A Different Campout
The Sarigua National Park
The Sarigua National Park is no doubt a place that has nothing to do with Panama’s lavish evergreen scenery. Barely 28 miles from Chitre, the capital of the Herreras province in the Azuero Peninsula, trippers can now find an arid coastal area, the result of continuous saltwater flooding that have occurred in the Panamanian isthmus. Dry and cracked soils low in foliage dominate the nearly 20,000 acres of the Sarigua National Park, home to dregs and ruins of major pre-hispanic settlements and a former farming village that are somewhere between 11,000 and 5,000 years old, respectively. In that faraway past, Sarigua used to offer the finest conditions for a good lifestyle: lush vegetation, grazing areas and abundance of birds for hunting, let alone armadillos, raccoons, white-tail deer and other wildlife species. But today’s Sarigua is really on the flop side of the coin. Everything there makes visitors believe they have arrived in a desert. And even though not a single drop of water can be found in this area, the National Park is far from a genuine desert zone. The aggressive salinization process the region has endured has given way to the formation of a sea-stricken strip of land that covers as much as 80 percent of the entire surface and keeps high salt levels on the ground as a result of tidal waves. The conformation of this desert-like landscape is a consequence of gradual devastation the area has gone through over the past 2,500 years due to lack of adequate urban and human planning.
At only 148 miles from Panama City, in the coastal area of the Parita Gulf, an arid and inhospitable landscape makes travelers believe they are in the middle of a desert. That little nook harbors the Sarigua National Park and its highly salinized conditions. The place is so desolate that it doesn’t seem to be a part of the humid Panamanian territory
In the mid 20th century, colonizers came and devastated the zone. Damages caused by a shrimp processing company installed in Sarigua were also paramount. Coastal forests that used to knit themselves together with mangrove thickets were virtually done in. Today, a major erosion problem is underway due to the watercourses of the Parita and Villa rivers.
Panamanian authorities are conducting research studies in an effort to thwart the four main causes of salinization in this area: the negative effects of winds, high temperatures, salt and erosion.
In 1979, the zone was declared a “protection area of natural resources,” a move that eventually prompted the creation of a National Park that today boasts great national and international recognition for its historic, anthropological, ecological and economic values.
Like in the rest of the country, this region is marked by well-defined dry and rainy seasons. The dry season stretches out from December through April, while the rainy season extends from May to November with annual averages of roughly 60 inches of rain.
Also during the dry season, Sarigua is hit by huge sandstorms and even a few mirages can be made out in the area. Especially in the summer, a considerable chunk of the park turns into some sort of smooth-dust desert. The surrounding vegetation consists of cactuses, mangroves and dwarf carob trees, among other species.
The Sarigua National Park is stripped of wildlife species due to the prevailing desert conditions. However, a number of marine birds can be seen, as well as small mammals, reptiles and amphibious, plus 162 different kinds of migrating birds that have been logged on the premises.
Temperatures sway between 41 degrees Celsius at daytime and 19 degrees in the night, a range similar to that of a desert that makes Sarigua the only location in Panama where sudden temp fluctuations occur, a process that triggers the quick cracking and pulverization of rocks.
Given its amazing scientific values, this area has drawn scholars and students alike, and has paved the way for the development of economic activities, such as farming, distilling industries and pottery.
At the Sarigua National Park, folkloric traditions have a space of their own with such events as the Berraquera Carnivals and the famous Manito Festival in Ocu.
Other sightseeing spots inside the park are the Carita Pintada archeological site, the Nationality Museum in Ocu and the Green Iguana Project, where visitors can take a closer look at the breeding process of big lizards in captivity. Don’t miss the Humboldt Ecological Station –a safe haven for migrating birds in Panama- and the Ceregon de Mangle, home to a colony of royal herons and to their only nesting place in the entire country.
For good camping at the Sarigua National Park, visitors should carry all the water they are going to need –for further information, water gets pretty hot at noon. Since there’re no showers or bathing stalls, the right thing to do is wait for the sun to be low in the sky and strike your tent in the middle of this “desert”. The following morning, as the day starts to get balmier, it’s time to pack and move out to one of the many nearby rivers and beaches.
Sarigua is the only location in Panama where sudden temp fluctuations occur, a process that triggers the quick cracking and pulverization of rocks.
The aggressive salinization process the region has endured has given way to the formation of a sea-stricken strip of land that covers as much as 80 percent of the entire surface and keeps high salt levels on the ground as a result of tidal waves.