EcoCircuitos is specialized in educational travel experiences. Our guides are experts in their field and provide in-depth insights and understandings from culture and history to biodiversity. These understandings foster authentic travel experiences as well as responsible encounters between travelers and nature, biodiversity and local people. Contact us and experience the real #Panama.
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.
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!
email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
You may need malaria prophylaxis if you are planning on traveling to remote jungle areas such as the Darien. There are several cases of dengue fever reported annually throughout Panama; so we generally recommend avoiding mosquito bites by wearing long clothes and using repellents. Yellow fever also exists in certain parts of Panama, mostly in remote Jungle areas like the Darien. We recommend consulting your doctor before your trip to decide, whether vaccinations are necessary or not.
Yellow Fever vaccination
As of November 01, 2008, Panama requires valid Yellow Fever Vaccination to enter or leave the country for the following countries:
South America: Bolivia, Brasil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela.
Africa: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo Democratic Rep., Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leona, Sudan.
If you have any health concerns, we strongly recommend consulting your doctor or clinic before traveling.
For more information about Panama and our FAQs. Please click here
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 email@example.com
The San Blas Archipelago / Guna Yala is home to the Guna people. This province consists of numerous small islands and keys and part of the mainland. It is known picturesque scenery that consists of white deserted sandy beaches with palms, transparent blue waters, seafood and the colorful Guna culture.
For EcoCircuitos it is important to manage expectations to all destinations, but particularly San Blas Archipelago/ Guna Yala territory. We would like to highlight the following:
- Very rustic, it is not a luxurious destination nor a snorkeling or diving destination. It is a cultural destination.
- Lodging is rustic with basic amenities
- Take precautions for mosquitos, chitras, bats and other rodents
- Be flexible, you will be on Guna time
- Remember everything in this area of the country is operated by the Gunas under their rules and regulations
- Tours can change due to climate and weather conditions
Flying to Achutupu or Playon Chico: Domestic flights to San Blas are operated in small planes that seat around 12 people and have the strict check in baggage limitations. Each person is allowed to check in 15kg and can carry a small bag. Don’t be surprised if the airline representative asks to weigh you as well. They are very conscious of how much weight the planes can carry. This flight is approximately 30 minutes long.
When flying to Achutupu or Playon Chico it is possible your plane could make multiple stops, be sure to listen to the captain at each stop when he announces the name of the area. If you do not hear name of the stop, please ask the captain.
Achutupu Airstrip: When you arrive to Achutupu you will see an airstrip and a small one room concrete structure. Your host will be waiting for you to transfer you approximately 15 minutes to your lodge.
Playon Chico: When you arrive to Playon Chico you will see the airstrip and a long walking bridge that connects the airport area to the Playon Chico island. A
representative from the lodge will be waiting for you to take you to your lodge, which is less than 10 minutes away.
Arriving by car to Carti (Please remember your passport): From Panama City to the coast of San Blas it can take approximately 3 hours. You will travel east along the Pan American Highway passing the Tocumen International Airport in the direction towards Darien. You will pass through one checkpoint. Eventually you will veer to the right and travel down a windy and curvy road that will take you through the Guna Yala Territory to the coast. There will be two check points, one will be a police check point and the other will be to pay Guna tourism taxes. The road is like a roller coaster and we recommend travellers with that are sensitive to motion to take motion sickness medicine just in case.
Once you arrive to Carti you will be met by your local host and will be transferred by boat to your lodge, this boat transfer could take approximately 20 minutes.
The Natural and Cultural Heritage of Kuna Yala
In close collaboration with Kuna authorities and under organized community managed sustainable tourism development frameworks, we’ll use our stable sea kayaks to explore the islands West of the traditional community of Digir. It was here where several important actions of the Kuna Revolution took place in 1925, resulting in law 16 of 1954 by the Republic of Panama that guarantees the Kuna their sovereignty and territorial boundaries.
A detailed study in 2003 by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the Kuna NGO, PEMASKY; showed that Kuna Yala has the highest diversity of coral species as well as the best reef development in all of Panama. We will become intimately familiar with them as our Kuna guides paddle with us between several different small white sand islands, where the greatest snorkeling is right outside your tent. The cultural interaction on this journey is unprecedented. The itinerary will remain flexible, to take into account weather conditions, currents and tides, and we expect an occasional non-paddling day to provide ample opportunity for exploratory hikes – bring good walking shoes for pristine forest creek bed trekking!
What to Bring to this Kayaking adventure:
- Camera with extra batteries
- Flashlight with extra bulb & batteries
- Hat, day pack
- Dry sack
- Water bottles
- Lightwight/quick dry cotton clothes
- Windbreaker, rain gear
- Sandals, sneakers, hiking shoes
- Money in small denominations
- Toiletries & personal medications
- Snorkeling equipment
- Bathing suit
- Insect repellent
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
• 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.
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.
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.
• 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
• Reading and writing material
• 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.
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.
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.
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.