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Wild and Welcoming Panama

Panama City

After the tour, we spent a few hours wandering through Casco Viejo, Panama City’s beautiful historic district. As Jolly pointed out architectural features on the buildings, we sipped on sangrias from Las Bovedas, a stylish bar and restaurant inside a former prison vault.

By the oceanfront, we came across the Plaza de Francia, an obelisk memorial to the 20,000 Frenchmen who died during one of the early attempts to construct a canal. There, we browsed through street vendor booths and picked up some fresh churros to snack on as the sun began to set over the water; finally, we made our way back to the resort for a late dinner.

Though we were all tired from a full day of activities, we made time after dinner to take a jungle jeep tour with a guide from the resort. The dark jungle was filled with curious sounds as we drove along narrow, empty roads, and our guide regaled us with local ghost stories as she pointed out wildlife like capybaras, sloths and crocodiles with her flashlight.

  Embera Indigenous Village

After breakfast at the resort the next morning, our group departed for a dugout canoe ride up the Chagres River to the village of the Embera Quera Tribe, one of Panama’s few remaining indigenous tribes. We were met at the dock by a tribesman dressed in a traditional red loincloth, who helped us into a motorized canoe and led the way to the village. As we sailed past lush yellow and green banana trees along the riverbanks, it was hard to believe we were less than an hour from modern, metropolitan Panama City.

When we arrived, many members of the tribe greeted us at the dock with big smiles and shook our hands. The men wore different-colored loincloths while the women displayed glittering halter tops, ornate skirts and pink flower hats. The village itself looked like a little jungle paradise, with straw-thatched huts scattered throughout green hills, gardens and fruit trees. After taking in this picturesque scene for a few minutes, we were led into one of the huts to learn about the tribe’s history from the chief’s daughter while Jolly translated.

Afterward, one of the elders gave us a tour of the village, showing us various plants and trees used to make traditional dyes and medicines. We then returned to the large central hut to enjoy a mouthwatering feast of fried tilapia, plantains and fruit, which were served on palm leaves. As we were finishing our meal, the tribespeople gathered in the hut to perform a cultural dance and song. The men played music on drums, flutes and maracas while the women danced and sang, led by the chief’s daughter. Toward the end, they invited us to join them in the dance.