Imagine yourself surrounded by colossal prehistoric trees. Butterflies the size of your hand flutter by. Ferns threaten to envelop you. All that’s missing is a bloodthirsty Tyrannosaurus Rex. This scene is just the start when you decide on an adventure travel vacation in the Darien, Panama’s “forgotten province.” Travel here tends to be for the intrepid—short on creature comforts. Lodges and tents in the Darien are more common than hotels.
But the rewards are many: the Panama Darien biosphere is a major World Heritage site. The park’s unique geographical position in the Darien makes it a land bridge between Central and South America, and thus one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
Travel in the Darien: How to get there
There are many parks and towns worth visiting when you travel to the Darien. To get there, take a 45-minute flight from Panama City to La Palma, Darien. From La Palma, an hour-long boat ride will get you to Punta Patiño. This Nature Reserve is the largest private reserve in Panama. See the mangroves, explore the beach, hike the well-developed trails, or search for rare species in the air, on land, or in the water.
Near the Colombian border, Bahia de Piñas is home to Panama’s Tropic Star Lodge, and arguably the best place for deep-sea fishing in Panama…and the world. Some 200 world records have been broken here.
In the Darien, the autonomous Embera-Wounaan indigenous group is the most populous of Panama’s tribes. Near Tropic Star, the town of Biroquera offers the opportunity to spend some time with friendly tribespeople. They live as traditionally as possible, in huts on stilts, where they make baskets, carvings, and more.
If you stay at Tropic Star, expect to pay more than $2,500 for a four-night stay. The deal includes nearly everything imaginable—including fishing yacht, tackle and experienced crew. Contact the lodge for information or help booking travel.
Your vacation to the Darien: What to know before you go
Check a national government website like the U.S. CDC for advice on any necessary vaccines, immunizations, etc.
What to pack:
- A non-aerosol insect repellent
- A slicker for rain (in windy weather, umbrellas can be useless).
- Though the weather is warm, you’ll still want at least one long-sleeved shirt, long pants, socks and sneakers or hiking boots, as nights can be cool and mosquitoes can be tiresome.
- Plus anywhere you go in Panama, you’ll wish you had a cardigan for air-conditioned offices, cars or planes.
Before you pack for your vacation to the Darien, ask your tour leader what else you might need. If you visit an Embera village and you’d like to give back, school supplies for tribe children (pencils, notepads, backpacks, etc) are always welcome.
Remember to carry your passport at all times, or photocopies of both the photo page and the page with the entry stamp. Adults in Panama are required by law to carry identification.
If driving to or in the Darien, don’t be disconcerted by police roadblocks—they are there year-round as the Darien is an international border area (the area borders Colombia). Police will simply check identification in most cases.
As with anywhere in Central America, exercise caution at border areas. An experienced guide can help ensure you don’t stumble into sketchy areas. If you have concerns, visit a national advisory website like the U.S. Department of State website. At time of writing there are no Travel Warnings for Panama. You can read the Department of State’s Panama page here.
Even if it’s cloudy or rainy, remember to use sunblock, sunglasses, and a hat or cap. The tropical sun doesn’t mess around and you can still get sunburns in rainy season weather.
Don’t forget a camera, the photo-ops in this area are out of this world!
Find out more or plan a Darien tour through Ancon Expeditions.
Editor’s note: Learn more about Panama and other countries in our daily postcard e-letter. Simply sign up for IL’s free postcards and we’ll send you a FREE REPORT — Panama: First World Convenience at Third World Prices.