This Handbook contains everything you need to know about this Secret Compass Adventure Academy expedition to Panama.
Read on to discover our ethos and team-centred approach and for the nitty gritty like flight and visa advice, insurance requirements and kit recommendations. Use the buttons below to ask questions or to apply for this expeditionary course or, once approved, to secure your spot on the team with a Booking Form and a £400 deposit.
Course starts at 0900 on 31 May.
Course finishes once you arrive back in Panama City on the evening of 12 June.
Insurance: ensure you have comprehensive cover.
Docs: send your flight, insurance and passport copy in.
Balance due: 90 days before departure on 02 March.
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 in the Central American Jungle Region (CWG-SA).
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 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 wish 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 course.
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
Gain your Certified Wilderness Guide Central & South America (CWG-SA) qualification
You need to organise your own international flights. It is advised that you book a flexible flight ticket that can be changed or refunded if the expedition dates are changed or if it is cancelled for any reason. See our online Terms and Conditions.
You need to be at the course meeting point in downtown Panama City at 0900 on the 31 May and the course officially ends on your return to Panama City on the evening of the 12 June. In case of delays, we do not recommend booking flights to leave any earlier than the morning of the 13 June.
Travel insurance that provides cover for emergency repatriation in case of a medical emergency is compulsory for all expeditions. You should be aware that many standard insurance policies may not cover you adequately for all aspects of a remote expedition and so we strongly recommend that you purchase a suitably designed insurance policy. Secret Compass cannot comment on the suitability of your cover so if you are in any doubt please contact your policy provider and ask them to confirm that you are covered to our minimum standard (below).
Emergency medical repatriation (to home country) including any associated expenses abroad of at least $500,000.
Activities: ensure that any expedition activities are included, these could be trekking, horse riding, rafting, MTB etc.
Geographical region: check the geographical region you are going to is insured (often the US and Canada or countries such as Afghanistan are not insured).
Foreign Ministry advice: check your insurance is not sensitive to any travel warnings issued by your respective foreign ministry. In the UK, many insurers will not insure you when the Foreign Office warns against travel to this area. Foreign Office advice will not necessarily mean we cancel an expedition or do not travel to a particular area. Please check @FCOtravel and the Travel Aware site.
Dates: make sure the period of cover begins at the departure and ends at the return to your home country. Many flights take a day or two and time zones vary. Insurance companies may prejudice your claims due to this.
Pre-existing medical conditions: disclose these to your insurance company and to Secret Compass.
Prior to travel Secret Compass will require the name of your insurance policy provider, their 24-hour emergency contact number and your policy number. For full information on travel insurance and links to suggested companies, please visit the insurance page on our website.
Visas are your responsibility, please check requirements for your own specific situation. British Nationals do not require a visa to visit Panama (except if arriving by sea) but are required, on arrival, to have a return or onward ticket and have the equivalent of US$500 or a credit card. An initial stay of 90 days is granted upon entry. All relevant permits will be organised by Secret Compass.
You should have a passport valid for the duration of the expedition and your travel dates. Panama does not require any validity beyond this but it we recommend 6 months remaining before expiry.
Please send a clear, colour copy of your passport to Secret Compass ahead of the expedition and carry photocopies with you on the course in a safe place.
Day 1: May 31 – Chagres National Park
Meet your instructors and the rest of the team at 10:15 am at Multiplaza Pacific Mall, downtown Panama City. Come with your kit expedition-ready and leave anything you do not want to carry for the duration of the course at your hotel – there will be no opportunity for left luggage at the meeting point. Grab a coffee together before picking up food supplies for the group – this is your first task as aspiring guides, planning food for the remainder of the expedition and managing your budget. After this, transfer by road to the trailhead to start your practical course in the Chagres National Park. There will be a short trek to your first campsite this afternoon.
Days 2 to 11 : Jun 01 to Jun 11– Chagres National Park
Spend the next 11 days learning the essential skills to be a jungle guide whilst completing a jungle expedition. Along the way, you’ll learn navigation and route planning, natural history, survival, leadership and jungle first aid and emergency management. You will explore jungle routes following the course of rivers and tributaries and summit a mountain, making temporary camps each night. Your actual route will be decided during the expedition by members of the team, working together to plot a course through the jungle by learning and applying navigation and jungle skills. During your time in the jungle you will be observed and assessed by your instructors so that by the end of the course, if you achieve a pass, you will qualify as a PAWGI Certified Wilderness Guides (CWG), in the Central American Jungle Region.
Day 12 : Jun 12– Panama City
Wake up on your final day in the jungle and complete your journey. After successfully navigating your way out of the jungle, transfer back to Panama City by road. The expedition and course officially ends this evening upon your return to Panama City. In case of delays, we do not recommend booking your flight home until the following day, 13 June. Team members wishing to head out for a celebratory meal can arrange this independently. Please remember that accommodation for the night of the 30 May and 12 June is not included to allow maximum flexibility for team members; it is your responsibility to arrange this accommodation.
About Secret Compass itineraries
Please remember that this itinerary acts as a framework plan. It provides guidance as to our intentions but may not be followed religiously. This is an adventure and by definition the outcome is uncertain. The leadership team will adapt, flex and change the plan depending on the numerous frictions you may encounter along the way.
All our expeditions are achievable by people with an active and healthy lifestyle. However, this is an arduous expedition that will test you and at times you may be sore, tired, hungry and most definitely wet! You must be prepared physically and mentally for the expedition and for living in basic conditions for the duration. Please ensure that you train for the expedition and arrive fit and ready to go. You will be required to be fit enough for the following:
Daily activity: expect to be trekking for approx. 8 hours per day and active into the evening.
Carry: up to 12 kg per person in a rucksack.
Terrain: through close tropical rainforest, boggy and wet areas, crossing rivers and rugged hills.
Climate: a hot and humid environment with daily rain showers.
Swim: river crossings will be essential parts of this expedition and as such you need to be able to swim.
The trek requires few technical skills but 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. Prior to departure, teammates also need to be proficient with compass use and undertake some pre-course learning. Please see “The Course” tab on the course details page for more details of prerequisites for the course to ensure you will meet these before the course.
At a basic level, you should be comfortable jogging for at least 45 minutes and be able to walk for 8 hours per day in the British hills carrying 12 kg for at least 3 days running. The distances covered each day won’t necessarily be significant but the biggest challenge on this expedition will be the long days over difficult terrain, and the strain of constantly being in a wet environment.
Vaccinations. Please seek advice from your health professional on recommended vaccinations. The NHS Fit For Travel site and Travel Health Pro are both useful.
There is a risk of malaria so please bring appropriate prophylaxis. Please note Panama has been categorised as having a moderate risk of Zika virus transmission.
Dental. It is strongly recommended that you have a dental check up prior to departure. Dental problems far from help are very unpleasant.
The US dollar is the standard currency in Panama. There are ATMs in Panama City.
This expedition is all-inclusive from lunch on day 1 to lunch on day 12 so you won’t need much money, except for tipping and for your meals and accommodation in Panama City. If you bring USD with you ensure this is in small denomination notes ($20 or less).
Secret Compass always suggest carrying an emergency fund of $100-$200 in cash.
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 United 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 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 can be used towards your CSG (Certified Specialised Guide) qualification.
Prerequisites and required learning
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. 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 therefore expected to be able to use a compass prior to joining the course and these skills should be learnt and practised as part of your preparation for the course. The course will also include a couple of short modules taught to students prior to the course through an online platform. These will cover knots and online weather forecast applications.
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:
Search and rescue
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
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, Colombia, 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.
The following is Secret Compass’s recommended kit list for the Jungle Guides Course in Panama. You will be required to carry all of your own kit for this expedition along with a share of a group food. Secret Compass will supply hammocks and shared cooking and water purification equipment.
If you have been on a Secret Compass team expedition before, please check the below kit list carefully because as a course rather than an expedition, the kit list contains some slightly more specialist items.
Secret Compass have arranged team members discounts with Cotswold Outdoor, Nordic Life, Outdoor Hire and Expedition Kit Hire, details of these will be sent through on booking.
Baggage and sleeping
RUCKSACK: A comfortable 60 – 75 ltr rucksack that fits your back, a good outdoor shop will be able to help with fitting. All your personal gear needs to fit easily into this pack, including the hammock you will be given by us and a share of group food. A pack with an adjustable support system recommended.
WATERPROOF RUCKSACK LINER: Sealable “canoe” or “dry” bags made by Podsac or Ortlieb. You need a large one to line your rucksack as it will rain!
SMALLER DRY BAGS (optional): For separating your gear or waterproofing valuables.
HAMMOCK AND TARP (optional): These are provided as standard but if you would prefer to bring your own let us know.
SLEEPING BAG LINER: Cotton or silk.
SLEEPING BAG or TRAVEL BLANKET: If you are a cold sleeper you may want a thin sleeping bag or thin blanket in addition to a liner, rated to 5ºC at comfort. You can get Hammock specific sleeping bags, but they’re not essential. More important is that it’s lightweight. Discuss this with your guide during the Skype briefing.
SHORT FOAM SLEEPING PAD
CAMP PILLOW (optional)
WATERPROOF WALLET: For your passport and money!
LONG SLEEVE SHIRT: 1x thin trekking shirts that dry quickly with long sleeves to provide insect and sun protection (not cotton).
TREKKING TROUSERS: 1x thin trekking trousers that dry quickly and are comfortable. Impregnated with Permethrin ideally (see below)
THIN JACKET/FLEECE (optional): A thin “micro fleece” or jacket, in case you feel the cold or use as a pillow.
WALKING BOOTS: 1x specific desert or jungle boots. Ensure your boots are worn in and comfortable. Try to avoid Gore-tex boots as your feet find it harder to breathe and the boots do not dry easily when wet. We recommend you visit your local outdoors store for advice on fitting.
SPARE WALKING BOOT INSOLES: Essential to change part way through to maintain foot hygiene.
SNAKE GAITERS OR THICK MOUNTAINEERING GAITERS (optional): There are venomous snakes in the Panamanian jungle. Whilst there has never been an incident on an expedition, there have been sightings, so a tough layer of protection is recommended.
PERMETHRIN (optional): Use at home to impregnate all of your day clothing (including socks!) with insect repellent.
SLEEP/EVENING WEAR: 1 set of clothing to keep dry and put on in the evening. You day clothes will get wet.
SANDALS: Around camp and on the river. Ensure closed toes, secure and comfortable. Not flip flops!
UNDERWEAR (optional): lycra sports shorts such as Under Armour or similar which don’t chafe and dry quickly.
SWIM WEAR (optional)
Eating and drinking
MUG: Plastic or metal. Metal mugs are great to use over open fires.
KNIFE, FORK, SPOON: Or spork. Long handle advised.
ROBUST DRINKING WATER CONTAINERS: You need to be able to carry a minimum of 3 litres in a combination of Nalgene, Sigg, Camelbacks or similar.
WATER PURIFICATION SYSTEM: We will provide water purifying equipment for the group, but if you wish to bring your own please let us know. Filter, tablets, drops, SteriPen etc
DIORALYTE SACHETS OR SIMILAR REHYDRATION PACKS: Such as Nuun, Fizz, Camelbak etc. You should be consuming at least one of these per day as standard.
SNACKS: The team will buy supplies for the course in Panama City, but if you have some favourite snacks feel free to bring these too.
STOVE/COOK-SET (optional): We will provide group stoves, but if you wish to bring your own please let us know.
Health and Hygiene
WASHBAG, TOOTHBRUSH & TOOTHPASTE: Small and easy to break down. You do not need a large travel washbag!
TOILET PAPER AND LIGHTER (optional): Travel tissues are ideal.
SANITARY PRODUCTS (optional)
LIP SALVE WITH UV PROTECTION: This is essential as chapped lips are painful.
VASELINE: Keep readily available to prevent chafing skin and heel friction blisters.
INSECT REPELLENT: Bring Deet or other strong repellent.
AFTER SUN /MOISTUISER (optional)
FACTOR 30+ SUN CREAM
Small First Aid Kit
In the jungle you are your own doctor! Your instructors will be carrying a comprehensive first aid kit but as this is a jungle guiding course, the recommended personal first aid kit is more comprehensive than on our standard expeditions to aid this learning experience. Some of these items may require a prescription or a trip to a travel clinic to acquire.
A WATERPROOF BAG OR TUPPERWARE BOX: Keep kit dry and safe.
PAIN KILLERS: Ibuprofen and paracetamol.
ZINC OXIDE TAPE AND SMALL SCISSORS
MELOLIN DRESSING PADS x4
CREPE BANDAGE x2
COMPEED BLISTER PADS: Please note that Compeed produce several similar-looking blisterpacks for corns, etc. Please ensure you purchase the standard / original item.
NEWSKIN (optional): Liquid bandage that is especially good for foot blisters (highly recommended by your guide!).
ANTI CHAFING CREAM: Anti Chafing/anti friction gel/crème (e.g. Sudocrem)
CLOTRIMAZOLE: Comes in cream and liquid forms and also marketed as Canesten. For athletes foot/fungal infections in ears/feet (you will be briefed on its use in the jungle environment at the start of the course.
CIPROFLOXACIN: Broad-spectrum antibiotic effective in controlling bacterial infections of the gastro-intestinal tract, urinary tract, and others.
AMOXICILIN, DICLOXICILIN OR CLINDAMICIN: Broad-spectrum antibiotics effective in controlling bacterial infections such as dental abscesses, or skin infections after a cut, rash or sting.
DENATURED ALCOHOL: For preventing fungal infections especially of the toe nails and feet.
ANTIBIOTIC EAR AND EYE DROPS: To prevent or control ear and eye infections.
DIAHORREA TABLETS: Immodium.
PIRITON/ZYRTEC/BENADRYL TABLETS: Antihistamine effective against allergic reactions to food or environmental agents, including some insect bites/stings.
EURAX CREAM (for bites)
ANTI-FUNGAL FOOT POWDER: To use nightly as a preventative.
ANY MEDICATION YOU NORMALLY USE: Find out the generic/chemical name for your medication in case you need to buy more in-country. Please also check that your medication is legal in your destination and that you carry any necessary paperwork eg. Prescriptions. You must disclose any pre-existing medical conditions to Secret Compass on your application forms.
NOTEPAD AND PEN: Must be waterproof such as Rite in the Rain
WATRPROOF MAP CASE
HEAD TORCH AND SPARE BATTERIES
SUNGLASSES WITH UV-FILTER LENSES
PENKNIFE: Remember to not pack in hand luggage!
GAFFA TAPE: For emergency repairs to your kit, bring a small roll.
KARABINER: 1x for securing your rucksack.
SPARE BOOT LACES (optional)
SMALL SEWING KIT
RE-SEALABLE PLASTIC BAGS: For dirty washing wrappings, etc.
SPARE PLASTIC BINLINER
WATER PURIFICATION SYSTEM: Filter, tablets, drops, SteriPen etc)
CAMERA AND BATTERIES
FLASH CARD: Name, blood type, insurance policy #, insurance company phone #, any present medical conditions, if applicable.
Secret Compass organises expeditions, not sightseeing tours. Our expeditions are team-centred, flexible and dynamic. Teams are managed on the ground by Secret Compass staff: industry-leading professionals and guides of the highest calibre. They put the structure in place for your team to have an incredible experience while achieving your expedition’s aims. Our people are as passionate as you are about achieving the extraordinary in the world’s wildest places. Secret Compass teams often go to places that others don’t. This makes our expeditions truly different, taking you beneath the skin and beyond the headlines of the world’s most remote reaches. Inspired by history’s great explorers and challenges, you’ll be set ambitious goals and will overcome similar hardships to those experienced on the audacious journeys of the past.
Remember this is not an organised tour. It is an adventure. More often than not expeditions don’t run smoothly! The nature of the areas we operate in mean that we will encounter a number of challenges that we expect everyone to meet and relish. Friction and hurdles are all part and parcel of an arduous expedition and also to our success as a team. These make the journey more interesting and are often the best and most amusing parts when looking back. Each expedition is thoroughly reviewed on its return and team members will have the opportunity to provide feedback which helps to inform planning for future expeditions.
Local partners and bureaucracy
Our teammates can only achieve the extraordinary with the help of people in the communities we travel through. NGO and aid workers, guides, fixers and interpreters all work extremely hard and are generous in their hospitality to us and our teams: visitors in their land. They are crucial to our success. Please remember and respect that their perspectives and concepts of time, environmental responsibility and customer service might differ to yours. Occasionally there is no established protocol for outside visitors which means we encounter local power struggles or disagreements. Our leaders have years of experience in delicate negotiations like these and conversational chess – especially through an interpreter – and these interchanges are often memorable parts of any expedition.
Infrastructure and natural events
The areas we travel to often especially remote. Transport infrastructure can be ageing, inadequate or non-existent. Flooded roads, collapsed bridges, fallen trees and vehicle break-downs are all par for the course. Our teams thrive on overcoming challenges like these – be prepared to get stuck in and push occasionally! Natural phenomena like desert sand storms, early monsoons, landslides across key routes, winter coming early, gale force winds and driving snow can all make for a more interesting time on the expedition.
In some areas our teams explore, we rely on local food sources. This can often be outstanding (but can also be very average) and we always make the best out of the resources available. In other cases, we will supply filling and high-calorie dehydrated expedition foods (ration packs)
Part of a team
Secret Compass fosters a team mentality across all its expeditions and projects. Like all teams you will have a leader who will give direction to your progress. Crucial to your team’s success – especially when the going gets tough – is the attitude of the teammates working together to achieve the aim. You really are part of a team, not a cosseted guest on a tour. We ask teammates to muck in and help out any aspect of the expedition, from fetching water and helping to prepare and cook food, to carrying some group kit and equipment if required. The working language of all teams is English.
There really is no typical expedition member, though everyone needs to be fit, healthy and ready to take on the expedition’s aim by the time of departure. Participants range from 21 to 65+ in age and come from all over the world. Backgrounds include contract workers and engineers, IT specialists and students, teachers and literature lovers, journalists and keen photographers and so many more. What bonds our pioneering teams is their shared spirit of adventure and their sense of humour and positive outlook. A good teammate looks on the bright side when the 4×4 breaks down, the rain comes early and when a meal is distinctly pedestrian. Our teammates help each other, look out for each, encourage each other and help each other when needed. Our teams have done us proud in working together to achieve their common goal: the aim of the expedition. If this sounds like you, you’ve come to the right expedition company.
You need a robust, spirited and can-do attitude to cope with demanding days and rough camping in rugged and wild places. You’ll cover good daily distances (generally carrying your own kit and equipment), eating expedition foods or relying on local food sources. These elements combine to create the unique character of each expedition. On expedition, challenges, frictions and changes to plans are inevitable. Teammates should meet and relish these as an integral part of any arduous expedition and its ultimate success. Such things make the journey more interesting and are often most memorable parts when looking back.
Secret Compass is an expedition company not a tour company. Expeditions contain inherent risk. This is part of the appeal for teammates. We do not make expeditions safe as, by definition, that is impossible. We construct and implement a three-staged risk management approach to reduce risk to what we perceive as a tolerable level.
We conduct a thorough risk assessment of potential hazards and threats that may be encountered on the expedition and provide recommendations to reduce the likelihood of harm occurring/ severity if it does occur.
As part of our expedition plan, we detail actions to be taken to implement and resource the recommendations of the risk assessment. This includes a detailed medical and communications plan.
The expedition leader is responsible for dynamic risk management on the expedition itself.
Key risks encountered on this specific expedition include insect-borne diseases such as malaria, climatic injury such as dehydration and heat stroke. If you would like to see the full Risk Assessment for this expedition, please email email@example.com.
Incident management and medical
As part of the safety plan, Secret Compass has a full incident and emergency plan for medical and other emergencies. This will be discussed in full at the arrival brief, so everyone is aware what action will be taken. In summary, incidences are usually managed on the ground by the expedition leader in the first instance with remote support from Secret Compass’s 24 hour Operations Room before evacuation to the nearest appropriate medical centre.
It is your responsibility to understand the risks associated with adventure travel in remote areas. You also must understand that medical evacuation will take an extended period of time (potentially up to two and a half days) and will require wilderness extraction techniques and long carries by stretcher. In-country search and rescue and emergency services are very basic or non-existent and the expedition will rely on internal resources for medical evacuation. By joining this expedition, you accept the risks associated with the venture. If you require any more information on specific risk management for this expedition, or would like to speak to us about our medical planning prior to the trip, please get in touch.
Read team Testimonials or watch this short video featuring expedition teammates (filmed on location in Ethiopia) for an insight into life on expedition.
Tipping. Central America follows North America when it comes to tipping for services. It is expected and forms a crucial part of the wages. This will be especially important for the porters, who will have earnt expect a tip at the end of their service. The best way to do this is for us to come to an agreement at the beginning of the trip and then one of the group will collect all the tips and present to them publicly. Please bring some US$ in small denominations for this!
Responsible travel. Our porters will be local Panamanians of mixed ethnicities. They practice subsistence agriculture as well as slash-and-burning to grow crops or raise livestock to sell at markets. Our low-impact activities give them an opportunity to profit from non-destructive practices and helps inspire in them an appreciation for their natural heritage. They are also a valuable resource for the group as they learn more about the Panamanian jungle.
You will be trekking deep into the heart of the Chagres National Park: chopping through overgrown, humid, wild jungle; picking up little-used paths; and wading through rivers. Keep in mind that this jungle terrain isn’t flat. Every day there are hills to climb up and down. Be sure to exercise and prepare for this accordingly.
The average temperature will be between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius. Panama’s long rainy season runs from May through to December so expect to get wet during the course to truly test your jungle skills. Read the kit list carefully and come prepared.
The expedition phase of the course will be spent travelling entirely by foot through the jungle. Transfer to and from the trailhead will be by private van, and the journey takes a few hours.
During the course you will be sleeping in hammocks under tarps provided by Secret Compass. If you have your own hammock and tarp you are welcome to bring this but please let us know in advance. One night will be spent in a permanent camp (at a village) but all other nights will be temporary wild-camps.
The course will meet and conclude in Panama City, however your accommodation in the city for the nights prior to and after the course are not included and are your responsibility to book. If you want a recommendation, we have previously used the Metro Hotel Panama for our team expeditions.
Due to the nature of this course we expect all team mates to have a good base level of wilderness and multi-day camping experience. Living in these conditions can degrade your health if you do not look after yourself and increase fatigue if you are not used to living rough. You need to be highly organised so that your night and morning routine is done efficiently and quickly.
During the expedition the food will be a combination of local fresh and dehydrated food. Team mates will be responsible for purchasing, preparing and cooking their own food whilst in the jungle, splitting into small groups to share equipment and responsibilities.
Your course instructors will be Rick Morales and Alex Bigwood. Rick has been working as a wilderness guide in Panama since 1998 and leads our Darien Gap expedition. He is one of the most competent interpretation guides and is well recognized for his skills in bird watching in Panama. Alex is a certified PAWGI instructor originally from New Zealand, where he was a medic in the military. Now based in Canada (when not on expedition of course), he’s been instructing professional guides and leading expeditions around the world for the past 10 years. The course will also be assisted by local porters, however the benefits they bring to the course are not purely for their portering. These locals are regular practitioners of many of the skills learnt on the course – finding dry wood and starting a fire in the wet jungle or clearing a path through the dense jungle by machete are second-nature to them. They navigate without a compass or gps and walk long distances in $12 wellies and you will have lot to learn from their minimalist approach.
Your Secret Compass will be carrying a Satellite Phone and tracking devices.
Unfortunately, routine communication between team members and family/friends is not possible – please reassure them that no news is good news! If there is an emergency and someone needs to contact a team member, they can contact Secret Compass’s Operations Room on +44207 096 8428 (UK) who will endeavour to pass a message on within 24hours.
Cell Phone. 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 expedition with the mindset of escaping technology and the day-to-day routine is advisable.
Here are some frequently asked questions that are specific to this expedition. Read our general FAQ too for questions such as ‘how do I join an expedition’ and more. Can’t find your answer? Contact SCHQ.
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 learning new skills, the jungle environment and wilderness journeys. All prospective students must fulfil the fitness requirements (see “Fitness” tab) and have the prerequisite experience (see “The Course” tab).
Is this a bushcraft course?
Although the course 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 course.
Can I fail the course?
Yes. During your time in the jungle you will be continually observed and assessed on the skills you are learning by your instructor, PAWGI (Professional Association of Wilderness Guides and Instructors) certified. 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 still 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, in some instances, you may be asked to bring additional snacks or protein sources with you. Meals in Panama City before and after the course are not included.
Can you recommend a hotel in Panama City?
Hotel accommodation for the nights of the 1st and 14th June are not included and are your responsibility to book. If you want a recommendation for, we have previously used the Metro Hotel Panama for our team expeditions.
There’s some prescription only medicines on the kit list – how do I get these?
In the UK your NHS GP may not be willing to prescribe you medicines on a “just in case” basis. If this is the case then try a specialist travel clinic who will often be able to give you a private prescription for “just in case” medicines for travellers such as antibiotics for travellers diarrhoea.
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.