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

EcoCircuitos against Plastic

EcoCircuitos Panama  in conjunction with our international wholesalers is proud to announce that we sign the TAP plea and we encourage our clients to use bottles on their trips!  Let´s work together for a safer and greener planet!!  We will provide stainless steel, PBA water bottles.  Join us in the fight against plastic!

We provide our clients with a stainless Steel PBA free water bottle as a positive solution to plastic water bottles. A percentage of all sales go support the Panamanian Foundation for Sustainable Tourism which supports conservation, education and rural tourism projects throughout Panama. 

CLEAN WATER– We all know we can’t drink the water in developing countries because it might make us sick from any number of microscopic critters which could cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps or worse. Most people buy bottled water which has huge environmental impacts as well as being expensive and possibly unhealthy. What to do?

Travel prepared to clean your own water or use water in containers provided by hotels and operators if they have it. WHY?

  • To avoid creating a trail of plastic water bottles everywhere you go
  • To ensure the safety and supply of your water
  • To save money and time

IT’S EASY: There are many bottles you can choose from. We love Liberty Bottles.

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For more information go to TAP www.travelersagainstplastic.org . Please consider signing the pledge not to use plastic water bottles while traveling. And then be the change you want to see in the world.

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 Why bother?

Better for the environment

  • 24 million gallons of oil are needed to produce a billion plastic bottles.
  • Plastic bottles take 700 years to begin composting.
  • 90% of the trash in the ocean is from plastic.
  • Eighty-six percent of single-use plastic bottles become landfill or litter in the US.
  • PET is made from crude oil. PET bottles produce toxic emissions at rates of 100 times that of glass.

Cheaper                                                                                                                         

  • Bottled water can cost as much $10 per gallon. We are paying 2 to 4 times the cost of gasoline for a product that is virtually free.
  • If tap water cost the same as the cheapest bottled, monthly water bills would come to $9,000.

Health

  • Antimony, which is found in PET plastic bottles, in small doses can cause dizziness and depression; in larger doses it can cause nausea, vomiting and death.
  • This is increased by storage in heated areas. Where was your bottle of water before you got it?

DO THE MATH

In the first two months of 2012, 8.1 million U.S. citizens traveled abroad according to data released by the U.S. Office of Travel & Tourism Industries.

8.1 million travelers over two months =48.6 million a year (estimated)

3 bottles a day for one 2 week trip= over 3.4 billion plastic water bottles used.

Reuse bottles at home as well
Three corporations dominate the bottled water market in the US. Pepsi has 13% of the market and Coke has 11%, both of which resell treated tap water, by putting it through an energy intensive process called reverse-osmosis. This process takes more energy than turning seawater into drinking water.

San Francisco’s tap water comes from Yosemite National Park and is so pure the EPA does not require it to be filtered. A bottled of Evian water at $1.35 could be refilled with San Francisco tap water once a day for over ten years before the cost would total $1.35.
Be the Change. TAP

Women adventure week in Panama (June 18 – 24, 2016)

 

An active outdoor program just for women during the week of June of 2016. This 7 day adventure includes: Beach combing in Bocas del Toro, active and cultural activities in the City and in the highlands of Panama, bilingual guides, and the fun of the City. Great opportunity for professional networking. This will have a maximum of 20 participants and minimum of 10. Includes: all transfers, 6 night of lodging – 2 nights in Panama City and 2 nights in the highlands of Boquete, 2 nights in Bocas del Toro, day tours, all breakfasts, lunch during tours, entrance fees to national parks and attractions, information kit and taxes.

Day 1 – Welcome to Panama!  Today at the appropriate time an EcoCircuitos representative will meet you at the Tocumen International Airport to assist and transfer you to your hotel located in Panama City. At this time you will also receive an EcoCircuitos information kit that will provide you with all the details for your stay in Panama. Once you arrive to your hotel, please check-in. MARRIOTT EXECUTIVE.

Day 2 – Day 2 Kayaking the Panama Canal Watershed & Rain Forest Discovery Center Early in the morning you will be greeted by your guide in the lobby of your hotel to begin your kayaking adventure in the Panama Canal Watershed. As you begin your journey into the Panama Canal Watershed you will leave the Panama City limits and enter in to the Soberania National Park, building will slowly be replaced by secondary and primary rain forest, and you will pass the former Fort Clayton, Miraflores Locks before entering the Park. Keep your eyes open for toucans, sloths and other animals as they awake with the morning sun. Once you reach dock you will receive a safety briefing and introductory paddle lesson before slipping into your kayaks to start paddling into the heart of the Panama Canal Zone. Seated at water level in your kayak will give you an interesting perspective of the Panama Canal in action. Our guide will lead you to places of special interest, while educating you about the flora and fauna of the area. After kayaking we will visit the Rain Forest Discovery Centre, where we will learn more about the Panamanian rain forests´ secrets. Climb the rain forest tower that is 30 meters high with emergent trees reaching 40meters. It is an amazing experience in the core of the tropical rainforest. We will have a picnic lunch, while observing the numerous species of humming birds in the area.

IN THE AFTERNOON: The Highlands of Panama

You will be transferred to Albrook Domestic Airport to take your one hour flight to David, the capital of Chiriqui Province. ****Flight is not included***Upon arrival, you will be met by an EcoCircuitos Representative and transferred to Finca Lerida state coffee lodge. This Ecolodge is nestled in the middle coffee plantation and surrounded by a private natural forest reserve. You will wake up to the symphony of birds and to the aroma of our home grown “Finca Lerida” Estate Coffee brewed specially for you. All the rooms are individually decorated and named after birds found in Finca Lerida Highlands. (B, pic nic lunch)

 Flying within Panama has a luggage weight limit of 25 pounds (lbs) per person.

Day 3 – Los Quetzales Trail This is considered one of the most spectacular trails in Central America and one of the most popular hikes of the western highlands. Depart from your hotel in Boquete at 7:00 AM in a 4×4 to the ranger station in Baru National Park where you will begin your trek along the Quetzales Trail. Walk through different elevations and landscapes giving the group the opportunity to see a great variety of tree, plant and bird species, including the Resplendent Quetzal, the Silvery-fronted Tapaculo, Silvery-throated Jay, Black-faced Solitaire and the Barred Becard. Includes: Transportation, Box Lunch, and specialized Guide. Duration: Full day tour. This trail is only recommended for experienced hikers and people with an excellent physical condition due to its difficult nature. (B, pic nic lunch)

 Day 4 Transfer to Bocas del Toro Archipelago (A day Tour!!) You will be transferred by land and boat from Boquete to Bocas del Toro Archipelago. You will pass through the Talamanca Continental Divide and you will enjoy the amazing landscape of our highlands. Enjoy the view of some areas of the Palo Seco and La Fortuna Natural Reserves during the transfer. Upon arrival to Almirante (Bocas del Toro Mainland pier), you will board a water taxi that will head you to Isla Colon. (Boat transfer 25 minutes) Upon arrival, transfer to the hotel. Check in at the hotel Playa Tortuga. Transfer duration: 3 ½ hrs approx.

 Day 5 Bocas del Toro Archipelago After breakfast you will visit a local indigenous community where you will learn about their conservation initiatives to protect their surroundings. Look for local wildlife species such as Three-toed Sloth, the quintessential Red poison-dart Frog, White-faced Capuchins and Howler Monkeys, along with many bird species, and venture inside a rainforest cave. Later today, after an outdoor lunch you will enjoy a tour of Bastimentos Marine National Park to snorkel, and relax at the beach. Lodging will be at a hotel in Bocas. (B,L)

 DAY 6 – Return to Panama City  Return to Panama City and upon arrival Full Day Historical City Tour During the half-day morning tour you will visit the ruins of Old Panama, climb up the Cathedral tower, visit the Old Panama Museum and then continue to Casco Viejo (the old city compound), which dates from the late 1600’s. A bilingual guide will describe the events in history leading up to the eventual movement of the capital city to its present location. Casco Viejo is home to monuments to Ferdinand de Lesseps and other Frenchmen instrumental in the ill-fated attempt of the French to construct a canal through Panama. Your tour ends with a visit to the Panama Canal Museum. 
The full day tour continues with a visit to the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal where large ships can be seen transiting the canal. Enjoy a presentation by the Panama Canal Authority on the history of the Panama Canal and marvel at the workings of this feat of human engineering. Lunch will be serving at a local restaurant. The tour then continues to the Panama Canal area, including the town of Balboa, formerly part of the Panama Canal Zone. You will stop at the folk art market at the old YMCA building. Late afternoon you will return to your hotel in Panama City. (B,L). (B)  ****Flight is not included***

  Day 7 – Departure At the appropriate time you will be transferred to the Tocumen International Airport for your outbound flight. You will arrive at the airport approximately 2 hours before your departure time. Note: customers will be picked up 3 hours before their flight time. ** END OF SERVICES**

Prices upon request!

The program includes:  6 nights of lodging , Private transfers in and out of Tocumen International Airport, Tours as mentioned above, bilingual guide accompany the group during complete itinerary, Breakfast at all mentioned hotels, Information kit, Lodging taxes

The program does not include:  Optional activities, International airfare and taxes, Departure taxes ($40.00 per person for Panama), Meals not specified in the itinerary, Domestic and international flights, alcoholic beverages, Personal equipment,
Extras in hotels (laundry, phone calls, room service, etc.), Gratuities

Rates are valid until June 15th, 2016 and subject to change due increases on fuel prices

  • Prices are net per person.
  • Prices are given in US Dollars.
  • Prices are subject to change without previous notice depending on any significant increase in rates, taxes, fuel or due to availability problems.
  • Prices are based on the minimum of paying participants previously informed.
  • If the minimum number of paying participants changes, the rates would also change
  • Tips for drives and guides not included

Note: This is a quote not a reservation. Please note that all quotations given are subject to availability at the time of reservation and cannot be guaranteed until payment is received. Please note that credit card payments are subject to processing fees.

EcoCircuitos realizes that has important environmental and social responsibilities in and out of the office. We create memorable travel experiences in Panama’s natural history and cultural heritage.   Our office team and suppliers ensure quality service, cultural sensitivity, local knowledge, innovation and social and environmental responsibility. As travelers ourselves we believe giving something back is essential. Therefore we work with our team, suppliers and customers to ensure that benefits will contribute directly to the communities we visit and their environment.

For more information, please visit our Responsible Travel Policy link.

Encourage the channeling of part of our revenues towards supporting the conservation and sustainable use of Panama’s biodiversity. We are committed to the conservation of protected areas, education and local community development.

 

Army Ant

One of the most interesting ants of the tropics are the army ants, which march through the rainforest with the sole intent of devouring small creatures within minutes, turning them into carcasses.  The army is like a wolf pack, but with thousands of miniature creatures of prey merging and uniting to form one great living organism.  Army ants´ jaws are so potent, Indians once used them to suture wounds.  The determined insect was held over a cut and its body squeezed so that its jaws intuitively shut, clamping the flesh together.  The body was then pinched off and the wound left to heal.

Another feature is that, unlike most ant species, army ants do not construct permanent nests; an army ant colony moves almost incessantly over the time it exists. All species are members of the true ant family, Formicidae, but several groups have independently evolved the same basic behavioral and ecological syndrome. This syndrome is often referred to as “legionary behavior”, and is an example of convergent evolution.

The petroglyphs of El Valle de Anton

I recently had the opportunity to join an EcoCircuitos day tour to El Valle de Anton. El Valle, as the locals simply call it, lies in the crater of a former volcano (while it is officially classified as “dormant” it has not been active for several thousand years), and enjoys the wonderful combination of a refreshing climate and incredibly fertile soil. The valley is indeed a green paradise, full of flowers, trees and flourishing gardens. The picturesque little town is a place where children ride bicycles along the roads and little restaurants offer shady patios overgrown with vines. The famous town market, which nowadays sells souvenirs as well as the original selection of colorful fruit and vegetables, is the place to admire the area’s agricultural bounty.

But we had come for something else; we were headed for a hill right behind the town, to get a glimpse of an ancient mystery: The petroglyphs of the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the valley.

At the beginning of the path we met with a local guide, sixteen year old Tony, who told us he had been guiding visitors to the painted rocks since he was eight, and claimed to know the story of the stones better than anyone else in the village.

It was just a short climb until we saw the overhanging rock looming up before us, carved with intricate lines and symbols. It appears that scientists nowadays do not know enough about the people who made these carvings to be sure what they meant to say, but it is generally accepted that this particular rock displays a map of the area, which was created around the time the first Spanish explorers arrived on the shores of Panama.

Anthony turned out to know this map as well as he had claimed to: whith perfect confidence, he picked out various mountains in the area, waterfalls, and explained a number of the other symbols on the rock. Some were astonishingly clear, one was a very clear picture of a person holding a spear or arrow, some others appeared more mysterious. “Some of these are keys,” explained Anthony, “they open the secret caves of the Indians, but nobody knows where they are anymore.”

The last thing he showed us was one feature of the map that represented a second painted stone, further up the mountain. We left Anthony to turn back then, and continued up the mountain, through the forest, in search of the second rock, the “stone of the toads”.

It was a nice hike, the incline was rather steep, the path rocky, but the breeze was cool and the forest full of birds and flowers. We passed a waterfall, startled a few butterflies, and then, around a bend, we found it: A flat rock on the ground just above a deep gorge, carved with intricate designs. Now without our petroglyph expert, we could only wonder what this rock was trying to tell us, but we could easily enough pick out some animal images: Lizards, or maybe frogs, so clear it was hard to imagine that they had been there for over 500 years…

We continued up the mountain then, speculating about who might have been the people who carved these rocks, enjoying the climb and the lush nature around us and got rewarded with a sweeping view of the valley and its surrounding mountains.

 

By Meret Schueschke

If you would like to visit El Valle and the Petroglyphs, find more information on our homepage or email us at info@ecocircuitos.com

Exploration on Isla Bastimentos

By Meret Schueschke

A short boat ride away from bustling Bocas Town with its multiple bars, restaurants and  souvenir shops, Bastimentos Island is a nearly untouched Caribbean retreat. With less than 1 500 inhabitants, and no access to cars on the island (there are no roads there) this is one of those places that do not seem to have changed much through the times.

A substantial part of the Island and the waters surrounding it form the Bastimentos National Marine Park, a marine nature reserve. Encompassing coral reefs and sandy beaches, as well as a sizable chunk of rainforest, the reserve provides shelter for a variety of wildlife. The animal the Island is most famous for is a species of poison dart frog: the tiny red amphibians with their black spots can be found only here, and are numerous enough to have given their name to one of the most popular beaches on the island: Red Frog Beach, which is located inside the National Park. Accessible by boat only, this beach is a wonderful sunbathing and surfing spot. It was from here that I set out on a little forest adventure: The trail to the town of Old Bank.

This trail, roughly three kilometers in length, runs along the northern coast of Bastimentos, and is, as I was about to discover, not exactly a walk in the park, but definitely worth doing.

I walked along the beach for a while, until a painted sign pointed me to a small path in the forest, and began my adventure. At first it was relatively easy going. The trail was narrow, but easy enough to find, and every step led me to a new discovery.

The forest was full of the sounds of birds and insects, lizards scuttled around in the undergrowth, and I could still hear the crashing of the waves on the nearby beach. Now and again, the path returned to sandy strips of beach, meandered through coconut tree groves or passed across rocky outcrops before another reliable little sign pointed me back into the forest.

After a while, I started to feel like a true explorer, discovering a completely foreign place, almost expecting pirates or the Spanish explorers of days long gone to pop out from underneath the trees. I kept stopping to look at the fascinating little things along the path: tiny red frogs, bits of broken coral, and my personal favorite: colorful hermit crabs inhabiting empty shells. Now and again I went to cool off my feet in the waves breaking on white sand (and got thoroughly soaked several times, but in the warm weather this was a welcome refreshment).

After a while, the trail started getting muddier, and harder to walk, but being all caught up in discovering this exotic forest, I only took serious notice of this when one of my sandals got stuck in a mud hole. Fortunately the next bit of beach where I could get cleaned up was not too far away, and from that point on I just went barefoot when the mud became too persistent.

And then, suddenly, I found myself on a long stretch of white sand beach again, a new sign informed me that I was almost at the end of the trail: I had arrived at Wizard Beach. Another twenty minutes through the forest brought me to the town of Old Bank. Brightly painted houses, children playing in the streets, fruit vendors selling coconuts down by the docks: This was the Caribbean as I had always imagined it. I realized then I had spent almost four hours in the forest, I was muddy, tired and hungry, but I had had the chance to experience an amazing place, and to discover yet another facet of the ever-changing beautiful country of Panama.

If you would like to visit Bastimentos Island f or stay at one of the fantastic lodges on the island of Bocas del Toro such as Eclypse de Mar with its cabins  built over the water, across the bay from Old Bank, La Loma Lodge in the Jungle, Tranquilo Bay on the Southern tip of the Island, or Al Natural near the indigenous settlement of Salt Cree you can contact our office for details and itineraries at Info@ecocircuitos.com or calling our Panama office at +507 3151488