If you would like the Panama rainforest to be your next vacation destination, read this guide. It contains all the information a tourist may need.
Panama Rainforest Travel Guide
Tropical and rich in wildlife, the Panama rainforest is known for its biodiversity. How big is the Panama rainforest, one may ask? It occupies more than 40 percent of the country and provides a home for beautiful birds, lively monkeys, and some astonishing flora. The country’s numerous reserves and the total of sixteen national parks comprise a great part of the rainforest. From jade-colored water forests that cover the Chiriquí Highlands of western Panama to the wide wildlife of the Darién, the region offers a vast number of sights
Nevertheless, accessing the area is rather challenging; the rainforest’s national parks in Panama differ from the ones in neighboring Costa Rica in terms of development. There is no reliable information for tourists, and the lack of maps and marks along the trails, as well as accommodation, makes it difficult to explore. Although this can undoubtedly frustrate you, once you find yourself in the forest, you can enjoy everything it has to offer.
How Do Tropical Rainforests, Water Forests, and Jungles Differ?
Tropical rainforests, according to the definition, are located in the tropics, which is exactly the region of Panama. Tropical rainforests receive more than 2,000 mm of rain during one year. Alternately, forests have a canopy layer with dangling lianas and vines around 30 meters above the ground, typical of the region.
A water forest (commonly referred to as high montane forest) is a form of a rainforest whose location generally ranges between 2,500 and 3,000 meters above sea level. The scenery resembles a fairytale, with mist, mosses, ferns, lichens, orchids, and bromeliads, and the sound of hummingbirds that echoes through it.
Nowadays, the world jungle refers to Hollywood depictions of such regions: King Kong, Indiana Jones, Tarzan… depending on your interest. Essentially, a jungle is a secondary forest by definition. It is rich in thick undergrowth that prevails over the canopy once it gets disarranged. Jungles are typically well-lit, which enables fast growth of plants below.
Where to Begin?
Panama hosts a majority of rainforests that are easily accessible. Even if you find accommodation in Panama City, the urban part of the country, you can enjoy the tropical forest in the Parque Metropolitano, located in the city’s territory. A walk along the short trails early in the morning can provide you with a view of agoutis and coatis wandering about the undergrowth, or sloths sleeping on branches, or a group of multicolored birds fluttering among the treetops. The scenery is likely to provoke you to go out and explore a vast rainforest, which takes only an hour’s drive to reach, in the national park that borders the worldwide famous canal of Panama. Day-trips are offered to those who are visiting the tropics for the first time in order to provide them with a possibility to view the scenery and the sounds of the rainforest, without having to give up the comfort of the city.
The Most Prominent Rainforests Outside of Panama City
Parque Nacional Soberanía represents the most attractive destination. It offers numerous hiking trails through the luxuriant tropical forest. The most popular one is the Camino de Oleoducto (Pipeline Trail), which is perfect for observing birds. You can reach it from Panama City by public transport and walk along the flat gravel trail by yourself, while being on the lookout for exotic birds such as toucans and trogons, and monkeys jumping around in the canopy. However, you are more likely to see interesting creatures if you are accompanied by a guide. Whichever way you choose to go, you ought to have a pair of binoculars on hand, as it will facilitate the process.
Rough Guides collaborates with an established guide firm in Panama and can plan hikes in Soberanía that last for a few days and are led by bilingual naturalist guides. The most popular one is the Camino de Cruces, one of the old mule trails of the Spanish Conquistadors that leads across the isthmus, which goes through the park. This is the ideal choice for a history aficionado, and if you are a person who likes to wander through undergrowth and mud at the same time, such a rainforest tour will fascinate you.
The Water Forest
The most accessible water forest of Panama occupies the Western Highlands, with the prominent town of Boquete, famous for its flowery scenery and manufacturing coffee, that provides numerous comfortable lodgings. Settled in a valley skirted by wooded mountains and overlooked by Volcán Barú, the highest peak in Panama, it represents the introduction to the most popular trail in Panama — the Sendero de los Quetzales.
This brilliant day-hike leads you through the fascinating water forest. During the season, which lasts from January through April, there is the possibility of seeing a dazzling quetzal. Moreover, you have increased odds of sighting the bird after which the trail has been named if you go on a tour led by a local guide. In order to be captivated by even more secluded places, visit the beautiful resorts on the other side of the volcano at Los Quetzales and Mount Totumas.
The Darién rainforest covers almost 6,000 square kilometers, so it comes as no surprise that it is reputable for its size. It comprises the greatest national park of the region and shows for colossal cathedrals of the main forest, as well as rocky mountains rich in vegetation intertwined with meandering rivers and brimming with wildlife. However, the Darién is famous for its astounding biodiversity as well as for its reputation. The tropical wilderness of the mountains bears the name Darién Gap. It extends across the border between Panama and Colombia, which is why it is almost impossible to traverse the area from Central to South America by land.
It provides a home for guerrilla fighters, paramilitaries, as well as people — narco-traffickers included. The Darién has been considered a dangerous area that should be avoided for years because of that. The basic government bunkhouse located inside the park, at Rancho Frío, is the single exception to this rule.
Is the Region Safe to Visit?
In spite of the strange outbreaks in other places, Rancho Frío is generally safe to visit. However, if you decide to explore it, you will need to be guided, so that you can be warned about possibly unfavorable security developments, and be provided with the relevant permits.
Information You Need to Obtain Prior to Visiting the Darién
In order to visit Rancho Frío, you will only need to be moderately physically prepared. Nevertheless, preparations that include a mosquito net, insect repellent, sun hat, sun cream, and solid footwear, among other things, are essential. Additionally, bear in mind that a trip to the Darién will cost you, since the prices of transport by both river and road are considerably high. Planning in advance and being with a trustworthy guide who knows the area is highly important. You can contact Rough Guides in order to plan a trip led by reliable local guides.