After reading the 5-star reviews from others who had done this excursion, we were eagerly anticipating this experience and booked through Holland America. The hour and 15-minute drive through the countryside was nice. When we arrived at the canoe launch site we were given life vests and proceeded down what is a relatively steep dirt path, especially for the elderly or impaired, and loaded into dugout canoes with outboard motors. We were informed that we had come at a time when the river was at an extremely low level (2-3 feet deep) and the canoes were only loaded at partial capacity for this reason. They normally hold around 20 people but had only 10-12 to decrease the weight. What would have been a 10-minute canoe trip during rainy season took about 20 minutes due to getting stuck multiple times. There was an Embera man on the front of each canoe who had the unenviable task of using a very large pole to get our canoes out of the mud. It was a balmy 90 degrees outside and we were in the full sun so we were quite hot and sweaty when we arrived at the village. Unfortunately we did not find the Embera to be friendly and welcoming as other reviewers had stated. While they were not unfriendly, they seemed to be uncomfortable with all of the visitors and unsure of just exactly what to do with us. They really did not interact with us at all except for the presentations about their history and present day way of life, and, of course, while we were browsing through their craft tables. Even then the interaction was limited to simple, one-word responses to inquiries about the cost of their goods, which, to their credit, were very nice and affordable. They had beautiful wood carvings and colorful baskets for which they charge $1 for each day that it took them to complete. Comparable items in the city were much more expensive. And, as stated by other reviewers, the dances were fun, especially when they chose visitors to join in with them. The highlight for me was watching several of the children dancing and playing. Our tour description stated "light lunch", which was an understatement. We got a deli ham and cheese sandwich and a beverage. The Embera did offer us tilapia and plantain chips served in banana leaves and fresh fruit, which was nice. Beware of the bones in the fish - it is full of them. Please be aware that this tour is listed as one of the more active tours for a reason. There were several people on our excursion who definitely should not have been. A couple of people got overheated/dehydrated and felt faint, and two people fell, one of them requiring a van to come transport her back to the ship. One elderly lady had an asthma attack and had to use her inhaler. Just climbing in and out of the canoes proved very difficult for some, much less the climbing up the steep hillside after returning from the village. We left this tour feeling somewhat disappointed, although this was by no means the fault of the Embera. They have been forced to rely on tourism because their land was turned into a national park by the government, and they are no longer able to hunt the protected animals there, so tourism is their only means of supporting their families. Please, please, please don't haggle with these people over the price of their crafts. Even though our guide made this crystal clear before we arrived, unfortunately some people did not listen, and seemed to offend the Embera by haggling with them. I realize that in many tourist areas the locals expect you to negotiate over the price, but this is not one of them so please respect that.
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.