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UnCruise: Pure Panama – Locks And Cays

Originally published in Montecristo

Our small group of six is seated in a wooden dugout canoe, winding our way through the Mogue River’s dense mangrove forest. We are on a 45-minute journey to visit the home of the native Emberá people, an Indigenous tribe that resides in Panama. As the motor purrs and the waterways narrow, fringed by lush foliage and low-hanging branches, our guide points out tropical birds, fish, and other wildlife. Soon, our boat bumps up against the muddy shoreline, where we step onto the slippery banks as we are greeted by the enthusiastic barefoot children who take our hands and lead us to their village.

It’s wonderful when travel expectations are exceeded. This Panama cruise, or rather UnCruise, has many fantastic highlights packed into one week.

Our small, luxurious ship offers plenty of pampering, including massages, gourmet meals, and all-inclusive premium liquor and craft cocktails served up by a pro mixologist. We are treated to a multitude of memorable experiences, including a nine-hour voyage through the Panama Canal while enjoying dinner grilled outdoors by the ship’s chef and narrated by a Panamanian expert. Other UnCruise activities are just as delightful, such as afternoons on tiny, isolated islands surrounded by crystal-clear water and palm trees swaying in the breeze; kayaking along the rivers; and hiking in the forest.

Photo by Peter West Carey and UnCruise Adventures.

But the highlight of it all has to be the once-in-a-lifetime visit to this primitive village with friendly inhabitants who reside deep in the Darién jungle.

Situated a remote area of the country, the Emberá village is home to a population of about 500 people who live in open-air huts on stilts covered with thatched roofs. The tribe’s history can be traced back hundreds of years, and they have maintained their own language and customs; they usually wear very little clothing, although they were dressed in beads and colorful materials for our visit. This piece of the UnCruise itinerary was specially orchestrated by CEO Dan Blanchard, who visited the Mogue River Emberá village in person about two years ago, where he met with the chief and community members to discuss bringing UnCruise guests here to learn about their culture.

Upon our arrival, we are treated to a welcome ceremony with music and dancing in the centre of the village. As a sudden downpour occurs (it’s the rainy season, after all), the villagers usher us under the main structure and we watch the children play an impromptu soccer game, jumping in the puddles and shrieking happily in the storm.

UnCruise’s Pure Panama itinerary was launched in early 2017 with luxury adventure in mind. The trip, aboard the company’s Safari Voyager, begins in either Panama City or Colon and then crosses the canal. On some days, the ship anchors in coves near the picturesque Guna Yala (San Blas) and Pearl islands, where passengers are shuttled via skiffs to the beach. Here, the crew sets up necessities on shore: paddleboards, kayaks, noodle floats, snorkelling equipment, towels, chairs—along with cold drinks, snacks, and sunblock.

The captain of the Safari Voyager is Kamain Lambertson, an industry veteran. His genuine enthusiasm for the country of Panama is palpable. “We are on one of the very few ships that brings passengers to the tiny islands off the coast to experience those beaches and the native culture,” he says. “The Panama itinerary has a clear focus on the regional culture. On this cruise, you see an autonomous region of Panama that’s been there forever and managed to keep its culture the way it’s been for centuries. It’s really fun and interesting because this cruise gives us a rare glimpse into these remote societies, and we are fortunate to get a little taste of it.”


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