Journalist Saw More Nature in Soberania National Park Near Panama City than in Two Weeks in the Amazon
An experienced travel writer who visited Panama told us that she saw more nature in a visit to the rainforests surrounding the Panama Canal, than she saw in a trip to Brazil's Amazon. To reach the Amazon she had to travel for two days from the capital in a small plane and later boat, and then she spend two weeks traveling by canoe. In Panama, she got to her eco-lodge in a one hour car drive from Panama's international airport near Panama City.
One excellent way of enjoying nature close to Panama City is to take a Monkey Island day-tour in Gatun Lake, part of the Panama Canal water complex. On this trip you'll see at least three species of monkeys cavorting in the trees as well as crocodiles, iguanas and many species of tropical birds. Ancon Expeditions and Jungle Explorer offer these day trips.
Having such a nature-rich area so close to the metropolitan capital is feature unique to Panama. Why? The Panama Canal, just 30 minutes away from Panama City, requires a vast rainforest watershed to feed water to its lock system which uses millions of gallons each day. For this reason the Canal Zone has to preserve it's watershed, making for plentiful pristine rainforests.
How To Get There
Summit Zoo: Rent a car or grab a cab from your hotel. From downtown is about 30 minutes.
Summit Golf Resort: Arrange transportation by calling the resort directly your hotel. 25 minutes from downtown Panama City.
Gamboa Rainforest Resort and Canopy Tower: These hotels pick up their guests at the airport.
Where To Stay
The Gamboa Rainforest Resort is a 5 star hotel set on the Chagres River in lush rainforest . You can enjoy the various amenities and take day trips to experience the tropical nature. The resort is popular for conventions and family vacations.
Canopy Tower Canopy Tower is Panama's most critically acclaimed ecolodge. Travel and Leisure and among others has singled it out as one of the top ecolodges in the world. An obvious choice for birders, it's also a perfect choice for nature lovers. You'll see a kaleidoscope of tropical birds, frisky monkeys, lazy sloths and other stirring critters. The building itself is an architectural gem- a restored radar station and the rooms, social area, and observation area are at the height of the rainforest canopy.
Where To Eat
Los Lagartos Restaurant at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort
Los Lagartos Restaurant at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort
For deliciously entertaining day-trip from Panama City, we suggest enjoying a meal alongside the Chagres River in Gamboa. As you dine, you will see massive ships steering their way through the Panama Canal. Be sure to ask the waiters for stale bread to throw in the river below. Without much effort, you soon harness enough players for authentic tropical wildlife food fight. Cocodiles, fish, turtles and water birds will all be vying for the prized crumbs. We will let you find out which species, surprisingly, always wins the fight.
What To Do
Soberania National Park has three of the world's best birding locations: Pipeline Road near Panama City, Achiote Road near Colón, and the Discovery Center in the Panama Canal Rainforest. This last one is open every day from 6:00 am to 4:00 pm. Here you'll find a forty-meter tall observation tower with stunning views of forest canopy. There are also hiking trails. See Tour Operators.
Gatun Lake, created as part of the Panama Canal complex, was once the world's largest man-made lake. Its silvery depths make for excellent fishing and it is normal to catch a couple dozen fish in one outing.
Kayaking and Rafting Day Tours
Aventuras Panama offers a thrilling one day Class II rafting trip on the Chagres River and two kayaking day tours in the Panama Canal Rainforest. During the former you will paddle down through the rainforest on the Chagres River. On the other you will go from Gatun Lake to the historic Fort San Lorenzo on the Atlantic Coast.
Barro Colorado Island Tours
Barro Colorado is a island in Gatun Lake where the Smithsonian Institute for Tropical Research has set up an outdoor laboratory to study the area’s biodiversity. The tour will include a boat ride through the Panama Canal followed by a hike through the property with a naturalist stationed on the island. Make your reservations with a tour operator well in advance as tourist visits are limited to protect the islands' numerous scientific research projects.
Monkey Island Jungle Boat Day Tours
Considered the best kind of day-tour, these expeditions will takes you along the lakes of the Panama Canal system to see its flora and fauna up-close. Many would say the experience is a must and is a terrifically engaging family experience. Jungle Explorer and Ancon Expeditions offer this trip.
Summit Golf Club
Twenty minutes from the city, the Summit Golf Club and Resort has a championship course designed by Jeffrey Myers with eighteen holes, par seventy-two, over six-and-a-half-thousand yards, and sand-based Bermuda-Tidway grass. The facility boasts of the only computerized GPS system in Central America, a hundred golf carts, practice facilities, and a beautiful club house. On site is a Radisson Hotel neatly nestled in the lively tropical scenery.
Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo
About a forty minute drive from downtown Panama City is a vast botanical garden and zoo with all sorts of species native Panama. Founded by the Americans in 1923, these gardens are home to over fifteen-thousand tropical plants. Many of the installations have been recently renovated and, overall, it is a superb place to catch a glimpse of animals and vegetation that otherwise would remain undiscovered.
There are two exhibits that and of themselves are worth the visit: the Harpy Eagle compound, home to the world's bird of prey, and the tropical jaguar compound.
Summit, as it is locally known, is the only place you will be guaranteed to catch a glimpse of the Harpy Eagle as it lives only in Panama and is close to extinction. It is a fearsome and dignified bird roughly one meter in height. A local branch of the Peregrine Foundation is breeding the bird and hopes to save it. Admission just $2 for adults.
Gamboa Rainforest Resort Day Packages
The resort offers seasonal day packages to take their aerial tram, visit the butterfly farm and serpenterium, and dine at Los Lagartos Restaurant on the Chagres River. For a reservation call: 206-8800.
The Harpy Eagle is the world's largest predatory bird.