Though actually in eastern Panama province, Chepo (pop. 12,734) has traditionally been thought of as the starting point for the Darién. This view persists today, despite the fact that Panama City has grown so far east and this area has been so heavily settled Chepo now seems more like a suburb of the city. It’s a big, sprawling town with a hospital, filling station, ATM, and stores where travelers can stock up on provisions.
The first police checkpoint on the road is just before the turnoff to town. Chepo itself is five kilometers south of the Interamericana. It’s not a scenic place, however, and because it’s just 50 kilometers from Panama City, there’s little reason to stop here on the way to or from the Darién. It’s locally popular during Carnaval, though.
The Río Mamoní crosses the Interamericana just east of Chepo. At the beginning of the 1970s, it marked the beginning of the Darién Gap. There was solid rainforest from this point east, pure wilderness. It’s sobering how quickly and completely all that has vanished.
Darién province actually starts about 85 kilometers east of the Bayano Dam, at Agua Fría No. 1. The only things there are a couple of houses, an agriculture checkpoint, some transit police, and an ANAM office.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition