The Canal and Central Panama Experience
An almost continuous belt of forest stretches between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea in Central Panama, where separate swaths of wilderness extend to the northwest and north of Panama City. That invaluable tropical nature is sequestered within a half-dozen national parks and other protected areas that are home to more than half of the country's bird species, five kinds of monkeys, the world's largest rodent (the capybara), and such endangered animals as the jaguar, tapir, and harpy eagle. One reason for the diversity is that though the interoceanic wilderness is relatively continuous, it is by no means homogenous, since the altitudes in the region range from sea level to more than 3,000 feet, and it rains twice as much per year in the Caribbean forests as it does in the forests near Panama City, less than 50 miles away. The combination of varied weather and topography provides niches for an amazing diversity of flora and fauna for such a small area.
Aside from the canal area, the only other place in Panama, or Central America, where the forest cover stretches from the Pacific to the Caribbean is in remote Darién Province, which is difficult and expensive to explore. But there are dozens of places and ways that you can explore the varied tropical wilderness of the canal area, ranging from an early morning bird-watching tour in the forests near Panama City to a one-week hiking expedition on the route of the historic Camino Real, offered by Ancon Expeditions.
You can drive to Parque Nacional Soberanía and hike one of its trails; take one of several boat tours to the islands and forested shores of Gatún Lake; drive an hour to the mountain forest of Sierra Llorona; take a day trip to Barro Colorado, San Lorenzo, or Portobelo; raft down the Chagres River; or zip through forests of Soberanía on the Panama Canal Railway. But experiencing the flora and fauna can also be as effortless as looking out the window at nature lodges such as the Canopy Tower, Gamboa Rainforest Resort, and Sierra Llorona Lodge.
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Fodor's Go List 2014: Where we are going in 2014
- Fodor's 100 Hotel Awards: Check out the winners of 2013
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's