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The Darien

The easternmost province of Darién is Panama's wildest, least accessible region; home to extraordinary flora, fauna, and indigenous communities. Its remote eastern and southern extremes are dominated by mountain ranges cloaked with dense jungle, whereas its lowlands are drained by serpentine rivers that flow into the Pacific Ocean at the Golfo de San Miguel. Much of its wilderness is sequestered within Parque Nacional Darién and several nearby protected areas. Those preserves hold imposing, primeval forests dominated by massive tropical trees such as mahogany, strangler fig, and barrel-trunked cuipos. They are home to an array of wildlife that includes more than 450 bird species and everything from boa constrictors to strange and wonderful butterflies. Although most of that wilderness is inaccessible, or unsafe to visit, there are a few spots that provide access to the region's wonders, the most comfortable of which is the field station in the Reserva Natural Punta Patiño.

Darién is a lush and rainy region with muddy rivers lined with the tangled roots of mangroves and thick swaths of elephant grass, where the most popular form of transportation is the dugout canoe. The province's rivers are dotted with dozens of indigenous Emberá and Wounaan villages that probably look much as the region's towns did when Balboa hiked across the isthmus more than five centuries ago. Villages such as Mogue and La Marea are set up to receive visitors: a day or two spent in these communities can be an unforgettable experience. Darién has Panama's best bird-watching and sport fishing, but it is also a good destination for anyone interested in tropical nature and traditional cultures, or travelers who simply want to stray from the beaten path.

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