The residents of La Chunga  managed to turn their village into one of the more comfortable places to stay in the Darién . “Comfort” is a relative term where the Darién is concerned, but amazingly enough this place has real flush toilets and running water. Four solid thatch-roofed, bamboo-sided cabins on stilts are rented out to visitors.
The rooms, officially known as the Hotel Emberá, are a short walk from the village proper, set in a little clearing where medicinal plants are grown for the edification of visitors. The cabins have two rooms, each equipped just with two wooden beds topped by a foam mattresses and mosquito nets. One of the cabins has double beds; the rest are singles.
Showers are in a neighboring hut and consist of a cold-water spigot. Rates are US$150 for one person, US$60 for each additional person. This includes lodging, meals, and tours, but not airfare to Sambú .
Your host is Ricardo Cabrera, cacique (chief) of La Chunga and 11 other villages. Ricardo is a friendly guy who speaks English well. (He’s the only one in the village who speaks more than a word or two.) It’s startling to hear American slang from him until you learn he spent six months in Southern California helping a missionary document the Emberá language.
He can arrange guided hikes on which you might see all kinds of critters, including crocodiles in a nearby lake, golden-headed quetzals, peccaries, and, of course, snakes. Ricardo has recently opened a second, three-room guesthouse, Villa Siesta, in the tiny town of Sambú itself. Rates are US$20 for the room alone. He’s also working on a third place farther up the river.
To stay at Hotel Emberá or Villa Siesta, get in touch with Ricardo Cabrera. Getting in touch with him can be tricky. Start by calling Ricardo’s sister in Panama City (tel. 234-8281). Ricardo has a mobile phone (cell 6687-2271), but he’s often out of range. There is one public telephone in the village (tel. 299-6083); ask for Ricardo. However, be advised that the phone is often out of order.
If all else fails, send a telegram from a post office to: Ricardo Cabrera, La Chunga, Darién, Zona 4. List your contact information, proposed date of arrival, number in the party, and how long you want to stay. If Ricardo knows you’re coming, he’ll arrange to meet you at the airstrip, but don’t be surprised if you have to wait around for a while.
Another new place in Sambú  is Sambú Hause (tel. 268-6905, cell 6627-2135 or 6766-5102, http://sambuhausedarienpanama.com/ , US$125 s/d, including meals) consists of four rooms in a simple wooden house about 500 meters from the airstrip. One of the rooms has a private bathroom; the rest share bathrooms.
The house has electricity, mosquito screening, modern fixtures, a TV/DVD player, a deck and front porch, an outdoor barbecue, and a fully equipped kitchen. It is by no means a luxurious place, but these things alone mean it offers by far the best-equipped village accommodations in the Darién .
This place is the creation of Michael Harrington, an American married to a darienita. It is managed by his sister-in-law, María Asprilla and her daughter, Mabel. It is still a work in progress: Everything must be brought in by boat or plane, so construction is slow and expensive. But it appears to be a good midrange option for those who want a bit of comfort during a Darién trip, but have an adventurous spirit, are comfortable with rustic surroundings, and like the idea of staying in the heart of a hand-to-mouth Darién community.
Sambú Hause can arrange guided forest hikes (about US$15/hour) and river trips on motorized piraguas (about US$35/hour). As at La Chunga , the local indigenous people perform Emberá-Wounaan dances (no charge, but a US$20 tip is expected and appreciated) and sell baskets, tagua carvings, and other handicrafts.
Sambú Hause offers adventurous overnight treks, arranged through a man named Juancito, who can also come up with cheaper, more rustic accommodations for those who can’t afford Sambú Hause.