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Join this expedition that takes you into the Chagres National Park and to the remote jungle communities of the indigenous Emberá Ẽjuä So territory.
Paddle in a traditional dugout canoe and hike into the primary rainforest to one of Panama’s most charming communities to experience the beauty of their natural environment and learn from their traditions.
Explore the source of the most important river in Panama and historic routes of the Camino Real, the colonial route where gold and silver were carried through the Isthmus during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Contact us to get a more detailed itinerary & options, and description of locations!
Paddling in a dugout canoe to the ending point
- Fitness Level: Healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness.
- Season availability: All year.
- Total duration: Min. 3 days, max. 4 days.
- Physical activity duration: 6 hrs /day.
- Distance: 21km/13miles.
- Common hazards: Snakes, spiky palms, slippery rocks, streams.
- Modes of transportation: SUV, dugout canoe, trekking.
- Natural environment: Primary forest, young and old secondary forest, pioneer succession, pasture, agriculture, river, man-made reservoir, the environment at risk, icon species.
- Learning content (optional/typical): Conservation, Indigenous territories, cloud forest, rare species, continental divide, land-use rights.
- Lodging: Hammock.
This is a loop-style trail that starts in the manmade reservoir of the Alajuela lake. Join the indigenous Embera in their traditional dugout canoes as you paddle along the forest’s edge and into the reservoir. Arrive at a trailhead where you’ll trek along a ridge covered by rainforest canopy and that offers views of the Alajuela lake. The trail ends at the Chagres river where in dugout canoes you’ll finish the final section of the day’s expedition, arriving at the Embera community where you’ll be received by their traditional song and dance. The rest of the day will be spent learning from the community people as they share their culture and recent challenges in protecting their natural resources. The night will be spent in a traditional Embera “tambo” (house).
After waking up refreshed in your hammock you’ll spend the day further exploring the region to learn how they source their meals, medicines, and supplies for ceremonies and arts. Participate in song and dance, meal preparation, and in the ancestral body painting activity with the jagua fruit used for their ceremonies.
On your final day, you will bid farewell to the Embera community and paddle in a dugout canoe downstream to a picturesque waterfall where you’ll have the opportunity to have a plunge. Back in your canoe, you’ll be crossing the Alajuela lake, which during periods with strong northeasterly winds allows you to rig up a hammock-sail to ride out the final leg of the journey in style.
Why This Experience is for You
This is an instant classic and popular expedition for its relatively easy journey, epic primary rainforest landscapes, waterfalls, rich history, and charming communities of the Embera indigenous people.
Paddle in a traditional dugout canoe and hike to the remote jungle communities of the indigenous Ẽjuä So territory, which is in the process of becoming recognized as the collective property of six emberá communities and corresponds largely to the entire Chagres National Park. You will learn about the importance of how this major water catchment area is of national importance, as well as how indigenous communities have traditionally been managing and living in harmony with their natural environment.
The park is the forest that shelters the source of the most important river in Panama and is easily accessed from Panama City. Its 309,000 acres holds the remains of 30 miles of the Camino Real, the colonial route where gold and silver were carried through the isthmus during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
The Itinerary Outline
Day 1: Departure from Panama City in vehicle.
Arrive at Alajuela artificial Panama Canal lake where you paddle in dugout canoes into the rainforest, and towards the Chagres headwaters. Trek with an indigenous guide to the Embera Purú community and get settled in traditional palm-thatched “tambo” houses under mosquito netting in hammocks or on mattresses.
A presentation about the indigenous governance and development plans for the territory and relationship with the National Park and Panama Canal Authorities.
Traditional dance practice and interpretation.
Day 2: Morning swim in the river then jungle trek with Emberá guides to explore the region and their ancestral ways of living. Participate in the meal preparation with supplies harvested during your exploration. Enjoy the late afternoon in the community with its members and participate in ceremonial activities.
Day 3: Downriver travels in a dugout canoe to a waterfall for your enjoyment then back to the port.
Road transportation back to the city.
This expedition is for anyone with a healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness. Participants should be willing to be part of a team working together to enjoy a safe, fun, and meaningful experience. The biggest challenges on these expeditions will be trekking on steep jungle terrain and biking sections on steep roads in humid environments, along with river rafting portions (class 2-3 rapids based on the international scale American Whitewater Association) that can be done by inexperienced paddlers who have the ability quickly adapt to the basic skills needed.
Arriving unprepared and/or without meeting the minimum fitness requirements can jeopardise your health and the overall expedition experience, so take training seriously.
Get in touch with any fitness, health, training or packing questions that you might have. Our certified wilderness guides prefer to have video conversation with participants in advance to ensure that fitness expectations and packing needs are met.
Additionally, you should expect the following:
- Carry up to 10kg/22lbs per person in your expedition pack.
- Paddling in traditional dugout canoes for up to 3 hours at a time covering as much as 9kms/5.5miles.
- Trekking as much as 2-3 hours on some days and covering up to 3km/2mi per day.
- Anticipate wet, dense tropical rainforest with steep terrain on rustic paths.
- Roosters crowing during early mornings.
- Climate is hot and humid and below 1,000m/3,333ft elevation.
- Age minimum is 12+.
- In-country transport as outlined in the itinerary.
- Certified wilderness guides and wilderness first aid trained with medical kit and sat phone.
- Dugout canoes, paddles, and life vests.
- Specialist indigenous guides and instructors for on route interpretation.
- Three meals per day, snacks, water, tea, coffee, and natural drinks.
- Accommodation throughout; expedition hammocks.
- Expedition hammock with mosquito netting in traditional Embera house.
- Cooking gear, eating utensils, mug, cup, and ingredients for cooking.
- Special permits and permissions.
Optional Add Ons
- Extra days and nights at the Emberá community.
- Insurance of any kind.
- Alcoholic beverages not provided by hosts with meals.
- Additional hotel days/nights in Panama.
- Personal equipment according to personal needs and preferences (list of mandatory items and recommendations will be provided upon registration).
- Tips to local support guides; discretionary but anticipated by the local guides. Your trip leader can help advise on how much.