I’m just back from Panama. I have to confess that I went with a preconceived idea of what Panama would be like, thinking it would be all about the canal and not much else. But I can report that this trip has made me do a 360 degree turn. Once there I loved Panama City with its newly restored historic centre, trendy bars, cafes, and new boutique hotels and it was fun seeing huge ships going along the canal. There’s a lot to do here and it wasn’t hard to fill the three days, especially as we opted for a trip to the Embera Parara Puru Indian Community, located in Chagres National Park, just outside the city. The Chagres River is the key source of water for the Panama Canal, and due to the canals importance to the country economy, the government created the national park in order to manage the natural rainforest and its water table.
We set off after breakfast from the Bristol hotel, travelling by road for about an hour and a half to a “natural bridge” as they called it where we took a motorised canoe boat upstream for about 30 minutes. Suddenly the air was filled with the sound of drums and flute music, and we could see people on the bank awaiting our arrival. We’d reached Parara Puru, a village that has been adapted by the local community to demonstrate their culture and traditions. Tourism is a major source of income for the community, funding education, providing clothing and food. The community has it’s own school which is open to all the local children, where they learn to speak and write Spanish. Some of the older pupils travel to Panama City to study English.
It was fun just to walk around the community, seeing the girls cooking on the floor and chatting to people about their beliefs and customs. The kids seemed very free and at one with their natural surroundings. I also enjoyed the visit to a waterfall about 20 minutes away by boat and then a short walk through the rainforest forest. We swam in the pool at the bottom of the falls which was a welcome way to cool off!
Lunch was delicious – I tucked into tasty fried fish and plantain served in palm leaves. The fish was caught in the Chagres River but the community is not allowed to cultivate the land as the national park is a protected area, so some food stuff has to be bought in.
All in all it’s a well-managed experience so that you don’t feel that your visit is inappropriate in any way. I’d definitely recommend booking this trip as part of a Panama holiday. There’s much more to say about the gorgeous Caribbean beaches in Panama – Boca del Toro and the San Blas Islands, but that’s the subject of another blog!