Rio Tuira

Tags: Darien, Panama, Rio Tuira, sailing

Date: January 12, 2023

Darien is a large province in Panama that borders Colombia and is mostly composed of jungle, mountains and rivers. The area of Darien is about 28% of the area of Denmark with a population of around 49,000 people, so quite sparsely populated. Our plan was to travel up some of the rivers to see some of the interior of Darien.

Here are some pictures from our first morning anchored in the Tuira River:

Navigating on rivers is different than the ocean in several ways, especially in very tidal areas like this. The difference between high and low tide is around five meters, so lots of water flows into the rivers during rising tide and flows out again during falling tide. This means lots of current and lots of debris in the water like the logs shown above.

The muddy river banks show that it is low tide:

Low tide is a good time to get going upriver since this means that the current is turning to go into the country giving a following current of several knots. There was not much wind, so we used the engine all the time in the rivers of Darien. There are not any nautical charts for most of this region, so running aground is a definite possibility. This is another argument for using the engine rather than the sails. Running aground with the sail up can be a bad experience since the sails might push the boat further aground while more maneuverability is available with the engine. With some practice, you can get a good feeling for where the shallow spots are in a river. The outside of bends are usually fairly deep, for example.

So we got going upriver with some dramatic weather around us:

The Tuira River is several kilometers wide in many places and gradually gets narrower as it goes inland. The town of Yaviza lies on a tributary to Tuira and is around 100 km from the coast along the rivers. This town is special because it is located at the end of the Panamerican Highway. This is the largest road going through Panama and connects the country with the rest of North America. The road crosses the Panama Canal, but it stops before reaching Colombia: there is no road connection between North and South America. The 106 km stretch with no roads between Panama and Colombia is called the Darien Gap. The area is covered in inaccessible jungle and several attempts to build a road has been abandoned. There are no current plans for a road.

Our goal was not Yaviza, but another tributary to Tuira called the Balsas River. After going upriver most of the day, we arrived to our second anchorage on the Tuira close to where the Balsas River enters it:

The river looks quite wide, but the land on the right in the photo above is actually an island in the river that we are anchored behind, so the river is much wider than what you see here. You can also see more debris in the water. Here is a picture of the anchor chain where you can see the strong river current:

Looking upriver in the evening:

The next day we took a dinghy trip up the small Marea River. Here are some ibises and some herons in a tree:

Close to the end of a small tributary to the Marea:

The mangroves are always fun to see:

Small, often colorful crabs lived on the mangroves and other trees near the water:

In the Marea River on the way back to the boat:

Due to the strong currents, our dinghy trips had to be timed perfectly with slack tide. We usually started 30-45 minutes before slack tide going with the current and then turned around as the current changed direction. The current was so strong that you could see the change in direction over a few minutes.

The ibises feed on the muddy river banks at low tide:

This is probably part of the reason that we did not see any ibises on the Chagres River on the Atlantic side of Panama: there is practically no tide there.

At one time, a big log got stuck in the anchor chain due to the strong current:

With a bit of work using some ropes, we managed to get it free.

A nice sunset on the Tuira River: