Half an hour’s drive from Panama City is a tropical world of green: Soberania National Park. This rainforest is the habitat of hundreds of animal and plant species and is best known for the 525 different species of bird. Day trips from Panama City are easy to arrange, but those whole really want to experience the rainforest will need to spend a few days and nights there.
One of the best known places in the world among bird watchers is Pipeline Road, a seventeen- kilometre long road through dense jungle. The first couple of kilometres are fine to cover on foot, but a Jeep is a better option for the whole route. By the side of the road platforms have been erected where bird watchers sit with their binoculars and watch for bearded cuckoos, motmots, trogons and collared cotingas, to name just a few. If you’d first like to acquaint yourself more with these tropical bird species then visit the Panama Rainforest Discovery Centre. This also has a 40-metre high observation tower offering great views over the rainforest.
Although it is mainly animals that live in the rainforest, there are also a few indigenous Indians. The Embera Indians are one of the seven authentic tribes of Panama and can be visited with a guide. In long, narrow boats visitors travel along the Chagres River deep into the rainforest. The Indians here once lived by farming, but that has been forbidden since the rainforest became a national park. Their most important source of income is now from tourism. The village Indians are clothed in traditional costumes and give visitors a taste of their ancient customs and way of life.
Another special experience is Monkey Island, home to a large colony of Capuchin monkeys. The journey here takes you across the Panama Canal to the man-made Gatun Lake. The monkeys with their characteristic white faces can often be seen swinging above the water. They can be a bit cheeky too and sometimes even leap onboard the boat for a piece of orange. You may also spot caimans and crocodiles during the boat trip.
It’s at night that the rainforest really comes alive when the silence is broken by mysterious noises, howling monkeys and chirping crickets. In the rainforest you have two possibilities for spending the night: The luxurious Gamboa Rainforest Resort and the smaller scale Canopy Tower. The latter hotel is situated in an old American radar tower. The rooms are very high up and provide guests with spectacular views.