The Dangers

It is no surprise that the Darién Gap is on the State Department’s list of places the average traveler might want to omit from their itineraries. In fact, most foreign embassies publish travel warnings for the area, clarifying that all areas beyond Yaviza (the town where the road currently ends) should be avoided.

National Geographic Adventure contributing editor Robert Young Pelton was kidnapped in the Darién in 2003. Mr. Pelton is something of an authority on dangerous places, having been the host of the Travel Channel series “The World’s Most Dangerous Places” for five years, not to mention his time in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Liberia, Somalia, and alongside ground forces in approximately 40 other conflicts. When he was finally released from his captors in the Darién, here is what he had to say on the region:

“The Darién Gap is one of the last—not only unexplored—but one of the last places people really hesitate to venture to… It’s also one of the most rugged places [on Earth]. It’s an absolute pristine jungle but it’s got some nasty sections with thorns, wasps, snakes, you name it. Everything that’s bad for you is in there.”

He forgot to mention jaguars, crocodiles, caimans, scorpions, spiders, and anything else that thrives in a primal region that averages about an inch of rainfall a day. And though, while recounting the dangers and atrocities of his ordeal, Mr. Pelton still couldn’t help but remark on what “an absolute pristine jungle” the Darién is. And this, not the dangers of the region, are what we are fighting to protect. Because there are already people fighting the dangers of the Darién… with things like extinction. There will always be dangers in wild places; that’s part of what makes them wild. But if we don’t do everything we can to keep the jungle roadless, there won’t be any more wild in which anything, dangerous or beautiful, animal or human, will have the chance to live on.