Darien: The Land beyond Civilization
Darien is the name of a stretch of mountainous rain forest between Panama and Columbia as well as a large National Park and World Heritage Site, home to rare and colorful plant and animal life. Abandoned by the Spanish because of its rugged and rainy environment, the area remains wild, remote, and beautiful.
The plug between Panama and Columbia
Darien, Panama’s largest province, lies approximately 250 miles from Panama City. The rugged terrain, known as “the plug,” in Panama and Columbia, is the only section of Central America not transversed by the Pan-American Highway (which runs from Alaska to Argentina). The nearest airport is Jaque, a small outpost just outside of Darien National Park, which currently receives twice-weekly flights from Panama City.
Home to the Cuna and Choco people
The region is home to Cuna and Choco Indian tribes, societies whose way of life has changed little in hundreds of years. These indigenous people are known for their colorful woven textiles, and visitors are welcome to visit their workshops and purchase handcrafted items of clothing. Traveling with a guide in Darien is advisable, both in order to get the most out of your visit and also to avoid the more dangerous areas, near the Columbia border.
Darien National Park
Darien National Park is the most important and most diverse eco-system in Panama. The 5790-square mile tropical rain forest features towering peaks surrounded by lush valleys of foliage. The park also features some spectacular, uncrowded, white sand beaches and is home to rare species of animals, such as colorful macaws, parrots, and the unique harpy eagle. Over 1600 species of orchids thrive within the park as do over 600 species of tropical ferns. Travel throughout the park is possible only by foot and by small dugout canoe. Permits are required for entry into the Park and must be obtained in advance.
World renowned Bird watching and Sport fishing
Bird watching in Darien National Park is world-renowned. The Cana Valley, in the center of the park and accessible only by foot, is home to 60 species of birds found nowhere else in the world. The coastal waters of Darien also offer some of the world’s best sports fishing. Black marlin and Pacific sailfish are especially abundant here.
Eco-tourism in Darien
Adventurous travelers can visit the rain forest here and see the landscape and people that have remained, largely, unchanged by “civilization.” Overnight and day excursions are offered from Panama City. Access to most accommodations is by foot or small dugout canoe. The exception to the few simple camps is the Tropic Star Lodge, an elegant Moorish-style palace, located just outside of Jaque. This unlikely hostelry was created by a Texas oil baron in 1961 and has hosted such celebrities as John Wayne, among others, and has its own private airfield.
Darien offers travelers a unique vista into life largely as it was in Central American before the Spanish explorers. Whether you spend a day or a week, it’s an excursion you won’t soon forget.