Guides of Keteka offers an inside look into the lives of the tour guides who work with Keteka to lead travelers on authentic, exciting, and meaningful adventures in Latin America. ___ A veteran in the tourism industry, Kevin O’Brien has been leading tours for more than 20 years throughout North and Central America. When […]
Guides of Keteka offers an inside look into the lives of the tour guides who work with Keteka to lead travelers on authentic, exciting, and meaningful adventures in Latin America.
A veteran in the tourism industry, Kevin O’Brien has been leading tours for more than 20 years throughout North and Central America. When he’s not leading tours, he’s always exploring new parts of the world. But throughout his travels, one country stuck out more than the others.
A native of Boston, Kevin has been leading tours in Panama since 2002. He started his own business, Barefoot Panama, to offer authentic tours to the country’s top destinations, such as the San Blas Islands and the Panama Canal. He also takes travelers to lesser-known spots and indigenous communities to help others connect more deeply with the history and people of the country.
He said now is a perfect time to visit Panama and explore the islands, jungles, and charming towns without massive crowds of other travelers.
“It’s still under the radar; it’s not in-your-face tourism. Once you get out of the city, it’s a really relaxed atmosphere. Most places are untouched, and it’s very safe.”
Kevin started Barefoot Panama with three guiding principles in mind: “realize that every destination is home for someone else, leave places as we would like to find them, and ensure the communities and the environment benefit from our visit.”
Through his tourism operation, Kevin seeks to generate a long-term economic benefit to Panama and its people, as well as create a positive impact on the environment. Through small group sizes and the use of local products, Kevin tries to minimize the impact of tourism on local infrastructure and benefit local communities. This also creates a more intimate travel experience for his customers.
Kevin said his favorite part of being a tour guide is meeting new people. He encourages travelers on his tours to immerse themselves in the local culture of each destination and establish a deep understanding of the history and natural environment of a place. This helps travelers learn to explore the world in a socially-responsible manner.
“I like everything about Panama. It’s an absolutely stunningly beautiful country. It’s really, really diverse.”
The two tours Kevin refers to as the “bread and butter” of a great Panama experience are a trip around Panama City and an excursion to Monkey Island and an indigenous village.
“The first one gets you really well oriented and checks the boxes, like visiting the Canal and the Old Town, and the other gets you right into the jungle, and you get to learn about the culture and the wildlife,” he said.
On the Panama City tour, travelers can explore the Old Town, Casco Antiguo. Traveling by foot, the tour stops at some of the most iconic plazas in the area, and travelers learn about the complex history of the site. Next, of course, is a visit to the Panama Canal, where ships remain actively in transit.
After getting a taste of Panama City and a thorough historical background on Panama, Kevin recommends venturing beyond city limits to the lush natural rainforest and coastlines. The Barefoot Panama tour takes travelers to the Soberania National Park, which is a fantastic place to get up close and personal with monkeys, sloths, and a diverse array of wildlife.
The tour also includes a visit to an indigenous village, where travelers can learn about the local art, music, and flora.
Overall, Kevin urges travelers to consider all the possibilities Panama has to offer them. “We are one of the most diverse countries in the world with definitely the most dynamic history of any country in the Americas.”
“Panama is more than just the canal. Come with an open mind and stay a while.”