Panama - Darien
36 images Created 13 Dec 2008
The ultimate adventure travel of the Americas is probably the Darién Gap. This historically dangerous place is filled with the magic of a dark and sinister kind. A legendary small Amazonas of Panama, an area of Conradian wilderness into which explorers venture, never to return, but also one of the last bastions of pristine rainforest and biodiversity, named a Natural World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Darién, 16,671 square kilometers in eastern Panama, is the country's largest province, but only 40,000 people live there. Spaniards discovered the region in 1501, and Christopher Columbus sighted it on his fourth voyage in 1503. The Spanish established the first European colony in South America, Santa María la Antigua del Darién, which was soon abandoned in 1510. Exploring Darièn and looking for gold, the Spanish conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa became 1513 the first European to set eyes on the "South Sea," the Pacific Ocean. The Darién Gap is one of the wildest areas of the Americas, a large swath of undeveloped swampland and forest dividing Panama from Colombia. Even the mythical Panamericana road is interrupted by this small and impenetrable Amazonas near the Colombian border, populated only by small groups of indigenous lost in the rainforest, military, and adventurers of any kind. Southern Darièn is still an adventurer's dream. Traveling beyond Yaviza, a village 50 km from the Colombian border famous for lawlessness where Pan-America road stops, is possible only on foot or by boat. A painful journey in a nearly no-man's-land where are often hidden drug smugglers, Colombian paramilitary groups, and outlaws. Only a few thousand Emberà and Wounaan indigenous communities can survive in a tropical wilderness utilised in the past for training of US astronauts and air force pilots. The Darièn National Park, untamed and essentially roadless, is a rarely visited area, a mystery zone within an extraordinary wilderness. Today huge swaths of the park appear to have been deforested, but satellite imaging never gives a complete picture of places like rainforests. Even Panama's security forces leave large sections of the park unmonitored.