Mention Panama and the first thing that once came to our minds was the Panama Canal, the Pacific-Caribbean channel
that took 250,000 workers to construct.
Now, however, our first thought of Panama is nature. From monkeys
to sloth, toucans to crocodiles, this land is an environmental
wonderland thats less discovered than neighboring Costa
Rainforest Resort was our luxurious home for our Panamanian
the sun rose, we headed off on our first excursion into
white-faced capuchin monkeys are the most visible inhabitants
of Monkey Island.
Gamboa Aerial Tram takes visitors high above the jungle
canopy for a bird's eye view of the region.
Our home base for
our trip was Gamboa
Rainforest Resort, a 340-acre spread in Soberania National
Park and located beside the Panama Canal. For the next four days,
it became a luxurious base from which we explored the surrounding
We arrived in Panama City at 9:40pm after a flight from Miami,
met by Robert, a driver from Gamboa Tours. It was an easy 45-minute
ride out to the resort. And, although we both love practicing
our (all-too-limited) Spanish, it was a relief at such a late
hour to find that not only our driver but the front desk employees
(and, in fact, everyone we would later meet at the resort) spoke
We were in Panama as part of a group of five journalists; because
of our air connections from Texas, though, we were arriving a
day before the others. That meant we had the following morning
free, time to explore the resort, enjoy the spa, and cool off
in the expansive pool.
Soon it was time to get to work, though; when the other journalists
arrived, we were off on a tour of the resort including some buildings
dating built as housing for civilian workers during the construction
of the canal. Today those buildings have been transformed into
villas, favored by families as well as couples who want a home-away-from-home
That evening, we headed off on a pontoon boat for cocktails and
hors doeuvres as the boat captain scanned the waters
edge looking for eyes in the darkness. Soon he spotted a caiman,
like a slightly smaller crocodile cousin, lying low in the water.
That was just a preview of what awaited us the next day on a three-hour
nature cruise and hike. Leaving just as the sun was peeking up
at 6:30am, we were soon out on the lake and headed for the more
remote areas of the Panama Canal. This was the biggest surprise
of the trip: that you can be in one of the worlds busiest
waterways and, with a detour down a quiet inlet, suddenly be deep
in a wildlife-filled jungle.
For the next three hours, our expert guide, Nodiel, led the group
on both a water and land safari, pointing out two- and three-toed
sloth, howler monkeys, toucans, and parrots. We hiked up to the
ruins of a radio tower operated during the US military days, a
concrete building now being overtaken by the jungle.
Soon we headed out
for Monkey Island, where a family of white-faced capuchin monkeys
reside (and were anticipating our arrival, or more importantly,
the arrival of our bananas.) From our boat, our guide tossed the
tiny monkeys a few bananas then they went back on their way.
On the cruise back to the resort, we learned an important lesson:
into every rainforest, a little (or a lot of) rain must fall.
After our wet trip back, we quickly changed clothes and soon headed
off for the next leg of our day: lunch above crocodile-infested
waters at the resorts Los Lagartos restaurant.
Los Lagartos means the alligators but the toothy residents
of the surrounding waters are actually crocodiles. They lazily
float just below the decks of this open-air restaurant where we
enjoyed delicious pumpkin soup and Panamanian-inspired dishes.
Reenergized by our meal, we were soon off to the Gamboa Aerial
Tram, a quiet ride high in the jungle canopy, just us, another
two journalists and Carlos, an expert birder who pointed out both
feathered and furry species along the way. At the top of the tram
ride, we disembarked and climbed a 10-story tower (all with gently
sloping ramps) for a birds eye view of the jungle and the
That night, our group enjoyed a private dinner in the resorts
Capibara Disco, designed to look like the interior of a cave.
(Its a subterranean look so convincing that one year the
producers of Lost our favorite TV show opted to
host the Latin American launch of the show here, with star Dominic
Monaghan on hand to promote the series.)
on page 2 Through
the Panama Canal and Into the Rainforest