s treasure hunts will keep you entertained for days.
Celestine Waterfall and Gualaca Canyon
The hostel also offers day trips to two incredible natural formations in the surrounding area, Gualaca Canyon and Celestine Waterfall. Visitors can go swimming at Gualaca Canyon, get some food from the local vendors in the area, practice yoga with one of the Lost and Found’s yoga instructors, or just lounge out on the rocks and soak up some sun.
Celestine Waterfall is an impressive cascade that’s easy to access from the road and a perfect place to snap some awe-inspiring pictures in the jungle. For either trip, you can simply sign up at the Lost and Found’s front desk and they’ll provide you with transportation.
The Jungle Lounge
After a long day of hiking, treasure hunting, or relaxing in a hammock, you can head over to the Lost and Found’s on-site bar, the Jungle Lounge. There you can continue to socialize with the other guests at the hostel and enjoy cheap drinks and some fun bar games like beer pong or giant Jenga. It’s the perfect place to interact with other backpackers from all different parts of the world, to talk to the owners about the history of the hostel, or to chat with the Panamanian staff