Over a century ago the first Embera families arrived to the beach at the mouth of the RIo Playa Muerto and settled down to form a comunity. Then, in the 1950's, outside loggers and rubber collectors came to extract the areas of its rare hardwoods like mahogany, cocobolo and other native species.. This created jobs and the handful of houses blossomed into a village. Worried by the environmental degradation caused by the logging, the Darien Nation Pak was created in 1980 and named an Unesco World Heritage site. This move was welcomed by the Embera for defending the forest that sustained them. Unfortately, it also meant the end of the income that they community needed to develop.
Sine then the communities has grown to 34 houses and and 107 people. Today its inhabitants are dedicated to fishing, artisan work, and farming the land. Its remote location and difficult access have allowed the Embera to continue practicing the customs and traditions of the generations that came before them, but this has also inhibited access to jobs and income for community members.
Come not only to learn abouth the area’s history but also to be a part of developing its future. Ecotourism helps provide the Embera people not only the opportunity to share their culture and love of the natural world around them, but also the ability to be work as wardens of their environment from which they live. With no local employment available nor an accessible market where they could sell their crops, the community of Playa Muerto has been sustained through the years by the occasional cruise ship or trekking tour coming to spend a few hours or days in the tranquility of the beachside paradise. The modest income gained by the community’s guesthouse and the sales of artisan work have allowed for more of the village’s youth to return from working abroad to take part in the growth of the community.
The beach was historically located on the notorious Spanish gold routes between the Potosi mines and the Camino Real, the overland gold road that ran from Panama City to the awaiting Spanish galleons in Portabello, Colon.
The arrival to Playa Muerto is not for the faint of heart, but that doesn't mean it necessarily has to be difficult. Like all travel in Panama, it only requires a little patience and a good sense of humor. That being said, there are a handful of ways to arrive to the community of Playa Muerto, be it by sea, land or air. Below is a handy guide for those who would like to travel entirely or part of the way on your own.
we are also here to help out however we can, and that means door-to-door transport is available to bring you to and from your hotel in panama city.
By Air to Bahia Piña
While this option has the highest upfront price tag, a flight is the only way that you can leave from Panama City to arrive in Playa Muerto in the same day and will save you the grueling 2-day overland route. Flights leave at 10:15 am every Monday and Friday from the Albrook International Airport (This is the airport next door to the national bus terminal, not to be confused with the Tocumen Airport where you probably flew into Panama). The hour long flight will land in the coastal community of Bahia Piña, home of the world famous fishing resort, Tropic Star Lodge. After enjoying a locally prepared lunch a boat will take you the rest of the way on a 2 hour journey along the coast of the pristine jungle of the Darien National Park before arriving in your final destination of Playa Muerto.
Barco from Panama City
Sambu and the surrounding region remain to this day inaccessible by road from the outside world. All basic supplies and medicines are shipped in a few times every month. This is a route for the truly adventurous.
Boats depart from Panama City on the 12 hour journey to the communities of Sambu, Garachine and Jaque at the Mercado del Marisco (Fish Market) near the historic Casco Antiguo neighborhood of the city. Head down and find out when the next one will be taking off and go ahead and make a reservation to reserve a berth. At $16 per person including basic meals this is by far your cheapest option, but beware of last minute changes in departures that could leave you waiting around in the city a few extra days longer than anticipated. This is not a good option for those traveling on a time limit.
La launcha is a fiberglass outboard-motor boat and is by far the most popular means of transport in the waterways of the Darien, and short of walking, you'll end up traveling in one along your journey. The tourism group has their own boat and can send it to pick you up from Puerto Quimba, Sambu, Garachine, Bahia Piña or Jaque.
You may be able to travel in a boat already going to Playa Muerto, or else Bahia Pina/Jaque as a passenger, "como pasajero", but boats don't travel routes and you may end up stuck at the port.
Playa Muerto Boat (price per one way trip)
Puerto Quimba - $250
Sambu - $180
Garachine - $150
Bahia Pina and Jaque - $150
This is the true Darien experience, one for those who know that the journey is not all about the destination.
With local guides experience the jungle as the Embera people have been for generations. An endless combination of trails can take you up the Rio Sambu as you head to Pavarando, the last community at the river's headwaters. Or follow the Rio Santa Rosa to its source, the jungle pass that takes you through the ecological layers of the Sapo Mountain Range before dropping down to Playa Muerto on the Pacific coast. Camp out in the jungle along the way or experience a night in the home of a family from this unique and mystical region of the world.
All treks can be tailored to your time frame and comfort level. Activities along the way can include: spear fishing in the rivers, classes on native plants and their traditional uses, cultural presentations and, of course, home cooked meals with local dishes and fruits freshly harvested from the local communities.
Unless you are traveling by barco or plane you'll need to get to Meteti and then onward to Puerto Quimba to catch your boat. Fortunately improvements along the Pan-American Highway are making this not only easier but more comfortable.
In Panama City you can catch the Darien bus to Meteti from the Albrook National Bus Terminal for $9. These buses leave every hour and only rarely fill up while still at the station.
The 5 hour bus trip takes you to Meteti, the second-to-last town on the Pan-American Highway. You'll go through a few security checkpoints along the way, and at the checkpoint in Agua Fria you'll be asked to step down from the bus report your itinerary to one of the officers. Don't worry, they just want to keep you safe. After they copy down your passport information you'll be back on your way again.
One you arrive in Meteti you'll most likely have to spend the night. Boats only travel to and from Puerto Quimba in the early hours of the morning in order to take advantage of the rising tides. That means that whether you're going to Garachine or directly to Playa Muerto you're going to be embarking from the port at around 7 am. The Crown Darien Hotel have comfortable, air conditioned rooms that are modestly priced.
Another option is to take the overnight bus from Panama City to Meteti for $14. The bus leaves the Panama terminal at 12 pm but it is highly recommended that you arrive to the waiting room as early as 9 pm to ensure you get a spot. While its not the most comfortable this is a good alternative for travelers who need to economize on time and money.
From Meteti its only a 30 minute car ride away to Puerto Quimba where you will catch your boat. The chiva (a large van that operates like a bus) normally leaves from the bus terminal in Meteti at 5 am, but it is best to get there as early as 4:30 because departures can be unpredictable. The trip will cost $2.
If a few dollars aren't too much to pay for convenience and comfort then you can arrange a taxi from Meteti to Puerto Quimba directly. In this case I would recommend leaving from Meteti before 5:30 am. Or do yourself one better and rent a car in Panama City. You can safely leave this at the port where it will be under 24 hour supervision.