Expedition to Darien and Guna Yala

Adventure, Conservation and Education

By Raffaele Capomolla

The Darien – A region of Panama, that is still unexplored, with an incredible biodiversity, stunning wildlife and a breathtaking beauty. The Darien is not just a place to go and see, but place you will admire, where you will literally feel the nature, which will offer you an unforgettable experience. I had the chance to accompany a group of biology students from the St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas through an adventure in Panama’s treasure of wildlife. The adventure started very early in the morning in Panama City, where we were picked up for a long drive to El Real in the Region of Darien. Once arrived there, we had to hike for 2 hours until we arrive to place called “Rancho Frio”, where we would overnight in tents and hammocks, exposed to nature, in the middle of this beautiful, virgin rainforest. The next day we went on a trail in the area, which beat all our expectations – we saw the impressive harpy eagle, a powerful and very beautiful prey bird. To finish this great trail our extraordinary local guides took us to a wonderful waterfall to have a swim and eat a snack in the middle of nature. We were impressed of what the Darien gave us to see; amazing birds, snakes, insects and amphibians. The region of the Darien is also habitat of the Jaguars; unfortunately, we didn’t see them, but that’s nature is – unpredictable.

Our next part of the trip was an incredible, cultural experience. We went to the Mogue indigenous community, where the “Embera” have their houses made of wood. We literally got to experience their way of living, their old traditions, their typical food and their language. We were impressed of the simplicity of their lives, with no electricity, no internet, just using the nature in a sustainable way.  I was touched of the answer of an Embera when I asked him: “How much meat do you eat? Do you kill animals for food every day?” And he replies: No, because if we kill a lot of animals in a short time, we won’t have enough”. It seems ridiculous, but this is something a lot of people nowadays still don’t realize – Such a simple and obvious answer, but too many people still continue to eat meat every day. We stayed a night in one of those rustic but very authentic houses of the Embera.

Guna Yala, San Blas Cultural Expedition

The last part of our trip was in the beautiful Archipelago of San Blas, called “Kuna Yala” in indigenous language. Not only we enjoyed the typical Caribbean, crystal-clear waters of the Atlantic ocean, but also the culture of this indigenous community, which had to fight a lot for their territory. We slept in comfortable, rustic cabanas and had fresh seafood every day. The Kunas are very organized and very proud of their culture, which they always transmit to future generations. I was picking up a coconut that fell from a palm tree and was first a little confused when a Kuna asked me to pay for the coconut I just found on the sand. But then I understood as he explained to me that the coconut is a very important and sacred object in their daily lives, because the coconut is still used as a payment method for goods. We had then the chance to visit the village and the Museum of the Kunas, where Mister Delfino explained us everything about the history, the culture and traditions of the kunas.

If you are planning to come to Panama, don’t miss the chance to visit the incredible, natural beauty of the Darien and the marvelous clear waters of San Blas. You will have it all in one – Nature, Culture and Adventure! The EcoCircuitos Team and our naturalist guides will be happy to organize this adventure for you. Just contact us!

info@ecocircuitos.com or annie@ecocircuitos.com

Tips for your trip to Guna Yala / San Blas

By Juliette Darmon

Before going to San Blas some precautions have to be taken.

The different Caribbean islands and beaches are wonderful but you have to be ready for a rustic experience!

An organized tour with a company is almost compulsory and going with a guide is really recommended.

A guide will exactly know where to go and which island is to see for the kind of experience you are looking for.  As San Blas is a big archipelago of 365 islands, not all the islands are recommended to visit. Some islands are more used to host people than other ones.

To sleep three options are possible, according to your expectations:

  • Sailing the Archipelago: amazing experience on board, many stops to different islands, many activities like snorkeling, discovery of the Kuna/Guna communities, local lunch, authentic coco directly picked from coconut trees in front of your eyes, diner on boat and an excellent night! If you are looking for both comfort and adventure, then this is your option!

To take: enough cash (without counting the nights’ boat: $100 max each for two nights/ three days, better to take more than less just in case. Also useful for some Kuna/Guna handcrafted products to buy on the islands), a mosquito spray, toilet paper just in case, shower gel and shampoo, sun cream, towel and camera/ gopro of course!

  • Cabins or lodges on islands: More rustic than the boat, a cabin on these islands is most of the time built on wood or bamboos, and you should take a mosquito net with you to protect from mosquitos and insects of the island.

TIPS: you are on the spot and immersed in Kuna/Guna culture but be ready to live a rustic experience.   Do not be sensitive to smells.

Be sure in which island you will go before in order to be prepared for the experience you are going to live: Some are more touristic (like Perro Chico) than others which are deserts (like Chichime).

To take: enough cash ($100 max each for two nights/ three days, better to take more than less just in case. Also useful for some Kuna handcrafted products to buy on the island), a mosquito net, mosquito spray, toilet paper, shower gel and shampoo, sunglasses and high protection sun cream (the sun is really hard in the tropics), hat, towel, snacks and water, raincoat and camera/ gopro of course! Better to wear long clothes during the night.

  • Camping: Do not try if you are not experienced because you would not be ready for this kind of adventure.  Not recommended for solo travelers.

More than rustic, you will camp in the middle of the island, and be ready to live like indigenous in some islands.    Do not be sensitive to smells.

Be sure in which island you will go before in order to be prepared for the experience you are going to live. Some are more touristic (like Perro Chico) than others which are really deserts (like Chichime).

To take: enough cash ($150/ $180 max each for two nights/ three days, better to take more than less just in case. Also useful for some Kuna handcrafted products to buy on the islands), a mosquito net, mosquito spray, toilet paper, shower gel and shampoo, sunglasses and high protection sun cream (the sun is really hard in the tropics), hat, towel, snacks and water, raincoat, tends and special roof for rain, inflatable mattress, blanket, flashlight and camera/ gopro of course! Better to wear long clothes during the night.

Booking with a tour operator is also really advised concerning the prices. Kuna/Guna communities are not always reliable and trusted people, as they can tell you a price at the beginning and asking you the triple at the end.

That’s why we really recommend you to do not adventure yourself alone in San Blas, most of all if you are not experienced and prepared for this kind of experience because you could be not ready for it.

Book a tour with us and we will take care of you!  contact us at info@ecocircuitos.com

 

Panama Review from Zach and Teresa

We have many visitors experiencing Panama with us every year and we chose this beautiful post to share with you in our blog.  Below you will find the review from  Zach and Teresa in Panama.  They visited us from   Portland Oregon from December 21 to January 11, 2016.

EcoCircuitos Review by Zack and Teresa

This not being my first trip to Panama, I wanted to expand my experience and broaden the locations I would visit beyond the standard tourist path.  Flying into Panama City, I decided to revisit the Panama Viejo site because much had changed since I last visited.  The ruin’s infrastructure had become greatly informative with illustrative information signs and anyone without a guide would have a welcoming and historical visit. The guide from Ecocircuitos provided great historical information on the biography of adventurous nuns who lived in the convents, while also providing a contemporary scope on the way the site transforms for concerts and celebrations in the thriving metropolitan city. 

Panama City is growing and its growing fast with food, art and transportation.  A new Metro Rail will get you to the hot upcoming locations without the wait of traffic, but for a direct journey Uber is at your fingertips letting you skirt past any language barriers.  After the seeing castle ruins the guide took me over to Casco Viejo to check out the old Panama City neighbor hood full of beautiful churches and great places to grab a drink or a bite to eat. At Tántalo Hotel, I tried a delicious smoked chorizo stuffed calamari and some plantains with pulled pork.  Continuing to wander around finding great mojitos and gelato was an easy task.  Strolling along the narrow streets and wandered around the area’s waterfront to marvel at the city skyline was a great way to end a full day in the city.

Although the Boquete highlands is a common destination for the coffee obsessed and those needing a break from the heat of the country, Ecocircuitos allowed me to get a memorable and intimate experience through small organic coffee farms.  I didn’t have a huge understanding of coffee farming but one tour took me from growing the plants including the famous Geisha plant to processing and roasting the beans using recycled farm equipment and an old Jeep.  The guide was informative with lighthearted jokes, and since he worked on the farm as a young boy he had a true passion for his explanations.  The tour really helped explain how delicate the coffee plant from the climate, to its elevation and even the chemicals on your body.  The coffee was great to taste and the town was full of generous and kind hearted individuals.  Boquete also offered an abundance of wildlife and rigorous hikes through the numerous microclimates and if you were tired of drinking coffee the was a nice micro brewery offering a variety of beers full of flavor.   

Traveling to Guna Yala? the San Blas islands?

Our Guna Yala Expedition  involves hiking, camping, dugout boat and snorkeling.  Below some information for those interested in this amazing adventure.

All participants must sign a Waiver and Release Form before the trip begins.

MEDICAL MATTERS
The trip leader is responsible for the safety of all trip members and he or she may withdraw or disqualify a trip member in the field if anyone’s safety is jeopardized. Please be aware that hospital facilities for serious medical problems may at times be a long way away, that a doctor may not always be available, and that evacuation can be delayed, complicated and expensive.
Remember that EcoCircuitos, S.A. is not a medical authority and that we can only give you general information, which may not be accurate by the time you travel. You should discuss with your physician, local health department.

Immunizations
No immunizations are required at this time to enter Panama. The standard recommended immunizations currently are:
Insect repellent is a very essential part of preventing insect-born diseases, and you must bring your own personal supply.
We advise you to wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants in the early morning and early evening hours is also a good precaution against insect bites.

PERSONAL MEDICAL KIT
We suggest you to bring a basic first aid kit for emergencies, bring your own personal first aid supplies with any medications you may need. Also we advise you to bring extra prescription medicine in case of an emergency.

MONEY MATTERS
You won’t need to take a large amount of money on the trip –enough for any souvenirs, drinks and incidental items. Anywhere from $100 to $300 should be adequate for incidentals and souvenirs, depending on how much shopping you like to do, plus some money for staff tips.

GRATUITIES
It is customary in Panama to tip the staffs that have assisted you on the trip. Trip members can contribute toward a group tip to be share among cooks, camp staff, and local guides. Your trip leader will give you more guidelines on how to tip the staff. Tipping is at your own discretion and you are under no obligation to tip. In cities and in larger country hotels, lodges, restaurants, and shops, you can use credit cards to charge purchases such as accommodations, food, and clothing. American Express, Visa, MasterCard, and Diner’s Club are accepted. You can also use your credit card or ATM card to withdraw funds from participating banks in Panama. Outside of cities it may be difficult to find an ATM or use credit cards.

WEATHER & CLIMATE
The days in the Kuna Yala are normally sunny and hot, with temperatures between 75º and 95º Fahrenheit and occasional high humidity. Nights are comfortably cool with temperatures in 70s and 80s. In the Caribbean it can get fairly windy, causing wind directions to change constantly. In the event of high winds and stormy conditions in could be necessary to change our itinerary.
During the Rainy Season between May thru December, storms and heavy rain are possible.

LUGGAGE, CLOTHING & TRAVEL ACCESSORIES
Try to travel as light as possible and take only the essentials. Excess baggage can be a burden to you and to our support personnel. Also keep in mind; there are limits on how much your duffel and daypack can weigh (25 lbs. for the duffel and 10 pounds for the daypack) because of weight restrictions on the domestic flights within Panama.

LUGGAGE
• Duffel bag. We advise that you bring one duffel bag for your gear, and we suggest a size of about 14” x 30” or 15” x 36” with a lock. Make sure your duffel is made of a sturdy material. “When you fly, always bring in your carry-on bag all
irreplaceable items, such as cameras, medications, spare eyeglasses and important papers.”
• Daypack. It should have a capacity of 1500 to 2000 cubic inches and can double as your carry-on bag.
• Small waterproof dry bag to carry personal items (camera, etc.) while on board the kayaks.

CLOTHING
In this tropical journey you will be exposed to sun, wind, and saltwater. Lightweight cotton clothes are suitable for warm weather and are recommended on this trip. Light clothing is truly all that is considered necessary (long sleeves are suggested for sun protection during kayaking). A light covering (cotton sleeping bag liner or silk or fleece bivy) is adequate for a comfortable sleep. Plastic garbage bags are recommended as liners for your dry bag as added protection.
Note: While in communities, women should dress modestly wearing long pants or sarongs and sleeves (no bikinis, tank tops or short shorts) out of respect for the locals.

TRAVEL ACCESSORIES
Pack based on expected weather conditions and weight restrictions for you your luggage.
• Regular underwear. Synthetics are easier to wash and dry.
• Long-sleeved shirt. Short –sleeved synthetic and cotton T-shirts. Lightweight lycra top or “skin” for sun protection while snorkeling.
• Full-length pants, preferably of quick-drying synthetic fabric. Hiking shorts, preferable or a synthetic fabric.
• Sun Hat with wide brim, preferably with chinstrap to keep it from blowing off. Bandanna. It will keep your neck from getting sunburned and can double as a hand towel.
• Lightweight Gore-Tex rain/wind parka.
• A small umbrella is optional (lightweight and collapsible – good for sun and rain protection).
• Athletic socks (synthetic for easy washing and drying) that is suitable for your walking shoes. You should bring along a couple of extra long socks so that pants can be tucked into them (e.g. for when encountering sand fleas).
• Comfortable walking shoes with good ankle support and good traction, or lightweight hiking boots.
• Water sandals with a strap, or Neoprene Kayaking slippers such as Aqua socks.
• Swimsuit. A change of bathing suits is recommended to avoid salt-water rash.
• Cotton or silk bivy bag or sleeping bag liner.
• Water bottle, 1- or 1.5-quart capacity. Make sure it is leak-proof, heavy-duty plastic.
• Synthetic chamois towel and additional small tower (one for salt and one for fresh water).
• Toiletry kit – soap, toothbrush, and so on.
• Insect repellent. It’s important that you bring an ample supply of good quality repellent.
• Ace bandage or brace if you’re prone to sore knees or ankles.
• Sunglasses.
• Spare pair of prescription glasses, prescription sunglasses, or contact lenses. (Attention
contact lens wearers: you will encounter lots of dust and sand — plan to wear glasses
some of the time).
• Sunscreen and lip protection with at least SPF 15 rating.
• Small flashlight or headlamp with spare batteries. A headlamp is handy for reading in your tent.
• Hand sanitizer or disposable pre-moistened towelettes for quick hand washing and hygiene.
• Plastic bags of various sizes for keeping things sorted out in your duffel. Zip-lock bags work well. (
• Snorkeling mask (please don’t bring fins – they are not necessary, they destroy the reef, and take up valuable space).
• Earplugs for noisy roosters, crashing waves on the beach, etc.
• 30-foot, three-millimeter thick, nylon cords to hang clothes to dry.
• Talcum powder, to prevent salt-water rash.
OPTIONAL TRAVEL ACCESSORIES
• Washcloth
• Reading and writing material
• Binoculars
• Your favorite snack food. The community will provide plenty of excellent food on the trip, but you might want to bring along your favorite snack food.

Electricity
The 120V, 60Hz system works in Panama. Sockets are normally the flat two-pin variety (like in the US), but can vary. We still recommend you to bring a converter and plug adapters if you are planning to use a hairdryer or an electric shaver.

Time Zones
The Republic of Panama is on Greenwich Mean Time minus five hours. Panama City is the same time as New York and 3 hours ahead of California. Then with daylight savings time, Panama is the same as Central time.

Communications
Fax machines and telephones are available at most hotels in the capital. In some of the Kuna Yala communities you will have a phone; at times they do not function.

Cross Cultural Issues
While traveling in a foreign country you must remember that you are a visitor/guest and try your best to become accustomed to the local culture and customs. English is spoken in larger cities, but as you travel further away from these cities you will find there are very few people who speak English. If you are having any difficulties with communicating, ask your guide for
assistance. Also at times it is common for events to take place in a foreign country that are different from your personal beliefs. It is important to have patience and respect the local culture; these are key elements for a successful and inspiring experience.

Sailing in the San Blas Island, the Guna Archipelago

San Blas Archipelago, also known as the region of Guna/Kuna Yala, is formed by 365 coral islands and remains one of the best-kept secrets in the Caribbean for sailing charter. The best and most privileged way to discover San Blas is by sailing among its white sand islands and beautiful turquoise waters. Come on board and discover it with us!

Day 1: Arrival to El Porvenir in San Blas at 6:35 in the morning. We will pick them up for embarkation on our sailboat to start the charter. We will sail to Cayo Limon. Snorkel on a sunken ship covered in multicoloured coral and surrounded by crystal clear waters. Anchor at this idyllic spot to enjoy sunset and spend the night.

Day 2: After breakfast, we set sail to Salardup. Stroll on a small island, inhabited only by a Kuna family in charge of the cocunut palms. Swim and snorkel among the nicest coral reefs. Delicious fresh fish and seafood barbecue aboard.

Day 3: We will pull up the anchor and set sail to Coco Bandero, a group of extremely scenic islands, described by many, as the most beautiful in all of San Blas, with their white sand beaches and pristine waters.

Day 4: We will set sail at noon and enjoy a couple of hours of sailing among the islands of San Blas, we may fish on our way to Wichuwuala, where we will visit a small Kuna villag to discover their traditions and craftworks.

 Day 5: Guest’s disembark soon in the morning in El Porvenir, to take the flight back to Panama City.

 Note: Itinerary may be adapted by the skipper to weather conditions and, as far as possible, to the guests’ preferences.

Price per person: $740.00 for a minimum of 4 passengers traveling together.

Prices include:

– Rental of the boat with crew

– Boat and passenger’s insurance

– Fuel and water tanks

– Sheets

– Dinghy with outboard engine

– Snorkeling gear

– Fishing gear

– Meals on board based on fish, seafood, fresh local vegetables and fruits

– Drinks on board in reasonable consumption (water, sodas, fruit juices, beer, wine

and local rum)

 

Prices do not include:

– Fly tickets and transfers to San Blas

– All expenses outside the boat

– Local taxes: 10 USD per person approx.

 

Some suggestions:

Climate:

– Tropical weather, below the Caribbean hurricane zone, with temperatures between

28 and 33ºC (80-90ºF). Seawater temperature around 28ºC (82ºF)

 

What to bring:

– We recommend to pack lightly in soft luggage for storage reasons. Most of our

guests tend to pack more than they end up using. Life on board is casual, so bring

some shorts, summer cotton clothes, a long sleeve shirt and long pants, bathing suit

and towel, cap or hat, sunglasses, a light rain jacket, sandals or reef runners and sun

protection.

San Blas Islands Experience in One day

“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

 

Day Adventure and Cruise arrival in San Blas with EcoCircuitos

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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.

On January 13th we had the visit of the Variety Voyager small Cruise Ship to the islands of San Blas and EcoCircuitos Panama organize a day of adventures with our team and our local guna guides.  For more information of day tours, mini groups and incentives, please contact us at info@ecocircuitos.com