One of the main characteristics of Panama’s geography, besides its abundant green areas, is its tropical jungles traversed by extensive rivers with abrupt trajectories. In some of them that run towards the Pacific and the Caribbean there are appropriate scenarios for river rafting, the best of which is found in the Province of Chiriqui. Its mountainous topography and abundance of rainfall make Chiriqui’s rivers ideal for class III and IV commercial whitewater runs. Trips normally depart from the town of Boquete. Following is a brief account of the area’s main rivers and sections:
Chiriqui River: Bajo Mendez Section – Class III & III+
Considered to be the forgiving river to its counterpart, the Palon, this section involves big water with plenty of room for maneuvering. Long wave trains and wild scenery make this river a perfect starting point for the first-time rafter.
Barrigona Section – Class III
Perfect for beginners and families, this section offers a glimpse of what whitewater can look and feel like. The Barrigona features a few exciting class III rapids while the rest of the stretch is filled with continuously moving water that will keep you on your toes. A shorter trip, the Barrigona gives the rafter 2.5 hours of milder rafting and vistas of Chiriqui’s pretty stretches of plains and gentle rolling hills.
Chiriqui Viejo River: Palon Section – Class IV
Perhaps some of the most beautiful and classic rapids in all of Central America, this section is only run during the low water months of December through April. Intrepid first-timers and seasoned rafters will undoubtedly hail this river as a world class run with its non stop rapids, technical maneuvers, deep canyon gorges and its spectacular tropical jungle scenery.
Sabo Section – Class II
Lush and verdant forest borders this lower section of the Chiriqui Viejo River. Big rapids dominate the first half of the Sabo section while the second half levels out to allow participants a chance to enjoy the surrounding wildlife and scenery. Cormorants, kingfishers and iguanas abound.
The Chagres River
The Chagres is probably the most popular rafting trip in Panama. Its close location to Panama City and its surrounding beauty makes it a favorite for locals and tourists alike. Tours normally start with a drive to the rugged Cerro Azul mountain range. From there, participants begin a two-hour trek down to the put-in point of the Piedras River, a tributary of the Chagres River, where the adventure starts. The Chagres River meanders past several Embera Indian villages. River traffic is common in this area with campesinos and indians fishing and traveling in dug out canoes from village to village. The rafting is class III. The flora is typical of the tropical rainforest, with more than 300 species per hectare. Although this is jaguar and tapir territory, they are very seldom encountered. Nevertheless, you will be able to spot at least some of the following regulars: otters, iguanas, monkeys, hawks, and toucans. Tours depart early in the morning from hotels in the city and normally include transportation, breakfast, lunch, gear, and expert guides. Participants should be in fairly good physical conditions.
The Mamoni River
The Mamoni offers class II and III rapids in its upper section and more demanding class III and IV in its lower section. The river flows through a beautiful scenery of cattle farms, forests, and banana plantations. Daily full day trips depart from most hotels in Panama City and include transportation, expert guides, gear, and lunch.