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Many areas of Panama feel like it is where the jungle meets the city. Huge areas of Panama City are home to lush rainforests and a wide array of native wildlife, like the 55,000 acre Soberanía National Park, near to the banks of the Panama Canal.
Whilst all are worth a visit, some are a lot more expensive than others to visit so here is our run-down of all the rainforest walks and activities we completed whilst in Panama City recently.
Gamboa Rainforest Reserve
The most well known ‘rainforest experience’ in Panama, Gamboa can be found about an hour’s drive (depending on traffic) out of Panama City, smack back between the city and the coastal city of Colón.
Incorporating a huge hotel complex (complete with large swimming pools and several restaurants and bars), visitors often spend several days here relaxing and trying out the various nature experiences.
In our minds, this is probably the least authentic way to get back to nature, but if you want to see some of the wild whilst maintaining your ‘creature comforts’, this might be the best rainforest experience for you.
We spent the day here and went on several excursions in and around Soberania National Park, our favourite of which was the ‘Lake Gatun and Panama Canal Experience’, where we headed out on the water in a small boat to see what life there was in the rainforest skirting the lake (we saw monkeys) as well as getting up close to some of the huge ships that were entering the Panama Canal.
Back on dry land, we also visited the Sloth Sanctuary (naturally very docile but also incredibly cute – check out those adorable smiles) – this is Panama’s first dedicated sloth sanctuary run by the Pan American Conservation Association. Nearby, the ‘Nature Labs’ here also include a butterfly enclosure, frog pond and orchid garden.
Gamboa Rainforest Reserve is definitely worth a visit, but it is quite expensive – each element you visit is separately priced or you can take advantage of some of their package deals or discounts which are sometimes available on the Oferta Simple deal site. Whilst we didn’t stay the night there, we did have lunch in the Monkey Bar a couple of times and it was so-so (deep fried fare for around $10 a plate). Therefore, go for the views, not the food.
Panama Rainforest Discovery Center / Centre
Less well known (and built up) than Gamboa Rainforest Reserve, Panama Rainforest Discovery Center strips it back to basics, so it feels like it is just you and the elements.
Accessible via a long dusty road (a 4 x 4 is recommended), we visited Panama Rainforest Discovery Centre early one morning at 8am – it opens from 7am – and were the first to arrive (we had the whole rainforest to ourselves). Upon arrival, you pay your admission fee ($30 per adult) at a small hut. There also a few limited facilities at the start too including a toilets and a small shop. You can then either leave your vehicle in the car-park and walk around the main track, or take your car around – we opted to walk it.
Our first stop was the hummingbird feeding stop – there were four or five feeders set up by a viewing area. The hummingbirds were a little reluctant at first when we were sitting near the feeders (containing some kind of sugary syrup) but they soon relented and were incredible to watch (and hear!) as they darted about. Unexpectedly, there was also a free tea and coffee station here (although be careful if you use the sugar as there were lots of flies in the container, mining the sugar granules).
A little further on, we climbed up the 32 metre high tower / spiral staircase, which took us right above the tree canopy, to see unspoilt views of the rainforest – we saw lots of brightly coloured birds and huge equals but no toucans, monkeys or sloths that we’d read about. If you are tall, also remember to also duck as you exit, to avoid a sore head – learn from my mistake!
Our final stop was a viewing platform overlooking Lake Calamito, which is an arm of the larger Gatun Lake, part of the Panama Canal. The waters were mirrorlike and we could hear the mad shrieking of monkeys in the distance – we didn’t see any crocodiles. We then walked along more boardwalks back to the visitor centre.
We managed to get half price admission ($15) via the Oferta Simple deals website – although the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center was pleasant (a tranquil walk amongst the trees), it wouldn’t really be worth the full price, given that there are other similar walks that are free or a few dollars (like Ancon Hill or the Panama Metropolitan Park below).
Ancon Hill and Panama Metropolitan Park
A little closer to the city than Gamboa, Ancon Hill and Panama Metropolitan Park are both worthy of your Panama itinerary, and also a much cheaper way to encounter the rainforests and the wildlife that inhabits them. Ancon Hill is free whilst the Panama Metropolitan Park is only a few dollars.
Both are easy, one-hour long walks (approximately) that also offer views of Panama City’s highrise skyline.
Other Panama City blog posts
- Free and cheap things to do in Panama City
- Top things to do in Panama City
- Panama City Pride Parade
- A guide to Taboga Island in Panama City
- 5 Easy Walks Around Panama City
- Casco Viejo in Panama City – top things to do
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