Weekend Warriors Chagres River Rafting Firsthand

Hey everyone, Zoe here. Spring semester of 2017 I was an intern, and I’m going to tell yall about the Chagres river rafting trip I took at Kalu Yala. Not because I was paid to, not because I was asked, but because I want others to enjoy this truly unique adventure. No matter how you decide to spend your time at KY, it’s not going to be an ordinary experience by any standard. Here are a few certainties: it’s beautiful, at times incredibly uncomfortable, and life altering. That being said, going on this rafting trip is something I will always reference when talking about my time in Panama. It takes you out of the every day life at Kalu Yala and throws you in to another world full of awe striking hikes and winding river passes fit for a spread in National Geographic.


Here’s one of the bummers. I’m not allowed to talk about the specifics of the first night. While the rafting you’ll experience (which occurs on the second day) is incredible, the first night is cozy magic. What on earth does that mean? You’ll find out. But for now, back to the start. After reaching the summit of one of the tallest mountains in the area you’ll hike through a village small enough to cross by foot in 20 minutes. But first you’ll need to stop to appreciate the view. The sense of scale you get is humbling and more importantly you see your home for the next three months in a way only few will. Once you’re able to close your jaw the next few hours is spent descending via hike to your home for the night. Here’s all I’m allowed to tell you: its lovely, unexpected, incredibly intimate, and in the middle of nowhere. Also, there are coconuts fresh from the tree which your hosts will machete open for you. That’s important. The night is a bonding experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. You’ll get to know the group of people on the trip in a beautifully unique way that’s going to last the rest of your stay at KY.


In the morning be prepared to wake up early with the sun and hike through the Chagres National Park to the start of the rafting destination. This is one of the most bio diverse places on the planet so take it in while you can. Its not everyday you’ll get a guided hike through a primary forest as untouched as this one. At the end of it you get to jump in a raft and experience the tropical rain forest in one of the most fun ways you can imagine. I’ve never rafted before this trip, but those who have said it’s a relatively relaxing ride (except for the rapids). This is ideal because the river you ride on is stunning. The canopy of building tall trees that walls in the river is vastly complex and dripping with bio diversity. This is where your sense of scale truly gets rocked. You have a few hours here so get ready to have a good time with your raft mates. It’s silly good fun but don’t worry you get a detailed safety training, rafting lingo included. And did I mention you look like a total bad a*s with your gear on. Make sure someone has a waterproof camera geared up. You don’t want to miss this photo op. At the end of the ride you get picked up by people of the local indigenous tribe and get to see their villages while riding in their hand carved boats.


The action packed adventure portion of the trip ends here. That night you get to switch gears and settle down in the city, snag your munchies to bring back to the valley, and get a full rundown of how to come and go from the city on public transport. When you get back to KY on Monday you’re going to feel like you’ve been to a different world. It’s a pretty incredible way to kick off your remaining months living in this crazy spot we call home.

Written by Zoe, Spring 2017 Student-Intern of the Kalu Yala Institute

Marie Stringer