The Darien National Park covers 579,000 hectares and was created in 1980. It is the largest national park in Central America. It stretches 90% of the Panama – Colombia border. It also became a World Heritage Site in 1981, and a Biosphere Reserve in 1982.
The Darien National Park is 325 kilometers from Panama City. Can be reached by road by driving to Yaviza and then taking a boat to El Real of Santa María. The Scientific Station at Cana has a runway for small planes. The Pan American Highway reaches as far as Yavitz but between Yavitz and Colombia the Darien Gap is not passable by road.
El Real of Santa María has a Darien National Park administrative office. There are three scientific stations in the park - at Cana, at Cerro Pirre ( reachable on foot during the the dry season and by pirogue in the rainy season) and at Balsas (on the rivers Balsas and Tucuti and reachable by pirogue).
It shelters various indian groups settled in the park - Embera, Wounaan and Kunas. The Kunas have traditional settlements in the towns of Paya and Puculo, at the foot of the sacred mountain called Cerro Tarcuna; the Emberá have traditional riverside houses at Chocó; the Wounaan, are linguistically very close to the Emberá.
Many of the trails are maintained and are open the whole year round in this area of the park run by the National Association for Nature Conservation (ANCON). The protected area begins on its Pacific coast, with mangroves and lagoons, and progresses through humid and very humid tropical forest, to reach the premontane rainforest at the top of Cerro Tacarcuna (1,895meters above sea level) on the continental watershed of the Serrania del Darien.
The main mountain ranges in the national park are of volcanic origin. The most important rivers in this region have their sources in the park, and they include the Tuira, Balsas, Sambu and Jaque rivers.
The forests have huge cuipos (Cavanillesia platanifolia) that bloom in shades of red and orange, guayacan with an intense bright yellow flower. Unique plants to the region include the escalera de mono (Bauhinia sp.) and the bejuco de agua (Doliocarpus olivaceus).
There are 7 mammals found only in this park including in the giant pocket gopher and the fox (Marmosops invictus). Other mammals include the tapir, the five cat species: the jaguar, the puma, the ocelot, the margay, and the jaguarondi.
Over 450 birds recorded 5 are endemic to this region, like the colorful treeruner and green-naped tanager.The harpy eagle has its largest known population. The most common bird species are the macaws, parrots. An important bird watching site is located in the Cana Scientific Station in the centre of the park where there was once the Espiritu Santo Gold Mine (opened as a gold mine by the Spanish, the Cana mine produced gold continuously until 1727. This mine was later reopened by the Darien Gold Mining Company and operated until 1907, producing about 4 tons of gold).
El Real has hotels if you want a hotel near the Darien National Park. The only major tourist project in this area is the famous Tropic Star Fishing Lodge on the Pacific coast that can only be reached by air.
Panama National Parks