Panama is a small but very diverse country, filled with highly contrasting and interesting areas. This program takes you skin deep into some of the most interesting regions of our country.
From the busy and modern Panama city, with its impressive skyline and convenient proximity to the Panama Canal, to the Bocas del Toro archipelago and its relaxed Caribbean atmosphere; you will drive through the most representative areas of Panama, where you will experience a close encounter with its friendly and proud people, enjoy the beauty of our rainforest and its biodiversity, which varies from one region to next, swim in the warm waters that bathe our coasts, drink our finest highland coffee and have the unique opportunity to sleep in two authentic indigenous villages, with the Embera in Darien and with the Naso in Bocas del Toro.
On your arrival day, our staff will meet you at the Tocumen International airport and you’ll have a 25-minute transfer to our Hotel in Panama City. The hotel is strategically located in a busy part of town, near shopping areas, the banking district, a great diversity of restaurants, bars and casinos and at a 20-minute walk from the Pacific Ocean.
Today you will depart the hotel early in the morning for a 20-minute ride to the entrance area of the Panama Canal. You will be able to enjoy a great view of the growing skyline of Panama City from the boat that will take you through the Panama Canal. You will navigate under the Bridge of the Americas, through the Miraflores locks, the Pedro Miguel Locks and the famous Gaillard Cut all the way to the midpoint of the Panama Canal, the town of Gamboa, home of the Dredging Division of the Canal.
Meals (Breakfast and Lunch – B, L)
On this day you’ll start one of the most interesting parts of your visit to the Republic of Panama. You will travel to the far off Province of Darién (ca. 5 hours) to a port called Puerto Quimba and from there we’ll go by speed boat (ca. 1 hour) through the Gulf of San Miguel, to an Embera Indian village called Mogue. You´ll have a close encounter with a pre-Columbian culture kept alive and preserved by this group of people who partially lives of the forest, still practice herbal medicine and believe in the spiritual world that rules everything in their world. These very knowledgeable people, who fought bravely against Spanish colonization, ended up playing an important role in the jungle survival training programs that the USA used to run in Panama, because of their vast knowledge about life in Primary and Secondary forest.
For this part of the trip you’ll only take the luggage necessary for the 2 nights in Mogue and the rest of the luggage will be left in the luggage room of our hotel in the City. Please bring your PASSPORT with the entrance stamp for Panama (we’ll be going through several police check points), good walking shoes for the hike in the rainforest, fresh and light clothes, bathing suits, towel, camera, binoculars, small change for souvenirs (even a $20 bill can be difficult to break there – on the other hand, some crafts may be quite expensive because of the finesse and detailing of the weaving or carving), your medication (if you’re taking any on the daily basis), sun protection and bug spray (FYI there´s no yellow fever or malaria in any of the places we’ll visit in Darién, so any prophylaxis against these two diseases is unnecessary and could actually create more problems than help, because of the side effects of this medication.)
This afternoon, after we set up camp in the “Tambo” (local houses) that they’ll provide us to stay in, you’ll have an introductory chat with the town representative and will learn a bit, thru a conversational Q and A session, about this very interesting culture, their origins, their aspirations and dreams for their future generations, and life in the Darién Gap in these days of change for the Republic of Panama.
BTW, there´s plenty of children in this village and they could use any kind of school utensils if you’d like to bring some present for the village.
Meals (B, L, D)
Today you’ll have the opportunity to learn about nature, wildlife, herbal medicine, ancient customs and ceremonies that are still being used by the Embera on the regular basis, arts and craft making and for those interested, we will hike thru the Darién forest (ca 3 hours each way) to visit a nest of the National bird of Panama, the Magnificent Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja), one of the biggest and most powerful birds of prey in the world. A specie that´s fighting against extinction, mainly because of the destruction of its habitat by the logging and cattle industry that has infiltrated the Darién gap since the 1970´s.
In the afternoon we’ll be able to learn and enjoy some traditional ceremonial and celebration dances performed by our hosts and maybe even get tattooed with traditional designs using their temporary ink called Jagua.
Meals (B, L, D)
It’s time to say good bye to the Embera, and due to the tide (you can only enter or exit during high tide), we’ll have a very early start from Mogue. After breakfast, we’ll be heading back thru the Golf of San Miguel (ca. 1 hour) towards the Pan-American Highway and back to Panama City (ca. 5 hours).
Upon arrival, we’ll check into our hotel in Panama City again.
Meals, (B, L)
After visiting the eastern province of Darien and seeing a bit of Panama City, it´s time to head west towards the central provinces of the Republic. Today you are destined to spend the night in the famous Carnaval town of Chitre, the capital city of the Province of Herrera, located in the Azuero peninsula, known as the cradle of Panamanian culture.
On our way there, and to start learning a bit about Panamanian culture in general, we’ll make a stop in the picturesque town of La Pintada, in the Province of Cocle, to visit a small factory where the authentic Panamanian hat is made. The “Sombrero Pintado” is the hat proudly worn by Panamanians all over the Republic and is very different to the famous Panama hat, which is made in Ecuador.
After lunch, we will continue our Journey west and our next stop will be the recently rediscovered Archaeological site of El Caño, in which in the year 2010 and under supervision of Archaeologist Julia Mayo, an unimaginable treasure resurfaced, a burial site of an ancient culture dated to about A.D. 900. Gold pendants and breastplates, together with gold armbands, emerald pendants and polychrome ceramics have been found so far at the burial site of a warrior chieftain. Mayo speculates that at least 20 more thumbs of chiefs will be discovered in this cemetery.
We’ll make a brief visit to this amazing place, strongly guarded now by Panamanian special troops, featured on National Geographic Magazine (see Nat Geo – Panama´s Nata Chiefs – Jan 2012) to learn more about the rich cultures that existed in Panama before the arrival of the Spaniards and about the importance of Panama during pre-Columbian times, as a meeting place for North and South American cultures, for commerce or religious ceremonies.
You should be arriving at your final destination for the day at around 4 pm and will have some time to relax in the pool and even walk from the hotel to downtown Chitre (15 mins).
Meals (B, L)
Your visit for today is planned to be held at a private farm, where you´ll have the opportunity to see the essence of the Spanish legacy in our culture. Beautiful women dressed in the “Pollera”, the national dress of Panama, decorated with gold chains and fine “Tembleques” (head pieces) will delight us with a brief presentation of graceful folkloric dances. Afterwards, the devils will come into play, reenacting the theatrical presentations of the famous Corpus Cristi celebrations, a form of role play used in the Christianization of the American natives. During the presentation, a local artisan will be working on the manufacturing of one of these spectacular Devil masks and you’ll be able to see exactly how much work and detail goes into the making of each one of these authentic Panamanian handcrafts.
After lunch, you’re bound to the province of Chiriquí, specifically the town of Cerro Punta (ca. 5.5 hours from Chitre) and will enjoy the wonderful scenery and climate change in this town located on the skirts of the Baru volcano (3,475 mts) at almost 2000 meters above sea level.
Meals (B, L)
This morning you will start your day with a beautiful walk through the cloud forest of National Park “La Amistad” (Friendship). A park of more than 400,000 hectares of land, located half in the Republic of Panama and half in Costa Rica.
This will be a great opportunity for you to realize how different the vegetation is between the lowlands of Panama and its highlands, but it will also allow you to delight yourself with the vast biodiversity that Panama, and specially this region of Chiriqui, has to offer. A great variety of flowers, 300 year old trees, wild growing orchids and birds are some of the things we’ll be able to see during our hike.
After having lunch at a local restaurant, we´ll head to a private Orchid farm that belongs to the Maduro family, called “Finca Dracula“. During our visit we’ll have the chance to see some of the biggest and smallest orchids in the world, some with delicious aromas and some with disgusting stenches (both of which served the sole purpose which is to attract the flowers pollinizers) and of course the famous Dracula orchids, which are the trademark of the house. More than 1,500 species of orchids form their collection, plus a great variety of hybrid orchids created by them.
Before the end of the day, we will drive down to the town of Volcan to visit “Sitio Barriles”. Not just another archaeological site, but a place of magic and enigmatic natural effects, such as magnetic stones, disappearing hieroglyphics, giant fruits and a natural spring that flows up the mountain for 4 kilometers, raises 10 meters in altitude before finally starting its descent towards the pacific ocean.
Meals (B, L)
On this day we will move from the western slopes of the Baru volcano towards the town of Boquete, located on its eastern side, at around 1,000 meters above sea level. The Valley of Eternal Spring, as it is known, is famous for its Coffee, hiking trails and waterfalls, strawberries and agriculture.
Our first stop will be at a local coffee plantation, where we’ll be explained about the different varieties of high quality coffee produced in the area, we will see the whole process of coffee production and we’ll get a chance to try and later on buy some of the best coffee produced in the area.
After lunch in the town of Boquete, we are going to prepare for a ca. 3 hour hike through the cloud forest in Boquete, in search of a very elusive bird, which has become an icon of the region and a symbol of the protection of the environment in Chiriqui. The Resplendent quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala, finds a safe haven in the area of Chiriqui, which improves the chances of us seeing it in the wild.
Meals (B, L)
Today is a free day for you to relax from your trip, enjoy the area and the town of Boquete and drink as much coffee as you can.
If you are interested in doing something during this day, we will help you organize a diversity of tours for you to enjoy:
Meals (B, D)
You have enjoyed four days in the highlands of Chiriqui and its time to move on to a very different setting. You are going to visit one of the smallest groups of indigenous people from Panama, the Naso or Teribe Indians (around 3,500 individuals). To do so, we will have to cross over the continental divide to the neighboring province of Bocas del Toro and from here drive towards the west to a small town called Changuinola (ca. 5 hours) and from here continue to their village located on the shores of the Teribe River called Bonyik. (30 mins)
This interesting group of people is one of the few Native American tribes that still live under a Monarchy and is fighting for the survival of their culture by the creation of an Indigenous Reserve, where they would have sole rights over the land and where they will try to assure the perpetuation of their traditions.
In the afternoon, we will go on a hike thru a forested area that used to belong to the “Macho de Monte” (Tapirus Bairdii) special forces, which in times of Noriega where the most well trained and feared of his troops. An indigenous guide will interpret for us some of the trees, plants and fruits still used today in their daily lifes.
The Naso Indians pay allegiance to their King, who lives in his “palace” in the town of Sieyik, located 1.5 hours up the Teribe river from Bonyik. The present King is playing a decisive role in the future of his people and his culture, since the Panamanian government is aiming to build a huge hydroelectric on the Teribe river, which will drastically change the lives of these normally tranquil folk. Around 3,500 Naso conform this group, 90% of them living under the poverty line. They survive from the resources of the rainforest that surrounds them, some agriculture, and the sale of products in the nearby town of Changuinola and of the new industry of tourism which is slowly growing in the area.
We will spend a day in their village learning about their culture, their knowledge and everyday life, but most importantly, we will get to know people who, although oppressed by civilization and development, have pride in themselves and their culture and will not surrender to the impositions of a very ambitious government.
Meals (B, L, D)
On this day you depart the kingdom of the Naso and start your journey towards the beautiful archipelago of Bocas Del Toro (ca. 2 hours). We are not only doing a change of environment, from the shores of the Teribe River to an archipelago in the Caribbean Ocean, but we are also coming into an area dominated by the West Indian man, and their culture shows in every aspect of life.
The people, the language, the religion and of course the cuisine, among many other things, are distinctively different from the rest of the Republic of Panama. Upon our arrival you will have some time to wander around in Bocas town and get your first taste of this Afro- Caribbean culture that first arrived to our shores during Spanish colonization times in the 16th century, later on during the construction of the railroad in the 19th century and of course during the construction time of the Panama Canal, first by the French (19th century) and later by the United States in the early 20th century.
Meals (B, D) – Night in Bocas
This morning you are going to leave Isla Colón, by boat, to explore the rest of the archipelago. We will first head out to “Isla Cristobal” to visit Dolphins bay. This place is a safe haven for bottlenose dolphins to hunt, reproduce and bare their young. Surrounded by mangroves, an essential part of the food chain, the bay provides all the necessary elements for dolphin Calves to start their lives and learn the skills that they will need during their lives.
From here we’ll move to “Isla Popa” to make a visit to a Ngäbe Indian Village where we’ll interact with a group of Indigenous women who have decided to organize the whole community in order to receive visitors, teach them about their way of life, their culture, their customs and their honest struggle to get out of living under the poverty line.
After our visit to the Ngäbe village, we’ll head out to Crawl Cay, an area popular for snorkeling, where you’ll have the chance to snorkel in warm Caribbean waters over a great diversity of multicolored corals, sea Urchins and sea Cucumbers and of course a great display of beautiful reef fish.
We will have lunch in a restaurant over the ocean and from there we will drive our boat to a bay on “Isla Bastimentos” for a short walk thru the island to the famous Red Frog Beach, home of the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog (Oophaga pumilio). A beautiful endemic frog, that carries neurotoxic venom on its skin that they get from the insects that they eat on their regular diet (mainly ants from the Brachymyrmex and Paratrechina gender). This place is ideal for you to take a swim in its warm waters or to lie down in the sand, under a coconut palm tree with a “Piña Colada” in your hand.
Today you will board a flight from Bocas Del Toro back to Panama City and it’s time to drive around the three cities of Panama: Panama Viejo from the 16th century (UNESCO) destroyed by pirate Henry Morgan in 1671, The Casco Viejo from the 17th century (UNESCO) and the modern city of Panama.
You will also visit the Miraflores Locks Visitors Center, to have a completely different perspective of the locks from the Panama Canal and we’ll also visit it’s 4 story museum and watch a 10 minute movie on the Modernization Project of the Panama Canal, a 5.23 Billion Dollar project due in October 2015.
After our tour, we’ll check back into your hotel and this evening we are going to meet again for our farewell dinner.
Meals (B, D)
On this day you’ll have some time in the morning to explore around Panama City on your own for some last minute shopping or a good cup of coffee.
At the appropriate time, and depending on your flight, we will pick you up at the hotel. We still have a visit to The Panama Viejo monument (UNESCO) to look forward to, before we head out to the international airport of Tocumen for your afternoon flight.