Chiriqui River Rafting – Involving the indigenous community.

We at EcoCircuitos are always very concerned about offering products that do not only adhere to the best quality standards but that also benefit the local communities of Panama.  Our motto is a responsible tour operator is “enhancing the traveler’s experience through local talents”. Today I would like to introduce you to an example of this philosophy:

For our river rafting tours we are working together with the only rafting provider in Chiriqui that employs only indigenous rafting guides, and therefore provides the members of the Ngobe Bugle tribe with a great opportunity for employment and development.

The Ngobe Bugle are the most populous indigenous group in Panama, and their territory encompasses an area greater than the size of the province of Chiriqui. Employment opportunities within the Comarca are low, and many Ngobe-Bugle work in the farms and plantations of Chiriqui.

Working as guides for Chiriqui River Rafting is a great opportunity for them to find stable and respectable employment on their own land.

“We started exploring the rivers in the Ngobe Bugle territory a few years ago, and when we found they were great for rafting, it just seemed natural to train members of the community there as guides.” Says Ian Sanchez of the Rafting Company.

The guides learn a lot more than just rafting: English skills, driving a car, and the necessity of protecting their environment are just some of the other things they pick up during their training.

The economic benefits the rafting business on the rivers of the reserve have another positive side effect: They provide a strong argument against the building of dams, which is something the Ngobe Bugle have been opposing for years already.

Tourism brings their communities a viable option to improve their living situations through secure employment and already after three years the progress is remarkable.

Eusebio was one of the first indigenous guides to train with the rafting company. Today he also does other tours, kayaking and hiking, he is learning to drive a car, and he studies tourism at the university. He trains other members of the community as rafting guides, and he will certainly play a role in the further development of the community and its tourism offer.

Working as a guide, as someone who is trained in a form of tourism that brings real money, and as someone who knows about Ecotourism, and the whole industry, that brings tourism for the indigenous community to a different level. It helps the community move from being an attraction to becoming professionals, to find a sustainable form of supporting themselves through tourism.

And the rafters get the best part of the deal too: The rivers on the Ngobe Bugle Comarca are perfect for rafting, but remote enough that your group will be the only one around, and the guides who grew up around them know them like none other.

This way, our travelers can be sure to get the best rafting experience to be had in Panama, while at the same time supporting the indigenous people of Panama.

Learn more about our rafting tours at


by Meret Schueschke

3 thoughts on “Chiriqui River Rafting – Involving the indigenous community.

  • That is so cool! I love that this provides employment to locals as well as connecting them with additional training. On top of it, they’re learning to be stewards of their environment. What a great idea.

  • UNESCO speaks of the indigenous Teribe residing in Amistad. However, my visits to Amistad’s Rio Teribe in 2007 revealed a tribe calling itself the Naso , a monarchy governed by a King. The Spanish likely called the tribe by the name of the river ‘Teribe’ which runs through the 7 Naso villages. The Naso are small tribe of 3,500 people living in villages connected by footpaths. The river provides for the primary traffic route to the Caribbean coast. Naso use rafts to trade fruit such as cacao in Bocas del Toro for the few items they do not produce in the rainforest themselves, such as machetes. I had the pleasure of meeting a university professor who has recently launched an eco-lodge to help the Naso capitalize on adventure tourism opportunities. It is called Wekso.

    • This indigenous group you are talking about is alternately called Naso, Teribe, or Tjër Di, they are Panama’s smallest indigenous group. All together Panama has seven distinct indigenous cultures who are all starting to support their incomes through sustainably managed tourism, through homestay options or lodges owned by indigenous communities as well as tour guiding and day tours, as in this example here. Please do contact us ( if you’d like to know more about this topic and how we help support local communities through tourism!

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