Though it lies only about 40 minutes from downtown Panama City, the tiny community of Gamboa feels remote, no doubt due to the fact that it is surrounded by exuberant tropical nature. Its location on the north bank of the flooded Chagres River, nestled between the Panama Canal and rain forest of Soberanía National Park, makes Gamboa a world-class bird-watching destination and the departure point for boat trips on
Gatún Lake. It is also a great place to stroll, have lunch amid nature, or kick back and admire the impressive tropical scenery. It is home to a massive nature resort that offers enough diversions to fill several days, but Gamboa's proximity to the capital also makes it a convenient day-trip from Panama City.
The town of Gamboa was built by Uncle Sam in the early 20th century to house workers at the Panama Canal dredging division, which is based here. The town's tiny port is full of canal maintenance equipment, but it's also the point of departure for the boat to Barro Colorado Island and for Pacific-bound partial canal transits. Private yachts sometimes spend a night near the port on the way through the canal, and a simple marina on the other side of the Chagres River holds the boats of local fishermen and tour companies that take groups onto the canal for wildlife watching along the forest's edge.
Over the years, biologists and bird-watchers have come to realize that Gamboa's combination of forests and wetlands make it home to an inordinate diversity of birds. The Panama Audubon Society has set world records for Christmas bird counts year after year on Camino del Oleoducto (Pipleline Road), which heads into Parque Nacional Soberanía on the northwest end of town. That trail is the main destination for day visitors, but you can also see plenty of wildlife from the roads around town and the banks of the Chagres River.