“I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.“
This quote by Shakespeare simply describes how I feel about this place.
The San Blas Islands are located in the Caribbean at the east side of the Panama Canal and consists of 365 islands.
After a two hours and 30 minutes drive from Panama City to San Blas, through the Guna Yala Mountains, I arrived at a little port from which small boats depart to the outer Islands.
We floated for about 10 minutes through a small river, surrounded by beautiful and green secondary forest, when we entered the Caribbean. At that moment I was stunned. Hundreds of small islands facing towards me and as I came nearer Franklin Island I could not believe how blue and clean the water was. The coconut palms and the small huts added to the picture. Moreover the people of Guna Yala were most welcoming and friendly hosts.
San Blas is a perfect place to relax and pamper oneself. I snorkeled through shoals of fishes and searched for sea stars. I tanned myself in the sun and played basketball with the locals. The Guna Yalas provide breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The evening and night faded away with a bonfire and some rum. Under the clear starlit sky we counted the stars and listened to music. I felt like Robinson Crusoe stranded on an island. In the morning I was waken up by the locals calling for breakfast by blowing through a huge shell. The days felt so long but in the end it was just short trip to San Blas.
Sadly I had to leave San Blas after two days of relaxation and immersion into paradise to return to Panama City. I will never forget this amazing place and I can highly recommend visiting San Blas to escape a few days from reality.
Please do not hesitate to visit our website www.ecocircuitos.com to find out more information about San Blas or contact us directly at 1-800-830-7142. We are looking forward to organize a trip for you!
By Marc Vedder
Yesterday, Laura, Roberto, Marc Fabio and I went on a site inspection to an indigenous village of the Embera. After a one hour drive from Panama City, we parked our car at an unimposing parking lot next to the street. Until that moment, I was not very impressed of our trip but what came next changed my mind. We walked a couple of minutes to a small river where some interesting looking man waved to us out of a large self-made boat. Their long hair and their varicolored clothing made us realize that they must be our hosts for that day. The Embera Quera Village is a peaceful place, with friendly people, away from the noisy civilization, that can be reached only by boat. From the moment, we went aboard, our time travel begun.
The half – hour boat trip itself was an adventure. We saw a lot of wild animals like monkeys, a lot of birds, tortoises and even a caiman. In my eyes, the most impressive animal was the Jesus-Christ-lizard. As the name suggests, it is able to walk on water. . Once we arrived we were welcomed by the Embera. The women danced and the men greeted us with traditional music played on self-made instruments.
Atilano, the Chief himself, welcomed us and we learned about their culture and life in the village of the Embera- Quera. The Embera were not the only ones who were happy to see us. A cheeky baby monkey and Tony the toucan were also very curious about the new visitors. After a delicious traditional lunch the gardener and medicine man, Miguel Flaco, showed us the rest of the village and explained the curativeness of the different plants. As we walked between the traditional houses, we got a deeper insight of the life of this interesting and friendly people. I really felt like a time traveler when I saw the simple but wonderful way of life. I was deeply impressed to see people who live in such a close communion with nature. It was amazing to see the women dance their traditional dances, accompanied by the man`s instruments. We even got the chance to dance together with them. After the traditional dances we were able to buy some beautiful handmade trappings and jewelry. We learned that 10 % of their earnings are given to their Children`s educational found. By travelling to the Embera I had the chance to support those people and to see an impressive and unusual way of life.
After this experience I really wanted to spend more time in this village with its friendly people. This wonderful day will stay in my mind and in my heart forever. For more information about this tour or others do not hesitate to visit our website www.ecocircuitos.com or contact us directly at 1-800-830-7142 We are looking forward to organize a trip for you!
Almost finishing the high season I was invited to go on one of the tours from EcoCircuitos: This time I was able to go on the Embera Tour. This tour will take you to an indigenous community and this brought me some memories that I will cherish the rest of my life.
We departed from the Gamboa Rainforest Resort to drive to Chagres National Park to enter the boats. Upon arrival at the boat entrance, I met some people of the Embera community that would take us by boat to their small village. The men were dressed in colourful skirts or they were just wearing a loincloth. Although they speak their own language, I understood immediately that they had lots of fun about my height and my blond hair. These people are so friendly and very proud to show us their small village.
The boat trip was an adventure on its own. We werefloating in long tail canoes that took us through the rain wood. Sometimes the water was so low that the men had to push the canoe through the water to continue our journey. During the boat trip we saw some amazing birds and some of us saw a crocodile. We enjoyed the beautiful nature of this area and enjoyed the boatride through the river. The community will make sure that you feel comfortable during your trip.
Once arrived, the community greeted us their own cultural way. They were making music for us and everyone was playing an instrument. Even the little kids were greeting us their original way which made us feel warm and welcome. The guide Fabio explained us about the village and how the huts were build. Furthermore he told us about the nature, the people and their culture. Wehad the opportunity to take a look around at the village and enjoy the friendliness of the community. Furthermore there were some handcrafts for sale and communicate a bit with the community.
The community gave us a presentation about their culture, their way of living and their norms and values, all translated by the guide Fabio. Furthermore they showed us their typical customs and I got inked with Jagua. Thisblack inked is coming from plants that are growingin that area and it will stay on for more or less 2 weeks. The Embera will paint you with this Jagua and you will have a temporarily souvenir.
During the presentation lunch was served. Lots of fresh fruit, platano and fish was served. It was delicious. It think it tasted that good because it was made by the Embera community with care and love. After lunch the Embera women performed their traditional dance and invitedus to dance with them as well. The men played their instruments and it was great to be interactive witha community that is so different from the life style that I am living. I don’t speak their language and they don’t speak my language but we did understand each other.
Furthermore the oldest man from the community and besides that the chief of the community, took us for a shorthike in the rainforest to his medical garden. He explained us about these plants in this garden and he told us thathe has been helping lots of people because of his medical plants. It was very fascinating to listen to his stories and we were able to smell and taste some of his plants. Finally we returned by boat under good care of the Embera to the entrance of Chagres National Park and saidgoodbye to the people of the community. We could not stop waving to each other when we finally drove a way to Panama City. These people will stay in my memory forever.
For more information about the Embera tour, contact EcoCircuitos directly. www.ecocircuitos.com
By Yarelis Campines
Almost finishing the high season Cubitá tours invited us to a Fam-Trip to Azuero Peninsula. I was excited just by reading the itinerary. My family is from Azuero, so I’m passionate of our folklore and culture.
Azuero Peninsula is located in the southern of Panama and provides the best cultural experience. The Carnivals and many festivals are celebrated in Azuero that is conformed for Herrera, Los Santos and Veraguas. The best part is that you have everything close, the historic towns, cultural activities and beaches with crystalline water.
We started our trip departing from Multiplaza, Panama City to Azuero. Fabian our guide was so nice giving us some introduction about all the activities we were going to do. Our first stop was at El Caño Archeological Site which is located in El Caño in the province of Coclé. In El Caño was discovered the most important graves in the last 70 years with many pieces of gold and precious stones. It was called by its discoverer ‘El Dorado de Panamá’.
We were so lucky because we could see this grave with some archaeologists working on it. Nobody can’t take photos but we will have these memories forever.
Then we went to visit two of the oldest churches of America continent with more than 150 years of foundation in Natá and today is stil using. These town are very quiet with a lot of history. Just seeing the houses you almost feel in the 1558 when it was founded the town. At noon Fabian said, the next place was Fonda El Ciruelo to have a typical Panamanian lunch. I definitely have to come back to that Fonda to taste again the best tamales, lechona and biñuelos.
With a great lunch, we departed to Guararé to know some local women who make with their hands the beautiful typical dress of Panamá, ‘La Pollera’. We had a nice moment trying to learn with them and appreciating their arts. Continue visiting the towns, we stopped in the house of Mr. José who with his family work creating some diablicos mask. These masks are used by the local people for festivals. After that we went to La Arena de Chitré where a family prepares the best bread of Azuero Peninsula made in a traditional oven.
After the last stop we depart to know the hotel. Cubitá boutique hotel with a friendly atmosphere and highlighting the typical Panamanian environment.
On Sunday early in the morning we started the day with a good breakfast for then continue our trip to La Hacienda San Isidro located in Pesé in Herrera province to know how two of the Panamanian products are prepared (Ron Abuelo and Seco Herrerano).
Just arriving at the farm we stop being transferred by a traditional wagon with cows that was fascinating!
We learned a lot about these products and enjoy some cocktails prepared with Ron Abuelo.
After this fam-trip we are very glad to help you to organize your trip to the cultural heart of Panama, Azuero Peninsula! For more information about this tour and others, you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
The San Blas Archipelago and surrounding sea are the main attractions in Guna Yala—an indigenous comarca (autonomous territory) stretching more than 200 km (120 miles) along Panama’s northeast coast—but the traditional culture of the Kuna is a close second. The comarca is composed of a thin strip of land dominated by a mountain range called the Serranía de San Blas and the 365 San Blas Islands that dot the coastal waters. Although much of the world still refers to this region by its former name, San Blas, you’ll endear yourself to residents by using the name they give to their home, Guna Yala. Note that you may also see it spelled Kuna Yala, but Guna leaders voted to change the spelling from Kuna to Guna in 2010.
Jeffrey Barnes, STRI short-term fellow from Dawson College in Quebec asked household heads in Panama’s indigenous community of Aligandi if they had Siagwa (cacao), and answers varied “from a simple yes or no, to an enthusiastic demonstration of their hidden stash” of cacao beans; the source ingredient for chocolate. Others showed Barnes a bag of processed cocoa powder.
Barnes found the Guna (or Kuna) people hold cacao in high esteem. It is an essential component of countless ceremonies. But, likely due to plant diseases, consumption of Siagwa beverages has remained low since mid-century. In Aligandi, a Caribbean island community, consumption of locally derived cacao beverages is less than one cup per week.
Barnes’ findings contrast with studies suggesting Guna consume up to four or five cacao beverages daily. This may have been true in the 1950s, but not today, Barnes contents. High consumption of locally derived cacao has been publicized as key to the cardiovascular fitness of the Guna and used to highlight health benefits of chocolate.
In evaluating household consumption of cacao, Barnes proposes a novel method that might help nutritionists to refine their understanding of indigenous diets – a practice that Barnes argues is easier said than done.
“When you travel, you have choices around how to spend your money. You can go to the foreign owned Hilton, or you can seize your vacation as an opportunity to exercise a small form of social justice. You can eat at local restaurants, stay at hotels owned by locals, and go on tours run by people who are in and of the place you’re visiting.”
This paragraph, an excerpt from the very thoughtful article Tourism as Direct Trade, could barely be expressed any better.
Using local resources when you travel is one of the key essentials of responsible tourism. It not only helps local communities sustain themselves, it can also encourage them to value their traditions more – after all, the tradition is a big part of what we come to see.
And, most importantly, if you truly want to get to know a country, a people, a community, the only way to go is to meet the locals. So stay with the locals, take a local guide (he knows all the secret spots your travel agent at home has never heard of), and try the local food.
Who would be better to show you a country than the people who live there, who love it, and who care about its preservation, because they know their children will grow up there? And who would be better off to take your tourist dollars than the people whose land you walk on, whose hospitality you enjoy?
Choose EcoCircuitos Panama on your next trip to this Central America destination and discover why sustainable tourism is the way of the adventure now. We want to offer unique authentic experience by a local team of Panamanians. Contact us today! http://www.ecocircuitos.com
By Louie Celerier
Embera Indian Village, Chagres River
Sunday, March 6 Leaving the hotel at 8 AM with the EcoCircuitos guide, we headed for the Chagres River above Madden Dam. We were headed to one of the Embera Indian villages on the shores of the Chagres River. The Chagres River and its water shed is, as you know, the key to the operation of the locks of the Canal. It feeds Gatun Lake which provides the reservoir of water that allows ships to be raised 85 feet above sea level to transit across the isthmus. But, also, much history flows through this river: First, as a route for the Spanish “Las Cruces Trail” on which gold from Peru was carried from Panama City to the banks of the upper Chagres and floated down to Fort San Lorenzo. From there it was transferred to the Portobello Customs House where it was stored until the Spanish Galleons would arrive from Spain. The other route to Portobello, the “El Camino Real”, was a land trail all the way from Panama to the Atlantic port. Later, the Chagres route was used, in reverse, by the “Forty-niners” on their way to the Pacific and the California gold fields. (How many found their resting place on its banks?) Therefore, I was very glad to be able to go up this river, in an Indian dug-out canoe (with outboard, of course), to the lower of three Embera Indian villages on the banks of the river. This area is a new National Park. Three Indian villages have been created, for the benefit of tourist, by bringing Indians from the Embera tribes to live at these settlements by the shores of the river. As their chief explained, they are mostly young people now, but in time they will be representative of a typical Indian community. They live according to their customs, providing an insight of their history and way of life to the tourist that cannot venture into the jungles of Darien. At any rate, this type of trip should be made with a group of not less that 20 as otherwise, the Indians do not get into the full spirit of their “show”. As it happened, the other two Indian villages were full for that day and we had to visit the lower village all by ourselves, just two of us. The group ahead of us, on the next village consisted of 130 and they had a ball. But we did learn much about their way of life and were able to poke out heads into their village, even helping them saw some lumber they were needing for a new “privy”. On leaving the village, we went up river for a better view of the Chagres. Being dry season, it was not easy and, running short of gasoline, we were forced to turn back. But we got to see more of this majestic river which has always played such an important part in the history of Panama. And the views were beautiful as well as menacing. Back in the city that night, we went to dinner at El Panama Hotel again and had another excellent meal. Remember how we would go there after the school dances? We would go to the ballroom at the top floor, which would also open into a terrace, and dance until midnight. The view of the bay of Panama, with the flickering lights of the fishing boats, was always beautiful and romantic. What a long time ago that was!
Every Monday we publish part of Louis Celerier’s mesmerizing tale of how he rediscovered the country of his childhood. Subscribe to this blog or follow us on Facebook to make sure not to miss anything!
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Join one of our small group tours on January 17-21 and March 6-10, 2013 that we are doing in partnership with a U.S. Tour Operator in Charlotte, NC. The tour includes a full range of activities to take you through five centuries of Panamanian history as an international trade crossroad. View details at: