The Wekso Ecolodge is located in La Amistad Biosphere Reserve – an area harboring the highest forests in Central America with the most extensively protected cloud forests in the region. The reserve is part of the Southern Mesoamerica Corridor – stretching across Panama, Costa Rica, and southern Nicaragua – and has become threatened in recent years because of encroaching development, deforestation, and destructive land-use practices.
The Wekso Ecolodge is located in the Bocas del Toro region of Panama, where 11 indigenous Naso communities are situated along the Teribe River. For hundreds of years, the Naso have enjoyed the riches of the forest, including hunting, fishing, cutting trees, and extracting plants. With a population of approximately 3,500, the communities have until recently been able to manage their economy sustainable. However, in the mid-1990s, they began to see their surroundings change, and they looked for alternative lifestyles that did not endanger the forest.
In 1995, CI supported the emergence of the Organization for the Sustainable Development of Naso Ecotourism (ODESEN) to develop community-based ecotourism for the benefit of the Naso people. ODESEN found a site in a former jungle training camp, which had been abandoned in 1989 when the military regime ended.
Construction and Operations
With the help of CI and government agencies, the Wekso Ecolodge was built, and community members received training in all aspects of tourism operations. Several community members were trained to make crafts from resources obtained from the forest in a sustainable manner, which were then sold to tourists as souvenirs.
Transformation of a Community
The ecolodge generates income for approximately 20 Naso community families, helping them maintain their cultural values and livelihoods. The Naso have retained their own language, and because of expressed concerns over the loss of tribal traditions from older members, the community has taken steps to revitalize their fading traditions. An example of this is the Shaman’s Apprentice Program, supported by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, which encourages indigenous people to preserve the knowledge of traditional medicine and to transfer it to younger generations.
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Facilities and Tourist Information
- Transportation. The Wekso Ecolodge is accessible by a short flight from Panama City to Changuinola. From there, a one-hour boat trip up the Teribe River takes tourists to the ecolodge. Visitors can arrive year-round and throughout the rainy season because most mornings are clear and sunny.
- Accommodations. The ecolodge is a traditional bungalow-style cabin that has been constructed in a rustic yet comfortable fashion and has three rooms that accommodate up to four people each.
- Birdwatching and Wildlife Viewing. Tourists may catch a glimpse of many of the species that inhabit this area. The forest surrounding the ecolodge is the convergence point for 75 percent of all migratory birds in the Western Hemisphere and is home to unique species such as the Harpy eagle, quetzal, and giant anteater.
- Hiking and Canoeing. Tourists can hike through two different trails located near the ecolodge. One trail takes visitors through a primary forest, while the other takes visitors through a secondary forest where cacao and other plant species were cultivated. Visits to the communities are also a wonderful cultural experience through which visitors can learn about the Naso people’s culture and their customs. Rafting is another favorite activity whereby tourists can enjoy the beautiful Teribe River.
- Traditional Food. ODESEN and women from the communities prepare an array of dishes of traditional Naso cuisine, which is made from locally grown fresh food and produce.
For more information, please contact:
ODESEN (Organization for the Sustainable Development of Naso Ecotourism)
Tel. +507-530-3747 or 507-620-0192
Please visit these websites to learn more about Project ODESEN
Info Hub Specialty Travel Guide
Info Hub Sample Itinerary