Gibraltar is a British Territory located in Southern Spain where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. It is a very interesting place to visit for a variety of regions and hiking the trail that leads to the summit of the famous Rock of Gibraltar is obviously number one on the list. We took the cable car to the summit and then hiked down the trail, which includes going into the caves that served as part of the fortress system. As interesting as that is, seeing the monkeys that live along the trail is also very fascinating.
The monkeys are Barbary Macaques that have inhabited the area for hundreds of years, if not even more. There are several theories as to how the macaques came to live in what is now Gibraltar, but no one is sure if they were introduced by the Moors, migrated there naturally, or brought by some other group of people. Either way, they can’t be missed if you decide to take the trail that provides stunning views of the area.
Although the monkeys look cute, it is important to remember that these are wild animals and should not be approached. In fact, they are the only wild monkey population in any part of Europe. You also need to be very careful with your cameras, purses, or other items that you might carry as they are known for grabbing them and running away. As long as you treat them with the respect that they deserve, they will enhance what is already a wonderful experience.
One of the day tour options from Panama City is to visit what is called Monkey Island on Lake Gatun. Although it is referred to as a single island, it is really several islands, each with different monkey varieties. When the river was dammed to create the lake, one of the inadvertent things was that some animals were trapped as the waters rose and what were hilltops within the rainforest became small islands. Since these smaller monkeys can’t swim from island to island, they would have perished were it not for the fact that soldiers were stationed on the islands as lookouts and guards.
One of the first things that you learn as an ecotourist is that you never feed the animals as it disrupts their natural instincts and can create an imbalance. Since the lake was created in the early 1900’s, there was no sense of our impact on wildlife and the soldiers didn’t think twice about feeding the monkeys on these islands. Without that food, those monkeys would not have survived and now they have become completely dependent upon getting food from humans. These days, the monkeys are reliant upon the tours that bring tourists to the island and give them food to entice them to interact with the people on the boat. The monkeys are cute and adorable, so you can see where there might be some temptation for people to catch them and sell them as pets, but the tour guides and people of the area are extremely protective of them and are always on the watch to ensure that no one is smuggling one of the monkeys.
In order to get to the islands, you obviously need to get there by boat and tour groups come throughout the day to take a motorized boat out to the islands. If you want to have the best experience, starting your day earlier in the day is definitely recommended as the more that the boats visit the islands and feed the monkeys, the fuller that they get and the less interested they become in coming down from the trees to get a treat. Some of the monkeys were given small pieces of banana and they are willing to come into the boats and sit on shoulders and even a head in order to eat some banana. For some of the larger monkeys, you hold a grape in your hand with your fingers lightly gripping the grape and the monkeys will gently open your hand to get their treat. If you hold the grapes low on your lap, you will spend even more time with the monkey than if you just extend your hand.
Although the monkeys are reliant on people to get their food, they are not domesticated and are still wild animals. It is important that you don’t make any sudden movements, jump, scream, or even laugh dramatically. Any of those things can be construed as a threat by the monkeys and they will lash out to protect themselves. We were warned by our guides that if we weren’t able to remain calm, they would have to back the boat away from the island for our safety and the safety of the monkeys. Fortunately our group did as told and since we were the first boat of the day, we had excellent interactions with the monkeys.
We did Monkey Island as part of a longer tour, visiting other sites after seeing the monkeys. It is certainly a highlight for anyone visiting Panama City and is worth getting out of the city to see. We saw other monkeys in the rainforest, but being able to get as close to them as you do on the islands makes for a very special memory.
We returned last night from our trip to Panama and it was definitely a wonderful experience. We will be providing specific details about the tours that we took and the sights that we saw. It is an interesting country in many different ways and we look forward to seeing how eco-tourism grows within the country as they receive more attention from the outside world. We had several specific items on our agenda such as visiting the canal and seeing the locks, getting into the rainforest to catch a glimpse of the wildlife, as well as exploring Panama City and the old town area. It was a successful trip on all counts.
We arrived late in the evening, so we were only able to grab a quick bite before heading off to bed to rest for an early start the next day. Knowing that November is still part of the rainy season, we were prepared for whatever the weather sent our way, but the reality was that when it did rain, it only lasted about 15 minutes and then it cleared up again. We spent our first day exploring the old town area, Casco Viejo, and made sure to see all of the important sights while also enjoying a couple of Panamanian restaurants, of which there were many. It was a relaxing day with plenty of heat and humidity as well as an aforementioned cloud burst, which we watched from within a restaurant while enjoying a beer (cerveza).
We got up early the next day for our “ocean to ocean” tour, which included seeing the locks, going to Monkey Island, hiking in a national park, seeing the San Lorenzo Fortress, and getting our fill of wildlife. We saw monkeys, tree sloths, an anteater, and birds galore, including a toucan. To say that this was a long, yet fulfilling day would be an understatement. We travelled by boat, van, and foot as we went from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, and back again.
Panama City is rather unique in that it sits between the ocean and the government protected green zone that lies on either side of the canal, so the city grows up instead of out. What this means is that you are never very far from the rainforest and there is even a rainforest park within the city limits. For our third day in Panama, we decided to hike through the Metropolitan National Park where we encountered more sloths, agoutis (which are like a rabbit and rodent hybrid), and more birds. The true highlight of the park, though, is climbing to the second highest point in the city to see wonderful views of the skyline from above. We ended our day by once again heading into the old town for a well deserved glass of wine and beer before having dinner.
As if we hadn’t had our fill of the rainforest, we spent the following day on a tour that took us to an Embera Village, which is an indigenous tribe within one of the national parks. In order to reach the village, we traveled in motorized dugout canoes that had been had carved by the villagers. On our way to the village, we stopped to enjoy a waterfall within the jungle where we could go swimming if we desired. By pure chance, we were the only ones on the tour this day, which was a very happy surprise. Once we arrived at the village, we explored, interacted with the villagers, and ate fresh fish and plantains served in a banana leaf. Afterwards, their was a performance of traditional songs and dances with the opportunity to buy some handmade crafts from the village. Needless to say, we made sure to come home with a couple of unique items that we will treasure.
By our last day, we were pretty exhausted, so we went out to the causeway (a bridge that leads to a few small islands in the harbor) in order to have some lunch and see views of the water. We then walked the streets of old town once again before heading into the heart of Panama City for a meal of traditional Panamanian food that is indicative of what the locals eat. After several very busy days, it was nice to enjoy a more relaxing day before heading back to the States.
There are definitely a lot of places within Panama that we would like to come back to see sometime in the future. We didn’t spend time on any of the beaches, partake in water sports, or visit some of the many islands that are off of the coasts. There is also a dormant volcano and a mountainous region as well. We were absolutely thrilled with our trip and will definitely be an advocate for people finding time to visit this wonderful country.