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Looking for a true birding vacation? Imagine yourself immersed in nature on an island, where your home is a cluster of six luxury cottages in a forest clearing, including a 100’ tower that gives you stunning views of the sea. Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge is perched on a small hill overlooking the Caribbean Sea, a path through the forest leads down to the dock and turquoise colored bay.
The lodge’s central location within the archipelago of Bocas del Toro permits us to explore some of the most biologically diverse areas within Panama and Central America. The lodge is surrounded by a 200-acre private conservation reserve adjacent to Bastimentos National Marine Park, encompassing the convergence of three distinct ecosystems.
Tranquilo Bay is a birding paradise. As the orientation of Panama’s Isthmus connecting two continents is oriented east and west, this trip lets you focus on the northwest corner of this diverse nation—a place where lush mountains meet the sea. Tranquilo Bay’s canopy observation tower soars 100’ above sea level; bringing you to the top of the forest canopy for a panoramic bird’s-eye view of three distinctly different ecosystems within Bastimentos Island National Marine Park.
On-site there are over 250 species of birds. The greater Western Caribbean Slope bird list covering areas we visit on field trips includes over 500 species. Some of the specialty birds include: both Lovely Cotinga and Snowy Cotingas, Three-wattled Bellbird, Green Ibis, and the Nicaraguan Seed-finch. Bird Island visited by boat lets you get up close and personal with stunning Red-billed Tropicbird, Brown Booby and more. On-site specials include: raptor migrations, a Golden-collared Manakin lek, southernmost distribution of the Stub-tailed Spadebill, and intimate sightings of bathing hummingbirds.
The bird watching, wildlife, and photo opportunities from this incredible vantage point are truly sublime. During the day, as thermals start rising off of the Caribbean Sea, raptors will soar for hours. The tower is an excellent place to scan for Black Hawk-Eagle; Mangrove Black-Hawk; Bat, Laughing, and Peregrine falcons; Double-toothed Kite; and White Hawk. The beautiful and regionally endemic Snowy Cotinga can be seen from the tower along with large groups of Montezuma Oropendolas, hordes of parrots, Olive-throated Parakeets, White-crowned and Scaled pigeons, Blue Dacnis, three species of honeycreepers, Tropical Gnatcatchers, Three-wattled Bellbird, Osprey, several species of hummingbirds, Lineated and Black-cheeked woodpeckers, Magnificent Frigate Birds, Brown Pelicans, multiple swifts and swallows, Common and Lesser Nighthawks, tanagers, euphonias, and many flycatchers.
All of nature here is replete with variation. Many species of mammals such as Crab-eating Raccoon, Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth, Central American Wooly Opossum and Panamanian Night Monkey to name a few. Reptiles found at the lodge and on field trips include several species of colorful poison dart frogs. And we find beauty and fascination in tropical plants and a wide array of butterflies, moths and other large insects.
Unpack once, enjoy time with fun travel companions as you learn from experts, and know you will be well-taken care of. It’s hard to beat the fine hospitality and truly great dining that await us at Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge.
Don't miss the optional extension to Mount Totumas's Cloud Forest Reserve, where Resplendent Quetzal is one of many colorful birds and captivating animals that vie for attention.
- "A fabulous trip with a focus on birding in two ecologically different areas of Western Panama. The coastal areas at and nearby to Tranquillo Bay were lush with vegetation, providing exposure to a wide array of flora and fauna. The variety of birds was amazing, and local guide (Tranquillo Bay), Roger, was excellent in locating many species. Food at both facilities exceeded our expectations with many new and local dishes. The cloud forest surrounding Mt. Totumas was fabulous and provided a wide array of vegetation as well as additional species of birds. Located Resplendent Quetzal on two consecutive days." — Dan & Chris Brennan, Jan. 2023
- “This trip was great! I loved staying in one comfortable lodge the whole time. The trip guide, the local guide and the folks at the lodge were wonderful. And I finally saw Snowy Cotinga for the first time!” — 2023 Traveler
- Unpack and relax—this is a true birding vacation
- Enjoy island cuisine carefully prepared fresh for you each day
- From the lodge observation tower, gaze out to a maze of islands and a kaleidoscope of species
- To your birding time add the chance to swim, paddleboard, snorkel or take photographs to your heart’s content
- Wander the Fortuna Road sampling species at varied elevations in some of Central America’s finest remaining forest
- Discover a seabird island rookery action packed with life in the spring breeding season
- Watch the migration of twenty or more species of warbler staging—ready to head to the USA and Canada in weeks ahead
- Watch the sky for a river of Swainson’s or Broad-winged Hawks on the wing of northward migration
- Explore the mangroves—bustling with life and colorful wading birds
- Watch for seabirds, dolphins and sea turtles over the coral reefs of the Caribbean Sea
- Add mountain time with the optional extension to Mt. Totumas and see the beautiful birds and marvelous mammals of the Talamanca Mountains' continental divide.
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Mon., Oct. 14: Arrivals | Boat to Tranquilo Bay | Birding on-site | Welcome Dinner
Welcome to Paradise. To reach it, you need to board an AirPanama flight from Panama City’s Albrook Airport and head across this isthmus nation to the Caribbean side, landing in Western Panama at Bocas del Toro, a small town with airstrip on the main island of an archipelago of jewel-like islands prized by fisherman, fans of snorkeling and birders. It’s a short flight (about 45 minutes) and friendly staff from the lodge will be there to greet you. Then it's five minutes to the dock, about 45 minutes by boat out to the island and you are there—tranquility!
If you take the morning flight, you have much of the day to enjoy the lodge trails. Once rooms are ready, you can check into your delightful accommodations. There are just six deluxe air conditioned cabanas at Tranquilo Bay. Each cabana features a spacious tiled interior with French doors opening to a large, covered elevated porch area. They each have a large bathroom with a walk-in shower, a water heater and an air conditioner. Two have king size beds, three have queen size orthopedic beds and four have two double orthopedic beds. Each cabana is tastefully and comfortably appointed with locally handcrafted furniture.
Once settled, there is ample birding on the grounds of the lodge. For those arriving in time, we head out to the observation tower for the first night of a great ritual, watching sunset from the canopy level. From the tower’s vantage, as the sun sets on Tranquilo Bay, surreal hues of indigo, lavender, and orange paint the western sky over the surrounding forest and stunning Talamanca Range.
Those on the afternoon flight will still get to the lodge in daylight and perhaps to join us on the tower. We then gather as a group to enjoy introductions, hear the plan for the week, and enjoy a cold drink of your choice and a good dinner—the first of many! Then tuck into your private casita to listen to tropical night sounds as you drift off to sleep.
Accommodations at Tranquilo Bay (D)
Tues., Oct. 15: Isla Popa | Tranquilo Bay
Each of the islands in the Bocas del Toro archipelago has interesting wildlife and high levels of endemism, however, Isla Popa the second largest island in the chain, has more species of birds and mammals due to its close proximity to the mainland. A leisurely boat ride of about two kilometers brings us to a dense gallery forest surrounded by the rich mangrove lagoons of nearby Isla Popa. This is an easy but bird-rich first field day.
We watch birds in this phenomenal area mainly by boat; peacefully enjoying flights of Keel-billed and Black-mandibled toucans, Crimson-fronted Parakeets, Brown-hooded Parrots, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Golden-hooded Tanager, Plumbeous and Swallow-tailed kites, Pale-billed, and Lineated woodpeckers, Mangrove Cuckoo, American Pygmy Kingfisher, and hopefully we will see male Snowy Cotingas perched conspicuously out in the open, showing off their shining plumage in the sun. This mangrove lagoon has some beautiful Turtle Sea Grass where we can have good looks at sponges, starfish, urchins and Upside-down Jellyfish.
We return to the lodge for lunch and some down time for rest and relaxation, a swim or time to pursue photography or more birding. WIFI and laundry are available throughout the week.
In the afternoon as it cools down and activity increases, we explore one of many forest trails at the lodge. One follows a winding spring creek which creates a favorite locale for resident hummingbirds to bathe. The lodge guides have set up benches to use as viewing stations for us to comfortably observe and photograph this daily high-octane spectacle. Band-tailed Barbthroat, Purple-crowned Fairy, Crowned Woodnymph, and other hummingbirds fight ruthlessly for the best bathing positions. Once they get their turn at the fresh water, each species has its own dance like preparations before taking its first splash. Red-capped Manakin, Prothonotary Warbler, and Chestnut-backed Antbird might be found along the creek’s shallow edges hoping for a bath as well. There are various levels of activity throughout the day; however, the most consistent action can be observed in the late-afternoon time just ahead of evening.
At day’s end, we tally up our daily bird and mammal sightings for all that wish to do so, meeting up in the bar either before or after a delicious dinner, depending on the day’s activities and where it best fits in.
Accommodations at Tranquilo Bay (B,L,D)
Wed., Oct. 16: Fortuna Forest Reserve | Talamanca Mountains Continental Divide
An adventure today! Expect an early start as we head inland to go up to the Talamanca Mountain Range and its Continental Divide (600-1300 meters) The Continental Divide of the Talamanca Range, between the provinces of Bocas del Toro and Chiriqui, is one of Panama’s premier birding and wilderness areas. It holds some of the best remaining contiguous forest cover in Central America. Today we will focus on the area known as Umbrellabird Road, between the Continental Divide and north of Fortuna Reservoir. True to its name, this is the best area to find the fabulous Bare-necked Umbrellabird, especially between the months of March to September, which is considered to be the breeding season.
Fortuna Forest Reserve, established in 1976, is a species-rich area and part of BirdLife International Endemic Bird Area Costa Rica and Panama Highlands. The distinct avifauna in this globally important area include many regional endemics and restricted range species. Our visit here is sure to produce some outstanding birds with opportunities to see: Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Red-faced Spinetail, Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, Black and Crested guans, Blue-and-Gold Tanager, Black-thighed and Black-faced grosbeaks, and Golden-winged Warbler to mention a few.
After some grand birding, we enjoy a picnic lunch while overlooking the beautiful vistas of Lake Fortuna. Typical species as we then continue birding might include: Azure-hooded Jay; Sulphur-winged and Barred parakeets; tanagers galore: Bay-headed, Rufous-winged, Flame-colored, White-winged, Carmiol’s, Cherrie’s, Hepatic, and Spangled-cheeked; Slate-throated Redstart; Tropical Parula; Blue-and-White Swallow; Rufous-winged; Golden-olive and Smoky-brown woodpeckers; Elegant and Tawny-capped euphonias; Slaty Flowerpiercer; Golden-bellied Flycatcher; and the gorgeous Orange-bellied Trogon. Wow!
Several resident tropical raptors are possible to see at this elevation including Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Barred Hawk and Great Black-Hawk. And right now in April, migrants are pouring through - Swallow-tailed Kite may form abundant kettles joined by Plumbeous Kite, and at times thousands of Swainson’s or Broad-winged Hawks. More wonderful bird possibilities in this forest worth mentioning include Blue-throated Toucanet; Red-headed and Prong-billed barbets; White-crowned and White-ruffed manakins; Broad-billed Motmot; Green-thorntail, Snowy-bellied, Stripe-tailed, and Rufous-crested coquette; and Black-bellied Hummingbirds. We also look for mammals, especially here the elusive Tayra, a weasel like Neotropical mammal with wrinkled facial skin.
After a full day we descend back to the dock to head for home sweet home. A relaxing boat ride back to the lodge across the sea might produce Brown Boobies, Black and Royal terns, Willet, Mangrove Swallow, and perhaps Bottlenose Dolphins.
After a full and rewarding day, we arrive back at the lodge in the early evening where we can discuss our lists and share the day’s best photos over appetizers and drinks on the veranda followed by a tasty dinner.
Accommodations at Tranquilo Bay (B,L,D)
Thurs., Oct. 17: Finca de Cacao—The Chocolate Farm | Tranquilo Bay
After birding from the lodge’s terrace with Panamanian coffee and a casual breakfast (a little later than usual after our full day yesterday), we enjoy a calm 20-minute boat ride through Dolphin Bay to Buena Esperanza. The collection of tropical flora found at this location represents the best plants and therefore, butterflies in the archipelago.
A superb water garden and natural creek running through the property also attract many species of mammals, reptiles and multicolored amphibians. The psychedelic green and black poison dart frogs, Dendrobates auratus, can be prolific with sufficient moisture.
The landowners, who live onsite, protect this beautiful piece of mainland forest, by using the property to operate an artisanal chocolate farm. Cacao trees, grown to produce organic chocolate, thrive under the shade of the forest canopy. Under this stunning canopy we will be searching for three species of trogon: Slaty-tailed, White-tailed, and Gartered; Purple-throated Fruitcrow; Black-chested Jay; Pale-billed Woodpecker; Pied Puffbird; Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant; both Montezuma and Chestnut-headed oropendolas; Keel-billed and Black-mandibled Toucans; Cocoa Woodcreeper; and many more species. Mammal sightings might include Mantled Howler Monkey, Kinkajou, Three and Two-toed sloths, squirrels, and Greater White-lined Bats.
After returning to Tranquilo Bay for lunch and a hammock siesta, birding excursions to the canopy observation tower, forest trail system, and hummingbird bathing station will be available options. For anyone wanting water activities, guided sea kayaking or snorkeling amidst the alluring coral reefs can also easily fill your afternoon. Or enjoy a swim or soothing paddleboard excursion (okay a nap may be in order too!) Watching the sunset is on the menu as well.
Dinner entrees vary nightly—one night we may serve seafood and the next night it may be South American beef, vegetarian options always available. Tonight, in honor of the day’s activities, we end with a little something chocolate to close the day.
Accommodations at Tranquilo Bay (B,L,D)
Fri., Oct. 18: San San Pond Sak Wetlands (Soropta Canal)
Today will be a tranquil day of “birding by boat” within several lush, coastal, wetland habitats. San San Pond Sak Wetlands is a designated Ramsar site, as well as, part of the La Amistad UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The area is rich with varied habitats including Atlantic wet lowland forest, Raphia palm swamp, fresh-water river course, ocean impact beachfront, and mangroves.
Access to this verdant wildlife area will be via boat through the historic Snyder Canal, as birds conveniently fly through the gallery forest back and forth across the waterway. After the Snyder Brothers finished construction in the late 1890s, the canal was used to transport bananas from the Changuinola River Valley, to the protected waters of Almirante Bay at Boca del Drago, where they were loaded onto transport ships. Panama’s first canal was vital to establishing The United Fruit Company, and the very beginnings of what would become, “The Banana Republic”.
This is an excellent place to find many lowland bird species, northern and altitudinal migrants, raptors and shorebirds. All six species of kingfishers known to the Americas can be found here and we will be watching closely for regional endemics like the diminutively distributed Nicaraguan Seed Finch, White-collared Manakin (Almirante race), Olive-backed Euphonia, Black-cowled Oriole, Canebrake Wren, and Three-wattled Bellbird. Also possible are, Masked Duck, Common Gallinule, Least Bittern, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Potoo, Northern Jacana, and Bare-throated Tiger-Heron.
Raptor sightings might include Yellow-headed Caracara; Bat, Laughing and Peregrine falcons; Osprey; and Pearl Kite. From the high branches of fruiting trees down to the grassy and shrubby edge, we might find Passerini’s and Golden-hooded tanagers, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Red-breasted Blackbird, Buff-throated Saltator, Groove-billed Ani, Squirrel Cuckoo, chatters of Olive-throated Parakeets, Streaked and Scissor-tailed flycatchers, and the minute Common, Black-headed and Slate-headed Tody-flycatchers.
With any luck, mammal sightings might produce Mantled Howler Monkey, Crab-eating Racoon, White-nosed Coati, Neotropical River Otter, West Indian Manatee and Bottlenose Dolphin. Soropta Beach, important for migrating and resident shorebirds, is also a nesting ground for Leatherback and Hawksbill sea turtles, in addition to Green Iguanas, Basilisk Lizards, Common Boa Constrictor, Spectacled Caiman and American Crocodile.
Here on the beach, we enjoy a picnic lunch with fresh sea breeze and the shorebirds. This is a rough life, but someone has to do it! This vibrant river mouth and beachfront might produce views Parasitic and Pomarine jaegers; Wilson’s, Collared, and Semipalmated plovers; Ruddy Turnstones; Sanderlings; Least, Pectoral and Semipalmated sandpipers; Common and Lesser nighthawks; Lesser and Greater yellowlegs; four species of tern; and Roseate Spoonbill.
In the afternoon, sea conditions permitting, we pass just two miles offshore to a breathtaking rookery and reserve known as Swan’s Caye, for beautiful close-up looks at Panama’s only known breeding colony of Red-billed Tropicbirds, as well as, Brown Boobies and Magnificent Frigatebirds.
We return to the lodge in the late afternoon. Dinners vary based upon the local ingredients available; however, by now it’s no surprise that you should expect three or four delicious courses each night.
Accommodations at Tranquilo Bay (B,L,D)
Sat., Oct. 19: Tranquilo Bay | Forest Trails | Pineapple Hill
Today, after enjoying some early morning birds from the canopy observation tower or the lodge’s veranda, we will delight in a breakfast including highland coffee and fresh tropical fruit juices.
Following breakfast, we enter a forest trail in search of Chestnut-backed Antbird, White-flanked and Dot-winged Antwrens, Black-crowned Antshrike, Red-throated Ant-Tanager, Tawny-crested Tanager, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, and the geographically misplaced Stub-tailed Spadebill.
After a short hike we will arrive at Pineapple Hill, a small elevated clearing at the forest’s edge, which is an important forage area for a multitude of Neotropical and migratory species. This is an excellent place to get good looks at feeding birds like Golden-collared and Red-Capped manakins; three species of honeycreepers; Passerini’s, Scarlet, White-lined, and Summer tanagers; Baltimore Oriole; Band-tailed Barbthroat; Green-breasted Mango; White-necked Jacobin and Purple-crowned Fairy hummingbirds; Scaled Pigeon; Double-toothed Kite; Roadside Hawk; and the often hard to see but noisy White-throated Crake.
Once we are ready to move on, another forest trail will take us to a Golden-collared Manakin lek. During the mating season, from about December-August, active courts in each lek should have displaying males. Further along this trail, walking brings us to an area of high forest canopy, where Three-wattled Bellbirds like to spend midday. When the sun is a little strong, this canopy specialist likes to perch underneath the leaves in the cooler shade, presenting a nice opportunity with less backlighting for the photo enthusiast.
On the way back to the lodge, to enjoy a homemade lunch in comfort, we will search the forest floor for the famous Isla Bastimentos Red Poison dart Frog. This morph of Oophaga pumilio, is studied onsite by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute who are researching its evolutionary traits.
After a short siesta, we can focus our efforts in the mangrove forest looking for several species of herons, Green Ibis, Mangrove Black Hawk, all six kingfishers known to the Americas, Mangrove Cuckoo, Wimbrel, Willet, Prothonotary Warbler, and the resident Yellow Warbler or “Mangrove Warbler” whose males exhibit a stunning red hood.
In the evening we will climb the canopy tower to watch from a bird’s-eye view, the pandemonium of Red-lored and Mealy parrots paired up and returning home, as groups of chattering Blue-headed Parrots join in the chorus. Some previous guests have dubbed these daily flights “The Invasion of Tranquilo Bay.” We will also have a good chance of up-close looks at White-crowned and Scaled pigeons; Black-crowned and Masked tityras; Lineated and Black-cheeked woodpeckers; Blue-grey, Palm, and Plain-colored tanagers; White-vented Euphonia; and scores of flycatchers.
Once we watch the beautiful tropical sun set over the Talamanca Range, we can walk back to the lodge for hard earned drinks, appetizers, and a delicious meal.
Accommodations at Tranquilo Bay (B,L,D)
Sun., Oct. 20: Palo Seco Protection Forest
Today we do a lower section of the scenic Talamanca range, this time exploring lowlands to foothills elevations (Sea level to 600 meters). Fueled up with a delicious Panamanian breakfast, we will leave the dock at 6:00AM and travel by boat to the town of Punta Robalo on the mainland.
Today we will be birding in the Palo Seco Protection Forest, 167,000 hectares, which is one of the most vital areas of La Amistad Biosphere Reserve. This incredible area consisting of wet Atlantic forest, foothills, and watersheds, is part of BirdLife International Endemic Bird Area Central American Caribbean Slope. It is a hotbed for restricted range species and altitudinal migrants, like the Three-wattled Bellbird, and is one of the most important protected areas in the Neotropics. Snowy Cotinga; Chestnut-colored and Cinnamon woodpecker; Rufous-tailed Jacamar; Crimson-colored, Speckled, Emerald, and Silver-throated tanagers; Lattice-tailed Trogon; Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer; Green Hermit; Slaty Spinetail; Dull-mantled Antbird; and Band-backed and Black-throated wrens are all possibilities on the outing.
Mammal sightings in the area might include sloths, Mantled Howler Monkeys, Red-brocket Deer, squirrels, and several species of bats. We also make every effort to see the elusive Lanceolated Monklet. A fresh picnic lunch will be served in the field. Other lowland specialties on our long list of species possible might include: Brown Jay, White-crowned Parrot, White-collared Seedeater, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Cinnamon and White-winged Becards, Long-billed Gnatwren, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Black-and-Yellow Tanager, Buff-rumped Warbler, Torrent Tyranulet, Crimson-fronted Parakeets, and Red-fronted Parrotlet.
In the late afternoon we will work our way back through the lowland foothills scanning for kettles of raptors, Snowy and Blue Cotingas, and finally ending with views of some marsh birds such as various sandpipers, three species of ibis, Southern Lapwing, Blue-winged Teal, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, and the always stunning Common Gallinule.
We return to the lodge in the evening. While dinners at Tranquilo Bay are delicious and varied, this is our last evening and so we celebrate a bit, recounting highlights of the journey. The chef uses local fruits, vegetables, and chocolate to craft this meal—delicious! Afterwards, we do our final species tally.
Accommodations at Tranquilo Bay (B,L,D)
Mon., Oct. 21: Departures from Tranquilo Bay
No one wants to go, but its time! Again, there are at least two flights a day, so depending on your International
air plans, you can book accordingly. As some flights leave Panama in the evening, with luck you can enjoy more time here ahead of leaving. Those wanting an early morning International flight will need to overnight in Panama City. The domestic flight comes in to Albrook Airport, depending on traffic we suggest you allow 45 minutes to an hour to make the 23 km trip by taxi. (B)
Mt. Totumas Post-Tour Extension
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Birding the Cloud Forest of Panama’s Continental Divide
Bring your fleece for this mountain tour based in a 400-acre cloud forest private reserve that lists over 250 species of birds, three species of monkeys, and more. We spend time here on the Continental Divide of the Talamanca Range, where colorful birds and hummingbirds vie with Resplendent Quetzal for our attention. After immersion in the coastal sun and heat, the birds here are as different as the weather, so be ready to extend your list!
Mon., Oct. 21: Mt. Totumas
Departing from Tranquilo Bay after saying good-bye to those not with us on this extension, we bird much of the day in lush forest as we wind our way up the mountain with our guides from Tranquilo Bay. At a meetup point, we say a fond good-bye as the next part of our adventure begins and we meet the guides and four-wheel drive vehicles from Mt. Totumas to continue into our mountain lodge.
After immersion in the coastal sun and heat, we remind you that for this part of our trip to bring a fleece! You’ve arrived to the cloud forest, a wonderful, sometimes wet, verdant realm replete with fantastic vegetation and birds. Your new home is a 400-acre cloud forest private reserve that lists over 250 species of birds, three species of monkeys, and more. The Continental Divide of the Talamanca Range, between the provinces of Bocas del Toro and Chiriqui, is one of Panama’s premier birding and wilderness areas. It holds some of the best remaining contiguous forest cover in Central America.
Settle into your new digs, cozy mountain cottages, and enjoy dinner and then night sounds of the forest.
Accommodations at Mt. Totumas (B,L,D)
Tues., Oct. 22 - Thurs., Oct. 24: Talamanca Mountains | Continental Divide
We have three full days to explore this mountain realm with our expert local guides. We are situated on a private reserve adjacent to La Amistad National Park, Central America’s largest highland preserved wilderness. This species-rich area is an important part of BirdLife International Endemic Bird Area Costa Rica and Panama Highlands. The distinct avifauna in this globally important area include many regional endemics and restricted range species. Our visit here is sure to produce some outstanding birds with opportunities to see Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Red-faced Spinetail, Ashy-throated Bush-Tanager, Golden-browed Chlorophonia, both Black and Crested Guans, possible Blue-and-gold Tanager, Black-thighed and Black-faced Grosbeaks, and Golden-winged Warbler.
Our days are filled with birding and nature with trail walks and four-wheel drive vehicle excursions, and time at waterfalls, fruiting trees, and places with incredibly scenic vistas. We have fun too, learning about local foods, taking a visit to a coffee farm, and enjoying a chance to soak at Los Pozos Hot Springs. The lodge’s hummingbird feeders are busy and give our photographers a chance to capture images on natural perches as species come in to feed.
Resplendent Quetzal move about seasonally but start their return by late January. Colorful birds vie with quetzals for attention. Mixed flocks here include Elegant Euphonia and Golden-browed Chlorophonia—both a treat to find. They are often joined by wintering species we know from home, such as Philadelphia and Red-eyed Vireos, Golden-winged, Wilson’s and Blackburnian Warblers, and Baltimore Oriole. At times this lush dense forest can seem quiet … then it explodes with activity. Speckled and Silver-throated Tanagers, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, and Common Chlorospingus may highlight one flock, then around the corner we catch up with Plain Xenops, Buffy Tuftedcheek, Streak-breasted Treehunter, and Spotted Barbtail.
In addition to the ever-present Rufous-collared Sparrow that sing by the lodge, we look for Large-footed Finch and the possible trio of Chestnut-capped, White-naped, and Yellow-thighed Brushfinches. We hope that the elusive Wrenthrush and Silvery-fronted Tapaculo alert us to their presence by song. Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher, Flame-colored Warbler, and Flame-colored Tanager are often on the trip-end favorites list for many.
Listen to the music of Black-faced Solitaire, Ruddy-capped Nightingale Thrush, and Mantled Howler Monkey. Along streams and pathways we watch for Slate-throated and Collared Redstarts and Torrent Tyrannulet. Slaty Flowerpiercer is a nectar robber often seen alongside feeding hummingbirds. Legitimate pollinators in these highlands are several and include Violet Sabrewing, Fiery-throated Hummingbird, White-bellied Mountain-gem, Green-crowned Brilliant, Long-billed Starthroat, Scintillant and Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds, and both Brown and Lesser Violetear. Woodpeckers we hope to spy include Smoky-brown and Hairy feeding in the same area and Spotted, Streak-headed, and sometimes Spot-crowned Woodcreepers.
Learn more about the ecology and geology of the fascinating Chiriqui Highlands, shared with Costa Rica and home to endemic species such as Black Guan, Chiriqui Quail-Dove, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Prong-billed Barbet, Sulphur-winged Parakeet, Yellow-winged Vireo, and more. Here and in the montane foothills adjacent we look for Azure-hooded Jay; Sulphur-winged and Barred Parakeets; tanagers galore: Bay-headed, Rufous-winged, Flame-colored, White-winged, Carmiol’s, Cherrie’s, Hepatic, and Spangle-cheeked; Slate-throated Redstart; Tropical Parula; Blue-and-white Swallow; Tawny-capped Euphonia; Golden-bellied Flycatcher; and the gorgeous Collared Trogon. Wow!
Other lasting memories come from sightings of Squirrel Cuckoo, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Northern Emerald-Toucanet, and the impressive Red-headed and Prong-billed Barbets.
The lodge prides itself in its farm to table restaurant where local chef, Alma, brings her expertise in Asian and European cuisine.
Accommodations at Mt. Totumas (B,L,D)
Fri., Oct. 25: Departures from David
No one wants to go, but it’s time! We set the departure for this tour from the Pacific-side lowland town of David so that you can best match onward flights to your outbound international flight. We are able to accommodate the direct flight to the Panama City Airport, even if it means an early start on COPA. For the January tour this flight was at 9:40 AM. If you see a flight before that please ask us—it might be best to overnight in David and start early the following day. (B)
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the main tour is $TBD DBL / $TBD SGL, from Panama City, based on double occupancy and includes 7 nights’ accommodations; meals as specified in the itinerary, in-country domestic flight from Panama City, group airport transfers, professional guide services, local park and other area entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses. Cost of the journey does not include airfare from your home to Panama City, or items of a personal nature, such as drinks from the bar, telephone, and local guide gratuities. Cost of the extension is $TBD DBL / $TBD SGL per person and includes transfer and all services at Mt. Totumas, meals, accommodations and lodgings, guided outings. It does not include the flight from David to PTY.
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.
Main Tour Arrival and Departure Airport: Tocumen International Airport (PTY) in Panama City
Arrival Details: Please plan flights to arrive October 13, 2024 at your leisure. We have an early morning flight to Bocas del Toro (included) on October 14, so it’s important to arrive the day before.
Main Tour Departure Details: Please plan flights to depart October 21, 2024 after 4:00 PM. We have a domestic flight back to Panama City on our last day so it’s important to book international flights home after 4:00 PM.
Post-tour Extension Departure Airport: Enrique Malek International Airport (DAV)
Post-tour Extension Departure Details: Please plan flights to depart October 25, 2024. Book your own flight out of DAV in David to match your outbound international flight at PTY. We suggest Copa Airlines because it goes to the international airport, but there are other carriers that fly to Albrook Gelabert Airport (PAC), the domestic airport. Most of our guests depart on the morning flight, around 9:30 AM and we leave early from the lodge to get you there.
Travel Tips: Our domestic flight to Bocas del Toro leaves from Albrook Gelabert Airport so we recommend staying at the nearby Radisson Hotel Panama Canal, (507) 211-4500. It is easy to book online. Our guide stays at this hotel and will be happy to join guests arriving in time for some birding on the grounds. Dinner is on your own at a local restaurant (cost not included), though your guide may also join you. We arrange a group shuttle to the airport for anyone staying at the Radisson. Regardless of where you stay, everyone needs to be at the domestic airport, Albrook Gelabert Airport, no later than 8:00 AM.
You may prefer to stay in historic and trendy Casco Viejo with its great shops, museums, and views. If so, plan on a 25 minute taxi ride to Albrook Gelabert Airport. There are many hotel options in Casco Viejo, but past clients have enjoyed Las Clementinas Boutique Hotel. If you arrive to Panama late and prefer to stay at a hotel by the international airport, you can take a taxi to the domestic airport in the morning, but allow 40 minutes of travel time.
Entry Requirements: US residents do not need a visa for a tourist visit of this length, but your passport should be valid for three months beyond your planned arrival date.
Items of Note
Pace of the Journey
This is a true birding vacation, with one hotel to base from with trips venturing off the island for habitat variety. Just out your door you can swim, snorkel, paddleboard, watch hummingbird feeders or walk the lodge trails. The lodge has a 100’ tower with a fabulous view of the islands. There are 200+ species possible on the island and 450+ with field trips. Pace yourself to join as many of the outings as you like.
The climate in Western Panama varies tremendously depending upon altitude and geography. Temperatures at Tranquilo Bay in lowland rainforest average 86 degrees with a consistent humidity around 82%. The cloud forest in the highlands can be much cooler.
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
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 the length of this stay 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 “General 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.
- Plan your international flight reservations to arrive at and depart from Tocumen International Airport (PTY) in Panama City on the day before the start of your tour. 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)
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 make yourself at home at your first night hotel– the front desk staff will assist you. We recommend the Raddison Canal hotel; please note that this stay is not included in your tour.
First Day of tour - Flight from Albrook to Bocas Del Toro AM
Clients need to be at the Albrook airport by 8:00 AM.
Raddison Canal is approximately 4 miles from Albrook. If NJ guide is included, they can assist in organizing a morning transfer to Albrook. otherwise, the front desk at Raddison Canal can assist.
If you are not staying at Radisson Canal, you need to take a taxi to the Albrook Airport arriving approximately by 8:00 AM.
Please check the Travel Details of the tour for additional and updated information.
Main Tour Departures from Panama City, Panama (PTY)
Plan your international flight home on the evening of the last day of the tour if you do not take the extension.
Extension Departures from David, Enrique Malek International Airport (DAV)
Please plan flights out of David, Enrique Malek International Airport (DAV). We suggest COPA Airlines for that flight. Fly out of David at your leisure, but watch connection times with your international flight.
Please check the Travel Details of the tour for additional and updated information.
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 www.travelstate.gov.
It is recommended to check for changes 60-90 days before your tour departs but at the time of writing, a tourist visa is not required of US citizens for the length of this stay in Panama. 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.
As a precaution for loss or misplaced travel documents you are carrying on your person during travel, it is wise to carry a color photocopy of your passport ID page, your travel visa and even the back of your credit card(s) in your luggage or a carry-on, as a backup. Also, 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. This greatly expedites getting a new one if necessary – we hope everyone will keep it close at all times and losing it will not be an issue.
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.
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 contacted 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.
Vaccinations: Bring your up-to-date vaccination records with you. At the time of writing, if you are traveling to Panama from a country with endemic yellow fever, proof of a yellow fever vaccination is required. Otherwise, there were no other required vaccinations to enter Panama. It is always advisable to check with your physician as well as the CDC 4-6 weeks ahead of time for recommendations and changes in policy. 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. Helpful website for planning is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for Panama or by phone (800) CDC-INFO or (800) 232-4636.
Prescriptions and Allergies: It is a good idea to pack any meds you take regularly in your carry-on luggage. Bring an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses. Bring an adequate supply of any prescription medications you use, a copy of the prescription and a list of generic names of your medicines as “back-up” in case it is necessary to purchase drugs while abroad. You’ll want to keep medications in their original, labeled containers. It is also recommended to carry with you an up-to-date record of known allergies, chronic medical problems and Medic Alerts so that, if necessary, emergency treatment can be carried out without endangering your health.
Common Ailments: We recommend that you bring a travel-sized first aid kit and a supply of standard over-the-counter medications for common ailments (such as upset stomach, headache, motion sickness, diahhrea, minor scrapes, bug bites, etc.).
Weather & Climate
Generally, the dry season starts in the middle of December and lasts until the end of April; these are the windiest months. That being said, the tropical climate in Western Panama can vary tremendously depending upon altitude and geography. Temperatures at Tranquilo Bay in lowland rainforest habitat average 86 during the day and 73 at night with a consistent humidity around 82%; the island location with sea breezes is very pleasant. The cloud forest in the highlands can be much cooler.
For VERY hot days – plan to rest midday as you can, keep hydrated with plenty of fluids, and in general, just pace yourself not to get overheated. You may want to bring one of those gel-filled bandanas that cool your neck – a great invention. Do plan to protect yourself from the Equatorial sun.
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 recommendations from your hotel or refer to 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.
The Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge provides free laundry service up to the amount supported by their water supply.
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!
TRAVEL TIP: Imagine NOT getting your suitcase. Wear your most important shoes for the field, have one day’s clothing change (including a change of underwear!). And please do not pack any essential medications, or your vital optics, in your checked luggage!
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.
Tipping throughout the tour is at your discretion. Some guidelines follow.
At larger (mostly city) hotels, tip maids and bar service as you would at home. At eco-lodges, there is typically a staff tip box in a public area; the going rate per person is $6-$10 a day, which is shared among staff for maid service, and general staff service at the lodges. Gratuities for group meals are already included.
Your Naturalist Journeys host will take care of smaller tips such field trip services by boat drivers, night drive outings, single activities.
Your additional tip is encouraged for birding tour guides and drivers who are with you for several days or the full trip; $10-$15 per day per guest is standard for guide service, and half that for a driver. If you have more than one local guide at a location, they will share the daily amount.
We encourage tipping for the local teams hosting you; anything extra for your Naturalist Journeys host is at your discretion.
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 turn 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.
Your hotels and most local restaurants provide Wi-Fi at least in their common areas. Although it is generally a reliable service, it can be affected by adverse weather conditions due to the remote location.
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. Learn more at https://www.power-plugs-sockets.com/us/panama/.
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 email@example.com 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, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 Lightly!
Soft luggage is much easier for us to pack in a vehicle 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 suitcase that does not exceed 50 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 daypack for field trips, so this is the ideal carry-on. We recommend checking with your airline a week or so before your departure to verify luggage weight and size restrictions.
Dress is very informal. Lightweight long sleeve shirts and long pants make ideal field clothing as they are more protective from sun, insects and vegetation. But if you like to wear them by all means bring some shorts. Also, choose clothing you don’t mind getting dirty – and things that are comfortable and easy. A light jacket should be enough in the cooler evenings and on boat rides.
The Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge provides free laundry service up to the amount supported by their water supply.
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, and in some countries, not legal to wear. 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 and 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 – (good tread and support is essential!)
- Sandals for evenings, travel days (optional)
- Lightweight raincoat or poncho
- Lightweight jacket, fleece fabric is ideal
- Bathing suit
- Field vest (optional), a great source is Big Pockets
Equipment and Miscellaneous
- E-ticket confirmation
- Passport, travel insurance info, money & credit cards.
- A secure pouch to carry the items above on your person at all times (such as a secure, under-clothing document pouch)
- As a backup: copies of all the above (phone and/or paper) packed in a separate location than on your person, plus a set given to your emergency contact at home as a backup. For passport, copy of the ID and entry stamp pages.
- Small daypack/tote bag to carry gear while in vehicles
- Binoculars (a hotel shower cap is great to cover these when it is raining)
- Spotting scope and tripod (optional)
- Camera and extra batteries, film, lens cleaning supplies and your instruction manual (optional)
- Phone – smartphones with good cameras are great for digiscoping
- Umbrella – compact and not brightly colored
- Walking stick (optional, but recommended if you have one)
- Small daypack or fanny pack for carrying your field gear
- Small flashlight with fresh batteries
- Alarm clock, or use your cell phone
- Sunscreen/lip balm high SPF
- Sunglasses with neck strap
- Insect Repellent (something containing DEET, and sulphur powder or other for chiggers if you can find it)
- Toiletry articles: shampoo and conditioner, dental supplies, razor, emery boards, hairbrush/comb, tweezers, hand lotion, feminine hygiene, deodorant, pain reliever
- Chargers for cameras and/or phones
- Three prong adapters, if needed (most outlets will have standard three prong outlets that are the same as in the USA & Canada)
- Rechargeable power bank (optional)
- Water bottle
- Notebook or journal and pen (optional)
- Spanish phrase dictionary
- Field guides (optional)
- Small bottle of antibacterial hand soap
- Waterproof bags to keep things dry, preferably reusable
- 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 and First Aid Items
- Heath insurance and vaccination information (kept in personal pouch with other travel documents)
- Personal medication (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, copy of medical prescriptions, and any medical alerts
- Extra pair of eyeglasses or contacts
- Band-Aids, moleskin to protect against blisters
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 Country Overview – BBC News
Nature, Wildlife & Biology
Birds of Panama
eBird Hotspot - Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge
eBird Hotspot - Fortuna Forest Reserve
eBird Hotspot - San San Pond Sak
Swainson’s and Broad-winged Hawk – Similar Species Comparison
Endemics of Panama
Overview of the Rainforests of Panama
Fortuna Forest Reserve and Field Research Center
San San-Pond Sak Wetlands
La Amistad Biosphere Reserve
Palo Seco Forest Reserve
Audubon Society’s Work in Panama
Panama Wildlife Conservation
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
Talamanca Mountain Range
History & Culture
Brief Histories of Panama
A Cultural Overview
Helpful Travel Websites
Tocumen International Airport (PTY)
Homeland Security Real ID Act
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
National Passport Information Center
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Foreign Exchange Rates
U.S. Department of State International Travel Information - Panama
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) - Panama
Canada Travel Advice and Advisories - Panama
Travel Health Pro (UK) - Panama
Electricity and Plugs - Panama
Date, Time, and Holidays - Panama
Photo credits: Canopy Tower view, Joe Tieger; Tranquilo Bay, Maggie Tieger; Osprey, Joe Tieger; Green Honeycreeper, Maggie Tieger; Howler Monkey, Joe Tieger; Orange-chinned Parakeet, Joe Tieger; Squirrel Cuckoo, Joe Tieger; American Pygmy Kingfisher, Maggie Tieger; Anteater, Joe Tieger; Blue-chested Hummingbird, Joe Tieger; Canal, Joe Tieger; Yellow-throated Toucan, Joe Tieger; Cabana, courtesy of Tranquilo Bay; Striated Heron, Joe Tieger; View from tower, courtesy of Tranquilo Bay; Blue Dacnis, Joe Tieger; Tranquilo bay dock aerial view, courtesy of Tranquilo Bay; Poison Dart Frog, Joe Tieger; Lovely Cotinga, James Adams; Tranquilo Bay, Maggie Tieger; Keel-billed Toucan, Maggie Tieger; Crowned Woodnymph, Joe Tieger; Tranquilo Bay, Maggie Tieger; Lesser Kiskadee, Maggie Tieger; Slaty-tailed Trogon, Maggie Tieger; Brown Booby, Cristina Heins; Broad-billed Motmot, Maggie Tieger; Orange-bellied Trogon, Joe Tieger; Blue-gray Tanager, Joe Tieger; Osprey, Joe Tieger; Masked Tityra, Joe Tieger; Boat-billed Heron, Maggie Tieger; Sunset, Joe Tieger; Buff-throated Saltator, Joe Tieger; Clay-colored Thrush, Joe Tieger; Common Moorhen, Joe Tieger; Crimson-backed Tanager, Joe Tieger; Dusky-faced Tanager, Maggie Tieger; Flame-rumped Tanager, Joe Tieger; Green Honeycreeper, Joe Tieger; Red-billed Tropicbird, Maggie Tieger; Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Maggie Tieger; Panama local on a canoe, Joe Tieger; Shining Honeycreeper, Maggie Tieger.