Jul 21, 2017

Gamboa Lake from Rainforest Discovery Center Lookout Point.jpg

Gamboa Lake from Rainforest Discovery Center Lookout Point

Great Nature Walks near Panama City

As a fanatical nature lover, having the opportunity to live here in this country – one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world – has been quite remarkable. Here, I share some of the best places to see creatures in the wild, be they furred, feathered or scaly, within a 20 minute drive of Panama City itself. Before I start, I have a little word of advice. If you are nature-mad, June or July would be a good time to visit. After the dried-up barrenness of the Dry Season which runs from January to April, trees are lush, green, full of moisture, and the animals and birds are active, playful, feeding.  June and July are at the start of the Rainy Season, when it normally rains for approximately one hour per day. Although it is incredibly heavy while it lasts, for me it is worth the trade-off due to the increased sightings of wildlife.  Also, in my opinion, the tropical rain with its warm, large, droplets, is part of the authentic Panamanian experience and not to be missed.

Plantation Road – Camino de Plantacion Trogon at Plantation Road

Coffee and banana plants remain dotted around the path through this abandoned plantation. I have walked along this bumpy path countless times, each time seeing something different, including four species of monkey  – Howlers, Capuchin, Mono Titi (Geoffroy’s Tamarin) and Spider. If you walk just one or two kilometers along this path, you are sure to see something of interest. Other mammals I have seen here are large rodents called Agoutis, Coati Mundi and, on one memorable occasion, an anteater at close range. I have also seen evidence (droppings and scratch marks) of big cats here, so maybe this is one walk it would be sensible to do with company. Of course, there are also countless birds just waiting to be spotted. Trogons (related to the Quetzal) and Mot Mots are frequently seen posing on branches. These long-tailed beauties seem to enjoy being photographed and are not at all hard to find.  I always either see or hear Toucans on this trail. If you don’t know what a Toucan sounds like, you are in for a surprise – their call does not match their beautiful appearance at all – in fact, they sound exactly like croaking frogs. 


Hummingbird at Rainforest Discovery CenterRainforest Discovery Center, Gamboa

This magical center can be found at the far side of Gamboa. To get here involves crossing the, very rickety, Panama Canal railway bridge, then driving through the small town and over an extremely bumpy (think 4x4) dirt track. From here you can take many short walks on circuits near the Center, or longer walks, for example, along Pipeline Road, if you wish. Rainforest Discovery Center is dotted with hummingbird feeders. Each time I come here, I see at least ten hummingbirds, but on a good day you will have up to thirty buzzing all around you, and then you will understand how they got their name. If you have never seen these remarkable birds in real life, you are in for a treat. A short walk takes you to a viewing platform overlooking Lake Gamboa. The last time we were here we saw a crocodile watching us with its beady eye. A good place to watch birds of prey, we always see falcons, and the rare Harpy Eagle, the national bird of Panama, can be spotted if you are (very) lucky. From the top of Discovery tower you can look down onto the rainforest canopy, a special experience if you don’t object to the unnerving wobbling as you climb. I’m not mad on the wobbling, so I have only climbed it once. You will see plenty from the ground, so it is not essential to climb the tower, although many times people see Toucans close up here, as well as troops of monkeys. 


Parque Metropolitano

This dry forest (as opposed to rain forest) park is on the outskirts of the city, between Clayton and El Dorado. This is a precious part of Panama City, spared from the development that proceeds apace elsewhere. There are five trails in total, with two spectacular viewpoints at the top of the park, reachable after 30 minutes brisk walking, or an hours strolling. Sloths, Coati Mundis, Skinks, Turtles, Lizards, Mono Titi and Toucans are among the myriad creatures to be seen in this urban oasis. Don’t miss the Jesus Lizards running across the Turtle Pond – they need to be seen to beCoati Mundi, Parque Metropolitano believed.  




Photographs and text, Jane Ellis

Jane is an expat living in Panama and a Freelance Writer.  Follow her adventures at


Rainforest Discover Center in Gamboa

Come enjoy nature, take a walk on our trails, discover the great variety of birds in Panama from our 40-meter observation tower, and relax observing the hummingbirds in our Visitor Center.



Visit Parque Metropolitano

Visit this huge park on the edge of the city.  Very easy to find near Albrook mall.  This park offers trails up to spectacular views of the city.  Entry is $3 per person.