Part bazaar and part bizarre, this concrete village is the end of the road. Here the Interamericana grinds to a halt and beyond lies the famous Darién Gap. Rough edged and misshapen, it’s hardly a destination in its own right unless you have cockfighting in mind. For travelers, it is an essential check-in stop for entry to Parque Nacional Darién.
Located 1km southeast of a police checkpoint, Metetí is the Darién's fastest-growing locality, with the best infrastructure in the region. The surroundings are being quickly deforested, though interesting ecolodges are found on the outskirts. Travelers come to link to La Palma and interior Darién via a scenic boat ride.
Riverside El Real, also known as El Real de Santa María, dates from the conquistador days when it was merely a fort beside Río Tuira. The settlement prevented pirates from sailing upriver to plunder Santa María, where gold from the Cana mines was stored. Today El Real is one of the largest towns in the Darién, though it’s still very much a backwater settlement.
Parque Nacional Darién
Parque Nacional Darién is the most ecologically diverse land-based national park in all of Central America. Although it’s often overshadowed by the security situation in the province, there is no doubt that it is the crown jewel of Panama’s national parks, mostly sought after by specialists like biologists and botanists.
Reserva Natural Punta Patiño
On the southern shore of the Golfo de San Miguel, 25km from La Palma, is this private 263-sq-km wildlife preserve owned by ANCON and managed by the organization’s for-profit arm, Ancon Expeditions. It contains species-rich primary and secondary forest, and is one of the best places in Panama to spot harpy eagles.
Thirteen kilometers south of El Real, as the lemon-spectacled tanager flies, is the Rancho Frío sector of Parque Nacional Darién. It’s home to Pirre Station (Pirre 2), not be confused with the station at the top of Mt Pirre near Cana. Rare bird species represented here include the crimson-bellied woodpecker, the white-fronted nunbird and the striped woodhaunter.