Even those who’ll pass on a drive all the way into the Darién  might be interested in going at least as far as the Bayano Dam area, where there are a couple of places to check out. It’s about 90 kilometers east of Panama City . Note that there’s an active police checkpoint at Bayano, and your papers will definitely be scrutinized here.
Lago Bayano is an artificial lake, created when the Río Bayano was dammed in 1976. It flooded 350 square kilometers of tropical forest and displaced thousands of Kuna and Emberá. It is the second-largest source of power in the country, after the Fortuna Dam  in western Panama.
Bayano, by the way, was the name of a famous leader of the cimarrones (rebel African slaves), who held the conquistadors at bay for two years before he was finally captured.
The 10 Kuna communities in this area banded together and in 1996 gained comarca (semiautonomous reservation) status. Called the Comarca Kuna de Madungandí, its government office is right at the checkpoint, along with a little stand selling (rather poorly made) molas (handcrafted blouses).
Sometimes the name is spelled Madugandí. They have clashed in recent years with the Panama government over compensation for land lost decades ago with the building of the dam.
El Descanso, a pleasant open-air restaurant on the north side of the road, is a popular place to eat. It’s owned by immigrants from Los Santos province and is known for its soups, such as sancocho (stew) and sopa de carne (beef soup). A breakfast of steak, tortilla, juice, and coffee costs about US$3.
The old ocelot, jaguar, and peccary pelts hanging from the rafters are disturbing reminders of the toll humans have taken on nature in this area, and the endangered turtle eggs that may be for sale proves it’s not a thing of the past. Please don’t buy them; for one thing, it’s against the law. In fact, if they’re being sold you can boycott the place and tell the management why you’re doing so.
If you do stop for a bite, be careful the house sparrows don’t poop in your food.
Those coming on their own can drive or take any Darién-bound bus to Lago Bayano, getting off at the checkpoint just before the bridge, Puente Bayano. Buses from Panama City  that go only as far as Lago Bayano leave from the Gran Terminal in Albrook daily every 50 or so minutes, 3:20 A.M.–6 P.M. The fare is US$3 and the trip takes about 2.5 hours.
Cañita (pop. 2,140), a little over 20 kilometers east of the Chepo  turnoff, is a good place to stop for a break on the way to or from the Darién . It has a few basic restaurants and stores and a couple of rustic places to spend the night.