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Embera Village on Chagres River Panama

Although visitors to this central American country generally overlook the significance of the Chagres River Panama, we have included a river cruise on our fully guided Caravan Panama tour.

Our begins in Panama City, which is recognized internationally as a great place to live, work and even retire. As well, the architectural ruins and old world heritage buildings of Old Panama (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) continually attract tourists from around the globe.

Panama also gained worldwide recognition in 1914 with the opening of the Panama Canal, an engineering marvel that forever changed shipping and marine transportation between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

However, there is much more to this country than the historical ruins and man-made wonders and that’s why we have included a Chagres River Panama cruise on our tour.

Chagres River

Panama’s Chagres River cuts through central Panama, crossing the continental divide before draining into the Caribbean Sea. The Chagres River is an integral part of the Panama Canal. The construction of the Gatun Dam across the Chagres River created what at the time was the world’s largest artificial lake. Gatun Lake has since become an important waterway for the tens of thousands of ships and boats that traverse the Panama Canal annually.

National Park

The Panama Canal watershed is vital to the continued operation of the Panama Canal. In an effort to protect the natural forests and to ensure sufficient water supply to maintain water levels for the operation of the Panama Canal, the Panamanian government created the Chagres National Park in 1985. Although much of the surrounding environment was disturbed during canal construction, modern day efforts have been made to maintain and restore this important natural resource.

This glorious area and the virgin rainforest jungles of Chagres National Park are the native habitat of many unique species. There’s always a chance you’ll spot the elusive jaguar, a tapir, or several exotic species of monkeys, river otters, and colorful birds. Panama is a nature-lover’s paradise!

Chagres River Bridges

There are two main bridges that span across the Chagres River. The Bridges of the Americas was completed in 1962 and connects the North American continent with the South American continent. The second bridge is part of the Pan-American Highway. It is the newly constructed (2004) Centennial Bridge located just nine miles north of the Bridge of the Americas. Centennial Bridge was constructed to relive the traffic congestion of the older Bridges of the Americas.

Embera Indian Village

The Embera Indians of Panama are unique culturally and one of the original pre-Colombian indigenous peoples of the Central America. The Embera inhabit the lush tropical rainforests of Panama and a short Piedras river trip will bring you to thatched huts of an authentic Embera Indian village.

Here, deep in the rainforests of Panama, where the Embera Indians co-exist with nature and the River, little has changed in the past 500 years since Columbus first discovered America. Piedras River is much smaller than the Chagres River and a little removed from the international attention and congestion of the Panama Canal. The Piedras River is a naturally protected setting and well worth the visit.

River Wildlife

There are more than 240 species of reptiles and over 10,000 different types of plants, floral and fauna in Panama. Caravan Panama tours along the Chagres river also offers plenty of opportunity for visitors to witness the Harpy Eagle (the national bird of Panama) along with howler monkeys, toucans, and many other indigenous members of the wildlife population.

Caravan Panama Tour

River cruises along the Peidras and Chagres River Panama are included as part of our all inclusive Panama Tours. These are exceptionally priced, fully escorted 8-day vacations by Caravan Tours, starting at just $1,295.

To check tour availability, call Caravan toll free at 1-800-CARAVAN (227-2826) or visit Panama Tours Reservations.

One of the comments made by travelers on Caravan Panama vacations is the surprise at how quickly Panama City’s downtown core and metropolitan area turns into lush rainforest.

More and more travelers from around the world come to vacation in Panama City. The vacation here to take in the many surrounding tourist attractions such as the Panama Canal or the Bridge of Americas. However, in most cases, it is the natural beauty of the country that is impressed upon their minds as they leave.

A popular must-see natural attraction in Panama is Monkey Island located in Gatun Lake within the Gamboa rainforest – just 40 minutes from Panama City.

Gatun Lake Tours – Featuring Monkey Island

When the Gatun Dam was built in the early 1900’s it stopped the Chagres River from flowing into the Caribbean Sea. The dam created Gatun Lake, which at the time was the world’s largest man-made lake. Gatun Lake is still one of the 5 must-see man made wonders in Panama.

Today Gatun Lake is an invaluable asset to the Panama Canal as each year it carries tens of thousands of vessels through 33 kilometers of their journey across the Isthmus of Panama.

Clues as to what the Chagres Valley might have looked like over a century ago, before the lake was created, are visible on a Panama boat cruise across Gutan Lake. Century old trees can be spotted floating to the surface of the water. For this reason there is a clearly marked channel to keep ships on track and out of trouble as they cross Gatun Lake. Small vessels, in particular, are susceptible to getting caught up in the debris.

Other clues include are the small islands that were once the peaks of the surrounding Chagres Valley hill tops. The peaks from the valley jut out of the lake’s water surface and form rainforest “hilltop islands.”

The most famous hilltop island in Gatun Lake is Monkey Island – known for its large population of monkeys. Some may say the island is infested but most tourists are delighted at the chance to see a variety of monkeys while on their boat tour.

Monkey Island Boat Tour

Most Gatun Lake tours make a stop at Monkey Island and allow passengers to get an up-close encounter with the island’s monkey population. The monkeys are known to be somewhat curious of tourists coming up to their island and often adventurously crawl into the boats to interact.

Monkey Island is home to four species of monkeys:

Gray-Bellied Night Monkey – Also known as the Lemurine Owl Monkey this specie is native to Panama. Vacationers often miss seeing this monkey because it sleeps during the day and hunts for food at night. You may expect the monkey to have a gray belly but in fact it has a gray coat on its back that turns into a reddish-brown coat on its underside. Unfortunately, the gray-bellied night monkey is vulnerable to becoming extinct in the future.

White-Faced Capuchin Monkey – Also known as the white-throated capuchin or white-headed capuchin because of its primarily ‘white’ upper body. These monkeys are very social and live in groups of about 20 throughout Central and South America. The lifespan of the Capuchin Monkey in Gatun averages about 50 years.

Mantled Howler Monkey – The Howler monkey often likes to make an appearance for vacationers on Gatun Lake Tours. Many agree that the Howler Monkey is the loudest animal in all of Panama as it communicates through a loud sound audible up to 5 kilometers away. You will likely hear the Howler Monkeys communicating with each other from your boat on Gatun Lake!

Tamarin Monkey – Found only in Panama and Colombia this is the smallest monkey in all of Central America. The Tamarin monkey especially enjoys the moist tropical rainforests located along the Panama Canal. If you take Gutan Lake tour between April and June you may see a Mother with her young, as this is their birthing season.

Wikipedia offers additional information on the Panamanian Monkey Species.

Other Wildlife Near Monkey Island

The rainforest covered hilltop islands of Gutan Lake are also home to a diverse variety of other wildlife besides monkeys. Green iguanas, three-toed sloths, crocodiles, osprey and Keel-Billed toucans can also be spotted by visiting spectators on Gatun Lake Tours.

A boat tour guide familiar with the islands and the island inhabitants are a great resource to learn about Panama’s ecosystem and its diversity. As most Gatun Lake Cruises use small 10 to 20 passenger vessels, the tour is often quite interactive and there is rarely a “bad seat” on the boat.

Caravan Panama Vacations Include Monkey Island

A Gatun Lake cruise with a visit to Monkey Island is included in Caravan Tour’s all inclusive Panama Vacations. Exceptionally priced and fully escorted, these Panama vacations are a great value; priced from just $1,295.

Call Caravan Tours Toll Free at 1-888-CARAVAN (227-2826) for Panama tour reservations or to check tour date availability.

panama embera village

On your Caravan Panama tour you will have the change to visit an authentic Embera Indian Village.

The Embera-Wounaan Indians live in Panama’s province of Darien. Still very primitive and untouched by the outside world, these Chocó people are very friendly and open to tourists, enjoying the opportunity to share their culture with others.

One highlight of Caravan’s 8 Day All Inclusive Panama Tour is a morning’s trip up the Chagres River to visit a Panama Embera Indian village.

During this morning visit, tourists have the opportunity to:

  • Cruise the Chagres River enjoy the sights of Panamanian rainforest
  • Interact with Embera Indians in their natural environment
  • Browse and shop from the Embera handicrafts

Chagres River Panama Cruise

The Embera Indian village tour starts near Gatun Lake on the Caribbean side of Panama. Passengers board a small cruise boat and travel up the Chagres River into the heart of the Panama Rainforest. The Chagres River is actually Panama’s primary source for water and is critical in the functioning of the Panama Canal. Along the riverbanks of the Chagres there are opportunities to spot many creatures that make up Panama’s unique wildlife and ecosystem. Toucans, macaws and quetzals all help make Panama one of the best bird watching areas in the world where exotic birds can be easily spotted up in the trees.

Embera Indian Village Visit

Today the Embera Indians of Panama maintains their traditional living conditions and village structure. Each Embera Indian village is located close to the river bank throughout the Darien Province. Most are about a half day’s walk away from neighboring villages. Built on stilts, Embera Indian homes are raised off the ground and have thatched roofs and no walls. All household items such as handmade hammocks, baskets, pots, mosquito nets and bows and arrows hang from the posts and beams around the hut.

Panama’s Embera Indians, also known as the Chocó, have their own form of government and live by their own, unwritten standards. Healthcare is limited and the Embera Indians are not assimilated into Panamanian culture.

Very much community oriented, each villager contributes during harvest time to farm the land together. Food gained from hunting is shared between everyone. Often areas around the small Embera Indian village are cleared in order to grow bananas and plantain, which can be used as a crop and resource for obtaining motors, mosquito nets and other goods.

Embera Native Handiwork

After meeting the Embera Indians of Panama many tourists like to collect a keepsake and provide a way to support or thank the village for being so welcoming. Most of the time the Emberas open up their own marketplaces and sell tourists some of their very best handiwork, including colorful woven palm fiber baskets and tagua nut or cocobolo tree carvings.

Visit Caravan’s Panama Cruise FAQ page or Check Availability for the Panama Canal Cruise Vacation Packages.

These vacations always book up quickly as they are All Inclusive and include your meals, in-country transportation and all accommodations.

Call 1-800-CARAVAN (227-2826) to reserve your space today and visit an authentic Embera Indian village in Panama!