12 Ways To Enjoy Ecotourism in Panama on Your Next Trip
While Costa Rica, Panama’s neighbour, is one of the best-known ecotourism destinations in the world, Panama has nothing to envy about Costa Rica. Panamanians sometimes say: En Costa Rica vas a ver a diez turistas viendo un pájaro, en Panamá vas a ver a diez pájaros viendo a un turista (In Costa Rica you’ll see ten tourists looking at a bird, in Panama you’ll see ten birds looking at a tourist.)
In this post we’ll learn all about the many different places that Panama has to offer to its visitors, from national parks hosting all kinds of different birds, to paradisiac surfing spots, places in which to camp, and much more. If you’re ready to keep scrolling down and discover Panama with me, get comfortable and let’s get going!
What Is Ecotourism?
Before we dive in, let’s check out what ecotourism is. The definition of ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.”
The prefix eco comes from Greek oikos which means “home.” This has to do with the fact that the Earth is our home and we must take care of it, being careful about keeping it clean and leaving everything just the way we found it, or even better.
The fact that Panama is a perfect destination to practice ecotourism means that, besides seeing the Panama City tourist attractions, or the Panama Canal tourist attractions (which are not practicing ecotourism) you’ll get to experience Panama’s nature, national parks, surfing spots, and places which won’t enlarge your carbon footprint.
1. Search for the Lost Waterfalls in Boquete
Boquete is a district in Western Panama, in the Chiriquí province, and its main difference with the rest of Panama is that it is not as hot, in fact, it has a temperate climate. The Boquete district is 300 mi (482 km) from Panama City, and it is a 6 hour car ride.
This makes it perfect to start off your ecotourism adventure. For 3.50 USD you’ll access the park and take El sendero de las cataratas escondidas (The pipeline path) and you’ll be able to stun yourself with the hidden beauties that La Suiza panameña (The Panamanian Switzerland) has to offer.
This adventure is great because it can take you as little as two hours or as long as half a day getting to know this beautiful place, which the average tourist doesn’t know well.
2. Go Surfing in Playa Venao
Panama offers around 1,500 mi (2,400 km) of coast line, with a very little separation between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. It is one of the few countries in the world in which you can visit (or surf on) both oceans on the same day!
One of the best places to surf is Playa Venao (Venao Beach) southwest of Pedasí in the province of Los Santos. Playa Venao is 223 mi (359 km) away from Panama City and it is a surfer’s dream!
This paradisiac beach offers a serene scene of the Pacific Ocean and it lets you surf with trial and error, since it offers great sandy bottoms in case a wave throws you off your board!
3. Go Bird Watching Anywhere in Panama!
Doing ecotourism in Panama and not going bird watching would be considered a major fail! This is because Panama is one of the richest spots in the world regarding wildlife, and especially birds.
Panama is home to more than 1,000 different species of birds including:
|Glow-throated hummingbird||el colibrí ardiente|
|Stripe-cheeked woodpecker||el carpintero panameño|
|Beautiful treerunner||el sube palo bonito|
|Panamanian tyrannulet||el orejero verdiamarillo|
|Black-eared warbler||la reinita orejinegra|
|Yellow-green burshfinch||el cerquero verdiamarillo|
|Coiba spinetail||el curutié coiba|
|Masked duck||la malvasía enmascarada|
|Great curassow||el pavón norteño|
|Crested bobwhite||el colín gorgiblanco|
|Sooty shearwater||la pardela sombría|
|Markham’s storm petrel||el paiño de Markham|
|Roseate spoonbill||la espátula rosada|
|Osprey||el águila pescadora|
Panama counts 1,001 different species of birds. Mankind introduced three of them, 160 are rare or accidental and 27 are, sadly, endangered species. You can find all of this in the 29,119-square-mile (75,417-square-kilometer) country!
FUN FACT: In Panama, you can find El Quetzal (The Quetzal)—the Guatemalan national bird.
4. Meet the Indigenous Tribe Emberá
Around 12.3% of 4,379,000 Panamanians are indigenous. The Embera tribe is not exclusive to Panama, since you can find more emberás in Colombia and Ecuador.
The Emberá tribe lived in the Darien (in Eastern Panama) up until the 1990s, but afterwards they migrated to the banks of the Chagres River and established the Parara Puru, a village in which they live and demonstrate its visitors the Emberá lifestyle.
The Emberá lifestyle is peculiar since they live off horticulture, fishing and hunting (some of them with cerbatanas (blowguns.) You won’t need a long time to arrive at Parara Puru, since it’s a one-hour drive from Panama City, which is 21 mi (35 km) away.
5. Visit the Darién National Park
If you’re going to do ecotourism in Panama, El Parque Nacional Darién (Darién National Park) is a must! This is the biggest protected area, not only in Panama but in Central America and the Caribbean. The Panamanian government created this in 1980 and one year later, UNESCO declared it World Heritage thanks to the outstanding amount of environments that the park hosts.
On its 560,000 ha. that represent 33.6% of the Darién province, you can find sandy beaches,swamps, mangroves, tropical forests and rocky coasts, as well as two indigenous tribes that inhabit the place, jaguares (jaguars) and el águila arpía (Harpy eagle.)
The most interesting part about the Darién national park is that it is the land-bridge that connects Central and South America, since the Panamanian and Colombian borders meet there. 175 mi (282 km) separate Panama City from Yaviza—the last town with an official highway in Panama, and a place to enter the Darién national park.
FUN FACT: The Darien National Park is responsible for interrupting the longest highway in the world, the Panamerican Highway.
6. Check Out the Bocas Del Toro Archipelago
Whenever you think about paradise in the Caribbean, places such as Cuba, Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico might come to mind, but Panama also has its fair share on the Caribbean Sea in places like Bocas del Toro.
In North Eastern Panama, 382 mi (615 km) away from Panama City, almost bordering Costa Rica you will find the Bocas del Toro Archipelago. In Bocas del Toro you will enjoy local nature. This rich place lets you lay down on its beaches and take a sunbath, surf, snorkel or even dive to find 95% of the Caribbean coral species! You’ll also be able to do a bioluminescent tour or explore the Nívida bat cave!
7. Spend a Night in Colón Island
390 mi (630 km) away from Panama City, in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago, you’ll find the biggest island in Boca del Toro, la isla Colón (Colón island). In this island you’ll find the main town and the center of the province, which is the place with the most civilization around.
That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a perfect place to do some ecotourism in Panama, because it is. Colón island has Playa Estrella de Mar (Starfish beach) in which you will find real life starfish (but don’t touch them) and taste afro-panamanian food as well. Here you can also visit three other nice beaches:
- Boca del Drago – Boca del Drago
- Turtle Beach – Playa Tortuga
- Bluff Beach – Playa Bluff
These places are great to surf, enjoy the sun and relax. Playa Tortuga is also perfect for learning about the conservation of wild sea turtles in the area.
8. Explore the Altos de Campana National Park
43 miles (70 km) away from Panama City, lies El parque nacional Altos de Campana, Panama’s oldest national park, which the Panamanian government established in 1966. While its size (4,816 ha.) is not amazing, all the things you can find there are!
The lowest point on this protected area is 1,312 feet above sea level (400 meters above sea level) and the highest, in cerro campana (literally Bell Hill) is 3,379 feet above sea level (1,030 meters above sea level.) Here you’ll get amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and on very clear days, you’ll see La Isla Taboga (Taboga island.)
In Altos de Campana you’ll find about 260 different species of birds, including three different and rare types of hummingbirds:
- green-breasted mango – el colibrí pechiverde
- white-tipped sicklebill – el colibrí pico de hoz
- bronze-tailed plumeleteer – el colibrí patirrojo
You’ll also find 39 species of mammals which include:
- nasua – el coatí
- pale-throated sloth – el perezoso de tres dedos
- geoffroy’s tamarin – el mono tamarino de geoffroy
Additionally, you’ll find 62 different types of amphibians and 86 different kinds of reptiles, including La rana dorada de Panamá (the Panamanian golden frog), which is a critically endangered species.
9. Catch Sight of Guna Yala
Guna Yala is a comarca indígena (indigenous province) that had the name San Blas up until 1988 in Northeastern Panama, in the Darién Province. Guna Yala is an archipelago that has as many islands as there are days in a year. The Guna tribe inhabits 36 of these in the Caribbean Sea.
You can visit the capital of the comarca Guna Yala, Gaigirgordub, or any of the other 35 islands in which you’ll be able to interact with the Guna tribe and buy some handcrafts that they make to sell. The Guna tribe have some costumes that, if you’re lucky and they let you in, you’ll be able to see:
- Festival of the nose piercing – Ico inna
- Ceremony of the haircut – Ilegued e Inna Suit
- Initiation Festival – Inna Mutikid
10. Fly To Coiba National Park
El parque nacional Coiba (Coiba National Park) is Panama’s largest island with 194 sq mi (503 sq km) and it is a 25-minute flight away from Panama City, in SouthWest Panama.
UNESCO declared this a World Heritage site in 2005 and it is definitely worth visiting. This is because, just like the rest of the places in which to do ecotourism in Panama, there is high biodiversity. Panamanians have counted 1,450 different plant species, including the famous Panamá (Panama tree), and alongside with the Spanish Cooperation Agency, Panamanians have found in the park:
- 36 mammal species
- 147 bird species
- 39 amphibian and reptile species
Coiba is, also, the only place in Panama in which you can find flocks of the almost extinct Guacamayas bandera (Scarlet macaws) flying freely.
Into the bargain you can find several marine species such as:
|Atlantic bottlenose dolphin||el delfín mular|
|giant oceanic manta ray||la manta gigante|
|humpback whale||la ballena jorobada|
|killer whale||la ballena asesina|
|Pantropical spotted dolphin||el delfín moteado tropical|
|tiger shark||el tiburón tigre|
|whale shark||el tiburón ballena|
|yellowfin tuna||el atún de aleta amarilla|
11. Stop By Gamboa
Gamboa features on our Panama tourist attractions list because it is a great place to do ecotourism in Panama without having to travel too far. Gamboa is a town 20 mi (32 km) from Panama City and it is also a key point since it is the place where the Chagres River and the Gatún Lake meet, the two bodies of water that make up the Panama Canal.
In Gamboa, you can check out the Parque Municipal Summit (Summit Municipal Park) in which you can spot Panama’s national bird, el águila arpía (Harpy Eagle), el parque nacional soberanía (Soberanía national park)—in which you can find more than 500 different species of birds and 105 species of mammals.
When visiting Gamboa, if you’re looking for one of Panama’s ecotourism resorts you can spend a night in Gamboa Rainforest Resort.
12. Look For an Adventure in La Amistad International Park
El parque internacional La Amistad (La Amistad International Park) is one of Panama’s 18 national parks and a relatively undiscovered Panama ecotourism destination. This is because it is a difficult place to access.
La Amistad is a 401,000 ha. park—207,000 of which are in Panama, and the rest in Costa Rica. It extends over the provinces of Boca del Toro, Chiriquí, and the indigenous province of Tjër Di. UNESCO declared this place as a world heritage site in 1983.
From here you can visit the Barú volcano in Panama and the Talamanca mountain range, besides spotting jaguars, cougars, ocelots, sloths, monkeys, and many more other animals and 550 species of birds in the Panamanian side of it.
FUN FACT: PILA are the initials of the park, but the word pila also means “pile” in Spanish.
Learn Some Spanish Before Enjoying Panama
No wonder a lot of people want to visit Panama, it’s just a breathtaking place! While Panamanians don’t struggle so much with English in Panama City, the best way to explore the Panama tourist attractions is by speaking Spanish!
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