My girlfriend and I did the Chagres River Challenge then trekked out to the Guna Yala (San Blas) Islands for four days and three nights. Completely awesome experience. The Chagres River Challenge starts out early in the morning with approximately a two hour 4x4 Land Cruiser ride out into the Chagres National Park. We then hiked about 4.5 miles through beautiful jungle terrain out to the river. The rafts are strapped to pack horses and brought in with you along with breakfast and lunch supplies. I highly recommend some Keens or Chakos or extremely comfortable and durable water shoes for the hike. You will be doing at least ten river crossings during the trek. Hiking boots are not a plus here... The water level of the river dictates where you end up putting in. We rafted about 15 miles total down the river where we saw absolutely no one else until we hit the first Embera Indian Village. That night we slept in the Embera Village in an elevated hut with a palm thatched roof. Pretty cool experience. Don't worry, they do have some toilets there for the tourists. The next day you learn about their culture a bit then head down the river in a dugout canoe with an outboard. Also very cool.
The Guna Yala Islands or San Blas Islands as they are also known was our next stop the following day. All transportation was seamless. You car hop a few times before getting out to the boat which is nice because you get a chance for breakfast at a little place run by a Kuna Indian family and stretch your legs. We road for 45 minutes in a boat out to our own little private island. There were two huts on the island where a Kuna family lived, but we only saw them once. The next three and a half days you basically chill, swim, snorkel, sea kayak, drink beer, swing in a hammock if you bring one, drink more beer, wear sun screen, play card games, and relax. Bring bug spray. I didn't get eaten, but my girlfriend did get snacked on by the Chitras! Not spelled correctly, but some sort of sand fly apparently.
The water is insanely warm and clear. The sad part is there was a little bit of garbage and litter around the islands which is caused by ships using the Canal and other tourists/local Indians who aren't exactly conservationist minded. Not enough garbage to ruin the experience, but enough to piss you off. This trip is not for people looking for air conditioning and room service. You sleep in a tent, do your business in a port o potty tent, and aren't going to take a shower for a few days. You do however, wake up to beautiful sunrises, take refreshing morning swims, watch great sunsets, and enjoy a very leisurely island lifestyle. The guides cook all meals and spoil you with doing the dishes.
Great trip overall and highly recommended if you have an adventurous spirit. If you want AC and room service, this is not it.
Date of experience: May 2015
Trip type: Travelled as a couple