Punta Patiño Nature Reserve
Punta Patiño is, at 30,000 hectares, the largest private reserve in the country. It’s owned by ANCON, a Panamanian environmental nonprofit, and operated by its for-profit sister organization, Ancon Expeditions. It’s a great place to come to get a taste of “coastal Darién,” which has a much different feel from the interior.
Punta Patiño offers quite a range of vegetation and wildlife, and it’s the most comfortable place to stay in the Darién outside of the Tropic Star Lodge. It’s on the Golfo de San Miguel, a little under an hour by boat from La Palma.
Large swaths of Patiño, about a third of the reserve, were used for a cattle, coconut, and lumber operation before it became a protected area. The coconut plantation is still standing, but nothing is being done with it.
Nature is making a surprisingly strong recovery in the disturbed areas. A large reforestation project is under way, and ANCON is also working to preserve red and black mangroves here.
Punta means “point.” The point is off to the left as you face the beach, where the lighthouse is. The closest settlements from here are the small Afro-Colonial town of Punta Alegre, between Punta Patiño and La Palma, and an Emberá village up the Río Mogue.
Flora and Fauna
The forest around the ANCON lodge is secondary growth, but primary forest isn’t far away. Notable trees include the massive cuipo, whose blossoms burst into bright red or orange at the end of the dry season, and the spiny cedar, which has sharp spikes covering its trunk.
There’s a decent chance of seeing at least one kind of exotic critter that doesn’t have wings here. You’re almost guaranteed to see capybara, the world’s largest rodent (picture a giant guinea pig), and gray foxes at night toward the end of the rainy season (late December–January). Sightings drop off thereafter. Other largish mammals include tayras (a lanky weasel with a long, bushy tail), Geoffroy’s tamarins, night monkeys, and collared peccaries.
Caimans lurk in the swampier areas, and there are also lots of iguanas. Pilot and humpback whales and bottle-nosed dolphins can sometimes be spotted in the Golfo de San Miguel.
Bird specialties at Patiño include black-tailed trogons, boat-billed herons, and night herons. A jaguar has been known to hunt capybara in the area, but don’t expect to see it.
Getting to the Punta Patiño Nature Reserve
There is a private airstrip at Punta Patiño, but only chartered aircraft land there. The nearest commercial airstrip is in La Palma. From La Palma it’s about an hour down to Patiño by boat, which will be arranged for those who go with a tour operator.
Ancon Expeditions (tel. 269-9414 or 269-9415, fax 264-3713, www.anconexpeditions.com) offers a four-day, three-night package to Patiño for US$625 per person. The price includes lodging, airfare, guided hikes in the forest, tours of the Emberá village on the Río Mogue, and meals.
For another US$70 per person, guests can stay another day to search for harpy eagles and spend the night in the tambo (traditional Emberá open-sided thatched-roof hut) in Mogue.
Sales tax, currently 7 percent, is not included. The company also includes a visit to Punta Patiño as part of other trips.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition