The main obstacle to travelling Panama’s rainforest national parks is a lack of infrastructure; Costa Rica’s are much more developed, with well-marked trails, maps, and tourist information available. This can be frustrating for visitors, but the upside is that if you do manage to get into the forest, you may have it all to yourself.
Do you know the difference between a tropical rainforest, cloud forest, and jungle?
Tropical rainforests are defined as forests that receive more than 2,000mm of rainfall each year, which is where Panama is located. The forest has a canopy layer 30 meters above the ground that drips with hanging vines and lianas. Cloud forests (also known as high montane forests) are characterized by their drooping foggy canopies and lush greenery, which teem with hummingbirds.
Nowadays, the word ‘jungle’ immediately makes people think of Hollywood movies that are full of adventure and danger. classics like Tarzan, Indiana Jones,and King Kong come to mind. Usually, when we say jungle, we’re referring to a secondary forest where the Undergrowth is so dense that it takes over once the Forest canopy has been disturbed. When there’s more light exposure below, it causes plants to grow rapidly.
Where do I start?
Panama is home to some of the world’s most accesible rainforests. Even if you stay in Panama City, where skyscrapers dominate the skyline, you can still get a taste of tropical forest within the city limits at Parque Metropolitano. If you take a walk along the trails early in the morning, you might see coatis and agoutis foraging on the ground or sloths wrapped around branches high up in trees.
You’re also likely to spot an array of colourful birds flying among treetops. This should pique your interest in visiting more extensive rainforest only an hour’s drive away, in the national parks that surround Panama’s famous canal. Several companies provide day excursions to allow even those who are unfamiliar with the tropics to soak up the sounds and sights of the jungle without giving up modern comforts.
What are the most beautiful tropical rainforests to visit in Panama City?
Parque Nacional Soberanía is the top vacation spot, sporting various hiking trails through flourishing tropical forests, particularly the praised Camino de Oleoducto (Pipeline Trail) for bird enthusiasts. Accessible by public transport from Panama City, anyone can meander along this low-lying gravel path independently and take in views of uncommon birds like trogons and toucans or monkeys playing around in the trees above; although you may catch more sight with a guide. In any case, having a set of binoculars will make spotting easier.
Rough Guides partners with a local, reputable guide company to offer several-day hikes in Soberanía National Park, led by bilingual naturalist guides. The Camino de Cruces is one of the old mule trails used by Spanish Conquistadors across the Panama isthmus—a great choice if you’re interested in history. This hike includes rainforest adventure activities such as hacking through undergrowth and slithering through mud.
Cloud forests are a thing, and they’re amazing!
The Western Highlands of Panama are home to the country’s most easily accessible cloud forest, and the main access point is Boquete. This lovely town, known for its abundant flowers and coffee production, offers visitors plenty of comfortable lodgings from which to explore all that this beautiful area has to offer. Surrounded by forested mountains and presided over by Volcán Barú – Panama’s highest peak – Boquete is also the gateway to Panama’s most famous trail: Sendero de los Quetzales.
With a local guide, you’re able to hike through the magical cloud forest and possibly see the emerald resplendent quetzal. If you go during January-April, you have an even higher chance of seeing it! For more immersion and seclusion, look into amazing retreats on Mount Totumas.
What about the Darién?
The Darién rainforest is huge, covering almost 6,000 square kilometers. The Darién rainforest, which extends over nearly 6,000 square kilometers and boasts the country’s largest national park, includes towering cathedrals of primary forest as well as rocky mountains covered with dense vegetation that twists along sinuous rivers and teeming with life.
However, the Darién is known not just for its biodiversity but also for its notoriety. The Darién Gap is a mountainous tropical wilderness that runs along the border between Panama and Colombia, making it almost impossible to traverse from Central to South America by land. For many years, the Darién has been known as a no-go zone due to its guerrilla fighters, paramilitary organizations, drug- and people-traffickers. The basic government bunkhouse at Rancho Frío, which is just within the park, is an exception.
Is it too dangerous to visit?
It’s not really dangerous to stay at Rancho Frío, though you must go with a guide or tour operator who will notify you of any potential security threats and assist you arrange the required permissions.
What should I do before heading to Darién?
Although you don’t need to be super fit to visit Rancho Frío, you should come prepared with the essentials like insect repellent, mosquito netting, sunscreen, a sun hat, and sturdy shoes. Also keep in mind that visiting the Darién is not cheap since transportation costs can add up quickly. It’s best to plan ahead and travel with a reputable guide who knows the area well. Here at Rough Guides we can help you plan your trip and pair you up with one of our amazing local guides.