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Paddling in Panama

Mariann Saether is a Norwegian paddler travelling round the world 10 months a year. Hard life ... She spent some time in Panama this fall and sent us a summary of what to paddle when in this gorgeous country.

The mnorain area for kayaking and rafting in Panama is quite close to the border of Costa Rica, in the province of Chiriqui. Arriving in Panama City, you need to catch a bus to David, the biggest city in the province. David is about five hours west of Panama City, and from David you need to catch another one to Boquete, another hour north of David. Bringing a kayak on the buses in Panama is not a big deal, you might get charged a little bit extra, but usually not. There are a couple of rafting companies in Boquete, my favourite one being Chiriqui Rafting. This company has a really nice lodging opportunity for USD 7 a night, including bathrooms and kitchen. They will also hook you up with shuttle to the rivers for a reasonable price.

Rio Chiriqui - Photo by Dunbar Hardy

The season is September through December. You have multiple options around Boquete: if the rain fails, you will always have the play run on the Veragona river, which is dam controlled. It includes a big hole called the Three Wise Men, with a good eddy on river left, a nice wave where you can clean and get big blunts, called the Christmas wave. Eddy on river right. Then you have a nice little hole just downstream from the wave, where you can work on your cartwheels a little bit more controlled than in the Three Wise Men hole. The whole play run is about 5 kilometers, and the drivers know the put in and take out.

It can be hard to find some steep rivers with enough water if the rain fails, but one river that you can always do, is the Chiriqui Viejo about 2 hours from Boquete. It has about 60 km of class four rapids and is very continuous. You can do the whole stretch in a couple of days, either camping by the river for one night, or break it up in two single day trips. Three rapids are bigger than the rest, the first one called Mysterioso. It has a couple of different lines depending on the water level. If the river is high, the right line is best, if it is low the left line is the most interesting one. It is hard to scout, and walk. Second big one is called La Bomba, and the third one, being the hardest one usually, is called Bajo Mendez dos. This last one includes three big holes to punch. The line is on the right.

Rio Caldera - Photo by Dunbar Hardy

Another river, called Caldera, has a few sections to be paddled, with the Take a hit stretch as the most fun one. It includes one portage around a big waterfall, and a lot of fun class four rapids. It is a creek run, and there is a fun little gorge at the beginning of the run. This gorge we first descended this fall, with quite low water. At high water this would probably be a nice portage The river Aquas Blancas joins with the Caldera at the last part of the run, and the rapids change character with more volume. The rapid 'Take a hit' comes up right after the confluence, and it is hard to scout and quite long. Might as well just take a hit... The must-do run in this area is the Frijoles section on the Chiriqui river, a beautiful class five creek with tons of action. Make sure you have enough water at the put in, but not too much. If it looks low at the put in bridge, dont bother, we ended up portaging about 12 times one day, because of the lack of water. The driver can help you out with deciding the water level. Cochea is a class 3/4 beautiful run quite close to Boquete. If the river is high and muddy at the bridge down by the highway, get to the put in as fast as possible for a fun rollercoaster ride!

The area has a lot of fist descents left to be done, so if you want adventure boating this might be the place to go.ut remember, if it first starts to rain the rivers come up really quick, and might even be unrunnable within a short time. Always take precaution and carry first aid kit and even gear for sleeping outside for the longest runs.

Mariann

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The pictures on this page have been shot by the famous whitewater photographer [mail address protected from spambots with javascript] >Dunbar Hardy. Check out his website to see some other paddling pictures from him!

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