Panama’s Lost World, the Darien Gap
It is a lost place, a dangerous place that brings out the best and worst in us all. The impenetrable jungle topography of the Darien Gap has been the tragic end of many a traveler, engulfing lost souls in its ancient embrace.
Both human greed and desperation cross paths in the dark isthmus, drawing all manner of people into its grasp. Trafficked by ruthless smugglers and hopeful migrants alike, the Darien Gap has seen legions of travelers, and only the lucky are let go.
Spanish conquistadors were the first to attempt taming the Gap, but were outmatched by enraged Indians who burnt their settlement to the ground. The mighty Darien engulfed an entire colony of Scots who in the 1600’s, made a bold attempt at colonization in the wilds of the Gap. In the end, disease, Spanish raids, and the many dangers of the Gap swallowed the colony whole, resigning it to its damp soils and the pages of history. (McCarthy)
Not even the power and resources of the British Empire could tame this wild land, although they certainly tried. The long abandoned remnants of a railroad and train sit lost in the jungle of the isthmus, rusting, and waiting for a future that never came. The British left the railroad to the Darien, which eagerly devoured it, covering it in thick vegetation. This is one place on our largely domesticated planet that has remained savagely intact, humans are not the masters here, in this unforgiving jungle we are barely tolerated. (Abrams)
It is a destination often defined by necessity, and only the boldest and hardiest of travelers choose to brave the Gap for adventure. This is not to say that it isn’t worth visiting, indeed a trip to the Darien Gap is guaranteed to be the adventure of a lifetime. It is however, a destination not for the faint of heart, and some may not like what they find there. Victims of the Gap line it’s lost, overgrown pathways offering a grim reminder of the dangers of this untamed wilderness. (Munoz)
For those determined to challenge the Darien Gap, the safest way to see it is by boat, along the coast. Such a boat trip can cost only a few hundred dollars, and is well worth the expense. From the comfort of the boat, you can see the beauty of the Gap in style. Sailing boats taking these trips are abundant, a fortunate alternative to the now ferries that used to provide transport from Panama to Colombia long ago.
One gets an eerie feeling being so close to this dangerous monster of a jungle in such safety. It can feel like staring an alligator in the eye, its gaze is ancient and monstrous. You feel its heavy gaze looking back at you, watching you like a predator. The area itself is like a living, breathing predator personified as an exotic ecosystem. The Darien Gap hosts a spectacular treasure trove of rare and exotic wildlife. Home to countless species of animals, the mighty isthmus hosts jaguars, rare birds, poison-dart frogs, and even blood-sucking bats! Its rich variety of wildlife will delight many a nature lover. Unfortunately, the same biodiversity that attracts trekkers and innocent bird watchers has also drawn in poachers who comb the wilds for ill-gotten profits. (Munoz)
On the Colombian side of the gap, you can depart by boat from Cartagena, and include a leisurely detour on the breathtaking San Blas islands. Alternatively, you can arrange transport from one of the many boat services from the Panama side. One Panama based company to check out is, Darien Gapster, which offers 3 night boat trips including the unforgettable stop to the San Blas islands. (Myfunkytravel.com)
The Darien Gap is many things, it is a place to both lose and find yourself, offering a riveting adventure that hearkens to the tales of Joseph Conrad. When you are in the heart of the Gap, one can easily feel as if they are in the darkest reaches of the Congo. It puts a priceless feeling of distance between yourself and the world. Time in this wild place will change you, when you emerge from the depths of the Gap, you will be different.
The Darien Gap has a lot to offer to those brave enough to test their strength in its scenic depths. A trip to the Gap is about as far away from cliché destinations as you can get, and it’s worth it.
Munoz, S. (2015, May 29). Global Migrants Brave Panama’s Vipers, Bats, Bandits to Reach U.S. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.wsj.com/articles/why-u-s-bound-migrants-brave-panamas-brutal-jungle-1432914231
Abrams, R. (n.d.). Dark Roasted Blend: Darien Gap: The Most Dangerous (Absence of a) Road. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.darkroastedblend.com/2008/09/darien-gap-most-dangerous-absence-of.html
Crossing the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama – MyFunkyTravel. (2011, May). Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://myfunkytravel.com/dariengap.html
McCarthy, C. (2014, August 14). Silent Darien: The gap in the world’s longest road – BBC News. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28756378
Munoz, S. (2015, May 29). 5 Things to Know About the Darien Gap. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://blogs.wsj.com/briefly/2015/05/29/5-things-to-know-about-the-darien-gap/