Hike-in Required
No
Open Year-round
Yes
ADA accessible
No
Guided tours
Yes
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Visiting an Embera village in Panama is a great day trip not far from Panama City, and it can include hiking along a creek to get to a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole and learning about the Embera’s way of life. 

The native Embera people have inhabited the area around the Chagres River in Panama since well before the river was dammed to build the Panama Canal. The Embera used to hunt, fish, and farm.  As conservation efforts resulted in banning hunting and deforestation, they have had to change their way of life. They still rely on the river as a source of food, but tourism is now also an important source of revenue. 

The meeting point along the Chagres River is about a 1-hour drive from Panama City without traffic, and it can take up to 2 hours in traffic, so avoid the rush hour. Different tour companies offer transportation to that spot. From there, transportation is through the Chagres River on wooden dugout canoes driven by young Embera men. 

The first stretch is a 4-mile boat ride upstream. The Embera navigator on the front guides the driver in spots where the water level is low, and he may occasionally have to get off to pull the canoe.  Watch for birds, sloths, monkeys and other animals along the way. The group disembarks on a sandy spot to begin a short 1-mile round-trip hike to the waterfalls. While the hike is short with minimum elevation gain, it is on the creek at times, and through rocky terrain. Therefore, it is best to wear water shoes or sturdy sandals. The waterfall at the end of the hike is beautiful, and the swimming hole at the bottom is great, considering how hot and humid it can be.

Back on the canoe, it is a 3-mile downstream ride to the village. At the group’s arrival, transitional music is played on flute and several percussion instruments, including drums and a tortoise shell.  The chief of the community speaks about their culture, and others provide demonstrations of how they sculpt wood and seeds, make paint out of seeds, make and tint fabrics, and more. The visit ends with lunch – fried tilapia from the Chagres River and fried plantains, served on plantain leaves. The ride back to the meeting spot is another mile on the river.

Overall, the visit to an Embera village can make for a wonderful day trip, combining hiking, bird watching, and learning about the Embera’s way of life.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Winter
Spring

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

Private or commercial fee

Pros

Beautiful hike and waterfall. Very interesting to learn about the Embera's way of life.

Cons

Traffic to get to the meeting point can be bad, depending on the time of the day.

Pets allowed

Not Allowed

Features

Historically significant
Wildlife
Family friendly
Geologically significant
Waterfalls
Guided tours
Near lake or river
Native artifacts
Big vistas
Bird watching
Picnic tables
Old-growth forest
Wildflowers

Location

Field Guide

Comments

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