If you are fond of wildlife, then Panama is the right place for you. The best areas for spotting Panama’s rich fauna are: Barro Colorado Island, Monkey Island, Pipeline Road, Plantation Road, Soberania National Park, Amistad National Park in Chiriqui (on the border with Costa Rica), Pearl Islands, Coiba National Park and elsewhere.
Barro Colorado Island is located in the man-made Gatun Lake in the middle of the Panama Canal. It has an area of 15 square kilometres. The island was set aside on April 17, 1923 as a nature reserve by the U.S. Government. Initially administered by the Panama Canal Company under the able direction of James Zetek. Since 1946 Barro Colorado Island has been administered by the Smithsonian together with five adjacent peninsulas, as the Barro Colorado Nature Monument (BCNM). The BCNM has an area of 54 square kilometres, perhaps the largest and most studied natural reserve devoted to scientific research in the New World Tropics. Because the Island’s diverse ecosystem has been very little altered by humans, Barro Colorado has been studied for over eighty years within a great variety of biological disciplines. Only the larger fauna disappeared from Barro Colorado after the lake was flooded in 1914.
Soberanía National Park is a true tropical forest, and it’s one of the most accessible in the world. Its 22,000 hectares extend along the east bank of the Panama Canal, ending at Lago Gatún near the town of Limón. The wildlife is amazing, especially considering how close the park is to population centers. Among its inhabitants are 525 species of birds, 105 species of mammals, 55 species of amphibians, and 79 species of reptiles.
All its well-maintained trails are a short drive from Panama City, making it quite feasible to go for a morning hike during which there’s a chance of encountering toucans, and kinkajous, or sloths and then be back in the heart of the city in time for lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant. There are also two very different kinds of ecotourist resorts—the Canopy Tower and Gamboa Rainforest Resort—bordering the park, for those who’d like to stay overnight in comfortable surroundings.