Adventures / Kayak Journeys

Kayak the Guna Yala Islands and Raft the Chagres River in Panama

Paddle through a Caribbean paradise, camp on tropical islands and journey through dense jungle to the Panama Canal

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Trip Ref #10427

Adventures / Kayak Journeys

Kayak the Guna Yala Islands and Raft the Chagres River in Panama

Paddle through a Caribbean paradise, camp on tropical islands and journey through dense jungle to the Panama Canal

DURATION

7 nights

LOCATION

Panama

ANNUAL LEAVE

1 week off work

SEASON

Year round

GROUP SIZE

Up to 12 people

MEETING POINT

Panama City

ACCOMMODATION

Hotel · Wild camping

DIFFICULTY

Moderate

You'll need to be fit to handle the kayaking and hiking, with a real taste for adventure to camp in wild places with minimal home comforts

Kayak the turquoise waters of the Guna Yala archipelago - formerly known as the San Blas Islands - and snorkel coral reefs

Hike through dense rainforest and raft the Chagres River to where the Panama Canal meets the Atlantic Ocean

Meet the indigenous peoples of Panama; the Guna and Emberá, guardians of the Guna Yala Islands and Chagres National Park

This trip is brand new

We’re still waiting to collect any reviews from other travellers on this trip. However, all our hosts go through an extensive vetting process to ensure that your adventure is awesome.

Included

Guides

Experienced, local kayaking and rafting guides

Accommodation

2 nights in a hotel, 5 nights camping

Meals

7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, 5 dinners

Transfers

Airport transfers and everything in between

Equipment

All your kayaking, rafting and camping gear

Permits

All national park fees and taxes

Not Included

Flights to and from the meeting point

Travel insurance

Personal expenses

Tips for your guides

Some meals as described

The Area

map

Logistics

Starts

Tocumen International Airport, Panama City

Anytime on Day 1

Ends

Tocumen International Airport, Panama City

Anytime on Day 8

Transfers

Your host will meet you on arrival at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City and transfer you to your hotel in downtown Panama City. On Day 8 your host will transfer you back to the airport in time for your onward flight.

If you are arriving before Day 1 or departing after Day 8 but still require collecting or dropping off from the airport, your host can arrange private airport transfers and extra nights accommodation for an additional charge - see Optional Extras for details.

Travel options

There are regular flights to Panama City from major hubs in the UK, Europe and North America. Flights from the UK and Europe tend to go via various airports in the US, or Bogota if you fly with Avianca.

Day 1

Hotel · Twin share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 2 – Day 6

Wild camping · Twin tent

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 7

Hotel · Twin share

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Day 8

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

What is the food like?

Meals will be largely based around locally grown products and each day you’ll discover fresh fish, new fruits, nuts and other tasty local treats that all grow in the area including cacao, and of course coffee.

Meals vary, but will always be fresh and healthy to keep you fuelled for the adventure. Breakfast includes fruits, cereals and traditional arepa and eggs. Lunches will be quick and easy in the Chagres jungle - sandwiches, wraps or Fiambre (a Latin American meal packed in banana leaves) is the standard. For dinner, there will be a campfire and a variety of meals served, from traditional Panamanian rice, meat and beans to fresh fish and campfire food. In the Guna Yala islands, a lot of the meals will be based around fresh locally caught seafood, including delicious lobster dishes.

Vegetarians, vegans and other dietary requirements and allergies can be catered for - please just request this on your passenger info form.

What is the accommodation like?

Camping in the Guna Yala Islands

You'll spend 3 nights camping on any one of hundreds of islands within the Guna Yala archipelago. Generally, your guide will choose to camp on islands that are inhabited by the indigenous Guna people. These islands tend to be better to camp on than the uninhabited ones and give you opportunities to meet the Guna people and get a glimpse into their lives. You'll stay in twin-share tents and you'll help put up and take down camp as part of this participatory expedition. There'll be campfires, hammocks strung up between trees and warm sand between your toes.

Chagres National Park

You'll spend 2 nights camping in Chagres National Park. The first night you'll wild camp on the banks of the Chagres River close to some great wild swimming spots. Your second night you'll either camp again on the banks of the river, or you may pitch up in the Embera village depending on the season and recent rainfall which affects the height of the river.

You'll stay in twin-share tents. There are minimal facilities, so expect a wild experience out in the jungle - your wild swims doubling up as showers!

Panama City

In Panama City, you'll stay at the Zen Hotel - a well-located 3-star hotel with a rooftop pool and amazing views across the city. You'll stay in twin-share rooms unless you request a double room, or a private room upgrade (see more details below).

Depending on the date of your trip, you may stay in a smaller, boutique hotel in the old quarter when these characterful accommodations reopen, having been closed for some time due to Covid.

Upgrades

For solo travellers looking for their own space, an optional private room and tent can be booked for an extra charge, see Optional Extras for the price. Please request this at the time of booking (this is subject to availability).

Day 1

Welcome to Panama

Touch down in Panama City, meet your host at the airport and transfer over to your hotel in either the old quarter or Via Argentina neighbourhoods. Explore the city on your own steam (if there’s time) before getting together with your guides in the evening to chat through the adventure ahead.

Day 2

To the islands

Kayaking

3-4hrs

Early start today as you leave the city at 6 am to head to the Guna Yala archipelago northeast of Panama City. You'll reach the Caribbean Sea after a few of hours driving and board a boat to cross to your basecamp in the islands - this could be any of the 360 islands in the archipelago.

No two trips are the same as your host will have scoped out the best islands to stay on ahead of each departure based on sea conditions and interactions with the indigenous communities. Set up camp and hit the water for an intro to sea kayaking, before paddling to nearby islands and coral reefs for your first snorkel.

Day 3

Kayaking the archipelago

Kayaking

4-5hrs

Snorkeling

1-2hrs

Wake up on your island paradise, have a swim and tuck into breakfast on the beach. Pack down camp and jump back in the kayak for a proper paddle today as you explore the archipelago further. Your guide will lead the way to the best islands for paddling, snorkelling and to eventually camp on later tonight. You'll generally camp on islands that are inhabited by Guna people, giving you a chance to meet the guardians of the islands and gain a glimpse into their unique lives.

Day 4

Another day in paradise

Kayaking

4-5hrs

Snorkeling

1-2hrs

Another day of kayaking, swimming and snorkelling. Again, your guide will choose the best islands to visit based on the reccy they do before each trip. You'll have the chance to meet more Guna people and see the famous traditional artistry known as Molas - an intricately woven and colourful textile art form that makes up the traditional clothing of Guna women.

Day 5

Into the jungle

Hiking

1-2hrs

One last taste of island life as you grab a final swim before breakfast, take down camp and head back to the mainland where a 4x4 will be waiting to take you deep into the jungle of Chagres National Park. A short hike takes you to the village of San Cristóbal where you'll camp close to a small river with some fantastic pools to swim in. Here you will experience how local people, known as Campesinos, live based on subsistence agriculture. Fall asleep to the sounds of the jungle, a big day awaits tomorrow.

Day 6

Hike and raft down the Chagres River

Hiking

2-3hrs

Rafting

4-5hrs

After breakfast, you'll hike deeper into the national park alongside horses carrying the expedition gear. Reaching an opening at the Chagres River around noon you'll hop in a raft and float past pristine jungle and rock formations, eyes open for wildlife on the banks. This part of the river, characterized by currents alternating with stillwaters, is considered Class II to III. Most of the time the water is crystal clear making for perfect swim stops on the calmer stretches. Late afternoon you'll meet your host's Embera friends - indigenous people living in the forests of Chagres and Darien. They will carry you further downriver in their wooden canoes equipped with outboard motors. Set up camp on the banks of the river shore either at a sandy beach or at an Embera Village depending on recent rainfall and the height of the water.

Day 7

Kayak the Chagres River to the Atlantic Ocean

Kayaking

3-4hrs

Continue downstream in canoes with your Embera friends, before driving north to the Panama Canal, stopping at Clara Locks and Gatun Lake, which provides the water to operate the Panama Canal locks that raise or lower ships 85 feet to or from ocean level. Drive on to Gatun Dam spillway, jump in an expedition kayak and tackle the final stretch of the Chagres River before it meets the Atlantic Ocean.

The area is a protected forest rich in tropical fauna. You'll see Fort San Lorenzo, a fort built by Spanish Conquistadores in the 1400s to seal off the Chagres River to pirates heading for Panama City. Toast a successful expedition before heading back to Panama City for celebratory beers, dinner and your first proper bed for the best part of a week.

Day 8

Goodbye Panama

The adventure comes to an end after breakfast as your host takes you back to the airport in Panama City in time for your onward flight.

15% Off Outdoor Gear

In need of a few more items? All bookings receive a 15% discount on us to use at Cotswold Outdoor, Snow + Rock and Runner's Need.

What's included?

  • Tandem and single sea kayaks and paddles
  • Twin-share tents and sleeping mats
  • Hammocks

What do I need to bring?

BAGS

  • Soft overnight duffel bag or rucksack
  • Drybag 10-20 litres
  • Daypack 25+ litres (if you have a daypack that is a drybag this is best!)

CLOTHES

  • Light waterproof jacket
  • Lightweight fleece jacket or similar
  • Buff or neckscarf
  • Sunhat that also covers your neck
  • Lightweight trousers/shorts/skirts
  • T-shirts
  • Underwear & socks
  • Swimwear (multiple sets)
  • Sunglasses with secure strap
  • Something to sleep in
  • Hiking boots or trainers (worn-in) ideally lightweight
  • Strapped sandals

SLEEPING

  • Cotton or silk sleeping bag liner
  • Mosquito net
  • Lightweight sleeping bag (1-2 season)
  • Lightweight travel pillow or pillowcase

OTHER

  • Universal travel plug adapter
  • Power bank or solar charger
  • Passports (and visas)
  • Travel Insurance documents
  • Ear plugs
  • Insect repellant
  • Suncream
  • Personal first-aid kit (inc. blister treatment)
  • Personal items (biodegradable toiletries, sanitary wear etc)
  • Toilet kit (toilet paper, biodegradable bags to carry paper out to dispose of)
  • Quick-dry towel
  • Alcohol hand-gel
  • Headtorch or torch
  • Reusable water bottle (x1 litre)
  • Biodegradable wet-wipes
  • Energy bars and snacks - read our article on Best Hiking Snacks
  • Water purification tablets/treatment system

Single/Twin/Double room

Payable Before Departure

Single/Twin/Double room

Optional Private Room & Tent Upgrade

Payable Before Departure

Optional Private Room & Tent Upgrade

Private Transfer between Panama City Airport & accommodation (each way, 1 person)

Payable Before Departure

Private Transfer between Panama City Airport & accommodation (each way, 1 person)

Private Transfer between Panama City Airport & accommodation (each way, 2-3 people))

Payable Before Departure

Private Transfer between Panama City Airport & accommodation (each way, 2-3 people))

We've crunched the numbers to work out the total carbon footprint of this trip, and plant enough trees to suck 2x as much back out the atmosphere.

What's the number?
It works out on average at 120kg of CO2 emissions per person, including all local transport, accommodation, food, activities, guides, staff and office operations.

The only thing it doesn’t include right now is flights and travel to the destination. We do make an overall estimate across all our customers separately, but as we don’t book flights, have customers from all corners of the world, and no way of reliably knowing their travel plans, we simply can’t include an individual number in the figure on display here. We’ve got a goal for 2022 to fix that, so that when you book, there is a way to measure and mitigate the carbon emitted by your flight too.

But what does the number mean?
Yep, hard to picture eh? To give you an idea:

  • Driving 1000miles/1609km would be approx. 281kg of CO2 in an average car (or 140.5kg per person if there was 2 of you in it).
  • A return economy class flight London - New York would be approx. 1,619kg (1.66 tonnes) per person.
  • 10 trees in a temperate forest are estimated to remove approx. 250kg of CO2 from the air in a period of 5-10 years.

What are we doing about it?
Our trips are relatively low-carbon by design, and we're working with all our hosts to develop long term carbon reduction plans. For every person booked with us since 2016 we’re planting enough trees to suck at least 2x more carbon out the atmosphere than is emitted by their trips. All native trees, as part of amazing projects that are re-foresting degraded land, tackling the biodiversity crisis and supporting local communities at the same time. We go further than that too, also funding re-wilding projects worldwide to help protect important keystone species from extinction. See the reforestation and re-wilding schemes we support. See our carbon action plan.

Want to know more?
Amazingly, no international travel company has ever publicly published their carbon measurements before, as far as we know. We believe that must change, quickly. So we’re openly sharing the method we used in the hope that other companies will be able to more easily follow suit and build on what we've done so far. You'll find it all here.

Yes! The archipelago was previously known as the San Blas Islands, named long ago by the Panamanian government as the islands are scattered in the Gulf of San Blas which borders the Caribbean Sea. In October 2011, the Panamanian government changed the name to Guna Yala to recognise the claim by the Guna people that the islands should be referred to by their official indigenous name: Guna Yala.

You'll be on the go for six straight days of adventuring in tropical islands and a dense rainforest ecosystem. You'll be camping for five nights in a row with minimal facilities, so come armed with a love of proper adventure without creature comforts. Kayaking and hiking can be managed by anyone with a decent level of fitness. There are no big ascents or lung-busting climbs, however, the jungle is humid and wild and you will be fully immersed in it! Some previous kayaking experience will help you get the most out of your time in Guna Yala, however, this trip is manageable by first-time kayakers. You'll be given an intro when you first arrive in Guna Yala. The rafting is considered as Class II-III, easily manageable by all beginners.

Sure can! Over 50% of our travellers travel solo, it’s a great way to meet like-minded people.

Tips are not included in the trip cost. These are entirely at your discretion but there is an expectation to tip for good service. Your guide will help with advice, however we'd suggest $3-$5USD per person per day as a guideline.

Of course, you are free to tip more or less, and the amount should be reflective of your perception of service and quality - a tip is not compulsory and should only be given when you receive excellent service.

There are plenty of safe options to fill up whilst in the jungle and freshwater is in abundance. Your host will provide water purification tablets for those who would like them although they are not really necessary.

If you wish to take your own water filter, have a read of our guide to 7 of the best water filters for adventurers

Guna Yala has a tropical maritime climate with high temperatures and often humid days. The temperature is never below 20°C/68°F and the average temperature is around 27°C/80°F. The dry season, which locals refer to as their summer, begins in December and finishes before the end of April. May to November is the wet season, also known as the green season, and to locals, winter. October can see the highest rainfall which may affect the rafting, while March can be windy in the Guna Yala islands affecting the kayaking, so we avoid those two months on this trip.

Yes! You can leave excess luggage at your host's base in Panama City, to be collected when you return from Guna Yala and Chagres.

We recommend checking out the country specific information here and also talking to a travel nurse.

Our recommended travel insurance provider is Campbell Irvine.

Travel insurance is compulsory on all of our adventures. Your insurance should include adequate protection for overseas medical treatment, evacuation/repatriation, your baggage and equipment and the specific activities involved on your adventure.

Your insurance policy should also include specific Covid-19 cover, including cancellation and curtailment cover if you, your travel companion or a close relative are diagnosed with Covid-19.

We fully endorse Campbell Irvine as their insurance offers all of the above, so get in touch with them or call on 020 7938 1734 to get your insurance sorted. We suggest that you book travel insurance as soon as you book your adventure, just to cover you for any last minute life changes. We know you’re an active lot and injuries do happen!

We automatically convert prices from the local currency that a host receives to your chosen currency. We update our exchange rates on a daily basis so this does mean that prices displayed on the site are subject to currency fluctuations, which is why you may see them change over time.

If you wish to change the currency you pay in, head to the bottom of the page.

All of our group adventures are specially designed for adults to enjoy (18+) as we want these adventures to bring together outdoorsy people who are truly like-minded. Children can be accommodated on some private departures.

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