The primary focus of this jungle guides course is to learn and develop the skills required to plan and lead a successful jungle expedition. In doing so, as part of a team you will navigate your own crossing of Panama’s Chagres National Park.
Under the supervision of expert instructors, team mates 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 through the jungle. 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 those wishing to enhance their own knowledge of the jungle and of carrying out expeditions. This could be in order to prepare them for their own jungle expeditions or purely because you have an interest in jungle environments and learning new skills. Whatever your motivation, you are welcome on the expedition.
- Learn skills needed to plan and lead a jungle based expedition
- Plot a route and trek across Panama’s iconic Chagres National Park
- Hone personal navigation skills
- Acquire and perfect jungle skills in an expedition environment
- Learn from Industry leading professionals and local persons
Learn new skills to prepare for your own adventure, or expand on existing wilderness knowledge. 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.
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 during the expedition will include:
- Expedition provisioning
- 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
Further details on the pre-requisite skills and assessment methods are available in the course Handbook.
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.
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.
To ensure you make the most of your time in-country, your course will actually start before you depart for Panama with the completion of some learning and expedition preparation via an online platform. This is a brilliant opportunity to get to know your instructors and team mates before you arrive, as well as get lots of advice in equipment in the run up to the expedition.
Meet in downtown Panama City on the morning of May 31st for day 1 of the expedition. 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 team mates will take on responsibility for buying in provisions for the expeditions, 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 expedition
Over the next 10 days and nights team mates will acquire and develop survival, leadership and emergency management skills as they establish a route through the Chagres National Park, and to the summit of Cerro Bruja. 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.
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 12 June. In case of delays, you should not book outbound flights/transport out of Panama City until the next day (13 June).
Secret Compass expeditions and courses are achievable by anyone with a healthy lifestyle and a good level of general fitness. You will however 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.
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+
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!
- Professional Secret Compass expedition leaders.
- 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 team mates will receive a detailed Expedition Handbook. Here are some FAQs which should answer many questions. Get in touch if your question remains unanswered.
Who will be on the expedition?
We expect team mates 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 expedition is excellent preparation, and lastly non-professionals with an interest in learning new skills, the jungle environment and wilderness journeys. All prospective team mates must fulfil the fitness requirements (see “Fitness” tab).
Is this a bushcraft course?
Although the expedition covers survival and jungle-specific bushcraft skills, it is predominantly focused on the professional skills needed to lead an expedition in the jungle, rather than being a bushcraft expedition.
Are there any pre-requisites for the course?
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 as well as fitness levels as per the “FITNESS” tab. During the course, all students will share responsibility for navigation and route planning and there will not be time to teach basic compass skills. Students are therefore expected to be able to confidently use a compass and map prior to arriving in Panama and if required these skills should be learnt and practised as part of your preparation for the course.
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 on booking if you have any special dietary requirements.
How can I find out more?
Apply for this expedition 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.