The Seven Living Indian Cultures of Panama
One of the most popular Panama tours is paying a visit to the villages of seven living Indian cultures in the country. The tribes make their home on end of the Isthmus to the other – from the rainforests of the Darien jungle, to the Highlands of West Panama, to the Caribbean island of San Blas Archipelago.
Embera and Wounaan Tribes
The Embera & Wounaan Indians live in the Darien jungle in East Panama. Embera women are bare-breasted, wear colorful cotton print skirts, paint their face & body and wear decorative coin necklaces and flowers in their hair. The men wear only a loin cloth and earn their living primarily by fishing and hunting. Visitors to their villages can watch the women weave intricate baskets made from palm leaves and dyed with natural dyes from jungle plants and can request an authentic body painting for themselves, also from natural dyes. You will share a meal, see a tribal dance and listen to a talk about their way of life from their indigenous medicines to their marriage customs.
A day tour from Panama City to one of their riverside villages, takes you in motorized canoe along a jungle river, the only “roads” in the jungle.
The fiercely independent Kuna Indians of the San Blas islands in Panama’s Caribbean live in thatched cabins roofed with palm leaves. Tours to the San Blas offer the double attraction of beautiful island scenery and the opportunity to study a living Indian culture. The Kunas have a self-governing people and have the strongest social structure and belief system of all Panama’s Indian tribes. They make their living selling coconuts from the thousands of coconut palms that dot their islands and from their handicrafts. Kuna women make Panama’s most famous handicrafts, the mola: reverse stitch embroidery of colorful tropical figures. During your Kuna village visit you can see the molas being made and buy them from the artisans themselves.
Both authentic tours take you to their actual villages where the Indians will teach you about their way of life, customs and beliefs, perform ceremonial dances and share their food. This will be one of your most unforgettable travel experiences. More than a tour, this is a journey into the lives of two diverse and complex Indigenous cultures that dwell in Panama’s remote areas where they have been able to maintain their traditions and lifestyle as it was before the Spaniards colonized the region.
Your host will prepare you for the cultural feast you are about to experience by sharing the history and customs of both Indigenous groups; Embera Indians who are known as The Keepers of the Rainforest and San Blas Kuna Indians who are known for their Molas - Artwork which are among the most sought after.
In each Village, the Chief will welcome you with hospitality traditional and unique to each group. A series of dances have been arranged to add to this cultural exchange. Feel free to wonder the village, ask questions or interact with these quiet people. Please remember that we are guests in their home and a good measure of common sense and sensitivity towards their privacy is appreciated.
The men and woman are spectacular craftsmen have produced some beautiful items, which will be available for purchase as souvenirs or keepsakes of this unique experience.
All too soon, it is time to return to your century, where the bliss and tranquility of older days has been all but forgotten.