Hanging with the Embera in the Darien Gap

darien chocoe embera

Emiliano Kisamo EmberaHeading upriver into the Darien Gap of Panama, you have to time it right. If the tide goes out while you are in the jungle, you’re up the creek without a channel. So we ventured in as the tide was swelling and got out while it was still high. Unfortunately, this makes for a pretty cursory visit to the Chocoe Embera native Americans. A bit of dancing and music, a bit of basket shopping, then led out by the hand by a little girl or boy from the village.

It feels special though, even if the Embera are going all National Geographic for the sake of the tourists and changing back into their nylon halter tops afterwards. (So my site doesn’t get blocked by libraries around the world, I’ll skip the boob shots here.) And note the nice watch on the arm of Mr. Kisamo the flute player.

darien embera girlIt’s a long nature-spotting trip through the mangroves to get there though and the villages are able to make money from visitors and handicraft sales instead of slashing and burning through the jungle to plant corn or palm oil fields. Plus the tats are for real, even though they’re like the henna ones of India—they wash off after a while. One guy in our party went to sleep with his face on the arm where he had a tattoo done. The next morning he had a tattoo on his face as well.

The Darien is one of the truly wild places left in the world, an area full of impenetrable jungle and rivers that don’t go anywhere. If you’re going to venture into here, you need to go with local guides who know the territory, like Ancon Expeditions. If you’ve dreamed of doing one of those trips down the Panamerican highway from say, Canada to Patagonia, you’re not going through here—mind the gap. You have to get on a boat and go around it. Most people drive to this point, sell the vehicle, then get another one in Colombia to start again for South America.

  1. Melanie Endres


    I’m writing my bachelor thesis on the Embera and have prepared an online questionnaire for tourists that have already visited the Embera. Would you be so kind and share your experience with me by filling out the brief questionnaire? Thank you so much!


    Please get back to me in case the link doesnt work…

    Kind Regards
    Melanei Endres

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