A mere 20-minute drive from downtown, this 655-acre expanse of protected wilderness is a remarkably convenient place to experience the flora and fauna of Panama's tropical rain forest. It's home to 227 bird species ranging from migrant Baltimore orioles to keel-billed toucans. Five well-marked trails, covering a total of about 4.8 km (3 miles), range from a climb to the park's highest point to a fairly flat loop. On any given morning of hiking you may spot such spectacular birds as a gray-headed chachalaca, a collared aracari, or a mealy parrot. The park is also home to 45 mammal species, so keep an eye out for dark brown agoutis (large jungle rodents). Keep your ears perked for tamarins, tiny monkeys that sound like birds.
There's a visitor center near the southern end of the park, next to El Roble and Los Caobas trails, where the nonprofit organization that administers the park collects the admission fee and sells cold drinks, snacks, and nature books. This is the best place
to begin your exploration of the park, since you can purchase a map that shows the trails. Call two days ahead to reserve an English-speaking guide ($25).
Across the street from the visitor center is a shorter loop called Sendero Los Momótides. The Mono Titi and La Cieneguita trails head into the forest from the road about 1 km (½ mile) north of the visitor center and connect to each other to form a loop through the park's most precipitous terrain. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) has a construction crane in the middle of the forest near the Mono Titi trail that is used to study life in the forest canopy, which is where the greatest diversity of flora and fauna is found. El Roble connects with La Cieneguita, so you can hike the northern loop and then continue through the forest to the visitor center; the total distance of that hike is 3½ km (2¼ miles).
Be sure to bring water, insect repellent, and binoculars, and be careful where you put your feet and hands, since the park does have poisonous snakes, biting insects, and spiny plants.