The Darien Gap is one of the world’s last bastions of wilderness. As a literal ‘gap’ between the connections of north and south America, few venture into the area, afraid of the dangers it presents. Yet with those dangers comes some of the most exhilarating views and experiences you will likely ever have.
If you’re thinking that the Darien Gap is for you, keep reading to find out how you can get there, what you can expect, and what else you should know before making plans.
What is the Darien Gap?
Located along the border of Panama and Colombia, the Darien Gap is a huge expanse of jungle. A seemingly endless wilderness, the area has become notorious as an area rife with drug smuggling and illicit activities. Due to the high expense involved in building roads in the area, the local governments have decided against it. This has meant that the area is somewhat cut off from the rest of society. In fact, the Pan-American highway, which is known for crossing the entirety of north, south and center America, does not cross the Darien Gap.
The Darien Gap is one of the last true bastions against modern civilization. It is a place where nature rules and those who venture into its midst are subject to its rules. The area does have an indigenous people, who survive in tribal societies, it also has a wide range of dangerous wildlife. Because of these things, few tourists visit the area, but those who do always remember it.
Where is the Darien Gap?
The Darien Gap is located on the border of Panama and Columbia. On the Panama side, it is located in the easternmost province of Panama, also known as Darien.
What to Know About the Darien Gap?
Besides a huge amount of dangerous wildlife, the Darien Gap is also packed with such densely forested areas that it’s easy to find yourself getting lost within just a matter of seconds. In a similar trip to another part of central America, author Douglas Preston recounted how he would find himself lost within just 10 footsteps. The forest here is that dense, and everything looks the same.
You also won’t find yourself greeted by marked trails. Exploring this area of the world means a genuine ability to read a map and locate where you are. Even if you are an amateur map reader, you’re going to want to make sure that you have someone with you who knows the area in a bit more detail. Getting lost here is something you don’t want to do.
How to Visit the Darien Gap?
First up, if you want to visit the Darien Gap, you’ll need a tour guide. The thick forested area is an area which it’s easy to get lost in. There are over 100 miles of remote swampland which you’ll be trekking through. A couple of days without any sense of direction here will not end nicely.
You’ll also need permission from Panama’s border control force: Senafront. This isn’t just because you’ll be crossing the border. You’re also heading into dangerous territory: one which is for all intents and purposes lawless. Drugs and illegal products are moved through this territory almost daily and kidnappings have been known to happen. You will have very little protection going back into this area of the world, and there are no second chances. You might be getting a true visit into the unknown, but you’re also getting the danger which comes with that.
What to See at the Darien Gap?
The Beauty of the Jungle
Of course, the most obvious part of the Darien Gap – and the reason why not people visit it – is because it’s an area of true adventure. You’ll be traveling back into one of the world’s most dangerous places, and you’ll be doing it in the spirit of an explorer. The miles and miles of lush jungle surrounding you are as beautiful as they are deadly.
If you’re thinking of taking a camera with you, make sure to pack plenty of batteries as you’re not going to find any power outlets out there. The pictures you’ll take home though – there’s nothing quite like them.
The Darien National Park and rainforest are actually regarded as a UNESCO world heritage sites.
The Local Emberá Peoples
Whilst this might be one of the most dangerous parts of the world, people still live here. These are known as the Emberá people. Known as being semi-nomadic throughout the area of Darien, these people are incredibly welcoming of outsiders.
They live atop homes which are constructed on stilts in order to avoid the dangers of the jungle floor. Their homes are made from wood collected in the jungle and come with ladders which have been designed with utility in mind. If they are facing outwards, guests are welcome to enter the home, if they are facing inwards, the homeowners do not wish to be disturbed.
What to Bring to the Darien Gap?
Firstly, make sure that you have your paperwork and permissions on your person at all times. It’s unlikely that you will bump into anyone, but in case you do, it’s good to have the proper documents.
Secondly, you’re going to want to bring a lot of things to protect your actual body. Mosquitos are very common here, even with repellent you’re likely to be bitten at least a few times. A high-quality mosquitos net is a must for during the night. It won’t only protect you from the mosquitos, but also other poisonous animals. You’ll also probably feel better with a hammock of some kind. The locals put their houses on stilts, you might not have this luxury the entire time you’re there.
Finally, make sure to bring enough food and water. Water is especially important. During the summer, the temperatures here are usually around 32 C. Combined with the humidity of the area, it can be suffocating. Ensuring that you’re hydrated will help to keep you moving, which is incredibly important in this part of the world.
If you Still Want to Visit
If you still want to visit the Darien Gap, then make sure to do as much research as you possibly can about the place. It is no understatement that it is a dangerous part of the world, but with that danger comes a beauty you are unlikely to see anywhere else. Between the wildlife, thick flora, deadly gangs, and just about everything wanting you dead apart from the locals, that beauty might just make you decide to actually go.