How we are going to do it... What we are going to see...
Firstly, you are expected to come with a full grasp of what you're getting into, not only by having a notion of what the trek is about, but by having a genuine desire to do it. This is particularly important for travel companions who are following the wishes and ambitions of a friend or significant other. Trekking in the jungle can be difficult physically, technically, emotionally and on many other levels.
You are expected to be physically prepared to hike the miles and complete the expedition, as well as come with the recommended equipment for the job.
Also you are expected to set up and take down your shelter every day. To treat your own drinking water, stay hydrated and well nourished, and in general, take good care of your own body and safety throughout the trek, watching out for any "red flags" in order to prevent serious illnesses or injuries that could compromise your own health or the success of the expedition for the rest of the team.
Our expedition leaders' sole mission is to channel all their knowledge and experience to help the team achieve their goals on the trek. Those goals are physical (such as completing the intented journey within the expected number of days), but also mental, emotional and personal, such as accomplishing those goals in the most rewarding way possible, and with the least number of setbacks.
Expedition leaders are expected to teach the use and set-up of the jungle personal shelters to all participants.
They are expected to communicate as frequently as possible the proposed route to be followed and the estimated times.
When appropriate they are expected to interpret the history, the culture or the environmental features along the journey.
They are expected to communicate any challenges that could potentially be met during the trek, and offer safety briefings when necessary or when the team is about to engage in an unusually risky acitivity.
Expeditions leaders are also expected to organize the logistical aspects of the trip; coordinate with the local communities and staff; organize transportation to and from the trek, and organize meals.
Expeditions leaders are expected to maintain regular communication with the company's headquarters and the safety monitor; manage any contingencies during the expedition, and provide first-aid in accordance to their level of training.
Expedition leaders are also expected to make difficult decisions when needed, such as evacuating a sick or injured teammate or staff, modifying, delaying, or even suspending the continuation of a trek if they deem it necessary to preserve the health and safety of the group, or to avoid incidents, accidents or complications of any kind during a trip.
Expedition leaders are NOT expected to "baby-sit" any participant, however they are indeed expected to take reasonable care if someone on the team has become ill or injured.
Yes you do. Trekking is about hiking, camping, and being self-sufficient in wilderness settings. We will have a few local porters that will carry the group’s communal gear such as large tarps, camping stoves, pots, as well as all of the food. You are responsible for carrying your own backpack with all your essentials, and your own snacks. Furthermore, if necessary you are expected to leave room in your backpack to help carry extra gear, or part of a teammate's load should they become injured or sick and unable to carry all of their own burden.
No, not with mixed groups, and the reason is that if we do it for one person then we have to make it available for everybody else, and this can bring about a list of complications too long to detail here. On a private trek there is more flexibility, but the company still reserves the right to evaluate this possibility on a case-by-case basis.
We sleep in hammocks in the middle of the jungle, usually by a river. Although in small communities where there are other types of accommodation we may take up the opportunity and stay there if the beds and sheets are clean. Churches and school buildings in remote villages provide excellent hammock shelters.
Park ranger and field stations on the other hand, are usually non-existent or in a sad state of disrepair in some of our countries. So accommodations are marginal at best. In such cases we camp in the backwoods.
We eat primarily dehydrated home-made food. We also eat store-bought, pre-packaged meals, and when we stay in remote villages we try to buy food from the locals because it adds a fresh variety to our menu and contributes to their economy.
If you are a vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions we kindly ask that you let us know right away. Depending on the trek and the circumstances we might have some wiggle room to work with in some cases, whereas in others we might not be able to accommodate special diets, in which case we would ask those participants to bring their own food.
If we spot a wild animal on our journey, we can assure you that we will stop to have a look and even take a few photos. But we won’t actively look for wildlife, and it could very well happen that we don’t see a single animal on the entire trip. That’s because trekking and wildlife watching are activities that don’t mix well, specially in the tropical jungle. When you’re trekking you need to reach a specific destination in a certain number of hours. Whereas when you’re looking for wildlife you have to be very slow, quiet, and patient. We specialize in the former. There are a number of tour operators that specialize in wildlife watching. We can email you a few recommendations.
No you’re not. However, we understand that the idea of trekking in the jungle sometimes conjures up images of people crossing mosquito-infested swamps while gritting a knife between their teeth as part of a survival course or experience. Our treks on the other hand, are similar to backpacking trips in other parts of the world. You will learn certain skills that are specific to backpacking in tropical jungles, such as setting up your hammock and tarp; dressing for the day and night in the jungle, hiking with wet feet, and taking good care of them, etc. However, these are not meant to be survival techniques.
Having said that, we organize an annual jungle guide course which includes survival elements. If you’re into bushcraft, camping, survival, or other jungle-related activities, we recommend you visit www.junglecraft.com.my where you’ll find loads of useful information. Although largely focused on the jungles of Southeast Asia, a lot of the advice and techniques can be applied in the rainforests of Latin America.
Safety questions and concerns
The Darien has earned an undeserved reputation as a dangerous region. There certainly are places you should stay away from when traveling there (just like there are neighborhoods you stay out of in any city) because those places are frequented by irregulars or insurgents. However we coordinate our operations in the Darien with Senafront, our national border patrol, and if a given area where we intend to travel becomes unsafe due to security issues or natural disasters we reserve the right to relocate our operation to a different region, or in a worse-case scenario, to cancel it altogether.
If fsecurity is a big concern for you, then you will always be looking over your shoulder and will not enjoy the trek. So we invite you to consider one of our other expeditions, which are just as amazing and unique.
Before the beginning of each expedition, every participant must have a valid travel insurance that covers everything up to medical evacuations and repatriation. We have Wilderness First Responder training obtained from NOLS and are able to handle accidents and illness to a reasonable extent. In case of an evacuation, we have a remote emergency coordinator who monitors the progress of each expedition 24/7, and facilitates any extraction operations with the professional agencies in charge. That way we in the field can concentrate our efforts on the patient and let our coordinator handle the extraction procedures. All medical costs will be covered by the participant or his/her insurance company.
There certainly are snakes in the places where we trek. Some of them are venomous. Big snakes are easy to see, but very rare. The little ones however can be so tiny and well camouflaged that you seldom notice them when you walk by. The real danger lies in stepping on them inadvertently, and having it strike back. This is why we ask trekkers to wear high boots instead of trail shoes, and to wear thick gaiters, preferably snake-proof. We do this for insurance and piece of mind. We’ve never had an incident with snakes. But just like we have never tipped a boat, yet still wear the life jacket, we wear snake protection when going to the jungle.
Having said all this, if you have a phobia toward snakes or any other kind of wild creature, we recommend that you consider joining a trip in more controlled environments than our destinations.
The quick answer is No.
The long answer is that all of our expeditions require a lot of preparation on our part as well as on yours. We need to prepare expedition equipment, the food, and the personal shelters for everybody on the trek. You need to buy and test specialized gear that is absolutely necessary in the tropical jungle, but very rarely used in temperate regions (such as jungle boots, snake-proof gaiters, and insecticide for your clothes).
Ideally, you will contact us from home when you're in the planning stages of your vacation, even before you've bought your flight tickets (if you live overseas). This way we can look at the calendar together and find dates that are most suitable for everybody, and with benign weather.
Furthermore, this region experiences a very pronounced rainy season between August and December, in which we avoid conducting long backpacking trips because there is a high probability of river floods, landslides, and tree falls which at best can cause numerous delays during the course of a trek, and at worst can quickly turn into full-blown natural disasters.
Therefore, if you contact us saying that you want to do a 4-day expedition next week and you're already in country, we're mostly like going to turn you down.
Finally, with our Hike & Paddle day trips we have a bit more flexibiliity. We provide most of the specialized equipment, so that you don't have to. These trips are not much affected by floods because the hikes don't follow major rivers. However, we still need at least a 48-hour notice to put them together, assuming we are in town and available of course.
Bottom line: Please contact us several months in advance while you're still planning your vaccation.
First of all, Panama is one of the most expensive countries in the region. So that already puts us at a disadvantage compared to some of our neighbors, because it has a direct impact on the prices.
We fully understand the mindset of people who want organize their own treks, be on their own, and save on costs, because when we travel we also like to do most things ourselves. In Europe, North America or Asia, typically you just go to a national park, ask at the information office for a few maps, pay the entrance permit, and head off into the trail by yourself. In those countries the system is set up for you to build your own experience.
In Latin America it’s a different story, especially in the tropical jungles. There are no trails, no signs, and no maps to follow. Our governments don’t put out any resources or have any interest in building trekking routes for the people. Nor do they have the knowledge to do it. We at a private level and with our own resources have invested a considerable amount of time, effort, and money, exploring the routes, and designing the whole experience for our clients. Our treks are boutique expeditions. It means that they are not for the masses. They are designed for a small and selective group of people to truly enjoy the wilderness away from the crowds. If you compare this to the most popular routes in South America, you will notice big differences. At those destinations they make their profit by volume of tourists. That means that in order to keep prices low, they have to book a lot of people on a trek. The experience sometimes is Ok and sometimes it’s not. Just imagine how many times you would want to take a simple picture of the scenery, and there’s either somebody else blocking your view, or you are in someone’s way.
Then there is the equipment. We put a lot of thought into the sort of gear we use in the wilderness. We could just go to the outlet mall and buy cheap tents, but we know that in the sweltering heat a tent is going to feel like a sauna. For that reason we order our own super-ventilated hammocks from overseas, always in search of the best quality. Ultimately, camping is all about whether you spend a comfortable night, listening to the sounds of the jungle, or wake up with an aching back from a ground root, only having slept three hours and getting ready to hike a full day with a backpack on. These things definitely have an impact on your experience.
Similarly, we always keep safety in mind, and procure the best satellite communication equipment available. A satellite phone is great, but it could malfunction exactly when you need it most. For that reason aside from the phone, we also bring satellite messengers and trackers. All of these devices are expensive to buy, but they also require a service plan that we need to pay for every month.
Another point we don’t stress enough, but we should, is our training and experience. We are Certified Wilderness Guides by PAWGI.org; Certified Interpretive Guides and Trainers by NAI (interpnet.com); Wilderness Educator and Wilderness First Responders with NOLS.edu. None of these certifications are offered in Panama or Central America, which means that we have to spend money traveling overseas every couple of years to re-certify, and then come here and adapt all of that knowledge to the tropical jungle environment. Of course, there’s never any guarantees of safety when you’re in the face of mother nature. But at least you know that the people leading the trek have a pretty good idea of what they’re doing.
The difference between running the trek with us and trying to hike in the jungle on your own is like the difference between going to a local restaurant for dinner or going to a supermarket and buying some cheap noodles to cook yourself at home. Most of the time you probably cook at home, but once in a while, you think that you and your companion deserve a nice dinner out. Of course, it’s going to be more expensive, but you do it not only for the food, you do it for the experience and the memories.
The term “boutique” in tourism commonly refers to small, unique operations with a keen attention to detail. For us it means that we base the success of our expeditions on the experience we provide for our clients, as opposed to how many trips we can sell, or how popular or well-known the destinations are.
For example, so many places around the world offer fantastic sunrise or sunset views (Torres del Paine, Chile; Uluru, Australia; Santorini, Greece, and a long etc). It’s hard not to be lured by the prospect of this nature spectacle. Unfortunately, in so many of these iconic places tour companies now offer tours designed to cash in on the opportunity, and if you go on one of these, you find yourself surrounded by dozens of other travelers seeking the same kind of quiet and personal experience as you. But with so many people walking, talking and taking selfies, that experience is less than magical to anyone.
We don’t offer sunset tours anywhere, but if we did we wouldn’t go to the proverbial high vantage point where everyone else goes. We would take you to a secluded area that nobody else knows about, but with views just as spectacular of that sunset, although it might take a greater effort and investment to get there. That’s what we understand by a “boutique” experience.
There are several ways of to pay, wire transfer, bank transfer, and credit card. We can certainly discuss which way suits you best. At the time of booking you make a 50% downpayment to secure your spot. Then two weeks prior to the beginning date of the trek you make the final payment.
The downpayment is a prerequisite for your confirmation on the trip, and for us to give you access to all the detailed information you need to prepare for your expedition.
We make great efforts to schedule our trips during the seasons that historically have offered good weather for outdoor activities in the specific region where the trip is planned. By the same token we do not organize jungle expeditions during seasons that historically have been notorious for heavy and persistent rains, river floods, landslides or are otherwise not conducive to outdoor adventures. However, we do not control the weather and the best thing that we can do is rely in the current weather forecast technologies to anticipate weather conditions. These tools increase the level of accuracy only within a few days of a given event. Thus in all likelihood we will wait until the last possible moment before we make the decision to cancel or postpone a trip if the weather turns bad.
If we ever have to cancel a trip due to climatic, environmental, political, internal operations, government mandates, or security-related reasons, we will first look at the possibility of rescheduling the trip. If this is not an option we will consider partial or full reimbursement on a case-by-case basis, but we reserve the right to grant or deny such refund. Unfortunately we cannot take any responsibility for other expenses you have incurred related to a trip with us, such as flights, hotel nights, land transportation, etcetera, if a cancelation is due to forces outside of our control.
If you have already confirmed your participation with us via a downpayment, and you later need to cancel it, we will reimburse all the money you have paid us so far, as long as this occurs 30 days or more from the start date of the trip.
If your cancellation occurs between 15 and 29 days from the start of the trip, you are entitled to 50% of the total price of the trek. In other words, if you have only made your 50% deposit of the trek, and you need to cancel between 15 and 29 days from the start date of the trip, you can keep the other 50%, as we will retain the downpayment you have deposited. Any cancellations on your part within 14 days of the start of the trek are not eligible for a refund of any kind.
Any time you cancel a confirmed trip with us you assume the credit card commission, wire transfer fees, or bank transfer fees.
We recognize that these terms can mean different things to different people. So in the interest of simplicity, here we offer our completely unscientific definitions:
‘Hiking’ involves a walk in a natural setting. It doesn’t explain how long you hike for, but typically it only lasts a few hours.
‘Trekking’ involves a hike lasting several days. It usually entails camping as well. So there’s a higher level of complexity because you have to plan your trip in terms of how long and how fast you’re going to walk, but also in terms of where you’re going to spend the night, and what you’re going to pack to be self-sufficient.
‘Backpacking’ is just a term commonly used in North America for ‘trekking’.
In our experience a hike is an activity that allows you to escape your daily routine for a few hours and lets you appreciate nature. A trek on the other hand, is a journey of self-transformation through nature.