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

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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

 

Tips when Traveling to Guna Yala/San Blas

 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 14kg 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.

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.

*After reading this document and you still have questions or would like more details, please contact us at info@ecocircuitos.com or marketing@ecocircuitos.com

     

Kayaking Adventures in San Blas , Guna Yala

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:

  • Binoculars
  • 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
  • sunscreen