One of the planet's most accessible rain-forest reserves, Parque Nacional Soberanía comprises 19,341 hectares (48,000 acres) of lowland rain forest along the canal's eastern edge that is home to everything from howler monkeys to chestnut-mandible toucans. Long preserved as part of the U.S. Canal Zone, Soberanía was declared a national park, after being returned to Panama, as part of an effort to protect the canal's watershed. Trails into its wilderness can be reached by public bus, taxi, or by driving the mere 25 km (15 mi) from downtown Panama City, though you are best of visiting the park on a guided tour. Those trails wind past the trunks and buttress roots of massive kapok and strangler fig trees and the twisted stalks of lianas dangling from their high branches. Though visitors can expect to see only a small sampling of its wildlife, the park is home to more than 500 bird species and more than 100 different mammals, including such endangered species as the elusive jaguar and the ocelot.
If you hike some of the park's trails, you run a good chance of seeing white-faced capuchin monkeys, tamandua anteaters, raccoon-like coatimundi, or the large rodents called agouti. You may also see iridescent blue morpho butterflies, green iguanas, leafcutter ants, and other interesting critters. On any given morning here you might see dozens of spectacular birds, such as red-lored parrots, collared aracaris, violaceous trogons, and purple-throated fruit crows. From November to April the native bird population is augmented by the dozens of migrant species that winter in the park, among them the scarlet tanager, Kentucky warbler, and Louisiana water thrush. It is the combination of native and migrant bird species, plus the ocean birds along the nearby canal, that have enabled the Panama Audubon Society to set the Christmas bird count world record for two decades straight.