Located in a rainforest in a valley of the Andes mountains is the town of Coroico, Bolivia. We went to the town after driving down “death road” and hiked to a beautiful waterfall and then enjoyed lunch at local restaurant. Considering how tense the drive down the side of the mountain, with its narrow road, thousand foot cliffs, and no guard rails, it was definitely relaxing to go to Coroico. The town square featured a whimsical fountain with a parrot and a colorful church. The highlight of visiting Coroico was definitely the waterfall, which was extremely dramatic and beautiful.
We hiked along a trail that was surrounded by plants with coffee beans as well as beautiful flowers on our way to the waterfall. We spent about twenty minutes enjoying the sights and sounds of the waterfall along with several other tourists before making our way back towards our vehicle. Along the way, we saw several coca plantations that are in the area where the coca plants are cultivated and sold throughout the region for medicinal and recreational purposes. While it is legal to grow coca, converting it to cocaine is technically illegal, but it is still a big problem in the region.
After leaving the waterfall, we drove through the narrow streets of Coroico to a resort where we would have lunch. Compared to the conditions that we saw within the town of Coroico, the resort was extremely nice with a pool and incredible views of the rainforest. It was a perfect ending to a fascinating day of exhilaration and adventure. If it wasn’t for the fact that we drove down “death road”, we probably wouldn’t have visited Coroico while we were in Bolivia, but it was certainly an interesting and rewarding experience.
If you are planning a trip to Panama City, one of the sites that you should consider visiting is the Metropolitan National Park. Since Panama City is surrounded by a rainforest that is protected by law, the city is literally surrounded by jungles and wildlife. You don’t have to leave the city in order to escape into nature and see some of the exotic wildlife that the country has to offer. It is about a fifteen minute drive from downtown Panama City to reach the park and the cost to enter is only $4 per person for non-Nationals ($1 for Nationals).
Although it is located on the edge of the city and temperatures are often hot and humid, the Metropolitan National Park is still a rainforest, so you should definitely wear closed-toed shoes or hiking shoes. After stopping at the visitors center to purchase your tickets and get information on the park and the animals that live there, you will walk a short distance to the actual start of the trail system within the park. The trail in the park is basically a giant loop and if you are willing to follow it to its furthermost point, you will be rewarded with wonderful views of the city as the summit is the second highest point within the city. There are some steep sections on the trail, but overall it is considered to be moderate, but be sure to have plenty of water with you.
One of the first things that you see along the trail is a pond that has many turtles swimming, lazing on the shore, or propped up on twigs and sticks. They were fairly active while we were there, but obviously not the most unique of animals to see during your time in a rainforest. Another of the first animals that we saw during our time in the park was a tree sloth, although this particular sloth was just curled up and sleeping. We saw several agoutis, which are rodents that are almost a cross between a rabbit and guinea pig. It is possible to see other animals such as monkeys, deer, toucans, and parrots, but due to the number of people that visit the park, those sightings can be rare.
The views of the Panama City are definitely a highlight of visiting the Metropolitan National Park. As you reach the final plateau above the trail, you have 180 degree views of the city and the surrounding suburbs. It is a perfect place to sit and relax before continuing along the trail back to the start. Another common sight along the trail are the leaf-cutter ants, which traverse the trails at many different points as they carry the leaves back to their nests. You will also see many different termite mounds on the trunks of trees as well as variety of flowers, trees, and plants. If you hear some leaves rustling next to the trail, a closer inspection will likely uncover a lizard, but beware of snakes as there are many varieties in the park.
The Metropolitan National Park is a wonderful way to see a rainforest without having to leave Panama City. For a variety of reasons, we would certainly recommend having a more immersive experience in a rainforest, but visiting the park is perfect for young children or those that don’t have time to spend doing a tour or staying at an ecolodge. As Panama continues to embrace ecotourism, experiences such as these will only continue to become more accessible. We were told by one of our guides that 36% of the country of Panama is actually protected, making plenty of opportunities to enjoy nature. Although many people visit Costa Rica, a trip to Panama might just provide a more authentic and less touristic experience.
Visiting an indigenous village is always fascinating and if you go to Panama City there are tours that will take you to an Emberá village. The Emberá people are tribes that live in the Panama rainforest and still keep their traditional lifestyle. They make a living by hosting tour groups and selling their native crafts which include wood carvings, basket weaving, and jewelry. You can find these crafts being sold in Panama City, but purchasing them in the village will ensure that the money spent goes directly to the families that created them. They are very proud of their traditions and are happy to share them with the people who visit their villages.
There are several different villages along the river in the rainforest, each comprised of different families. In order to reach one of the villages, we travelled in a motorized dugout canoe, which was hand carved by the villagers. On our way, we stopped to see a beautiful waterfall. We were fortunate that there were no others on the tour besides ourselves, which made it even more enjoyable. In order to reach the waterfall, we walked up through the stream, so bringing a change of shoes is advised. If you want to go swimming, you can also bring swimming suits, although we chose not to during our tour.
Our guide took us to one of the more remote villages, which was nice because not as many tours take the time to go there and we ended up being the only people to visit that village that day. As we beached our canoe, family members came to the village entrance and greeted us with traditional music. We then had time to wander through the village and learn more about their daily life. Their homes are simple huts with open walls and everyone sleeps on the floor. In the past, the Emberá tribe members wore nothing but small swaths of cloth around their waist, but now the women also cover up their chests as well since tourists were tending to stare at them too much.
Lunch was being prepared for the entire village as well as for ourselves and while it cooked over an open fire we watched the children playing in the open area in the heart of the village. The only modern building in the village is the school, which is built by the government, and teachers arrive on weekdays to provide lessons for children up to the age of 12 to 14. Although older children will leave the village to go on to higher education, most of them return upon completion to rejoin their village or to marry into another village. It is a very simple life, but the people that live in the village seem very happy.
After eating our lunch of tilapia and plantains served in a banana leaf, the villagers gathered together to play traditional music and dances. We also had the opportunity to get a tribal tatoo, which is more like a hemp tatoo that only lasts a couple of weeks. Afterwards, we took our time to look at the crafts that were set up in a large hut with each table belonging to a separate family. For any craft that you purchase, the money goes directly to the family that created it. We were told before going to the village not to give candy or money directly to villagers other than to purchase items. If you want to give them money, it should be given to the chief, who will then be sure that it gets distributed properly.
As we went down to our canoe to head back to our van, many of the villagers came down to the river to wish us goodbye and to cool off by swimming in the river. Once again, we were invited to join them, but chose not to go swimming. It was truly an interesting day and the Emberá tribe members were extremely friendly and welcoming. Visiting an Emberá village is certainly worth taking the time to do when spending time in Panama. It is also an excellent way to spend a little time deeper in the rainforest, enjoy the beautiful scenery, and see some of the wildlife in the area.