Truly, the highlight of my trip to Panama was today’s visit to the remote Embera Paru village with our guide, Garceth.
I spent many hours reviewing the many different tours to the different Embera villages across the Chagras River region — the Drua, the Tusipono, the Parapera Paru, and more. I wanted to see a village in a way that felt as authentic and meaningful as possible. I read many mixed reviews that suggested these visits were more tourist-trap than anything else.
The Paru village (different from the Parapera Paru) is the most remote one in the Chagres region. It’s a community of around 100 members, many of which are children.
What made the visit so remarkable was our guide, Garceth. Garceth is, himself, a member of the Embera. He was raised in a small Embera village in the Darien region. His parents still live there. Garceth is a remarkable wealth of information, perspective, understanding, and wisdom. This is NOT something any non-indigenous guide could ever provide. His ability to share deep and meaningful perspectives on the culture, their values, their challenges, their rituals was personal, not simply informational. It made the experience absolutely extraordinary — and he demonstrates a level of understanding and respect that I found deeply moving.
Garceth was able to speak about the many conflicts in Columbia that has led many of the Embera to flee through the jungle into Panama. We met children in the village who just arrived — escaping the guerrillas that have massacres entire indigenous villages in Columbia.
I will say that the Embera children were the highlight of my visit. (It’s like meeting Mogli from The Jungle Book!) I prepared for this by bringing a backpack full of treats for the children (ring pops, bubbles, balls, candy sharks, play doh, and more) We played soccer; swam all together in the river; and shared delicious fresh fruit.
On the day we went (a Monday in January) my wife and I were the only 2 guests visiting. It was wonderful not to be part of a giant group; instead, to have a small and personal, intimate experience with this tribe.
Garceth is a well educated (he studied on scholarship at Oregon State) and humble man who knows the jungle better than any guide I’ve yet experienced (it helps that he worked as a ranger in the national park system in Panama for years) I would absolutely choose Garceth for any jungle adventure. And his kinship with the Embera made today’s visit memorable for a lifetime.