A three foot Harpy Eagle flew out of the jungle when Garceth called and - I’m not kidding - the two of them looked like they were having a conversation.
“Don’t you want to take a picture?” Garceth asked, snapping me out of my daze.
“Can you stand behind me and call him?” I half-joked.
The eagle sored above me and landed close, cocking his head to the side to peer at us.
I snapped some pictures and posted them on Trip Advisor. Days later, a team of scientists contacted me wanting to know how the heck I got shots of this endangered eagle (with a pocket camera!)
Don’t ask me, I wrote back, ask Garceth!
Garceth grew up in an Embera village in the Darien Gap – a jungle that National Geographic called “one of the most rugged places” on earth. He...
...was born in a hut, made only out of palm.
...travelled on the Rio Chico by dugout canoe.
...camouflaged himself to hunt wild boar.
...spearfished for Tilapia, Dogfish and River Shrimp.
...helped injured ocelots and assisted anteaters.
After working as park ranger for 11 years, and guiding for Smithsonian tropical research scientists, Garceth travelled to the USA on full scholarship to complete a degree in Natural Resources. Over time, he became trilingual in Embera, Spanish and English.
I met Garceth while doing an Embera tour. We re-arranged our travel plans to book him for a nature tour as well and were so glad we did!
If visiting the jungle is like going to a party full of interesting strangers, Garceth is the friendly host who introduced me to everyone. In a few short hours, I met whiteface monkeys, a poison dart frog, two snakes and countless tropical birds. And somewhere, between howling at howler monkeys and eating dinner around a fire, we built a friendship that’s lasted nearly a decade.
A few words of caution...
I would not recommend Garceth’s tours for people with mobility issues. You need to be able to get in and out of canoes and walk in the forest on an uneven path.
I should also warn those who need modern facilities – the village a pit toilet (outhouse) with no running water.
And, unless a group is already going out, Garceth is unable to arrange last minute tours to the village. Please book ahead.
Many tours go to the Embera Villages and Chagres National Park. But there are a few reasons why you might wish to consider visiting the slightly farther, Embera Puru village...
A more authentic experience. Embera Puru is the most traditional village and the best place to learn about herbal medicine, shamanism, midwifery, marriage and Embera culture in general. Residents here still wear traditional clothing and carry on their traditions. (Plus, photos are encouraged!)
Get closer to nature. Enjoy a longer dugout canoe ride that goes deeper into the jungle. Embera Puru has more mountains, larger trees and the most biodiversity. So you’ll have a greater opportunity to interact with nature.
Learn about a completely different way of life directly from someone who’s lived it.
Plus you can…
Enjoy a musical performance with ancient instruments and ceremonial dances.
Savour a traditional jungle lunch of fried fish, plantains and tropical fruit served in a bowl make Bijao leaves.
Learn the secrets of the rainforest. Even a short nature walk with Garceth will uncover many different edible or medicinal plants and camouflaged animals.
Have peace of mind. Garceth decades of experience leading groups safely.
Relax! All equipment is provided. All of the transfers and details are taken care of for you.
Embera Tours Panama is the top Embera tour company and the recipient of a TripAdvisor award of excellence. Check out what other visitors have to say…“Meeting new people and different lifestyle was best education for our son!” Mara H Clearwater, Florida “Eye-opening for my 9 and 6 year-old daughters” Jake T Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States “Highlight of our trip to meet these warm and wonderful people.” travelpal600 Tucker, Georgia “High Point Of The Panama Cruise” Ken D Sosua, Dominican Republic “Garceth - an authentic Embera guide - great time!” szyman806 Providence, RI “Outstanding Adventure in Panama” Mooneyson1 Phoenix, Arizona “Like travelling back in time!” Barbara O Richmond “unforgettable learning experience for all ages” jolajarek Philadelphia “HIGHLIGHT of Panama trip” Cathy K Silver Spring, Maryland “A MUST WHEN IN PANAMA” Derobo Monaco-Ville, Monaco “highlight of panama trip” cohoqueen1 Vancouver Island, Canada “Garceth is the best!” AndyC C NYC
I am friends with Garceth, but there is another big reason why I’m writing this letter.
Many tour companies go to the Embera villages, but most only pay the direct costs of the visit (fuel, food, and guides.) They bargain hard to get a good price from the Embera and pocket the difference.
When you and I book directly with Garceth, a full 70% of our money goes back to the community. This pays for education, medical care and other necessities in a village with no welfare or government handouts.
I care deeply about this. I want my money to stay with the people who hosted me. And I think that most travellers - like you - care deeply too.
For the most immersive experience, I highly recommend an overnight trip. At $200 per night, the same price as a hotel in Panama City, you’ll have the adventure of a lifetime. Check out the Embera Tours and Nature Tours sections of the website for more details. And don’t forget to make time for extra experiences like spearfishing!
Happy travels, Karen Johnson
P.S. Garceth books up months in advance during high season. If you miss out, he can arrange for another Embera guide – who he has personally trained – to take you on your tour. But book early if you want to avoid disappointment.