Panama’s National Parks

Amistad National Park: The Amistad National Park is located in the western part of Panama, in the border with Costa Rica, 312 miles from Panama City. With an area of some 207,000 hectares, it is Panama’s second largest park after Darien. La Amistad includes the oldest and largest tract of primary forest in the country, much of it untouched since Man first arrived more than 20,000 years ago. With 10 ecosystems ranging from tropical subalpine, the park has hundreds of species of plants and animals that are found nowhere else and a total bird population of more than 600 varieties.

Barro Colorado Island: Located in Gatun Lake along the Panama Canal, Barro Colorado is a research station operated by the Smithsonian institute and used by scientist to study tropical flora and fauna. It is open to a few visitors at a time on certain days. A visit, including the boat trip to the island, is a full day excursion from Panama City.

Bastimentos Island National Marine Park: Located on Panama’s Northwestern Caribbean coast, this is the country’s first marine park. Located on several points of the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, it is not only home to a large variety of sea turtles, who come to the beaches to lay eggs, but also a refuge for abundant sea life, birds, manatees, reptiles and other animals. The park offers excellent scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities with its crystal waters and unspoiled coral reefs attracting more than 200 species of marine fish.

Chagres National Park: The main function of this park is the conservation of the hydrographic basin of the Panama Canal. Approximately 80% of the water necessary for the operation of the canal and all the drinking water for Panama City come from this watershed. The park encompasses approximately 129,000 hectares in two provinces: Panama and Colon. The park is home to some communities of Embera Indians. Tourist activities include white water rafting trips and hiking the Las Cruces Trail, which traverses the park. Resident fauna includes the white tail deer, the spider monkey and the toucan.

Darien National Park: This 579,000-hectare park is the largest in Panama, with large areas still unexplored, has more than 300 species of birds, including the world’s most powerful eagle, the Harpie. Three Amerindian ethnic groups live within the park: Embera, Waunana and Kuna. With its network of beaches, rocky coasts, mangroves, freshwater marshes, palm forest swamps, mountain ranges, dense tropical jungles and wild streams and rivers, it covers the most diverse territory of any national park in tropical America. Without roads, access to the park is by river or air. Because of its isolation and inherent dangers, this park is best explored with a guide by the well-prepared nature enthusiast rather than the casual visitor. UNESCO listed this area as a World Heritage Site in 1981 and as a Biosphere Reserve in 1983.

Las Cruces Trail National Park: The gold of the Incan Empire crossed Panama on its way to Spain along the cobblestones paths of the Las Cruces Trail. Las Cruces Trail National Park, located just 10 miles from Panama City, is a corridor of 4,000 hectares that links the forested zones of the Metropolitan Nature Park and the Soberania National Park. A great variety of flora and fauna is found between the two major cities of the Republic, including the Panamanian tamarin, two-toed and three-toed sloth, howler monkey, armadillo, green iguana, and the roe deer.

Metropolitan Nature Park: Fifteen minutes from downtown Panama is the 265 hectare Metropolitan Nature Park, one of the few urban parks in the world. The park is an excellent opportunity for environmental education, having meeting rooms (the Panama Audubon Society meets here), a small museum, a library, and a shop that sells conservation items. The interpretive trail is enjoyed by visitors and school groups. The view from the top of Cerro Mono Titi is spectacular, offering a panoramic view of the city, the Port of Balboa, and the adjacent Las Cruces Trail National Park. Birding is especially good here and the orchid garden is also worth a visit.

Portobelo National Park: Located on the Caribbean Coast, this World Heritage Site protects 44 miles of coastal areas with rich coral reefs and coastal forest, and the ruins of the historic Spanish forts and settlements at Portobelo. The park offers excellent sites for scuba diving including Drake’s Island, Salmedena Reef, the Three Sisters, and Playa Blanca.

Soberania National Park: Located 15 miles from Panama City, Soberania National Park offers two outstanding features: Pipeline Road and El Charco interpretative trail. Pipeline Road, long known to tropical biologists, is one for the record books. According to the Panama Audubon Society, 525 species were recorded during the annual Christmas bird count between December1992 and January 1993. Pipeline Road is a wonderful hike any time of the year, if only to observe howler monkeys, trogons, toucans and Morpho butterflies, all regulars here. Sendero El Charco (the interpretive trail) is excellent for beginners: it is short (less than 2 kilometers), a closed circuit, offers good birding opportunities, and you can go swimming.

Volcan Baru National Park: About a seven hour drive from the capital or a one hour flight, this 14,000-hectare park situated on the imposing 3,475-meter Volcan Baru, is one of Panama’s most scenic regions, often called the Switzerland of Central America. On a clear day, both the Pacific and the Caribbean may be seen from the top of the volcano.