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Trek the Panamanian Camino Real

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Take on a challenging trek through near-uncharted jungle terrain, following in the footsteps of conquistadors and pirates.

Long before the Panama Canal there was the Camino Real, linking Caribbean to Pacific across the skinny Central American isthmus. With a width of just 77km at its narrowest point, Panama has always been an obvious candidate for a shortcut between the seas either side of the Americas.

The trail dates back nearly 500 years, although the indian footpaths over which the conquistadors laid their cobblestones are much older still. This Camino Real or 'Royal Road' was to act as a conduit for loot plundered from the Inca Empire, allowing the Spanish to siphon vast quantities of gold, silver and precious stones from ocean to ocean in a near-continuous river of riches. Inevitably, it did not go unnoticed by pirates. The original terminus on the Spanish Main, Nombre de Dios (‘Name of God’) was completely destroyed and Henry Morgan even followed the trail all the way to the Pacific side and sacked Panama Viejo for good measure. By the late 17th century the road was closed, and soon reclaimed by the irrepressible green grasp of the rainforest.

Following the lost treasure trail of the Spanish is still a supremely adventurous prospect – it takes eight days, plenty of exertion and a tolerance of mud, wilderness camping and jungle creepy crawlies. But if you're up to the challenge, it's an enormously rewarding trek weaving through dense forest and passing numerous remnants of the route's dramatic history. There's plenty of wildlife to spot but make sure you also keep your eyes peeled for the glint of long-forgotten jewels: it's said that many treasures dropped by the Spanish have yet to be found...

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