Visiting the Embera Community in Panama

April 6, 2015
embera community panama

Traveling full-time with my wife’s job, our experience cup runneth over. We live in a different country every 2 months and travel most weekends. We’ve been to so many places and seen so many things in such a relatively short amount of time (2 years) that sometimes our travels and experiences can get a little blurred.  Was that cathedral in Budapest or Krakow?  What was the name of those ruins?  Were they in Tunisia or Greece?  It is a terribly blessed burden to have, but the truth is, sometimes things run together.

Other times, they stick out above and beyond all others and you know without a doubt that you’ll never forget that day or moment as long as you live.

While living in Puerto Rico we decided to take a trip to Panama. I didn’t really know much about the country beyond the canal and started doing some research to see how we would fill our weekend there.   I came across a tour company owned by an American woman, Anne Gordon, and her husband, an Embera Indian.  They offered a day in his tribe’s village deep within the Panamanian forest.  I immediately booked two for Saturday.

Visiting the Embera Community in Panama

Traveling by boat to their remote village, we were greeted as honored guests by the entire tribe.  We spent the day learning about their culture.  A young Embera girl made us lunch, fresh fish caught from the river that morning and fried plantains from their garden. We learned how the women weave their intricate patterned bowls.  We admired the different body tattoos adorning their bodies. We walked through the forest with their medicine man and ate leaves that numbed our mouths (good for a toothache).  We watched children squeal with delight over the few boxes of crayons and packs of construction paper that we had brought for them.  

We watched them play happily for hours with nothing but a stick and a sunken soccer ball.   We delighted in their wide smiles as they admired themselves on the screen of our camera.  We danced hand in hand with them, around and around, to the music played by the elders on their primitive homemade instruments.

The Emberas have few options for survival outside of leaving their way of life for that of the big cities.  They can no longer hunt on their own lands and must now deal in the world of currency to provide for their families.  Tourism is their only means to continue living the
life they hold so dear.

If you’re heading that way, be sure to check out Anne’s website at  It will be a day you’ll never forget.

We certainly haven’t.


Photo by Melissa Varnadoe.

About Melissa Varnadoe

Melissa Vernadoe has been traveling full-time with her wife’s job for 2 1/2 years. They’re in a different country every 8 weeks and are doing their best to soak in as much as they can before heading back to the real world. Read all about their journey on our blog.

3 thoughts on “Visiting the Embera Community in Panama

  1. W
    June 23, 2011

    Wow – my sister-in-law is an accountant, I need to point her in this direction! Thanks for the reply (and posts) – happy travels!

  2. June 23, 2011

    My wife is an auditor for an American company that has operations around the world. Those operations need to be audited by internal auditors, hence our 8 week stints. I’ve never thought of accounting as an exciting career, but they are some of the most well-traveled people I’ve ever met.

  3. W
    June 22, 2011

    What career affords such wonderful opportunity!?

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