Next up, I was traveling to meet Carolyn, a Peace Corps Volunteer, at San San Puente. A local non-profit called AAMVECONA (Asociación de Amigos y Vecinos de la Costa y Naturaleza or “The Association of Friends and Neighbors of the Coast and Nature”) runs tours to visit manatees and sea turtle conservation and research center in the San San Pond Sak wetland area.

Bocas del Toro, Panama

From Norteno, I took the bus to Changuinola – an easy stop since it is the last one on the line. From there, I took a $0.90 cab ride to San San Puente. The AAMVECONA office was right next to the road and sits along the San San River. I learned that Carolyn had yet to see a manatee, but she had only been there for 3 months, so I was still optimistic we would see them! The tour was $80 for me (one person) but the price per person drops significantly for larger size groups.

We took a boat on the river for about 20 minutes before we spotted a sloth! High up in the trees, too high for my camera to capture really, was a sloth slowly munching on the tree’s leaves. We saw two more before moving on.


After about a 40-minute boat ride, we pulled up to the AAMVECONA turtle conservation and research center. July is just about the end of the egg-laying season for the turtles, so the volunteers were still doing their nightly watches to look for eggs. Each night, volunteers from the center walk the beach and look for eggs that the turtles lay in the sand. They gather the eggs and bring them back to the center where they are safe from poachers. Once the eggs hatch, they wait a day or two before releasing the baby turtles into the water. We saw a couple of these tiny just-hatched turtles. So small! Crazy to think they can grow live to 100 years old.

One of my favorite things about the center was the fresh fruit! Have you ever seen a pineapple plant? Like where the pineapples actually come from? The plants grew right next to the center and I was so surprised that they grew out of what looks like a big aloe plant. They just pop up right in the middle of this bush-looking thing. One of the volunteers cut fresh pineapple and coconut for us. Doesn’t get fresher than that!

Bocas del Toro, Panama

From the turtle center, we hopped back into the boat to travel to the manatee watch spot. An elevated deck stands over the mangroves. It hovers over a few trees where the guide hung leaves and plantains – manatee food. Our guide told us that sometimes the manatees come within minutes, other times within hours. I started off very confident we would see them soon… but… 2 and a half hours later we were still waiting! Our guide surmised that the river had risen with the recent rain, so leaves hanging from the trees above the river may be more accessible than normal to manatees. Translation: they are not as hungry for our staged buffet of leaves and plantains today. I guess that’s how it goes with wildlife – you can’t predict their behavior every day and can’t make them come for food if they’re not hungry!

Bocas del Toro, Panama

We rode for about 30 minutes back to San San Puente where we were greeted with apologies and sympathetic voices after our afternoon without manatees. I quickly hopped a cab back to the bus station so I could get to my next spot before dark – Bocas del Toro, here I come!