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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About your Panama Guides

Your guides are your gateway to the world of the tropical rainforest. Even if you don’t see a single animal, you’ll laugh; you’ll cry; and you’ll learn things. Each guide’s personality colors your experience of Panama, and reveals the richness and diversity of its people and culture. Guides provide education, insight into the culture, and knowledge of nature. Travelers who have decided to go it alone often end up wishing they had a guide.

Our partners wholesalers as WPA strives to use the best local guides available (EcoCircuitos guides)  at each destination on your adventure. At times, naturalists, biologists or biology students may be used as guides but are not guaranteed, nor are they always the best guides for the activity. You’ll find our guides have just the right mix of personality, knowledge and training to make your experience fun, safe, educational, and full of wonder. We’ve found that the best guides are the ones who live at each location and absolutely love what they are doing. Their enthusiasm and curiosity is contagious and will awaken the wonder–and the guide—in you.  You’ll find that spotting the wildlife yourself is half the fun! In addition to your guides, we’ll have bird and wildlife books and materials to help identify what we see. With thousands of different species of flora and fauna in each area of the country, and new species being identified each year, a rare siting could be the highlight of your trip!

Tipping your guide in Panama

EcoCircuitos recommends the following guidelines for tipping our guides, drivers and staff in Panama:

  • Naturalist guide:  US$15.00 – US$20.00 per person per / day
  • Day tour guide:  US$10.00 per person per day
  • Transfer driver:  US$2.00 per person
  • Tour driver:  US$5.00 per person per day
  • Tour boat driver:  US$5.00 per person per day
  • Hotel bellman:  US$1.00 per person per piece of luggage

International airport bellmen:  US$1.00 per piece of luggage

10 Ways to be a Greener Traveler

We all enjoy traveling and discovering new cultures, meeting new people and trying new food.  But we do forget about the impact that our travels and adventures can leave to the world.  Take a look of our 10 recommendations to be a greener traveler, so you can explore the world and keep it for the future generations.

  1.  Bring your own water bottle:  instead of purchasing plastic bottles of water, bring your own bottle.  Panama’s water from the tap is good to drink, you will also can fill the water at the hotel, restaurant or tour company.   Check TAP (Travelers Against Plastic).
  2. Use e-tickets instead of printing vouchers: From flights, vouchers, itineraries,  online confirmations, and e-tickets.  You can have it in your phone when traveling (less consumption of paper and more trees) by choosing e-tickets.
  3. Conserve water and energy: Be mindful of the local communities water needs and energy costs by keeping showers short and reusing linens and towels in a hotel, hang your laundry to dry, brush your teeth, and do dishes without running the water.  And also, turn off the lights and TV when you leave the room.
  4.  Use biodegradable products instead of plastics: If a product is biodegradable, it simply means it can be broken down in the natural world into raw materials.
  5. Use local business and buy local products:  Tourism support local economies and alleviate poverty. But only if you’re actually spending the money locally.  Do your research ahead of time, and find nice locally-run business and hotels instead of big chains.
  6. Stay away from animals in captivity:  If you see an attraction or a hotel that advertises interaction with wild animals, be very wary.   We suggest to avoid any attraction based around animals in captivity.  Explore our national parks and try seeing them in the wild.
  7. Hike marked trails:  Don´t go off marked trails when hiking and maintain a safe distance from any animals you encounter.  Take your trash with you when you leave the trail.
  8. Recycle your Trash:  Make sure to ask the hotel and your tour operator about their recycling program.  If traveling to San Blas Islands make sure to bring the trash with you.
  9. Book non-stop flights whenever possible:   A significant percentage of a plane’s carbon emission come from takeoff and landing.
  10. Book a biking or walking tour:  those are low impact and help you get to know the area in a better way.  A good option is our walking tour Casco Antiguo and Cinta Costera.

Touring the expanded Panama Canal’s new locks

The Panama Canal Expansion is the largest project at the Canal since its original construction. The project will create a new lane of traffic along the Canal through the construction of a new set of locks, doubling the waterway’s capacity. The existing locks allow the passage of vessels that can carry up to 5,000 TEUs. After the expansion the Post-Panamax vessels will be able to transit through the Canal, with up to 13,000 TEUs. The Expansion will double the Canal’s capacity, having a direct impact on economies of scale and international maritime trade.

The Canal Authority offered last Sunday a chance to all interested in seeing the mega-project up and close.  We were among the group of more than 45,000 people that took the tour  with the Panama Canal Authority as the host and guides, and it was an unforgettable and historical visit.

Canal administrator Jorge Luis Quijano said Sunday that the objective of opening the project to the public is so that “people can sense and understand the magnitude of the project.”

The Panama Canal is installing the last of 16 giant lock gates that are a key part of the waterway’s multibillion-dollar expansion.

Panama in 2006 decided to build a wider canal to accommodate vessels capable of carrying 2.5 times the number of containers held by ships currently using the canal. The canal is expected to open in April 2016.

When travel to a destination hire the locals by STI

Enrich your travel experiences and make sure your travel dollars stay in the host community by hiring a local guide to show you around. Local guides know the area better than any other guides. Whether you are looking for someone to guide you every step of the way or just show you around a sight or two – a good local guide can be the highlight of your trip.

By choosing a local guide, the needs of the local economy can be better met and you are creating cross-cultural relationships. However, when choosing any guide, local or foreign, it is important to consider the environmental impact of your guide’s actions. Keep these questions in mind as you choose a tour operation: Do their guides foster a respect for the environment, particularly in the areas visited, and encourage their guests to do the same? Do guides ever intentionally disturb or encourage the disturbance of wildlife or wildlife habitats? Do they keep vehicles on designated roads and trails and abide by the rules and regulations of the natural areas they visit?

environmentaltoursOnce you’ve found some local guides, here are some additional questions to ask to make sure that you and your guide are well matched, as well as to make sure you will be safe:

  • How many people will be taking this tour?
  • How much control do I get over what we do, when we eat, and when we take breaks?  How strenuous is the tour?
  • What happens if we have bad weather?
  • What happens if someone in the party gets injured?
  • Are there any special safety precautions I need to take?

The key to an excellent eco tour experience is finding a guide that you are comfortable with. If the answers to your inquiries are unsatisfactory, keep looking until you find a tour that is compatible with your needs. Your efforts will be rewarded with an excellent tour guide that is excited to show you around because he or she cares about the destination and your experiences there.

To read complete article from Sustinable Travel International click here