The area around the town of Jaqué (pop. 2,244) is even more deforested than Puerto Piñas . They actually graze cattle here—thankfully the only place along this stretch of coast that does. They mainly fish and grow crops that include rice, plantains, yuca, and yams.
It’s considerably larger and relatively more affluent-looking than Puerto Piñas, with some fairly substantial houses, but it’s still a place where people live pretty close to the bone. There’s an airstrip, a hospital, two hospedajes, a soccer field, and a handful of basic places to get a bite or a drink. A police bunker is at the edge of town near the mouth of the Río Jaqué, and there’s a camouflage netting–covered main cuartel (police station) in the center of town.
In 2000, the Colombian civil war pushed hundreds of refugees from the Colombian town of Juradó over the border into Jaqué and its surroundings. Stories appeared in the Panamanian press at that time saying that some of these refugees had been placed on Colombian death lists, and there was concern the war might spill over the border into this area. This didn’t happen, and a beefed-up police presence in town and up the Río Jaqué kept the situation under control for several years.
However, in June 2010, two Panamanian policemen were maimed by anti-personnel mines near the village of Jaqué, on the Bahía de Piñas . This is the first time anti-personnel mines have ever appeared in Panama. These were allegedly planted by drug traffickers. Yet more police have poured into the area, and the president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, has begun making tough speeches against the traffickers and Colombian guerrillas.
The situation appeared volatile as this travel guide went to press. Until local conditions change, I strongly advise visitors to avoid Jaqué and the surrounding area (though Tropic Star Lodge  still appears to be largely insulated from the conflict).
All that said, when left on its own the town is mellow and the people are friendly to strangers.
Those who come to Jaqué, when it’s safe to do so, by boat must get from open sea to the mouth of the Río Jaqué, and doing so often means riding waves that can be three meters high or even bigger. Managing this requires an experienced captain with a feel for surfing, and no one should attempt it without life jackets. This wave actually can be surfed, though few have made it all the way down here with their boards.
Warning: Before heading upriver, check in with the police station in town to make sure it’s safe to do so.
There are four indigenous villages on the Río Jaqué within about 20 kilometers of the town of Jaqué: Biroquera, Lucas, El Coco, and El Mamey. There are police posts in each village, but the upper reaches of the Río Jaqué beyond El Mamey are not patrolled and are supposedly used as a rest spot by combatants in the Colombian civil war.
All the villages are Emberá except the first one, Biroquera, which is Wounaan. It’s about 15 minutes by fast boat from Jaqué and is the only village Panamanian authorities are allowing foreign travelers to visit. For your own safety, do not attempt to travel farther upriver. Note also that getting to the Río Jaqué by sea can be rough.
Biroquera is a fairly tidy and spacious village built right on the edge of the river. It’s worth a quick visit. Houses are a mixture of traditional white cane–walled huts on stilts and more “modern” huts with walls made of wooden planks. A concrete path winds through the village, which is lit for a couple of hours in the evening by a small generator. The Wounaan are renowned for their crafts and it should be possible to buy directly from the craft-makers here. Hiring a boat from Jaqué to Biroquera should cost about US$40 for a small group.
About 20 kilometers southeast of Jaqué there’s a small bay, Ensenada El Guayabo, that has a white sand beach that’s said to be even prettier than Playa Blanca. All that’s there is a handful of indigenous huts. It makes for an easy day trip from Jaqué or Piñas. Visitors can trade fishing hooks and sodas with the residents for fresh coconut milk. It’s probably not a good idea to head much farther down toward the Colombian border.