The primary focus of this certified jungle guides course is to learn and develop the skills required to plan and lead a successful jungle expedition, qualifying as a certified jungle guide. In doing so, as part of a team you will navigate your own crossing of Panama’s Chagres National Park.
Upon successful completion of this course, students will be certified by the Professional Association of Wilderness Guides and Instructors (PAWGI) as Certified Wilderness Guides (CWG), in the Central American Jungle Region.
Under the supervision of expert guides, students will plot and follow their own route through this iconic tropical rainforest. Effectively negotiating humid jungle terrain, river-crossings, and tree-clad mountain ranges will all be part of the challenge as the team navigates its chosen route to the Caribbean coast. While start and end points of the expedition phase are predetermined, what unfolds in-between is up to you.
The course is also open to people not aspiring to become guides, but wish to enhance their own experience and knowledge of the jungle. This could be in order to prepare them for their own jungle expeditions or purely because you have an interest in jungle environments. Whatever your motivation, you are welcome on the course.
- Learn skills needed to plan and lead a jungle based expedition
- Plot a route and trek across Panama’s iconic Chagres National Park
- Acquire and perfect jungle skills in an expedition environment
- Hone personal navigation skills
- Learn from Industry leading professionals and local persons
- Gain you Certified Wilderness Guide (CWG) Central & South America qualification
Learn new skills to prepare for your own adventure, or expand on existing wilderness knowledge and qualify to lead your own jungle teams. For those seeking certified guidance and to qualify as recognised jungle leaders, this Adventure Academy expedition is the perfect challenge.
Successfully completing this course will certify students by the Professional Association of Wilderness Guides and Instructors (PAWGI) as Certified Wilderness Guides (CWG), in the Central American Jungle Region. See “The Course” tab for further details.
Alongside these learning objectives, this expedition also provides a fantastic opportunity for exploration in a varied, remote and unspoilt region of Panama bursting with life.
Chagres National Park
Comprising a mix of tropical rainforests and mountainous terrain, the Chagres National Park covers some 319,000 acres (129,000 ha) of land, located about 40 miles north of Panama City.
This iconic national park is home to an abundance of tropical plants and animals. Over 900 plant species and 114 mammal species, including tapirs, whitetail deer, Geoffroy’s spider monkeys, and five species of big cats have all been identified in the region. Also calling the national park home are 396 known species of birds, including stripe-cheeked woodpeckers, red-legged honeycreepers, violet-capped hummingbirds, and harpy eagles. Additionally, there are 96 reptile species, 79 amphibian species, and 59 species of freshwater fish.
Besides flora and fauna, the indigenous Embera tribe lives along the upper reaches of Lake Alajuela within Chagres. Portions of a trail once used by the Spanish to transport gold across the isthmus known as the Camino Real are still visible today.
Various waterways snake their way through the national park, many of which now feed the world famous canal to the west. In 1914, the Chagres River was dammed to form the Panama Canal and again in 1935 to form Lake Alajuela. Today the water flowing from the park accounts for nearly 40 percent of the water in the Panama Canal and serves as an important source of drinking water for Panama City and Colón.
The PAWGI certification system
The Professional Association of Wilderness Guides and Instructors (PAWGI) is a not-for-profit organisation. Originally set up to ensure quality and consistency in wilderness guiding in Canada, it is now the only wilderness guiding association in the world to have formal partnerships with organisations in the Unites States, Canada, Europe and Africa, and certified guides operating around the globe.
Within the PAWGI system students follow a linear progression of courses qualifying them for the roles of assistant guide all the way through to training instructors. The normal route for certification through PAWGI is to start with a Certified Assistant Guide (CAG) course, which is a theoretical course completed online. With increased experience and knowledge, qualified CAGs can then progress to Certified Wilderness Guide (CWG), Certified Specialized Guide (CSG), Certified Wilderness Instructor (CWI) and finally Certified Wilderness Instructor Trainer (CWIT) qualifications.
This course has been specially designed for Secret Compass and approved by PAWGI. It allows students with no previous PAWGI qualifications to take an accelerated route to progress directly to a CWG-SA qualification (Certified Wilderness Guide – Central and South America) on successful completion of a 10 day combined training and assessment expedition. A CWG-SA is qualified to lead overnight and multi-day land expeditions in any tropical/jungle area of Central and South America.
If you when you join the course you already have your PAWGI CAG qualification, then on successful completion of this course you will qualify as a CWG without the Central and South America restriction. If you already have your PAWGI CWG qualification then successful completion of this course will count as your Jungle (JUN) specialisation and will qualify you as a CSG – JUN.
To attend the course you need to be capable of travelling in a remote region for the duration of the trek without external support, and therefore a base level of wilderness experience including unsupported multi-day trekking is essential. Additionally, all students will share responsibility for navigation and route planning during the course, and there will not be time to teach basic compass skills. Students are expected to be able to use a compass prior to joining the course, but these skills can be learnt and practised as part of your preparation for the course.
Students will both learn about and practice skills in the field, and discuss more theoretical subjects in the evenings. Due to the course taking place in an expedition environment, lessons and exercises will take place where best suited depending on the location and weather conditions on the day. Official training objectives include:
- Route planning
- Search and rescue
- Campsite selection
- Problem/conflict resolution
- Best guiding and environmentally friendly practices
- Survival and jungle-specific bushcraft skills
- Jungle specific first aid
- Maintaining health and hygiene in the jungle
- Jungle specific hazards
- Natural history
Assessment and Qualification
During the course, students will be continuously observed by the instructors for the Wilderness Guide Practical Assessment, with a pass achieved by scoring 75% or higher. If your instructors do not feel you have reached the levels needed to achieve certified status you will not receive the full qualification, but you will receive a certificate of completion. On passing, students will be certified by PAWGI as Certified Wilderness Guides (CWG-SA), in the Central and South American Jungle Regions, and as such qualified to lead overnight and multi-day land expeditions in any tropical/jungle area of Central/South America (specifically limited to Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama, as well as Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela) suitable for their skill and experience level, excluding activities involving travel on glaciers or permanent snow, climbing, or the use of hands and body for balance.
Further professional development
Because this is an accelerated version of the CWG-SA course, should students wish to advance to an International level of certification not restricted to the Central American Jungle Region, or advance further to Certified Specialized Guide (CSG) or above, completion of the Certified Assistant Guide (CAG) course is required as per PAWGI regulations. This intensive online course can be completed either before or after your upcoming Jungle field course, through an authorised training partner. Time taken to complete the course will vary but be aware it is a serious undertaking. If you are thinking about completing the CAG before your Jungle field course get in touch for details of discounts available to students of this course. Please refer to pawgi.org for further details on the PAWGI system, or speak to your knowledgeable course instructors.
Secret Compass runs expeditions and courses with framework itineraries, rather than guided tours with set daily plans. Read more about our Approach here. The following is the outline plan for this course although coordinating the specifics will form part of the students’ training. A fuller itinerary is provided in the Handbook which is available upon request or application to join the course.
Meet in Panama City on the morning of July 22nd day 1 for the start of the course. Starting with a briefing on the plan and expedition safety, the course starts immediately with budgeting and meal planning as the team head out to arrange supplies for the expedition. Under the guidance of the course instructors all students will take on responsibility for buying in provisions for the course, working within recommended expedition guidelines and keeping to the budget set by your instructors (and paid for by Secret Compass). Once fully supplied, the team will transfer by road to the trailhead followed by a short trek to the first campsite.
During the course
Over the next 10 days and nights students will acquire and develop survival, leadership and emergency management skills as they establish a route through the Chagres National Park, over Cerro Bruja before finishing on the Caribbean coast. While the start and end locations are pre-determined, the route itself is not. Instead the exact route will be chosen by the students during the course with the aim of applying newly acquired expedition planning and navigational skills. During evenings and en-route will be the opportunity to discover natural history and learn the cultural context which surrounds this journey. For more details on the course objectives and qualification, please see “The Course” tab.
After successfully navigating your way out of the jungle you’ll be transported back to Panama City. It is expected that the team will be back in Panama City on the evening of August 2. In case of delays, Secret Compass recommend that outbound flights/transport out of Panama City should be booked no earlier than August 3.
Accommodation for the night of August 3 is not included in your course costs to allow maximum flexibility.
Secret Compass expeditions and courses are achievable by anyone with a healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness. This course trek requires some basic skills (see “The Course” tab), you need to be capable of travelling in a remote region for the duration of the trek without external support and be comfortable with the fitness requirements below. Students should be willing to work together towards the qualification requirements and have an adventurous and robust spirit.
Applicants will receive a Handbook with further course information. View Secret Compass’s suggested Expedition Training Advice and get in touch with any fitness, health, training or kit questions that remain. Students who arrive without meeting the agreed minimum fitness requirements can jeopardise themselves and the course’s goals so do take training seriously, prepare as appropriate and arrive fit and ready to go!
Prior to departure, students must be comfortable with the following.
- Trek: up to 15 km but often less in the jungle
- Daily activity: Expect to trek for around 8 hours per day
- Carry: up to 12 kg per person in a rucksack
- Terrain: expect boggy, wet and close tropical rainforest and river crossings. It can be hilly with a maximum elevation of 1000m.
- Climate: a hot, humid jungle environment.
- Swim: River crossings will be an unavoidable part of this course and as such you need to be able to swim.
- Age: 21+
- Professional Secret Compass expedition leaders who are PAWGI Certified Wilderness Instructors.
- Full communications kit and group medical kit.
- Support and teaching from local jungle experts.
- All transport as outlined in the itinerary.
- Hammocks and shared cooking equipment.
- All food during the course (from lunchtime on day 1 till lunchtime on day 12).
- Special permits and permissions if required.
- International flights/ travel to and from Panama City.
- Accommodation and meals in Panama City.
- Travel insurance (obligatory).
- Visas where relevant.
- Tips to local guides (discretionary).
- Personal equipment (full kit list in the Handbook).
- Beverages and any costs of a personal nature.
On application, potential students will receive a detailed Expedition Handbook. Here are some course-specific questions and our general FAQ will answer many other questions. Get in touch if your question remains unanswered.
Who will be on the course?
We expect course students to fall into broadly three categories: Those wishing to pursue a career as a jungle guide or practising guides wishing to learn specialist jungle skills; those planning their own non-professional jungle expedition (or aspiring to), for who this course is excellent preparation, and lastly non-professionals with an interest in jungle skills and wilderness journeys. All prospective students must fulfil the fitness requirements (see “Fitness” tab) and have the prerequisite experience (see “The Course” tab).
Can I fail the course?
Yes. Your instructor is a certified PAWGI (Professional Association of Wilderness Guides and Instructors) instructor. During your time in the jungle you will be continually observed and assessed on the skills that you have learnt. If your instructors do not feel you have reached the levels needed to achieve certified status you will not receive the full qualification, but you will receive a certificate of completion.
Will there be ‘phone signal or Internet?
There will be mobile phone coverage in Panama City at the beginning and end of the course. Signal in the jungle is unlikely. Joining this course with the mindset of escaping technology and the day-to-day routine is advisable.
Can I charge my electricals?
You will not expect to be able to charge electrical items once the expedition phase of the course has started. You are advised to bring your own spare batteries or power packs. Due to the shade of the jungle, solar packs might not work as well as usual.
Will there be toilets or showers?
There will be no toilets or showers available during the trek, however there are plenty of trees to duck behind and rivers and stream to wash in.
All meals are included during the course. Please advise us at least two weeks before departure if you have any special dietary requirements.
How can I find out more?
Apply for this course using the button on this page to receive your Expedition Handbook with fuller details. The Application page explains the joining process. Secret Compass is then on hand to answer any questions or to firm up your place on the course.