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Tropical environments and ecosystems are extremely diverse in comparison to their temperate counterparts. Panama encompasses many distinct biomes and ecosystems, teeming with plant and animal life. Location, elevation, and climate influence these environments and the plants and animals within, all part of an intricate and delicate web of interactions. When you first step into a tropical forest, you may be overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells around you. From the towering canopy above to the soil beneath your feet, there is life lurking in every nook and cranny.
The Canopy Family and Naturalist Journeys are excited to offer a special Tropical Rainforest Biodiversity workshop, featuring guest scientists Dr. Howard Topoff and Dr. Carol Simon, both formerly of the City University of New York and the American Museum of Natural History. For more than ten years they have brought their expertise on tropical environments and biodiversity to us for this event! We spend our time exploring the forests in search of birds, mammals, frogs, insects, and fascinating trees and plants, and almost every day there is an informative and entertaining presentation on a wide variety of tropical biodiversity topics. Lodging is at the world-famous Canopy Tower, surrounded by the lowland tropical forests of Soberania National Park, and the Canopy Lodge, in the picturesque foothills of El Valle de Antón, both perfect locations for exploring tropical ecosystems.
- Enjoy time at the Canopy Lodge, with cool mountain breezes and incredible birds on feeders and trails
- Learn about the herps that live in Panama's forests during a presentation by guide Carol Simon called “Poisonous Reptiles and Amphibians of the Rain Forest”
- Visit Cerro Gaital to learn more about the butterflies of the region, from the large Blue Morpho to the pretty little Passion Vine butterflies
- See Red-lored Parrot, Keel-billed Toucan, and Palm and Golden-hooded Tanagers right from Canopy Tower
- Watch Geoffroy’s Tamarin, Mantled Howler, and Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth in the surrounding forests
- Search for Broad-billed Motmot, White-whiskered Puffbird, Gartered Trogon, South American Common Toad, Northern Tamandua, and more along Plantation Road
- Spend time at the Summit Botanical Gardens, which houses more than 100 non-releasable animals—a great way to study many species difficult to see in the wild
- Walk the famous Pipeline Road, which boasts over 500 species of birds, as well as hundreds of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, and even more insects and trees and plants
- Visit the BioMuseo along the Amador Causeway in Panama City, and explore its several halls that focus on the biodiversity of the isthmus of Panama
- Explore by boat on Gatun Lake, looking for Lesser Capybara, West Indian Manatee, and more
- Enjoy an afternoon at the Panama Canal, learning its history and watching cargo ships go through the locks
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Wed., Sept. 27 : Arrivals | Canopy Lodge
Welcome to your Introduction to Tropical Biodiversity tour! You are met at the airport and transferred to the Canopy Lodge, a three hour drive from Panama City. The shuttle to the Lodge leaves no later than 2:30 PM, so please plan your arrivals accordingly. It is recommended that you arrive the day before and stay at an airport hotel. You don’t want to miss anything!
Upon arrival at the lovely Canopy Lodge you can check into your room and enjoy the comfortable el Valle location. Here we are greeted by our Canopy guide. Just outside your bedroom window, the cloud forest beckons. Birds abound and Basilisk (Jesus Christ) Lizards, sitting on rocks in the stream, can be seen with a little patience, running across the water. Dinner is served on the veranda, as are all meals. If time permits, your guest scientists present their first multi-media presentation. If not, there will be lots of time to hear it later.
Presentations are geared towards the interests of the participants and have included an introduction to the rain forest, butterflies, social insects, tropical plants, reptiles and amphibians, bird brains, tropical primates, animal coloration, the Panama Canal, and more. These talks are always a highlight of the workshop.
Accommodations at Canopy Lodge (D)
Thurs., Sept. 28 : La Mesa & Las Minas Road | Canopy Adventure | Cara Iguana Road | Mario Urriola’s Reptile & Conservation Facility
This morning early risers can enjoy checking out the feeders that are positioned near the outdoor dining area. There is an abundance of hummingbirds including Long-billed Starthroat, Violet-headed and Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteers, and Garden Emerald. Black-throated Mango feed at the verbena in the gardens as well. Thick-billed Euphonia, Dusky-face and Flame-rumped Tanagers, Rufous Motmot, Gray-headed Chachalaca, and many others are commonly found at the banana feeders. Central American Agouti also forage in the garden.
After breakfast, we continue our biodiversity tour along several roads, searching mainly for birds, insects, and plants. Las Minas Road follows a ridge line, with sweeping vistas of forested mountains, speckled with grasslands and small fincas (farms). The views from the higher elevations are fantastic, and on a clear day near the summit, both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans can be seen! The road is lined with sensitive Mimosa, a plant that closes up quickly when touched. It is a great place to see some of the most beautiful tanagers, including Black-and-yellow, Bay-headed, and Emerald, as well as many other birds. It is also a great place for butterflies, as many skippers, satyrs, ticlears, hairstreaks, and clearwings flutter along the roadsides.
Moving to the Canopy Adventure, we spend time in a long-time private refuge adjacent to the Canopy Lodge. A large waterfall is one primary focus here. We can see birds, rain-forest flora, Turnip-tailed Geckos, Water Anoles and Brilliant Forest Frogs. It is simply a lovely walk in a dense tropical forest. We get back in time for lunch at the lodge.
After lunch, we meet again to drive to a nearby area where we are almost always successful in getting great views of Spectacled Owl. Next, we head out to meet Mario Urriola, a native of El Valle who has extensive experience and knowledge about the reptiles of the area. Mario is the owner of “El Serpentario Maravillas Tropicales,” a reptile facility in El Valle, which houses various species of snakes and lizards that can be found in the area. Up-close looks at some of these difficult-to-find creatures is paired with an informative narrative about local species. Mario is an important figure in the area for both education and conservation. Carol also has a strong interest in reptiles and amphibians and tonight’s presentation focuses on poisonous amphibians and venomous reptiles.
Accommodations at Canopy Lodge (B,L,D)
Fri., Sept. 29 : Full Day at Altos del Maria
Departing after an early breakfast, we’re off into the highlands of Altos del Maria! With the sunrise ahead of us, we climb into the mountains along the Continental Divide east of El Valle. Often engulfed by the mist of the expansive cloud forest that surrounds the area, Altos del Maria sits at an altitude of 1,100 meters (3,600 feet). Today we can find highland forest birds, including Black-crowned and Streak-chested Antpittas, White Hawk, Barred Forest-Falcon, Northern Emerald and Yellow-eared Toucanets, Spotted Barbtail, Tufted and Sulphur-rumped Flycatchers, Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, Orange-bellied Trogon, and the tiny yet stunning Snowcap. We hope to see a tiny Western Pygmy Squirrel working away in the treetops. Plants can’t be ignored and this is a good place to see the large white Sobralia orchids.
Carol’s favorite walk is here, on a paved path along a narrow, riparian canyon. The stream here was the last place that Panamanian Golden Frogs were seen in the wild. After a picnic lunch, we return back to the Canopy Lodge by mid-afternoon. It should be a good evening for one of our presentations during cocktail hour.
Accommodations at Canopy Lodge (B,L,D)
Sat., Sept. 30 : Butterflies & Natural History Of Cerro Gaital | Artisan & Fruit Market | El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center
This morning, while birding (there is always a Canopy bird guide with us) and searching for other animals in the forest, such as the deep forest Dunn’s Spiny Lizard, we take a close look at the fascinating world of butterflies and insects in Central America. The biodiversity of butterflies (and moths, their nocturnal counterparts) is incredible in tropical regions around the world, and Panama alone has over 1500 species! From the beautiful metallic blue of the large Blue Morpho, to the pretty little Passion Vine butterflies (Heliconius spp.), tropical butterflies always capture the attention. We look for such eye-catching species as Mimosa Yellows, Deep-blue Eyed-Metalmarks, Sara Longwings, Orange Mapwings, Togarna Hairstreaks, Puerta Satyrs, Common Ur-Satyrs, Red-headed Firetips, and the crepuscular Yellow-bordered and Giant Owl-Butterflies roosting along the trails. Insight into the lives of butterflies—their life cycles, how they eat and various methods to evade predation—are just a few of the interesting topics we explore! This is Howard’s favorite local area. We head back to the Lodge for lunch.
This afternoon, first we visit the local amphibian conservation center. Here we see captive Panamanian Golden Frogs; they no longer exist in the wild. An informal, informative presentation is given by one of the owners and we have the opportunity to see some other species of frogs that would be difficult to find in the field.
We also visit the artisan and fruit market in the heart of El Valle de Anton. The market is run by Panamanian artisans from Guna Yala and sells beautiful “molas”—traditional handmade panels sewn by combining layers of fabric and showing geometric and animal designs—as well as hand-painted wooden decorations, paintings, and jewelry. The market in El Valle is very colorful, and a great place to take photos and purchase souvenirs.
We return in time for our evening presentation at the cocktail hour. Perhaps the butterfly talk is a good one for tonight.
Accommodations at Canopy Lodge (B,L,D)
Sun., Oct. 1 : Transfer To Canopy Tower | Visit To Biomuseo
Today we transfer to the Canopy Tower, about two and half hours from the Lodge. Situated in the lush lowland rain forests along the Panama Canal, the Tower is a very different and unique setting. One of the first things you should do is to make your way up to the observation deck overlooking the vast forest canopy of Soberania National Park. You can see glimpses of the Panama Canal plus Panama City. You can also view many stunning tropical birds, mammals, and reptiles. It is common to see Geoffroy’s Tamarins, Mantled Howlers, Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths, and Green Iguanas in the rainforest canopy here. Green-and-Black Dart Poison Frogs are just outside the front doors of the Tower, along with Turnip-tailed Geckos. Tungara Frogs call loudly here and you can often find their foam nests nearby. It is an exciting place to stay.
Today we also visit the BioMuseo, either before we reach the Tower or as an afternoon excursion from the Tower. The stunning BioMuseo is along the Amador Causeway in Panama City. This spectacular and unique building, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, features several halls focusing on the biodiversity of the isthmus of Panama—from its geological beginnings through to modern day culture, the great faunal interchange over the land bridge, and other fascinating exhibits. Our visit no doubt opens our eyes further to the incredible biodiversity of Panama! And don’t forget your binoculars, as we may see Brown Pelican and Magnificent Frigatebird flying over the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal.
Accommodations at Canopy Tower (B,L,D)
Mon., Oct. 2 : Plantation Road | Summit Gardens & Harpy Eagle Exhibit | Night Walk
As we awaken to the roars of Mantled Howlers in the distance, breathe in the fresh air, and make our way up to the observation deck at dawn. This is the best time of day to observe the canopy, both for the beautiful sunrise and for the bird activity. With warm coffee or tea in hand, we watch for Red-lored and Mealy Parrots, Keel-billed Toucan, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Masked Tityra, Green Honeycreeper, Green Shrike-Vireo, and dozens of other species as they actively communicate and feed in the treetops. After breakfast, we board one of the Canopy Tower’s specialized nature-watching vehicles and head slowly down Semaphore Hill Road, scanning the understory of the forest for animals like Central American Agouti and White-nosed Coati. This morning we take a walk along Plantation Road, one of the trails of Soberania National Park. The Canopy Tower is surrounded by 22,000 hectares of lowland tropical rainforest of Soberania National Park, adjacent to the Panama Canal and mighty Chagres River. It is the perfect setting for our first morning in the lowland rain forest. Walking through the forest with its towering giants (Ceiba and Cuipo trees), we spend the morning searching for animals from tiny leafcutter ants on the ground to large raptors in the treetops. Broad-billed Motmot, White-whiskered Puffbird, Gartered Trogon, South American Common Toads, Northern Tamanduas, and so much more can be found along this trail. The rainforest is so full of life! After our morning walk we return to the Canopy Tower in time for lunch.
This afternoon we visit the Summit Municipal Park and Botanical Gardens. We can find free-roaming Central American Agoutis, Central American Ameivas, Laughing Falcon, Tropical Mockingbird, Crimson-backed Tanager, and hundreds of other species of birds. We also visit some of the enclosures housing Panama’s native fauna. In the 1960s, Summit Botanical Gardens started receiving injured and non-releasable animals from all over Panama. Now, this facility houses over 100 animals including macaws, spider monkeys, tapirs, jaguars, pumas and Panama’s national bird, the Harpy Eagle. We make a stop to visit a non-releasable Harpy Eagle living at this wildlife refuge. It is a great opportunity to see some species that are rather difficult to encounter in the wild in Panama.
Back at the Canopy Tower, we meet at the cocktail hour for Howard and Carol’s early evening presentation. For dinner we can expect an enjoyable blend of Panamanian and international fare!
After dinner we take a short night excursion, riding in one of the open vehicles. We may also walk bit. We listen for owls and potoos and scan the trees with a spotlight for Western Night Monkeys, Kinkajous, Olingos, and other nocturnal wildlife. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, we reschedule for another evening.
Accommodations at Canopy Tower (B,L,D)
Tues., Oct. 3 : Pipeline Road | Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal
After some time on the observation deck, head down to a hot breakfast at the Canopy Tower’s third floor dining room, surrounded by the forest canopy just outside the open windows. We board our vehicle once again and head out to the world-famous Pipeline Road—once an access road built during WWII to serve a pipeline installed as a precautionary measure for the Panama Canal. Surrounded by mature secondary lowland forest and protected within the boundaries of Soberania National Park, Pipeline Road boasts incredible biodiversity—over 500 species of birds have been recorded in these Caribbean slope forests, as well as hundreds of mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and even more insects and trees and other plants. As we walk the first part of the gravel road, we watch for five species of trogon, Whooping and Rufous Motmots, Cinnamon and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, three species of manakin, hummingbirds, raptors, peccaries, lizards, frogs, butterflies, insects, and more. It is hard to decide whether to look up or down! We hope to come across a swarm of army ants, where many species of birds attend the feeding frenzy. Howard is an army ant specialist, and we can look forward to his very entertaining talk on social insects. Central American Whiptails and Striped Rocket Frogs may be seen along the road. Our list from the morning alone will no doubt be extensive! After a full morning in this superb forest, we make our way back to lunch at the Tower.
The Panama Canal is nearby, and not be missed. After lunch, we head for the Miraflores Locks. The entire canal is an engineering marvel, truly one of the wonders of the modern world. The Miraflores Locks are the first set of locks on the Pacific side of the canal. They operate 24 hours a day and have changed very little since 1914 when the Panama Canal opened. Today over 14,000 ships and boats pass through the Canal annually. At the Miraflores Visitor Center we visit the four-floor museum and watch a large container ship or two pass through the locks from an observation deck.
We return to the Tower in time for a presentation at the cocktail hour, as is our custom.
Accommodations at Canopy Tower (B,L,D)
Wed., Oct. 4 : Jungle Boat Tour | Chagres River & Gamboa Resort Grounds
As always, you can enjoy early morning hours on the observation deck where there is always be a bird guide with a scope. After breakfast, we board a small, covered boat for a spectacular tour on the Panama Canal. Most of the Canal is actually an artificial lake, Gatun Lake, and our tour takes us from Gamboa—just 15 minutes from the Canopy Tower—to the edges and inlets of this large lake. We start our tour by exploring the edges of the mighty Chagres River, where Common and Purple Gallinules, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Amazon Kingfisher, and Spectacled Caiman may be found. Along the way to Gatun Lake along the Panama Canal we pass huge cargo ships and ocean liners; American Crocodile may be seen basking along the beaches and we should spot Common Basilisk, also known as Jesus Christ Lizards for their ability to run across the water. We visit hidden coves and beautiful inlets with fascinating fauna and flora, and search for White-faced Capuchins, Mantled Howlers, and Proboscis Bats along the water’s edge.
The Chagres River is the main tributary for the Panama Canal. Here Embera Indian Trails lead from the river, and we often see individuals fishing from their canoes. The birding along the banks and forest edges of Gamboa Resort can be spectacular, and so is the tropical vegetation. Here you may be “kissed” by Psychotria, commonly known as Hot Lips. And if you are fond of Panama hats, you will be interested to see the Toquilla Palm, whose leaves are woven to make your hat. There is a butterfly house and the Verbena shrubs around it attract dozens of species of butterflies, including Erato Longwing, Apricot Sulphur, Banded Peacock, and Banded Orange. We may even find some bats, hiding out in the daytime. After a pleasant afternoon we make our way back to Canopy Tower. Here we have a final talk by Carol and Howard at the cocktail hour, followed by our farewell dinner. It all goes by so very quickly!
Accommodations at the Canopy Tower (B,L,D)
Thurs., Oct. 5 : Departures
This morning we can enjoy one more visit to the observation deck before enjoying your morning breakfast. If you begin to assess all we have seen and learned in eight days you should be very pleased indeed!
We are only 45 minutes from the Panama City Airport. We are transported in time for our flights.
One last look around the grounds of the beautiful Canopy Tower stays with us for a very long time! (B)
Cost of the Journey
The cost of this journey is $3350 DBL / $3790 SGL, from Panama City. This all-inclusive rainforest tour includes lodging and meals at the Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge, bilingual professional guides, wine with dinner, group airport transfers to and from Panama City and all tours and presentations as per the itinerary.
This cost does not include flights to and from Panama City, tips and alcoholic beverages (apart from dinner).
Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed.
Arrival: September 27, 2023
Arrival Airport: Tocumen International (PTY)
You may arrive any time before 2:30 PM; the shuttle to the lodge leaves no later than 2:30 PM
Departure: October 5, 2023
Departure Airport: Tocumen International (PTY); please be aware that we are 45 minutes from the airport on the last day
Travel Tips: If your flight comes in late, we suggest you arrive a day early to rest up from your travels. There are three hotels quite close to the international airport, the closest two are the Riande (a bit dated but with gardens and a pool), the Crowne Plaza (newer) with the Courtyard by Marriot a bit farther and by a mall. All of these have a convenient shuttle service. It is about 35 - 40 minutes into the city, pending traffic. If you have time to explore we recommend the Radisson Panama Canal which has rooms with balconies overlooking the entrance to the Canal and is located within walking distance of the Biomuseo museum of biodiversity. Casco Viejo is now a trendy area having been totally refurbished in the last 25 years. There are shops, restuarants, quite a few boutique hotels, the Cathedral, an excellent museum on the Panama Canal, and a terrific view back on the modern city. Another boutique hotel known for its welcoming hospitaliy is the Bristol. The Canal location and Casco Viejo require taking a taxi.
The Canopy Tower and Lodge have set times for transfers to their facilities included with your stay, private transfers can be arranged outside of these times at additional cost. Once we have all of the group member's information on arrivals we can let you know the times and where to meet. They can pick up at airport hotels for these timed shuttles, and for city locations, this would be a private transfer.
Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.
- February 2011
- March 2012
- January 2013
- February 2015
- January 2018
- January 2019
- January 2020
- January 2020
- October 2021
Birds & Mammals
- February 2019
- February 2020
- April 2022
- March 2023
- February 2016
- March 2017
- July 2019
- July 2022
Intro to Biodiversity
Drs. Howard Topoff & Carol Simon
Drs. Howard Topoff and Carol Simon have been study leaders on natural history trips for over 30 years. Both are formerly professors at the City University of New York and Research Associates at the American Museum of Natural History. Howard Topoff has spent 40+ years researching the social behavior of animals. His field research has been conducted in Central and South America, Africa, and in the deserts and mountains of Arizona. In addition to his publications in scientific journals, his more popular articles have appeared in magazines such as Scientific American and Natural History. His research has been featured on National Geographic Television, and Scientific American Frontiers. Carol Simon is broadly trained in ecology, behavior and evolution. Her research on the social behavior of reptiles has taken her to many areas of North and Central America. Her current field research on reptile behavior is based in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona. As an added bonus, Carol and Howard provide multimedia presentations that provide in-depth insights into the natural history of the regions visited.
Other trips with Drs. Howard Topoff & Carol Simon
Essential Information +
This information is important for being prepared for your journey; we want you to have the best experience possible. If you only read one section, this one is key!
Ahead of Your Tour
- Make sure your passport will be valid at least three months after the date of your scheduled return to the U.S. No Visas are required for U.S. citizens for stays less than 180 days in Panama. If you are from another country, please contact the Embassy of Panama’s website for guidelines.
- Please check current CDC recommendations for travel to Panama and consult with your doctor about general travel vaccinations you should have as precaution for travel. See the “Health and Inoculations” section below.
- Travel insurance in case of serious medical emergency is strongly recommended. Full health coverage and repatriation is available through Allianz Travel Insurance, agent number 176098.
- Plan your international flight reservations to arrive at and depart from Tocumen International Airport (PTY) in Panama City. Send a copy of your itinerary to the Naturalist Journeys office please.
- Soft sided luggage/duffel bags are easiest for packing the vans. Pack essential medications in your carry-on luggage, as well as one day of clothing and optics in case of luggage delay.
Arrival into Panama City, Panama (PTY)
Please plan to arrive before well before 2:30 pm to Tocumen International Airport (PTY) in Panama City in order to catch the last shuttle to the Canopy lodge. You may choose to arrive a day early and spend a first night in Panama City. If so, we can recommend hotels.
Upon arrival at the airport, you will pass through immigration and customs and exit to the main terminal area. Your emergency contact sheet will be helpful at Immigration when they ask where you are going.
We will coordinate your pick-ups close to your departure with operators and guides once we have all travelers completed travel information. Please make sure we have both your ARRIVAL and DEPARTURE information, so they can plan this. It is imperative that we have your correct TRAVEL information; we appreciate if you email us a copy of your flight reservation. They will check internet for your updated flight information.
Please check the Travel Details section of this tour for additional information and updates.
Departures from Panama City, Panama (PTY)
Flights can be scheduled after NOON to depart out of Tocumen International Airport (PTY) in Panama City on our final day. We will provide transfers or arrange for taxis to the airport for all departures as needed for the departure day. Whenever possible we will keep the group together for this transfer. The departure fee is now typically built into your airline fare.
Please check the Travel Details section of this tour for additional information and updates.
Passports, Visas & Documents
You must have a passport that is in good condition and is valid for three months AFTER your scheduled return to the U.S. You should have at least one blank page per stamp. The blank pages need to say “Visas” at the top. Pages marked “Amendments and Endorsements” will not be accepted. If you are from another country, please contact the Panama embassy website for guidelines. Information for U.S. citizens can be found at:
It is always smart to check for changes 60-90 days before tour departs but at the time of writing, a tourist visa is not required for stays less than 180 days. You will need proof of a return ticket. The necessary documents will be distributed by your airline while in flight or provided for you upon arrival. We advise that you bring your eContact list of hotels for use at immigration as well.
It’s wise to carry a color photocopy of your passport ID page in a separate location while traveling, and to leave a copy with your emergency contact person at home. You may want to take a photo with your phone and have a copy there, along with a photo of the BAR CODE on your luggage tag. If your passport is lost or stolen, or your bag is misplaced this will greatly expedite replacement.
General Health & Inoculations Information – Be Prepared!
We will share your health information with your guide. This information will be kept confidential but is very important as we want to be best prepared in case of medical emergency. Do bring any prescription medications with you and its best if you have a copy of the prescription in case of loss. A supply of standard over the counter medications for common ailments is recommended.
Travel Tip: If you do receive the Yellow Fever vaccine, we suggest that you bring your Yellow Fever Card with you on your trip. If Panama makes a last-minute change to their entry policy before you leave, having this document might make all the difference. If you cannot get a vaccine due to age and caution on that by your physician, then bring a physician letter saying you are in good health, but they do not recommend due to age that you get the vaccine. Yellow fever vaccine recommendations in Panama map:
Anti-malarial drugs are not required for any area that you visit. There are occasional reports of Dengue Fever in lower elevation areas, for which there is no vaccine. Dengue fever, Zika, and other diseases are contracted by mosquito bites so be sure to use mosquito repellant containing DEET or Picaridin. Travelers can reduce their risk of disease by protecting themselves from mosquito bites in lower elevation areas by using protective clothing.
At the time of writing, there are no required vaccinations to enter Panama. We do recommend that all travelers should be up to date with routine vaccinations before traveling to any destination. These include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio and your yearly flu shot. The CDC recommends current vaccines for Hepatitis A and Typhoid. The Center for Disease Control website (USA) or you may contact them by phone (800) CDC-INFO.
We recommend that you bring a travel-sized first aid kit and medications for common ailments, as well as an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses. You should bring an adequate supply of any prescription drugs you use, and in addition, a list of generic names of your medicine as “back-up” in case it is necessary to purchase drugs while abroad. When traveling with medication, it is a good idea to pack any drugs you take regularly in your carry-on luggage. You’ll want to keep medications in their original, labeled containers. It is also a good idea to carry with you and up-to-date record of known allergies or chronic medical problems so that emergency treatment, if necessary, can be carried out without endangering your health.
Weather & Climate
Panama generally has cool, dry autumns. Highs average in the mid-80s°F, and lows in the mid-70s°F., with comfortable humidity. A wet day is one with at least 0.04 inches of liquid or liquid-equivalent precipitation. In Panama, the chance of a wet day is essentially constant. Come prepared with layers of clothing, including a rain-jacket that can double as a windbreaker, and an umbrella. Bring walking boots for use in the day and more comfortable shoes for meals and relaxing.
Annoyances & Hazards
Mosquitoes can occur in the forests; therefore, a supply of insect repellent containing DEET is essential. At grassland or farm locations you may encounter chiggers, if so, spray your shoes with repellent, and tuck your pants into your socks; this helps a lot. When back, be sure to shower and air out your clothing. Chiggers are a part of lowland and mid-elevation habitats throughout Central and South America. Your guide should have a good read on if it has been wet enough that they are active. There can also be poisonous snakes and insects, though encountering them is rare. Do listen carefully to any advice given by your local guide. And remember the sun is strong and be prepared with proper protection.
Food & Drinks
Menus at lodges and restaurants are varied, sustainably based on the wonderful local ingredients available, and delightfully prepared in a sanitary environment. As with any case when traveling we urge you to consider what your body is used to before you eat something. Trust your common sense when consuming food and beverages. This is the best way to avoid any unwanted problems. Ask for referrals from your hotel or a guidebook such as Frommers. Meals reflect the contributions of American, European, Spanish, and local cuisines.
Bottled water will be available for field trips and drinking water is provided for you to refill a bottle. One of the many ways we strive to do our part for the environment is by trying to reduce our consumption of plastics; if convenient we appreciate if you can bring reusable water bottles. Your guide will let you know when bottled water is preferable.
Packing, Clothing & Laundry
Dress is very informal and laundry services are available for a fee at our lodges. While some people will change for dinner, it is usually just to a drier or cleaner version of what they wore during the day. Again, the climate is warm to hot, so you will be comfortable in lightweight clothing.
Please, pack light. We are serious about this – we move around a lot; you just do not need much to cope with tropical life! Please do not bring anything more than you must. Lay out your hopeful things to take and then do a serious paring down please! And please do not pack any essential medications, or your vital optics, in your checked luggage!
TRAVEL TIP: Imagine NOT getting your suitcase. Wear your most important shoes for the field, have one day’s clothing change, and a change of underwear!
We advise you carry a mix of different types of payments, such as cash, an ATM card, and a credit card. U.S. currency is legal tender in Panama. This makes it quite easy for you as you can readily spend U.S. dollars. The Panamanian balboa (B) or 1 USD = 100 centesimos. Coin denominations are: B1 and B10; 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 centesimos. Coins are of identical size, denomination, and metal as U.S. coins, and the coins of both nations are used throughout Panama interchangeably.
If you have U.S. dollars, then there is no need to exchange currency since it is legal tender. If you do want to change currencies, try to take only crisp and new notes, as wrinkled and soiled notes are likely to be refused. Panama’s ATMs are widely available in large cities. Smaller towns may not have any international ATMs that accept American cards. When using the ATM to withdrawal cash, keep in mind it might only accept cards from local banks or not allow cash advances on credit cards. Many U.S. banks charge a fee of $1 - $5 each time you use a foreign ATM. Others may charge you a percentage of the amount you withdraw. Check with your bank before departure. You must become familiar with how to use your ATM card and PIN number ahead of the journey.
We suggest you have more than one card available, if possible. You may want to bring more than one brand of card (VISA and Mastercard are commonly accepted; American Express is less common). You can use credit cards at lodges to pay your bar and gift tabs. Not every shop will accept every card. Some smaller shops and restaurants, or taxis require cash, so it is always a good idea to ask before making a purchase. Also, we recommend that you advise your bank or credit card company that you will be traveling abroad to avoid questions, card freezes, or charges. If you have a choice of cards, bring one with no foreign exchange fees.
Traveler’s checks are not widely accepted. They can be difficult to exchange. We do not advise you use them.
Expect the normal tipping protocol to apply for your hotel maids and bar service. If at the end of the tour, you would like to show our appreciation to your guides, tipping is entirely appropriate but at your discretion. We hope that you will be pleased with all professional services. Gratuities for group meals are included. For your birding tour guide, we suggest $10-$15 per day per guest. Note that if there is more than one guide, this can be split among them.
Cell Phones & Internet Service
If you plan on using your cell phone on this trip, please check with your wireless provider to see if your phone and service will work in your destination country. Ask for “international roaming” to be activated on your phone. Or you can buy a local SIM card at the airport and insert this in your mobile phone (just make certain your phone can accept one).
If your phone can connect to Wi-Fi, you may be able to make voice and video calls free of charge. Please contact your cell phone provider for further details. Another option if you have access to Wi-Fi, is to use smartphone apps like Skype, WhatsApp, or Viber to send text messages, and make voice calls, or video calls. Many smartphones, tablets, or laptops come with one of these apps pre-installed or you can download for free. If bringing a laptop or tablet, get a good dustcover to protect it at all times.
Make sure if you do NOT want to use your cell phone that you turn off your cellular data. You could incur huge charges if you are not on Wi-Fi. Putting your phone in airplane mode if you mainly use it for photos will save the battery as well.
Please refrain from taking or making cell phone calls in the vehicles when traveling with other passengers, unless it appears to be an emergency. This disrupts other guests, plan on cell phone call use on your own time.
Panama uses 110 volt, 60 cycle electricity, same as the US. Plugs are typically the 2-pronged flat type so US travelers will not need a converter or adapter. It is recommended you to pack a 3 to 2 prong adapter in case type B sockets are not available. More helpful information may be found at www.power-plugs-sockets.com.
Panama is in the Eastern Standard Time Zone, which is one hour behind New York (Eastern Daylight Time). Panama does not observe Summertime (or Daylight Savings Time). Check www.timeanddate.com before leaving home for you conversion.
Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at clientservices@naturalistjourneys or telephone at our office: (520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey!
Pace & Protocols +
Pace of the Tour & What to Expect
You will receive a Schedule-at-a-Glance and list of hotels (our eContact List) a few weeks before your departure. This will serve as an outline for each day and alert you to any recent changes made in the schedule or to our hotels, if needed.
Our journeys are set up to follow the rhythm of nature. Our focus is on birding and nature; we offer full, well-planned field days and often get up early for that magical time around dawn. We generally follow the published itinerary, but we stay flexible to the weather, wildlife opportunities and the interests of the group. Your guide will keep you apprised of the next day’s schedule at each evening meal, noting what to bring and what to prepare for. Questions and/or concerns are welcome.
The pace of our Naturalist Journeys tours is moderate; to fully participate you should be able to get in and out of vehicles several times a day, and walk 1-3 miles over uneven terrain. It is important to participate with a flexible attitude as adjustments may be made in our schedule to make the most of our time in the field or for other purposes at your guide's discretion. We are not a “listing” bird company that drills down on target species, but at times we do wait for those special species unique to the places we visit. During the day, we take time to stop for photos and for educational opportunities to learn about conservation projects, landscapes, and geology. We appreciate other taxa as well as birds, with mammals often the biggest draw but plants and butterflies are also very popular. Our clients often lend their own expertise to the mix.
We like to make meals a fun and memorable part of the experience, too. Breakfasts are often at hotels, and we carry snacks, fruit, and water in the vans each day. Lunches are a mix of picnics in the field (weather dependent) and a chance to dine with locals at small cafes and restaurants. For dinner, we pride ourselves in our homework to keep up with the best choices for dining, choosing restaurants with atmosphere that specialize in local foods. On occasion we keep dinner simple to go back out in the field for sunset wildlife viewing or night walks. In some remote locations, our choices are limited. If you are tired, room service for dinner may be an option you can choose.
Naturalist Journeys International Trips: Guide Role
Naturalist Journeys supports ecotourism and the development of excellent local guides. Once we know our international partners and guides well, we can send out small groups working directly with these trusted partners, adding a Naturalist Journeys guide to assist the local expert when we have a group of 6-7 or more. This helps us keep your costs down while retaining tour quality. The local guide is your main guide. You can expect your Naturalist Journeys guide to be well-researched and often they are experienced in the destination, but their role is not to be primary, it is to help to organize logistics, help you find birds, mammals, and interesting other species in the field, keep reports, help facilitate group interactions, and to keep the trip within Naturalist Journeys' style. Local guides live in the countries we travel to, know the destinations intimately, and are often the strongest force for conservation in their countries. They open many doors for us to have a rich experience.
Smoking is not permitted in any vehicle or in any situation where the group is participating in an activity together, such as a vehicle excursion or a guided walk. Please respect all designated smoking areas at hotels and restaurants.
As a courtesy to each other, we ask that all travelers please rotate seating. On international trips we may all be in one small bus, on some trips we are in vans, particularly the roomy Sprinter Vans when available. Some areas require us to be in smaller 4-wheel drive or safari vehicles. Rotation allows you to sit with different drivers and alternate front and back seating.
Photo Release & Sharing
We take many group photos and will share photos with the group. And after your tour, we will organize a chance to share photos via Dropbox or Google Photos. Please note that this is our policy and if you prefer to be excluded, we need to know ahead of your tour.
By registering for this tour, you agree to grant to Naturalist Journeys and its authorized representatives’ permission to record on photography film and/or video, pictures of my participation in the tour. You further agree that any or all of the material photographed may be used, in any form, as part of any future publications, brochure, or other printed materials used to promote Naturalist Journeys, and further that such use shall be without payment of fees, royalties, special credit or other compensation.
You are traveling in remote areas. Naturalist Journeys strongly recommends you have full medical and evacuation insurance from a company such as Allianz, agent number 176098, for all international travel. If you do not have medical coverage or evacuation coverage on your existing travel insurance policy or for some reason elected not to take that out, we advise getting an evacuation plan with Global Rescue, World Nomads, Medjet, Allianz (they can do evacuation only) or a similar company. These plans are typically $300-$400 for a year for multiple destinations. This coverage may be a part of a larger Travel Insurance policy but can also be purchased on its own.
Please contact Naturalist Journeys by email at email@example.com or telephone our office: (520) 558-1146 or toll free: (866) 900-1146 if you have any questions. Many thanks for traveling with us and we hope you enjoy your journey.
Packing List +
Please pack light!
Soft luggage is much easier for us to pack than a more rigid hard sided piece, so if you have the choice, please use your soft luggage. Be sure to have your name and address on the inside of the bag, as well as on the luggage tag on the handle. It is our hope that you can pack in one checked suitcase that does not exceed 45 pounds. Be sure to pack your personal medication, airline tickets, passport, binoculars, camera, and other essential items in your carry-on bag. You will want a day pack for field trips, so this is an ideal carry-on. Please reconfirm your airline’s baggage weight and size restrictions about a week or so before departure.
Dress is comfortable and informal throughout the trip. Dressing in layers is the best way to be comfortable. Lightweight long sleeve shirts and long pants make ideal field clothing as they are more protective from sun and vegetation. But if you like to wear them, by all means bring some shorts. Also, choose clothing you don’t mind getting dirty or muddy and things that are comfortable and easy.
Note on clothing colors and insect repellent: We recommend muted colors of tan, brown, khaki, grey or green, as they are spotted less easily than white or bright colors, though camouflage clothing is not recommended. It is possible to purchase field clothing permeated with insect repellent such as the Craghoppers Insect Shield collection. Another approach is to purchase Permethrin spray (online or from REI) to treat your field clothing and socks before your departure.
Clothing & Gear
- Lightweight long pants, 2 pair
- Lightweight long-sleeved shirts
- Shorts (optional)
- T-shirts or equivalent (3-4 recommended – remember you may be buying some there)
- Personal underclothing
- Socks – lightweight, long enough to tuck your pants into, and easy to wash and dry
- Comfortable clothes for evening (a cleaner version of your field clothes or a skirt, sundress, etc.)
- Hat with broad brim
- Bandana, gel bandanas work well to keep cool
- Comfortable walking shoes and lightweight hiking boots, preferably waterproof – (good tread and support is essential!)
- Rubber boots/wellies
- Sandals for evenings, travel days (optional)
- Lightweight raincoat or poncho
- Lightweight jacket, fleece fabric is ideal
- Bathing suit (optional)
- Field vest (optional), a great source is Big Pockets
Equipment & Miscellaneous
- E-ticket verification
- Photo ID, Passport, and a photocopy of your passport ID page to be kept in a separate location
- Money pouch, or someplace to carry your money and passport with you at all times
- Small daypack or fanny pack for carrying your field gear
- Umbrella – compact and not brightly colored
- Walking stick – we find that many travelers appreciate a walking stick on trails
- Small flashlight with fresh batteries. (lighting in other countries is often poor in the rooms, and you may want to bring a booklight, headlamp, or flashlight for reading at night)
- Alarm clock, or use your cell phone
- Sunscreen/lip balm or equivalent
- Sunglasses with neck strap
- Insect repellent (something containing DEET, and sulphur powder or other for chiggers if you can find it)
- Toiletry articles
- Spotting scope and tripod (optional)
- Camera and extra batteries, memory cards, lens cleaning supplies and your instruction manual (optional)
- Water bottle (or plan to refill one bought on location)
- Notebook or journal and pen (optional)
- Field guides (optional)
- Sink plug (often not available, a flat universal one is easiest to use)
- Washcloth (again, available some places and not at others)
- Laundry soap if you plan to do hand washing
- Earplugs – in urban and even rural areas barking dogs and traffic noise can be annoying
- Rechargeable power bank (optional)
- Steri-Pen or other UV water treatment device to help cut down on the use of plastic bottles (optional)
WE DO NOT RECOMMEND TRAVELING WITH PRECIOUS OR VALUABLE JEWELRY – don’t tempt anyone and don’t bring things you’d regret losing - your mind will be at ease!
Medical & First Aid Items
- Personal medications (and copy of vital prescriptions)
- Motion sickness preventatives if likely to be needed on bus, van drives, etc.
- Personal first aid kit and medications for general ailments
- Copy of eyeglass prescription, vaccination records, and any medical alerts
- Insurance information
- Extra pair of eyeglasses or contacts
- Band-aids, moleskin to protect against blisters
- Antibacterial gel
Suggested Reading List +
There are many titles of interest for Panama; the following are a few that we have enjoyed that can get you started.
Merlin App – Panama Pack. A phone-based birding app from Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology. Before departing the U.S., download the app for free, then from within the app, download the “pack” for Panama.
The Butterflies of Central America is no longer in print, but the PDFs can be purchased from the Neotropical Butterflies website: www.neotropicalbutterflies.com/Site%20Revision/Pages/Books/Index_books.html
History & Culture
There is a good selection of books available for sale at visitors’ centers, and your guide will also have a selection of reference books and materials for participants to share. As an Amazon Associate, Naturalist Journeys earns from qualifying purchases, and may get commissions for purchases made through links on this page at no added cost to you.
Useful Links +
Panama - Encyclopedic Overview
Panama Country Overview – BBC News
El Valle de Antón
Miraflores Locks (One of three locks that form part of the Panama Canal)
Nature, Wildlife & Biology
Birds of Panama
Endemics of Panama
Overview of the Rainforests of Panama
Conservation, Parks & Reserves
Canopy Tower Eco-Lodge and Nature Observatory
El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC Foundation)
Soberania National Park
Summit Botanical Garden – Municipal Park
Audubon Society’s Work in Panama
Panama Wildlife Conservation
An Overview of Panama’s Rainforest
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama
Association for the Conservation of Nature (ANCON) - a private non-profit
Geology & Geography
“Panama: Isthmus that Changed the World”
“New Data of Panama Formation Throws Cold Water on Ice Age Origin Ideas” ? A Scientific American Article
“Geology and Paleontology of Canal Zone and Adjoining Parts of Panama” ? A US Department of the Interior Geological Survey
Article - “The Isthmus of Panama: Out of the Deep Earth” by Kevin Krajick
Geography of Panama
History & Culture
Brief Histories of Panama
A Cultural Overview
Helpful Travel Websites
Tocumen International Airport (PTY)
National Passport Information Center
U.S. Department of State, Panama International Travel Information - Panama
Homeland Security Real ID Act
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Center for Disease Control (CDC) - Panama
Canada Travel Advice and Advisories - Panama
Travel Health Pro (UK) - Panama
Foreign Exchange Rates
Electricity and Plugs – Panama
Date, Time, and Holidays - Panama
Photo credits: Banners: Collared Aracari, ERWA; Three-toed Sloth, Peg Abbott; Panamanian Night Monkeys, Carla Bregman; Orange-collared Manakin, Bob Hill; Panama Canal Scenic, Howard Topoff; Red-eyed Tree Frog, Daniel Arias Barakat. Geoffroy's Tamarin by Howard Topoff; Butterfly by Howard Topoff; Three-toed Sloth by Howard Topoff; Orange-bellied Trogon by Howard Topoff; Tamandua by Howard Topoff; Saturnid Moth Larvae by Howard Topoff; Capybara Family, Peg Abbott; White-whiskered Puffbird, Sandy Sorkin; Broad-billed Motmot, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Collared Trogon, Terry Peterson; Snowy-bellied Hummingbird, James P. Smith; Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Mike Boyce; Spectacled Owl, Sandy Sorkin; Streak-chested Antpitta, Sandy Sorkin; Gallery photo credits: By Peg Abbott: Howler, White-faced Capuchin, Tapir, Proboscis Bat; By Howard Topoff: Geoffroy’s Tamarin, Collared Trogon, Shrimp Plant, Velvet Ant, Ble Morpho, Group, Hot Lips plant, Walking Stick taking a selfie.