NEW YORK -- There's a lot more to Panama than a canal.
The geography of this country -- a land bridge between two
continents -- makes Panama home to an amazing diversity of
ecosystems. Those ecosystems spring to life in the numerous and
surprisingly accessible national parks of Panama.
The following is a roundup of five national parks that
nature-loving clients shouldn't miss:
• Soberiana National Park is a day excursion from Panama City
and offers travelers an impressive rain forest rich in wildlife,
including more than 100 species of mammals, more than 500 species
of birds and dozens of amphibians and reptiles.
Attractions here include hiking along a section of the old Las
Cruces Trail, used by the Spaniards to transport gold across the
isthmus. Another favorite site is the Summit Botanical Gardens. The
Canopy Tower Ecolodge and the Gamboa Rainforest Resort are
accommodations located within the park.
• Barro Colorado Island, created when Gatun Lake was formed by
damming the Chagres River, is another popular excursion close to
This protected area offers a combination of hiking along many
trails through different types of forests as well as a cruise by
small launch through the canal to the Smithsonian Tropical Research
• Taboga Island, an hour's boat ride from the capital, is known
for its array of flowers, but it also shelters the largest breeding
colony of brown pelicans in the world.
Together with neighboring Uraba Island, the colony has about
100,000 birds in residence from January to June, with May the
height of the nesting season.
• Darien National Park's partially explored tropical rain forest
has been declared a World Heritage Biosphere. Its vast habitats
shelter some of the rarest species in Panama, including jaguar,
ocelot, Baird's tapir and white-lipped peccaries.
A one- or two-night adventure in the park might include a
motorized canoe trip to an Indian village and a jungle lodge stay,
while a two-week expedition can take the most fit of clients over a
rugged route retracing the path Balboa followed on his trek to the
Wildlife aficionados look to the valley of Cana (accessible by
light aircraft and fitted with rustic accommodations) as the top
bird-watching site in Central America.
• La Amistad International Park in the province of Bocas del
Torro is the second-largest wildlife area after Darien; a World
Heritage Site, it shares its territory and administration with
Costa Rica and is super-rich in flora and fauna.
The access points to La Amistad are Cerro Rica in the Chiriqui
Province and Changuinola in Bocas del Toro.
For information, contact the Panama Tourism Institute (IPAT) at
(800) 231-0568 or at www.visitpanama.com.