Although Panama is a narrow country, it is also a very biodiverse country with oceans and rainforests. There are so many fascinating animals that live in Panama and we were fortunate to see many different varieties during our time there. Seeing animals in their natural habitat is certainly a highlight of visiting any country like this and we took several tours specifically hoping to see some of the nation’s wildlife.
We kept our eyes on the tree limbs above our heads to see the different varieties of monkeys, sloths, and birds. We also saw a tree-climbing anteater as well as a somewhat cute rodent called an agouti. The tarantula spider that climbed out of the tree above our heads when we stopped to eat lunch was interesting and yet creepy at the same time.
We have been fortunate enough to see a wide variety of wildlife in various parts of the world, but we have to admit that Panama provided us some of our most interesting encounters. It is important to have your camera handy and having a telephoto lens often helps too, but when you get as close as we were able to get, it isn’t required.
Panama is such a beautiful country with many wonderful sites to visit and growing ecotourism opportunities. It is a narrow country with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Pacific on the other, making it a strategic location that has been sought over by various countries throughout history. Today, it has its own independence and the people are very proud of their heritage and mindful of their history. Panama City is surrounded by jungles and mountains with strict restrictions on where populations can reside, so it is a city that is growing higher rather than growing wider. It is the perfect location to stay and to take advantage of all of the opportunities to take day trips to see the amazing locations that the country has to offer. These are the places that we visited and things that we did during our one week trip to Panama.
Fort San Lorenzo – One of the most famous historical sites in Panama, Fort San Lorenzo is certainly a must to see when going to Panama City. It will bring visions of swashbuckling pirates when the ships travelled through the region loaded with riches. You also travel through a national forest on your way to visit the fort with plenty of wildlife to be found.
The Locks of the Panama Canal – The canal is still the greatest source of income for the country of Panama, but ecotourism is certainly on the rise. Watching the giant ships maneuver through the enormous locks as water rises or lowers to allow them to get from one ocean to the other is truly amazing. It is also important to understand the impact of building the canal on the country’s history and its people.
Casco Viejo – If you go to Panama City, it is important that you take time to visit Casco Viejo, which is the historic district in the city. Originally established in 1673 by the Spanish, it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to a variety of historic buildings, churches, restaurants, shops, and hotels. As you walk the streets of Casco Viejo you will find a wonderful mix of architecture that spans the almost 350 years of its history.
Monkey Island(s) – Located on Lake Gutan, which was created by damming the river to allow the large ships to make their way to the canal, are a series of islands that were created as a result of the flooding. The small monkeys were trapped on these tiny islands that were at one time just hilltops in the jungle. Although we generally don’t agree with humans feeding wild animals, it is actually the only way that these monkeys can survive. But make no mistake, they are still wild and can be unpredictable.
An Emberá Village – Visiting an indigenous village is always fascinating and if you go to Panama City there are tours that will take you to an Emberá village. The Emberá people are tribes that live in the Panama rainforest and still keep their traditional lifestyle. They make a living by hosting tour groups and selling their native crafts which include wood carvings, basket weaving, and jewelry. You can find these crafts being sold in Panama City, but purchasing them in the village will ensure that the money spent goes directly to the families that created them. They are very proud of their traditions and are happy to share them with the people who visit their villages.
The Metropolitan National Park – Located within the city limits of Panama City, the Metropolitan National Park is a wonderful way to escape into nature without having to go far. After spending several days on boats going from one region of Panama to another, visiting the park was a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon. In addition to seeing various wildlife, you will also have the opportunity to see amazing views of the city itself.
The Food of Panama – As one can imagine, seafood is an abundant option since the country sits between two oceans and the Caribbean sea. The food has also been influenced by the Spanish people who occupied the country, the French who started to engineer the canal, and obviously the United States as well. There are many wonderful restaurants to choose from throughout Panama City, but especially within Casco Viejo.
There are certainly other places to see during a trip to Panama, but these locations will give you an interesting sense of the entire country. The culture, history, and natural beauty of Panama are truly fascinating. Although we spent a week in Panama, it is certainly worth more time if you have the opportunity.
We have been fortunate enough to take several trips to Central and South America, including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Panama. During each of the trips, we specifically made a point of getting into the jungle and seeing different wildlife and plants. Each of them was unique in their own ways and we stayed in eco lodges in both Bolivia and Ecuador. Many of these experiences were quite unique and we have many wonderful memories. Here are some of our favorite rainforest adventures that we’ve had during our travels.
Monkey Islands in Panama– One of the most interesting things that we did during our time in Panama was to take a boat passed the famous locks and going to the Monkey Islands. Our boat would pull up to the islands and the monkeys would climb down from the trees to take grapes and bananas from our hands. Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t do that, but since the monkeys rely on humans for the survival, we felt okay with the experience.
Visiting Carrasco National Park in Bolivia – Our first Amazon experience was during our trip to Cochabamba when we stayed at an eco lodge and spent a day hiking through Carrasco National Park. We climbed into caves with different varieties of bats, blind birds called Guacharos, poisonous frogs, as well as snakes. It was definitely an interesting way to get introduced to the Amazon Jungle.
Staying at the Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador – After our experiences in Bolivia, we chose to go even deeper into the jungle during our trip to Ecuador. We spent several days at the Napo Wildlife Center, which is an eco lodge sitting on a lake with caiman, birds, monkeys, and giant river otters. Every day, we would get up early and go into the rainforest to experience different wildlife.
Traveling on the Amazon River – We spent time on a motor boat as well as canoe on the tributaries of the Amazon river. After flying into the tiny town of Coca, Ecuador, we took a boat down the Amazon River where we then got out and hiked to get to our canoes. To say that it was a fascinating experience would certainly be an understatement.
Visiting Indigenous Villages – We went to indigenous villages in both Panama as well as Ecuador and each was a truly special experience. The local tribes are very friendly and happy to welcome you into their village where they share their traditions, art, and lifestyles. We even danced with the local Emberá tribe members during our time in Panama, which was something we will forever treasure. We know that these types of opportunities are dwindling over time, so it is important to take advantage of any chance that you happen to get.
Bird Watching in the Rainforest – With over a thousand species of birds in the Amazon Rainforest, the opportunities to see birds a quite diverse. We climbed to the top of the forest canopy in Ecuador to see different colorful birds including macaws, toucans, and parrots. Going the parrot clay licks and seeing so many different parrots feeding on the mineral rich soil was absolutely amazing.
Fort San Lorenzo in Panama – Going the fort that was captured by the famous Captain Morgan, which is located in the jungles of Panama was a truly educational experience. Whether imagining swash-buckling pirates, canons blasting off of the cliffs, or picturing the ships traveling down the Chagres River, it is something worth making the effort to see when planning a trip to Panama.
Obviously we hope to spend more time in different rainforests in other parts of the world. There is such a diversity in the biology of the jungle that it really takes several days to truly get an understanding of everything that there is to see. If you ever get a chance to spend a few nights in the rainforest, we’d highly recommend it as it allows you to see it both during the day, but also at dawn and dusk when the animals are the most active.