Soberania Park's Canopy Tower provides best view

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PANAMA CITY--The best seat in the house from which to observe the rich bird life of the Soberania National Park will probably be the Canopy Tower, a rain forest lodge due to open Dec. 1.

The tall, silo-like building, capped by a dome and converted from a former radar installation built by the U.S. Air Force, sits atop Semaphore Hill in a well-preserved forest 30 minutes by car from Panama City.

The project is the brainchild of Raul Arias de Para, who has taken a long-term lease for conservation-related development of the 37-acre site granted to his newly formed company, Divertimento Ecologico. "This hill," Arias said during a site tour, "is considered one of the best bird-watching areas in Panama, and from the Canopy Tower you can easily see birds that inhabit the uppermost layer of the forest and are normally very hard to see."

Arias and his six-man crew stripped much of the interior of the original conical building to create a lodge with four floors. Guests are accommodated, seemingly in the trees, on the third-floor level in six double rooms with 80-foot ceilings, private bathrooms and hot showers. Toilets reuse the water from the shower and sink, and faucets are fitted with low-flow heads.

During a tour of the facility, Arias pointed out a special hook by the shower for binoculars, so that bathers may scrub up yet keep up with the toucan and parrot spotting.

Guests booking the suite accommodation will be able to rock in a hammock while enjoying the views and sounds of the rain forest, and all rooms and bathrooms have windows with canopy vistas.

Sitting above the forest canopy, the fourth floor houses the dining facilities and lounge area, all looking out to surrounding deck space, already equipped with telescopes. The ground floor will house a museum documenting how the water cycle operates in the canal watershed; it will also outline a history of the tower, while above, on the second floor, is a mezzanine lounge area.

Access to the tower is up a mile-plus-long rain forest road, joining the main road but limited to pedestrians and two specially equipped golf carts. A survey of this corner of the Soberania park, conducted by the National Association for the Conservation of Nature (Ancon) and the Nature Conservancy, identified 269 species of plants, 96 species of birds, 35 species of mammals and 15 species of amphibians.

The double room rates with all meals are $95 per person, and taxi fare from Panama City will cost approximately $30. By advance reservations and with guides on site, Divertimento Ecologico offers three tours: the Awakening of the Rainforest, 6 to 11 a.m., the most active time of day for the inhabitants of the rain forest, and a tour including breakfast; Lunch on Top of the Hill, 11 a.m to 3 p.m., the best time of day to see birds of prey, particularly hawks during their migrations in fall and spring, and Night in a Different World, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., another period of high activity, with owls, monkeys and star gazing.
Divertimento Ecologico
Phone: (507) 264-5720
Fax (507) 263-2784
E-mail [email protected]
Web: www.canopy.mit.edu

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