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Just a 30-minute drive from Panama City lies the green tropical world of Soberania National Park. This rainforest is the habitat of hundreds of species of fauna and flora and is especially known for its 525 different species of birds. There are numerous daytrips from Panama City, but to get a real taste of the rainforest, it is worth spending several days in the park and overnighting in the jungle.
It is worth spending a night in the jungle as the rainforest really comes alive after sunset. The silence is pierced by mysterious sounds, screaming monkeys and chirping crickets. Visitors have a choice of 2 rainforest accommodations: the luxurious Gamboa Rainforest Resort and the smaller Canopy Tower. The latter hotel is housed in a former American radar tower. The rooms are located high above the jungle and offer a great view of the rainforest.
One of the most famous bird watching spots in the world is Pipeline Road, a 17-kilometre-long road through dense jungle. The first few kilometres are still easily accessible on foot, but to complete the entire route it is best to travel by jeep. Along the way there are several viewing platforms where spotters can grab their binoculars to look for ground cuckoos, motmots, trogons and spangled cotingas, to name just a few of the species found here. To learn more about the tropical bird species in the park, visit the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center. The centre also boasts a 40-metre-high lookout tower with fabulous views of the rainforest.
Another interesting destination is Monkey Island, an island inhabited by a large group of capuchin monkeys. To reach the island, travel across the Panama Canal to man-made Gatun Lake. From the water you may already spot the typical white faces of the monkeys as they swing through the trees. They are quite cheeky and sometimes even jump on the boat to steal a piece of orange. Keep an eye out for caimans and crocodiles on this boat tour.
Although the rainforest is mainly inhabited by animals, there are still a handful of Indians who make their home in the jungle. The Embera Indians are one of Panama’s 7 authentic tribes and can be visited with a guide. Travelling in a long narrow boat, visitors follow the Charges River deep into the rainforest. The Indians used to sustain themselves with agriculture, but this is no longer permitted now that the rainforest has been designated a national park. Today their most important source of income is tourism. The Indians in the village dress in traditional costumes and introduce guests to their ancient traditions and distinctive lifestyle.