Thousands went to Panama seeking "paradise on Earth". Within days, they were stuck in hell.

On February 29, on the remote north coast of Panama, like-minded festival-goers excitedly set up camp for an 18-day experience in “paradise on earth”.

‘Tribal Gathering’ isn’t just about music (although there’s lots of that), it’s also about plant medicine ceremonies, cultural learning, and the preserving of ancient tradition. Geoparadise – who run the whole thing – actually fly out different indigenous tribes and shamans to share their knowledge with attendees.

But this year’s festival quickly went from paradise to hell, with coronavirus fears locking the entire event into quarantine, stranding people for more than a month.

WATCH: The festival that went from paradise to hell thanks to coronavirus. Post continues after video.

Video via VICE

2,300 people from all around the world made the trek to the remote concert site on a Caribbean beach in late February.

But as the festival began to wind up, it started to become clear that many would be left stranded. On March 12, the country announced a national emergency as COVID-19 reached its shores, and they were told that anyone who had been in the country less than 14 days would be required to quarantine.

As a result, between 400 and 500 foreigners were locked down in the area by the Panama government.


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Footage from inside the festival, obtained by VICE, shows festival goers sitting in swimmers and singlets amongst the palm trees demanding their passports back from authorities as they are told “no one is allowed to leave site”.

“I didn’t really expect to get here and experience the last festival on Earth,” one man told the publication.

“There were concerns about can we get food, can we get cleaning products, can we get tobacco,” said another.

Festival organisers jumped on stage and told the group they had enough food to last, but individuals would have to buy it, adding that those who couldn’t afford it, would be put to work.

Vice Tribal Festival
Those stranded were told if they couldn't afford to buy food off the festival organisers they'd have to work for it. Image: Vice.

Ironically, at a festival that was supposed to be about teaching people about their "spiritual self," those lessons were being put into practice as tensions rose and fears grew.


Many embraced the fact they were in a remote slice of paradise, far away from the dangers coronavirus was presenting to some of their home countries like Spain, the United States, France and Britain.

For those who were allowed to leave, many couldn't get to the airport in time because of problems with the buses out of the campsite, or their flights being cancelled. Some reported being man-handled by authorities.

hundreds stranded in Panama
Hundreds were initially stranded at the Panama festival, now just a few dozen are left trapped. Image: GoFundMe.

"It was becoming increasingly difficult every couple of hours to get out," a British woman told Vice, with another man explaining that he had six or seven scenarios that all didn't pan out.

Fears spiralled and the sense of urgency to "go" spread amongst the group. Eventually, quarantine was stopped altogether, but by that point most flights out of the country had been grounded.

On March 20, they opened a GoFundMe pleading for "urgent support" as they desperately tried to get everyone on planes before the March 22 international travel ban.

"Embassies and consulates have been incredibly slow to help, and in most cases are only providing basic transport from our festival site to Panama City. They are not helping with the costs of or facilitating the acquisition of flights, food, hotels, and other vital expenses that will be incurred as we try to get back home safely.


"We have approximately 250 people still on our festival site, who all have to move in the next 24 hours to book flights," the GoFundMe read.

DJ mag reports extended bouts of pouring rain, sewage issues and heavy winds added to stresses at the makeshift campsite.

Eventually many countries sent extraction flights, removing large numbers from the area.

But there are still around 50 crew trapped on the beach and dozens more attendees stuck between the festival and Panama city according to The Guardian.


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"The sense of camaraderie here is being felt by us all, the consensus is we are all happy to be here together waiting out the storm that's going on in the outside world and in our home countries," wrote the organisers on Instagram.

They've created a 'tribe', and some of them consider being trapped there a privilege. But they've got no clue when they'll be allowed to return home.

With Panama's flight ban now extending to May 22, they'll be stranded for at least another month.

Feature image: Instagram @tribalgatheringpanama/GoFundMe.

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