Panama - Panama City and Gamboa - May 2010 Home » Forums » Birding » Trip Reports

Panama has over 900 species of birds, and is a safe country with a good infrastrucuture for tourism. Even close to the capital, Panama City, are two parks, Parque Metropolitano and Parque Nacional Soberania, which are world class birdwatching destinations. The famous Pipeline Road in Soberania holds the world record for most number of species counted in one day (over 500!).

I visited Panama for 24 days in May, the first month of the rainy season. I never lost an entire day to the rain, and lost maybe five half days. I got the impression that this May was a little less rainy than normal, and don't have a good feel for whether May is a better month to travel than later in the rainy season. But for sure it is much much cheaper to travel in the off-season; I was able to name my price in several hotels.

A cab will take you to Parque Metropolitano from any hotel in the city for three dollars. This park is drier than almost adjacent Soberania, and might have a slightly different mix of birds. Also the park is smallar, and the birds are probably accustomed to seeing people on the trails, so you can get rather close to some great birds. I had not planned on spending time there, so ended up spending two mornings and one short afternoon, and saw interesting birds including the Pheasant Cuckoo, Black-tailed Flycatchar, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Red-crowned Ant Tanager, Blue-headed Parrot, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, and perhaps a Blue Seedeater.

Gamboa is a small town just outside Soberania, and the closest place to Pipeline Road. To sleep, there are two very pricy options, and two that are more economic. Canopy Tower is geared towards birders with great tours and a roof deck to watch toucans, barbets and tamarins eat fruit from the treetops. Gamboa Rainforest Resort is an equally luxurious resort. Please contact them for more information. The bus leaves the main terminal in Panama City to Gamboa every one to two hours, and you can visit Gamboa/Soberania without a car.

If those locations are out of your price range, I recommend Advantage Panama's lodge in Gamboa. It is just down the street from Ivan's Bed and Breakfast, where I also stayed, and can not recommend. You can feel a committment to the environment at Advantage Panama's lodge through the staff, posters, library, and recycling containers. The lodge is located at the edge of a section of forest which is connected to a larger section which is separated by just one road from the national park. Golden-collared Manakins, White-bellied Antbirds and Broad-billed Motmots are some birds in the small forest fragment connected to the Advantage Panama lodge. The second floor deck could be a great place to birdwatch or take photographs.

Regarding Ivan's, to make a long story short, I was already uncomfortable after some minor disagreements during my first few days there. One evening I missed a bus and was stranded alone 10 kilometers from the hotel with darkness approaching. I called and the owner told me he could not help me, he was busy cleaning his car. I had to hitchike to get back. I am relatively comfortable in Latin America, and Gamboa is relatively safe, but asking a client to hitchhike alone 10 kilometers with $10,000 of very heavy camera equipment to me is unbelievable.

About four kilometers from Gamboa is the Rainforest Discovery Center and Pipeline Road. For $20/day you can watch the hummingbirds at the nature center and climb a 100 ft. tower. Or for $5/day you can hike the trails. Again, hundreds of species of birds can be seen here, including the Harpy Eagle if you are very lucky. Some raptors I saw in one week were the Collared Forest Falcon, Snail Kite, Yellow-headed Caracara, and Grey-headed Kite. The Roadside Hawk was seen in Metropolitano, and Swallow-tailed Kites are common throughout Panama.