Tourism officials highlight Canal Zone's nature parks

PANAMA CITY -- While tourism in the Canal Zone has long focused on cruise ship transits between the oceans, the Panamanian Institute of Tourism is one of the chief movers in changing the visitor perspectives to staying a while and enjoying nature at its finest in this land between two oceans.

Important nature reserves are located in the Canal Zone area, and all are just a day trip away from here.

Barro Colorado Natural Monument is on a 13,400-acre island in Gatun Lake; a large number of animals fled to the island due to floods during the damming of the Chagres River in 1923 as part of the canal's construction.

The only way to reach the monument is by boat, with excursions arranged by tour operators in Panama City. Visitor numbers are limited, so arrangements should be made in advance.

The visitor fee includes a dinner at the restaurant at the island visitors center, where guests also may view videos on the island's flora and fauna.

Chagres National Park, on the east side of the Panama Canal, covers an area of 337,500 acres and is the main source of water for the canal.

In addition to guided park walks, activities include rafting and fishing on the Chagres River, as well as fishing and water sports on Alajuela Lake.

Soberania National Park is also in the Canal zone, occupying a large area of rain forest between Gatun and Alajuela lakes; its 55,000-acre tract is the habitat of more than 1,300 plants, 100 species of animals and 525 species of birds.

The park offers its visitors a chance to fish, bird-watch and hike along historic trails such as Las Cruces, used by the Spaniards to transport gold and silver across the isthmus from their colonies in South America.

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