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©Simon Buxton Darien Gap Panama jungle adventure 2016

© Simon Buxton

  • Trip Summary
  • Trip Notes
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Jungle Trek to the Darien Gap Panama

A pioneering jungle trek into the Darien Gap in search of lost civilisations, 5,000 year old petroglyphs and the last of the Embera Indians.

This jungle trek expedition aims to cross the Darien gap from Puerto Quimba to Playa Muerto in order to locate lost Petroglyphs and chart a previously unexplored area of rainforest, accompanied by indigenous Embera tribes.

Exploring new trails and hidden corners of this legendary jungle, this will be the ultimate in modern exploration and adventure.

The Darien Gap refers to the only break in the 30,000 mile Pam-American highway. It is a 50-mile wide stretch of jungle and swampland that separates North and South America. It has long evoked a sense of adventure like almost nowhere else, and it has become a dream of many intrepid adventurers to ‘cross the gap’ on foot.

It was once described by adventure author Hilary Bradt, as a ‘swampy wasteland crawling with venomous creatures ready at a moment’s notice to suck unsuspecting explorers into its oozing depths.’ The security situation has settled down in the majority of the Darien, with some exceptions in parts of the Gap that we will not be visiting. It has only ever successfully been crossed on nine occasions, most famously by British explorer Col. John Blashford-Snell, in 1975.


  • Explore a legendary region separating the Americas.
  • Learn jungle survival skills from expert guides.
  • Travel alongside the Embera Indians and learn about their fascinating culture.
  • See the mysterious Petroglyphs, remnants of an ancient culture.
  • Explore the jungle rivers by boat.
  • A Sunday Times ‘Wildest Trip’ plus CNN and Telegraph coverage.
  • A Lonely Planet ‘favourite final frontier’.

This is the ultimate in modern exploration and adventure.

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The Darien Gap is shrouded in mystery. Infamous as a place thought impenetrable, inhabited only by indigenous Emberá Indians and FARC guerrillas. After the great success of our March 2013 expedition we will be returning to the Darien, heading into the heart of this fascinating jungle which connects North and South America, in search of ancient petroglyphs and lost civilisations.

In 1995 the American Photographer~Mountaineer~Explorer Robert Hyman, along with native Embera Daniel Castaneda, were the first to document a large stone covered in mysterious carvings deep in the Darien jungle. Previously only known to the local Emberá Indians who inhabit the area, the petroglyphs were dated to 3000-5000 BC. Robert returned to the region in 2005 to successfully locate another rumoured petroglyph site.


Petroglyphs are rock engravings, often associated with prehistoric peoples. The “Yarre Mongara” or Monkey Stone was the first Petroglyph documented by Robert Hyman and Daniel Castaneda in all of Eastern Panama in 1995. He returned ten years later to discover two more sites, but the area remains unexplored and there is a distinct possibility there are more sites out there waiting to be discovered.

The Emberá are one of Panama’s indigenous Indian groups, living in the Darien along the shores of the Chucunaque, Sambu and Tuira rivers. They live in small villages of 5 to 20 houses and have their own form of autonomous government and rules, separate from the Panamanian government. They live off the land hunting wild fish and game using traditional methods. The Emberá are known for their distinctive appearance, wearing brightly coloured skirts and painting their bodies in intricate geometric patterns.
The Darien contains a stunning range of wildlife, and is considered one of the best regions in the world for bird watching. You can see a staggering range of bird life here including the harpy eagle and four species of macaw. The region is also home to jaguars, tapirs, anteaters, monkeys and caimans.


Our guide, Rick Morales, has been working as a wilderness guide in the Darien and Panama since 1998. He is one of the most competent interpretation guides and well recognised for his skills in bird watching in Panama. In recent years he has been directly related to the rediscovery of the colonial trial, Camino Real Colonial. In 2011 he became the first person to walk the Panama Trail, a through hike from the Columbian border to Costa Rica. This is part of the Trans-Panama project, aiming to develop and map sections of trail connecting regions and people throughout Panama.


We have worked tirelessly to put together this plan and had a successful expedition in 2013. This is a particularly challenging expedition to organise in a remote and fascinating area and we are confident we have a solid plan. There is one factor that we can’t control. SENAFRONT are the border police who control the area. Rick has great relations with them after working here for 14 years. However, there is a chance they could shut down entry into this region at a moment’s notice. If this occurs, we have a great Plan B in northern Panama, which will be equally adventurous.

Minimum fitness requirements

  • Trek: up to 15km per day (the going is very slow in the jungle).
  • Daily activity: from six to ten hours’ trekking.
  • Carry: up to 15kg per person in a rucksack.
  • Terrain: Terrain: expect boggy, wet and close tropical rainforest and river crossings. It can be hilly with a maximum elevation of 600m.
  • Climate: a hot, humid jungle environment.
  • Swim: a return boat journey and river crossings and journeys (wading and in dug-out canoes) are essential parts of this expedition. Being 100% comfortable around water is required and being able to swim will be very beneficial.
  • Age: 21+


This will initially be in a basic hotel in Panama City. When moving through the jungle we will be sleeping in hammocks and in Puerto Meurto we will be in our hammocks in basic huts on the beach.


We will eat at local eating establishments when in urban areas. For the majority of the expedition we will be on a mix of dehydrated trekking rations along with food sourced locally from villagers.


Transport on the trip will involve bumpy rides in 4WD vehicles, trekking and travel in indigenous canoes. We will also be taking coastal boats.


  • 17 March – 30 March 2018
  • 21 April – 4 May 2018

Duration: 14 nights

Cost: £2,899 GBP

Group size: 12

The expedition is priced on a LAND ONLY basis, giving you maximum flexibility when deciding how to get to and from the expedition.


  • Professional expedition leader with full communications kit and medical kit.
  • Specialist guides and instructors.
  • Hammock accommodation throughout.
  • All food (snacks and meals) and soft drinks.
  • Internal transport as outlined in itinerary.
  • Special permits and permissions within Panama’s Darien Gap.


  • International flights/ travel to and from Panama City.
  • Travel insurance (obligatory).
  • Tips to local guides (discretionary but expected by the local guides in Panama. Your leader will discuss this in country and consider bring small denominations of US$ to enable this).
  • Alcohol unless provided by hosts with meals.
  • Personal equipment (full kit list in the Handbook)

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