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Introducing La Palma

The provincial capital of Darién Province, La Palma is a one-street town located where the wide Río Tuira meets the Golfo de San Miguel. Pastel stilt houses lord over the muddy waterfront, a scene abuzz with commerce, bars and evangelist messages.

Most travelers pass through La Palma for one of two reasons: they’re here to catch a plane to somewhere else, or they’re here to take a boat ride to somewhere else. The two most popular boating destinations are the Ancon nature reserve and lodge at Reserva Natural Punta Patiño and the Emberá villages that line the banks of the Río Sambú.

Every facility of possible interest to the traveler is located on the main street, which is within 300m of the airstrip. La Palma is home to the only bank in the Darién Province, Banco Nacional de Panamá. There is also a hospital, a port and a police station (if you intend to go anywhere near the Colombian border and you speak Spanish, you should talk to the police here first), as well as three hotels, three bars and several food stands.

The waterfront Hospedaje Pablo & Benita has thin walls and mattresses but good sea views. The friendly owners can help arrange visits to the Emberá community of Mogué. The comparatively upscale Hotel Biaquira Bagara is simple and sweet, with hardwood decks, wicker furniture and firm beds. Below there is a basic market: if you’re boating upriver, stock up on groceries here.

There’s no shortage of cheap and somewhat cheerful eateries in town. La Unción offers decent comida criollo – typical food like stewed chicken, rice and fried plantains, served along with fiery sermons on the satellite TV.

At the time of writing, Air Panama was not flying here, but there is an airstrip; check if flights have resumed.

To hire a boat and a guide, look in the vicinity of the dock for a responsible captain with a seaworthy motorboat (US$120 to US$300 per day, gas included).