Tribal Gathering Festival Review + Guide – What is Tribal Gathering?

Woah man, where do I even begin with Tribal Gathering? This festival, or should I say… more of an experience, more of a temporary beachside camping community in the jungle with a thousand likeminded and inclusive individuals, was so unique. It was unlike any festival I have experienced before. The entire duration of the gathering is 18 days – literally almost three weeks of camping in a remote Caribbean beachside jungle in Panama.

What IS Tribal Gathering Festival?!

Well, it’s a lot of things. It’s a multi-faceted and complex entity of the festival world. And I’m going to be my very best to put it into words right here by starting with a few of the main aspects!

 

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Tribes

Before I get too far into it, I think mentioning how the actual festival works is quite important! ???? This is not a normal festival whatsoever. Tribal Gathering is actually just that – a Tribal Gathering. It’s put on by a nonprofit called Geoparadise whose function is essentially to preserve and help indigenous cultures and ancient traditions. This festival each year is a time where they actually fly out different indigenous tribes, shamans, and leaders to come together and share their knowledge with each other and with festival-goers each year. There are tribes from all over North and South America, Africa, Central America, and more.

 

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18 Days of Awesomeness

Tribal Gathering Festival is 18 days of camping, again, on a remote beachside paradise of a jungle in Panama. The first 12 days are the ‘indigenous immersive’ part of the festival, where tribal workshops/ceremonies are paramount and you live, interact, and form relationships with the indigenous tribes each day. But it is important to note that after this first 12 day period is over, the tribes leave! They are only there the first 12 days and they leave before the ‘Dance Celebration” begins, and tribal art and workshops end.

The Dance Celebration is the last 5 days of the festival which are more focused on music and partying than the indigenous immersive part. During this period a new stage, the Lotus Stage, comes to life and plays psytrance almost 24/7! More on this later.

 

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An Actual Cohesive and Cooperative Community

This is a LONG festival. It’s not like the 3-dayer’s where you come in, go hard, and leave. It’s also quite small, with about 1000-1500 people, so you really see people over and over and get to know the community. When you are staying at a place for so long, you really feel like you live there. You live and interact with the community for multiple weeks, running into people and sharing experiences with so many different groups that you seem to slowly become one.

Volunteering is pretty big here and many people take part in different volunteering shifts at the kitchen, bar, front desks, tea bar, and medical tent. Each shift is 5 hours and you will be rewarded with $13 credit on your wristband (which is how you pay for things). This equates to approximately 2 meals or 5-6 drinks! It’s nice to be able to contribute and also to be able to save money by getting meals/drinks for free. Volunteering helps you feel like you really contribute to make the community work. It’s a very different and amazing feeling!

 

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Workshops and Art

The tribes stay in their own little village in the middle of the festival, and are only there for the ‘Indigenous immersive’ 12 day first part of the festival. During these first 12 days people from the tribes teach workshops, hold art classes, and hold all kinds of different experiences to share their culture. The people from the tribes usually do speak english and seem to be very familiar with Western culture, but they grew up within indigenous culture and lifestyle just the same. It’s actually quite nice to be able to communicate so easily with people with such different and ancient knowledge!

Workshops/Talks can be anything from massage to making tribal jewelry and art to learning about how different tribes make cacao or tea or think the calendar should work. There are speakers and workshops all the time for the first 12 days, often from the tribes and sometimes others as well.

I found the 13/28 calendar talks very interesting; there were a few speakers talking about how the calendar should naturally work in a schedule of 13 months of 28 days, and a few theories as to why it was changed to the weird 12 month/random days schedule it is now. Some other of my favorite talks were hearing a man from a nomadic tribe from Mali talk about their way of life and how they learn from/follow the animals of the desert, and a Mexican/Aztec tribe woman teaching us how to make Aztec crafts that represented their beliefs in different human and cosmic energies. So fascinating!

 

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Plant Medicine Ceremonies

For 5 days in the middle of the first 12 days, tribal shamans will hold traditional plant medicine ceremonies in a special area of the festival known as the shamanic realm. Each ceremony will be held around a certain natural plant medicine that the shaman leading the ceremony’s people have used and respected for thousands of years. People must sign up for these at the Hub, and they cost from $50-$100 each for the medicine and the leadership of the shaman for the 2-4+ hour experience (and part goes as a donation to the charity too!). Some of the plant medicine ceremonies that occurred included: Ayahuasca, mushrooms, peyote, cacao, kambo (frog venom), and Bufo (another derived from a frog, I believe).

And yes, all cards on the table: these are quite intensely psychedelic substances. But this festival is a safe space for people to take part in these plant medicine ceremonies with well educated shamans and open-minded attendees! These medicines tend to be very mind-opening, enlightening, and profound, and many people experience life-changing actualizations while on them. Not everyone takes part in these ceremonies – in fact the majority may not – but they are available for a 5 day period for anyone who is interested.
Personally, I got there a bit too late to take part in any ceremonies. I didn’t check the schedule properly (the ceremonies end about 5 days before the ‘Dance Celebration’ begins) and I got to take part in a Cacao ceremony on the last day of ceremonies with a wonderful Mayan shaman from Guatemala. It was truly incredible – more on that later too!
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Tribal Gathering Location/Venue – Caribbean Beachside Jungle

 Tribal Gathering is held in Playa Chiquita, Panama. This place is an absolute paradise oasis of neverland, and probably could not be more perfect. But you definitely pay the price of how awesome it is in getting here… or attempting to. Apparently there are two Playa Chiquitas a few hours from each other, and they had basically no signage on the dirt road you had to take to get here. But I’ll go more into how to get to Tribal Gathering in my ‘transportation’ section below! ????
The Tribal Gathering location is fairly easy to comprehend. Once you manage to get yourself up and down a few intense dirt hills and into the festival gates, everything is pretty much right there. The gathering happens all along a beautiful warm beach with tiny light grains of sand and shells to be found all over the place. Along the beach are layers of palm trees and jungle where you can camp.
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The Hub

The Hub is where all the information you need will be contained. It’s one of the first things you see at the festival and is comprised of a few windows – a check in window, a volunteering window, and shuttle and lost and found window, and a wristband top-up window (money is all on your wristband). They also have a message board here where you can leave messages for friends because there is NO SERVICE here at all.
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Global Stage/Bar/Kitchen

This is the main area of the festival with the only stage that runs for the first 12 days. The Global Stage has all kinds of music throughout the day – from tribal drums to psychedelic rock to techno. You never really know what to expect here but it’s an awesome place where everyone congregates to hang out, dance, and relax.
The bar is right at the back of the global stage. Volunteers work shifts here and everyone of course frequents the bar! There is a pizza kitchen right by the bar where you can get pizzas for $8 (maybe the most expensive thing here but pretty worth it when you need it). Next to the pizza kitchen is a large shaded seating area near a massive kitchen that expertly prepares three meals a day. More on food and drink below!
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The Carny

Past the Global Stage you will find a beautifully constructed stage area with multiple little rooms and areas and even a cocktail bar. There was a ‘tattoo room,’ (not sure if it was used for this), another secret room, a tiny little theater room where they did comedy shows, and a few balconies that you could climb to annd around a big grass area in front of a massive outdoor stage shaped like a pirate ship. They had carnivals here each night put on by a massive British circus crew who would hoop, fire spin, do aerial shows, do comedy, dancing, and everything in between. The Carny happened around 7 each night and was so much fun to watch for everyone.
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Tribal Markets

There was a huge row of little market stalls right past the kitchen area where you could buy all kinds of crafts from crystal jewelry to Latvian whistles to guatemalan tapestries. There was a lot of good stuff on display!

Geohaven Stage / Tribal Village

This area was right at the entrance to the Tribal Village where all the tribes stayed in thatched huts. The Geohaven had a big schedule of tribal speakers, yoga, meditation, and all sorts of interesting stuff each day especially during the first part of the festival.
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The Creek

There was a freshwater creek that reached the ocean along the beach, where everyone would go to bathe! There were showers (where you had to use a watering can to ease yourself, ha) so the creek was a great option for many people to wash off and hang out. Beware of nakedness, though, people were all especially free here!

Tribal Gathering Crowd

The crowd here was really diverse. I would say the median age was definitely well into the 30’s – this was not a festival focused on youngsters partying! The crowd here was very mature and understood the idea of a functioning community. There were children, families, and even people in their 80’s. The people were probably mostly in their 20’s-40’s in general.
I would say that the crowd here was mostly from Germany and the UK. There is of course a massive range of countries but Germany and England really stood out to me as the most represented countries, followed possibly by Canada, other central European countries like Austria and France, and maybe the USA. The entire circus crew of 50+ was from England which probably influenced that population quite a lot.
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Vibe

The vibe here was amazing. It was not quite as inclusive as some festivals I have been to before, but I think that’s because everyone here was so real. Conversations at some festivals are quite surface-level and everyone is extremely nice for the split second you meet them. But here, I felt that conversations were more deep and meaningful, and you got to know people more (and not just in passing) because of the festival’s small size.
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Tribal Gathering Atmosphere/Decorations

The atmosphere here was very artistic and earthy. Everything was made from wood, palm fronds, and colorful accents. They didn’t go too out of the way to make it look beautiful because the place as it is, is AH-MAY-ZING. You really did feel like you were a part of the land here as everything looked like the could have made it from materials found in the area!

Tribal Gathering Lineup/Music/Artists

So, this is not quite the festival people come to for the lineup. Or, maybe they do come for the psytrance lineup but I wouldn’t know that ???? That’s not to say that the lineup isn’t fantastic and talented, but the artists here aren’t known for being world famous.
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First 12 Days Lineup

Again, the first 12 days have only one stage, the Global Stage. A lot of attendees knew personally a lot of the DJ’s, but I really didn’t know anyone going in. This actually lead me more to appreciate the music that was playing rather than the name who was playing it. There was EVERYTHING at the Global Stage, from bass to techno to live rock bands to tribal music to glitch. I liked some music and didn’t like others, but it was so easy just to go chill at the beach or have a swim when you wanted to.

Last 5 Days – 2 Stages

They spent the entire first part of the festival working tirelessly to construct the Lotus Stage, which came alive for the last 5 days. This stage was in the middle of a grassy palm tree area directly on the beach, with an amazing breeze consistently flowing from the ocean. This stage played pretty much only psytrance. Some people I met knew some people on the lineup, but I really don’t understand how any psytrance sounds different than any other psytrance. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong ????
I have never really gotten into psytrance before this festival, but I must admit that when I committed myself to it, I did have a LOT of fun dancing to it. After attempting to enjoy myself I learned that you just have to get literally into a state of psytrance, and strange experimental dance moves will come out and you will actually find yourself having a lot of fun! I danced to it for hours a few nights and was quite impressed with myself ????
On the last night, a DJ called Grouch played what I think was the absolute best set of the weekend. He incorporated live drum and a ‘jaw harp.‘ Seriously Google that, I had never known it existed before it was being played live in front of me during an awesome techno set and my mind exploded into a million pieces.
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Tribal Gathering Camping

Everyone camps at Tribal Gathering. Even all the staff. There’s no other option – it’s not like there are any 5 star hotels at a place you can only get to via unmarked dirt road. In this way, the camping amenities were the festival amenities! You can really camp anywhere. Once you get past the small central part of the festival, you get to the camping area which ranges to beachfront to a bit farther back in the jungle. Some people wanted to be by the waves, and others preferred shade. If you can find both, all the more power to you!
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Tribal Gathering Camping Amenities – Bathrooms, Showers, etc

There were actually pretty nice wooden drop toilet bathroom stalls at each end of the venue. These were cleaned very regularly and honestly weren’t that gross at all. People also wrote lovely little notes and quotes on the walls which were fun to read while doing your business ????
There is one filtered water station near the Hub which was not inconvenient to walk to whenever you needed water.
The showers are free and consist of about 8 tiny bamboo stalls equipped with a watering can that you could fill at a tap. Not kidding. ???? They were fine when you actually needed to wash your hair/face every few days but on all other occasions the sea and the creek sufficed just fine!
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Transportation/Hotels/Parking – Getting To Tribal Gathering

To get to Tribal Gathering you either have to take a shuttle from the Airport (Panama Tocumen) for $50, take about 3 public busses, or take a taxi/uber. The shuttle is pretty foolproof but is more expensive than other options.
If you wanted to take public busses from Panama city, I believe you would have to take one to Sabanitas, then one to Portobelo, then one to Playa Chiquita. Or something like that. Maybe it would cost like $20 but I actually don’t really know.
If you want to take a taxi or uber, SHARE IT. Post on the Facebook page to try and find buddies, because it will cost anywhere from $80 (the cheapest I heard – but honestly too cheap!) to $150+. I found three friends on the FB page who wanted to go on the same day as me. We found an uber driver and told him we would pay $10-$15 over uber’s quoted price to the venue, and he agreed. I think uber quoted it wrong, though, because it quoted $65 and it was a three hour journey and our driver got stuck trying to drive one of the dirt roads by the entrance. We ended up paying him $90 for 4 people.

Basic Tribal Gathering Directions Written by Me

(Look at Google Maps) From Panama City, you go north to Colon and take the road going right/east at Sabanitas. Take this road a long way – past Portobelo, Palenque, and all the way to Cuango. On Google Maps you will see a little creek/river here. Take a right turn at a dirt road at the end of Cuango (before you get to the creek) and follow it inland and east over said creek and along into where Google Maps says Playa Chiquita (the road is not on the map!). Drive quite a ways on this road and eventually you will see a sign that says Playa Chiquita. Keep going and eventually you will see a road on your left which will probably have a few people/cars around it (it looked like a construction site to us at night but this was the unmarked entrance.) Drive down this road only if you have 4wd (!!!) and if not, get out of your uber/car/taxi there and walk to the festival. If you don’t have 4wd I’m sure you could do it but our uber got stuck and another car had to be dragged out while we were leaving. The parking lot, however, is down this road so if you want to access the parking lot you must brave this road.
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Food/Drink at Tribal Gathering

Tribal Gathering Food

There were two food/drink areas at Tribal Gathering. One was inside the venue – the kitchen and bar near the global stage. The main kitchen served three meals a day and had a certain menu each day for each. Usually there was a meat/veg option, a choice of a few starches, a choice of a few salads, and a few other options. You could choose a medium plate for $6 (where you should have either/or options for many dishes) or a large for $9 (where you could basically have all they could pile onto a plate). I won’t go into listing certain things they had but the options were always good (especially at the beginning of the festival!) and if you didn’t like it you could always get pizza or get food outside.
The pizza kitchen was right next to the kitchen and served pizzas at lunch and dinner time for $8 a pop.
Right outside the venue (literally basically connected to The Hub) there were about 6-10 little food vendor stalls, some of which accepted money from your wristband and some of which did not. One had burgers, hot dogs, candy, and other basic items, some had different Panamanian options each day (fried plantains, different meats/salads, beans, rice), one was a vegan cafe, one had crepes and ice lollipops, one had vegan burgers and other yummy options, and one had chocolates and other snacks. There were definitely enough options!
However, for anyone who had the drive to plan ahead, cooking in campsites was very popular. Many people made fires and brought pots and pans to cook each day. I even saw a group with their own ‘kitchen tent’ with tons of canned items! I would bring as much food as you can to save money!

Tribal Gathering Drinks

The bar sold drinks for $2 each. Beers, juices, sodas, wine, and all shots were all $2. This means if you wanted a mixed drink of, say, rum and coke, it would cost $4 and they would give you the can.
The outside stalls sold some drinks and smoothies, and they opened up another bar when the Lotus stage opened. The stocks sometimes ran low because the area was so remote, but they usually refilled everything. A lot of people simply brought their own drinks in!

Tribal Gathering Price

There was a different price for the indigenous immersive (first 12 days), the dance celebration (last 5 days), and the full package (entire 18 days). If you buy early you could get the entire experience for $320, and I have heard it’s even cheaper if you buy for the next year directly after one year ends. Either part of the festival will cost you from $230-280 depending on when you buy it.
If you ask me, I would either do the full thing or just the indigenous immersive. By day 12 most of the people have already gotten to know each other, and people who just arrived may feel left out. I also feel that people who only booked the dance celebration did not feel satisfied because the festival was not packed and the stage stopped each night a bit early because of this.
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Tribal Gathering Security

There isn’t much security here – only to secure the perimeters and let you into the venue from the entrance. There are workers always floating around to keep an eye on things and make sure your wristband is the proper color for the part of the festival you’re in, but other than that they don’t really bother anyone much. Someone told me you aren’t allowed to bring in your own alcohol but I didn’t see it enforced personally – I hid my bottle just in case.
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Weather at Tribal Gathering

I expected it to be impossibly hot for Tribal Gathering, but I was pleasantly surprised by the bearable weather! It was hot and humid, sure, but it was comfortable. The ocean was always within a few minutes walk, and the BREEZE was a life saver on many occasions! The breeze was constant and coming from the sea, so if anyone was ever hot they could just go find a hammock at the beach. Some nights it even got – dare I say it – chilly! I think I put a thin sweatshirt on a few of the nights but promptly took it off as soon at the sun came up. To stay cool in your tent, make sure it has a ‘window’ or face the opening towards the breeze! I lived in a bikini most of the time but it was never unbearable and always breezy.
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Fashion

Fashion here was boho, island chic, and hippie if you will! There was no specific fashion and most of it was oriented around swim suits and warm-weather clothes, but people definitely got into it and had fun with some outfits, glitter, and face paint.

Tribal Gathering Time

During the first 12 days, morning wellness workshops and yoga would start before 8, and the Global Stage would finish usually by 2am (give or take a few hours depending on the DJ and sound crew’s mood). Workshops and speakers went until 8-9pm and then everyone would congregate at the stage, watch the carny shows, or have little powwows at their respective camps.
During the last 5 days, the psytrance stage was supposed to be going legit 24/7, or at least until 8am or so. This did not happen a few of the nights – it ended at 5am or so on a few of the nights – but I was (usually) not there to see it! ????
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Money

As I have mentioned before, there was a wristband system here at Tribal Gathering. You could put cash (and I believe sometimes card when the system was up) on your card at The Hub, and simply scan your wrist to pay for everything inside the venue and a few of the vendor stands outside. Working a volunteer shift would load your wristband with $13 to use inside the venue.
I have heard though that you must bring enough cash to Tribal Gathering to last you the whole 18 days. It was just a rumor that you could actually use your credit card to fill your wristband, and on the website it says that you cannot! So – bring lots of cash. You will need it. Remember to budget for any ceremony you want to do ($50 or $100 each), however many $2 to $4 drinks (or $6 cocktails) you will drink in 3 weeks, a few $6ish meals a day, and any snacks or extras you may want – for 18 days. Bring plenty of snacks if you have room and maybe even cooking supplies because many people build fires on the beach.
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Final Tips – Things I wish I knew before attending Tribal Gathering

  • The tribes actually LEAVE after day 12. So if you want to take part in any tribal things, come before then.
  • The Ceremonies end on day 8 or so, and begin on day 4 or so. If you want any ceremonies, check the dates they are happening.
  • bring snacks. The communal kitchen is awful but many people build fires to cook.
  • Getting here is DIFFICULT. the shuttle drops you off somewhere you must walk a few hundred meters up and down hills. SO pack as lightly as you can, or just prepare for a tough walk in and out.
  • There are no road signs to get here. See my basic directions written above under ‘transportation’ that in my opinion are better than anything I could find online ????
  • Spend as much time as you can with the tribes, do workshops, and attend wellness ceremonies. Don’t get too caught up partying – when else can you be in this close of proximity with amazing indigenous tribes?!
  • Face your tent entrance towards the ocean for maximum breeze
  • Make sure our tent is waterproof. Surprise monsoons may occur.
  • If you don’t think you like psytrance, just TRY IT. Trust me. Get into it and you will have fun! Watch how others dance, find your own groove, and the dance moves will ensue.
  • There are lots of naked people around – lots of people swim naked and bathe in the creek naked. It’s such a free place and its awesome to be so comfortable in your natural state!!
  • Bring enough cash for everything you may need. Lots of people I met ran out of money and literally had to work volunteer shifts to survive.
  • But, work volunteer shifts anyway! They are a great way to meet people, feel as if you are contributing to the community, have a little fun, and also score some free food/drinks while you’re at it.
  • Explore the area around the festival site! it is SOOOOO beautiful and you can walk a long way on both sides of the festival along the water.

Author: Anna Johnson

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