New Coffee Farm: Finca Ceriana

Strategically located between the highlands and lowlands of Chiriquí, Finca Ceriana forms part of a privately protected area for the conservation of flora and fauna in the region.

One of Finca Ceriana’s unique characteristics is the number of bird species and other animals from the upper and lower mountain areas. The property is part of the biological corridor that hosts the famous volcano lagoons and a large variety of animal and plant species. Apart from being an important migration zone for birds, the biological corridor of the lagoons and Finca Ceriana is vital for the wellbeing of the protected areas of La Amistad International Park and Baru Volcano National Park. 

The farm offers its visitors easy nature trails for outdoor activities and particularly bird watching, a unique canopy tower, gourmet picnic, sugar cane mill and much more. The total area counts 10 hectares of protected land and nearly 3 kilometers of nature trails, in addition to one of the most beautiful views to Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce and Osa peninsula as well as to Punta Burica in Panama.

 

Advertisements

Zika Virus in Central America and Panama

The World Health Organisation advise pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant against traveling to Zika-affected areas due to risk of birth defects.

Zika cases have been verified across Latin America, including Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Suriname, and Venezuela.

Travellers should take the basic precautions described above to protect themselves from mosquito bites.   The best protection from Zika virus is preventing mosquito bites. Preventing mosquito bites will protect people from Zika virus, as well as other diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes such as dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.

This can be done by using insect repellent; wearing clothes (preferably light-coloured) that cover as much of the body as possible; using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors and windows; and sleeping under mosquito nets. It is also important to empty, clean or cover containers that can hold water such as buckets, flower pots or tyres, so that places where mosquitoes can breed are removed.

What is the Zika virus?

Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.

If Zika fever itself is usually mild, why is it getting so much attention?

In May 2015, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) issued an alert regarding the first confirmed Zika virus infection in Brazil. The outbreak in Brazil led to reports of Guillain-Barre syndrome and pregnant women giving birth to babies with birth defects and poor pregnancy outcomes.

In response, CDC has issued a travel alert (Level 2-Practice Enhanced Precautions) for people traveling to regions and certain countries where Zika virus transmission is ongoing.

Is it safe to travel to affected regions?

Until more is known, and out of an abundance of caution, CDC recommends special precautions for pregnant women and women trying to become pregnant:

Pregnant women in any trimester or women trying to become pregnant should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. Pregnant women who do travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider first.

What’s happening in Panama?

EcoCircuitos knows of no Zika cases having been reported by any of our clients and travelers, and the only area being affected so far is Kuna Yala in the San Blas Islands. However, local governments are beginning to advise women to consider postponing pregnancy due to the uncertainty of the virus and its connection to birth defects.

EcoCircuitos advice all tour passengers to travel sensibly, and to take preventive measures against mosquito bites, as one naturally does when traveling to the Tropics.  Any passenger who is pregnant or think they may become pregnant during or prior to their trip should contact their doctor and consider cancelling their trip in accordance with CDC/WHO advice.

We invite you to watch this video from WHO.

Best Diving and Snorkeling Spots in Panama

From: Dive Advisor

Panama was named after an indigenous word meaning, “abundance of fish.” This beautiful Central America paradise is one of the few places in the world where you can dive two oceans in one day. With the warm, tropical waters of the Caribbean on its east and the cooler waters of the Pacific on the west, it’s just a two-hour car ride between them in some places. Panama boasts 1,207km of Caribbean coast and 1,700km of Pacific coast.

On the Caribbean side, divers come for the abundance of colorful reef fish and corals. When rating the best diving in Central American, Bocas del Toro always comes up with its white sand beaches and many calm and the Bastimentos Marine National park. It’s a great place to learn how to dive and the marine life make it a great place to keep diving. Another popular spot on the Caribbean coast is Colon, only two hours from Panama City. Just offshore, the Portobelo National Marine Park has beautiful corals and the area is filled with a history of pirate battles and sunken ships.  Sir Francis Drake died at sea in 1596 and his body, clad in a full suit of armour and in a lead coffin, is thought to be off the coast of Portobello.

On the Pacific side, cooler waters and currents make encounters with pelagic common. Lucky divers can see several species of shark, whale sharks, humpback whales, dolphins, and more. Coiba National Marine Park is often referred to as the Galapagos of Central America and has the second largest coral reef in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Pearl Archipelago also offers great options close to Panama City.

Just nine degrees north of the equator, Panama is hot and humid year round. The rainy season is May- November and the dry season is December-April (with less humidity and almost no rain.) Panama is not in the hurricane belt, but it can get strong winds from nearby storms. Air temperatures throughout the year range form 20-32C, being a bit cooler in the winter/dry season. Water temperatures vary between coasts. The Caribbean side the water can be as cool as 25C in the winter and as warm as 28C in the summer. Coiba can get as cold as 20C during winter and reaches a high of around 24C in the summer.

Best Spots to Dive in Panama

Coiba National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes 38 islands. Lonely Planet says it’s “The best diving to be found along the Pacific Coast from Columbia to Mexico.” Coiba gets the big stuff. Sharks can be seen on almost every dive including white-tip reef sharks, black-tip reef sharks, and occasional hammerheads, bull, and tiger sharks. Whale sharks are common visitors from December to April. Humpback whales are seen July through October and orcas and pilot whales frequent the area. Large schools of mantas and mobula rays sometimes swim by, and most dives have turtles, schools of large fish, angelfish, butterflyfish, and dolphins.

On the Caribbean side of Panama, close to the Costa Rica boarder, is Bocas del Toro. This archipelago of nine large islands includes the protected area of Isla Bastimentos National Marine. Bocas is known for its well-preserved hard and soft corals. Being outside of the official hurricane zone, away from large cities and river mouths, the coral is very healthy. It is estimated that 95% of the coral species found in the Caribbean Sea can be found within the archipelago.

Tiger Rock is rated one of the best dive sites around Bocas del Toro, and is three rock pinnacles that rise up from the sea floor at 40m. It’s an advanced dive and can have strong currents, but is a good place to see sharks, rays, large fish schools, whale sharks and dolphins. Its location requires perfect sea conditions for boats to be able to get there. Dolphin Rock is another offshore rock formation where sharks can be seen and has lots of colorful fish life. The diving is also very good around Zapatillas Cays, another more distant boat ride.

Closer to town, Bouy Line is a poplar shallow site (near a deep water channel buoy) that has sea horses, lionfish, crabs, and lots of morays. Hospital Point is near the north end of Isla Solarte and has healthy cauliflower and brain corals on a sloping wall. The dive usually has a slow current and is 15m deep max. Sashek is another drift dive between Bastimentos and Carenero that has rare long lure frogfish. Airport is a protected site good for training dives, and has lots of coral.

Also on the Caribbean side, but further southeast is Portobelo National Park. This is also a popular diving area with great marine life. Being closer to Panama City, people come directly from the city to dive this area that has great reef dives and several wrecks.

Water temperatures on the Caribbean side are warm year round (23-27C) and a 3mm is usually plenty. On the Pacific side, colder currents bring waters (15-23C), so a 5mm will be comfortable. For those doing deep dives in the winter, thermoclines can be present, so a 7mm might be useful.

If you are looking for good snorkelling one of the best spots is the San Blas Archipelago.  In this Guna land is forbidden to dive with a tank but here you will find one of the most untouched coral reefs by mankind. The reef holds its beauty for decades now since people do not pollute the waters around it.  The Kuna Indians or Guna indians live from the sea and hunt on it. They hunt the reefs and sandbanks by using simple snorkeling gear and do not over fish their own waters because they only take what is needed to stay alive. They are scared that scuba dives will kill the great schools of fish and leave the Kuna without food to survive. They will preserve the coral reef for future generations this way.

The rich sea life and the crystal clear water will give you plenty enough time to drift away from the world above water. One of the easy places to get in touch with this sea life is the shipwreck near Isla Perro. This place is perfect for people not used to snorkeling or scuba diving but also gives people that have done it before a nice challenge to spot all the sea life around the ship. Don’t forget to bring your underwater camera because spotting a wild turtle, shark or octopus isn’t a rare sight in the waters around the San Blas Islands.   The best way to snorkel in San Blas is charter a sailing boat.  EcoCircuitos Panama organize this adventure for you.

Did you Know about spectacled bear?

Spectacle bear
Spectacle bear

Did you know The spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), also known as the Andean bear and locally as “Oso de anteojos” is the last remaining short-faced bear and the closest living relative to the Florida spectacled bear and short-faced bears of the Middle Pleistocene to Late Pleistocene age. In other words, spectacled bears are the only surviving species of bear native to South America, and the only surviving member of the subfamily Tremarctinae. Spectacled bears are more herbivorous than most other bears; normally about 5 to 7% of their diets is meat and is technically the largest land carnivore on that continent. Compared to other living bears, this species has a more rounded face with a relatively short and broad snout. In some extinct species of the Tremarctinae subfamily, this facial structure has been thought to be an adaptation to a largely carnivorous diet, despite the modern spectacled bears’ herbivorous dietary preferences. Although spectacled bears are solitary and tend to isolate themselves from one another to avoid competition, they are not territorial. Mating may occur at almost any time of the year, but activity normally peaks in April and June, at the beginning of the wet season and corresponding with the peak of fruit-ripening. The mating pair are together for one to two weeks, during which they will copulate multiple times. Births usually occur in the dry season, between December and February. From one to three cubs may be born, with four being rare and two being the average. The cubs often stay with the female for one year before striking out on their own. Like other bears, mothers are protective of their young and have attacked poachers. The only predators of cubs are cougars (Puma concolor) and jaguars (Panthera onca). Lifespan in the wild has not been studied, but bears are believed to commonly live to 20 years or more unless they run afoul of humans. The longest-lived captive bear, at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, attained a lifespan of 36 years and 8 months.

Despite some spilling over rarely into eastern Panama (Darien), Spectacled Bears are mostly restricted to certain areas of northern and western South America. The specie is found almost entirely in the Andes Mountains. Before spectacled bear populations became fragmented during the last 500 years, the species had a reputation for being adaptable, as it is found in a wide variety of habitats and altitudes throughout its range, including cloud forests, high-altitude grasslands, dry forests and scrub deserts. The best habitats for spectacled bears are humid to very humid montane forests. Generally, the wetter these forests are the more food species there are that can support bears. Occasionally, they may reach altitudes as low as 250 m (820 ft), but are not typically found below 1,900 m (6,200 ft) in the foothills. They can even range up to the mountain snow line at over 5,000 m (16,000 ft) in elevation.

The spectacled bear population is under threat for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, still no species-level conservation efforts are known to exist for Spectacled bears. The bears are hunted by locals due to a belief they will eat livestock (although spectacled bears do not normally eat large quantities of meat). Their gall bladders (biliary vesicle) are also valued in traditional Chinese medicine and can fetch a high price on the international market. Perhaps the most epidemic problem for the species is extensive logging and farming, which has led to habitat loss for the largely tree-dependent bears. Legislation against hunting the bears exists, but is rarely enforced. The IUCN has recommended the following courses for Spectacled bear conservation: expansion and implementation of conservation land to prevent further development, greater species level research and monitoring of trends and threats, more concerted management of current conservation areas, stewardship programs for bears which engage local residents and the education of the public regarding spectacled bears, especially the benefits of conserving the species due to its effect on natural resources.

Chiriqui River Rafting – Involving the indigenous community.

We at EcoCircuitos are always very concerned about offering products that do not only adhere to the best quality standards but that also benefit the local communities of Panama.  Our motto is a responsible tour operator is “enhancing the traveler’s experience through local talents”. Today I would like to introduce you to an example of this philosophy:

For our river rafting tours we are working together with the only rafting provider in Chiriqui that employs only indigenous rafting guides, and therefore provides the members of the Ngobe Bugle tribe with a great opportunity for employment and development.

The Ngobe Bugle are the most populous indigenous group in Panama, and their territory encompasses an area greater than the size of the province of Chiriqui. Employment opportunities within the Comarca are low, and many Ngobe-Bugle work in the farms and plantations of Chiriqui.

Working as guides for Chiriqui River Rafting is a great opportunity for them to find stable and respectable employment on their own land.

“We started exploring the rivers in the Ngobe Bugle territory a few years ago, and when we found they were great for rafting, it just seemed natural to train members of the community there as guides.” Says Ian Sanchez of the Rafting Company.

The guides learn a lot more than just rafting: English skills, driving a car, and the necessity of protecting their environment are just some of the other things they pick up during their training.

The economic benefits the rafting business on the rivers of the reserve have another positive side effect: They provide a strong argument against the building of dams, which is something the Ngobe Bugle have been opposing for years already.

Tourism brings their communities a viable option to improve their living situations through secure employment and already after three years the progress is remarkable.

Eusebio was one of the first indigenous guides to train with the rafting company. Today he also does other tours, kayaking and hiking, he is learning to drive a car, and he studies tourism at the university. He trains other members of the community as rafting guides, and he will certainly play a role in the further development of the community and its tourism offer.

Working as a guide, as someone who is trained in a form of tourism that brings real money, and as someone who knows about Ecotourism, and the whole industry, that brings tourism for the indigenous community to a different level. It helps the community move from being an attraction to becoming professionals, to find a sustainable form of supporting themselves through tourism.

And the rafters get the best part of the deal too: The rivers on the Ngobe Bugle Comarca are perfect for rafting, but remote enough that your group will be the only one around, and the guides who grew up around them know them like none other.

This way, our travelers can be sure to get the best rafting experience to be had in Panama, while at the same time supporting the indigenous people of Panama.

Learn more about our rafting tours at http://www.ecocircuitos.com/index.php/river-rafting-on-the-chiriqui-viejo.html

 

by Meret Schueschke