Surrounded by a belt of tropical rainforest, trekking off the beaten path in Panama is fairly easy to achieve. And Soberania National Park is the best place to do just that. With over 400 species of exotic birds, and over 105 species of mammals, the park is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, and a great way to spend a day hiking through the real Panamanian jungle.
Located 45 minutes from Panama City, the park is one of the best and most accessible locations for bird watching and wildlife observation in Central America. Though fairly close to the city, you feel like you are worlds away. Hiking through pristine rainforest where exotic birds call and monkeys howl tends to have that effect.
While there is a Rainforest Discovery Centre ($30 per person) offering marked nature trails and an observation tower, Pipeline Road is a better (and cheaper at $5 entry per person) option for a more authentic rainforest experience.
A morning walk of Pipeline Road will offer views of sloths, coatimundis, monkeys, toucans, kinkajous, tropical birds, and, if you’re lucky, jaguars. 17km long, the trail was originally built for the pipeline maintenance during World War II, and is now world famous for being the best spot for bird watching in Panama.
We had a pretty fabulous time during our day in the jungle, and managed to make the following friends!
Getting to Soberania can be problematic. Guided tours will arrange transportation for you, however these can be expensive and you certainly don’t need a guide to explore the area.
From Panama City drive to the town of Gamboa. Once you reach Gamboa, cross over the bridge (Chagres River) and follow the paved highway until you pass a large crane on the left side. The road will fork; stay to the left and follow the gravel road, with the Panama Canal on your left. You will soon see a sign pointing to Pipeline Road (Sendero Oleoducto), and the park entrance a little beyond that. It’s just a few minutes from the bridge in Gamboa until you reach the park entrance. Plenty of parking is available.
It is easy enough to get a taxi from Panama City, however the problem is getting a cab back. We pre-arranged private transportation to pick us up in Gamboa for $45 back to the city. There are no established fees or metres for taxi’s in Panama. Negotiate the price BEFORE you get in the cab.
Other trails in Soberania include:
Plantation trail (Camino Plantacion): 6.5km long, this area was used for cocoa and coffee plantations and then for military training. Look for howler monkeys and trogon birds along this trail.
The Natural Pond trail (Sendero Natural El Charco): A short 0.8km walk, you can swim in a small pond with clear water and stop for a picnic. Great family trail.
Cruces trail: The most difficult trail, this used to be the route the Spanish would carry gold between the two oceans. Trail is 10km long and few tourists venture here.
The Forest Spirit trail (Espiritu del Bosque): A marked trail, 1.7km long, this is an easy walk. Bike path trail (Cicloruta Distancia): A mountain biking trail, 17.5km long. Access is 2.5km from Soberania National Park.
Be sure to pack water, mosquito repellant, good hiking shoes, a hat and suntan lotion. Binoculars or a camera with a great zoom come in handy when trying to spot wildlife in the treetops.