Soberania National Park
Soberania National Park in the hydrographic basin of the Panama Canal is a world-renowned birding hot spot in one of the most accessible tropical forest reserves in Central America, 85 square miles (221 km2) encompassing much of the east side of the Panama Canal. It also includes Summit Botanical Gardens, where the United States in the first part of the 20th century introduced 15,000 species of ornamental and useful tropical trees and plants, and there is a small well-kept zoo with some of Panama’s wilder residents. These include conejo pintados, or pacas, king vultures, peccaries, coatimundis, spider monkeys, and others.
The park’s many trails range from short and easy to long and strenuous, many with self-guiding brochures available at park offices. Pipeline Road leads 10 miles (17 km) across the park from Gamboa to Lake Gatun. Warier wildlife in more remote parts include jaguars, tapirs, five monkey species, 57 kinds of amphibians, and 79 reptiles. Bright tropical fish such as blue acaras, “eartheater” cichlids, tetras, and suckermouth catfish are conspicuous residents of quiet, clear trailside streams.
Soberania is reached by frequent buses from Panamá City. It can be seen in a long day trip or permits obtained for overnight camping. Weekends can be crowded.
ALSO OF INTEREST
La Amistad National Park and Biosphere Reserve along the Costa Rican border with remarkable flora and fauna in seven wild, steep life zones; access from Cerro Punta (Chiriqui–Las Nubes entrance) and Changuinola (Bocas del Toro entrance).
Baru Volcano National Park—with 11,000-foot (3,475-m) Baru Volcano, home to resplendent quetzals and a variety of endemic plants. Access from Cerro Punta and Boquete.
Bastimentos Island National Marine Park is an important sea turtle nesting site with more than 200 dazzling fish species in crystalline coral reef waters. Access from Bocas del Toro.
Cerro Hoya National Park is home to 30 endemic flora and fauna species including the carato parakeet.
Sarigua National Park, along the Pacific coast, hosts pelicans, kingfishers, many butterflies.
Altos de Compana National Park is home of famous golden frogs and pacas, woodchuck sized spotted rodents.
Metropolitan Natural Park, an urban rain forest with red-legged honeycreepers, trogons, keelbilled toucans, and marmosets, known locally as “mono titi.”
Camino de Cruces National Park, an ecological corridor linking forest zones between Metropolitan and Soberania national parks, home to endangered titi monkeys, armadillos, green iguanas, brocket deer, and three-toed sloths. Still visible are vestiges of the trail used by Spanish to transport gold across the isthmus en route to Spain.
Chagres National Park, with spider monkeys, toucans, the Chagres River (rafting trips can be arranged), Alajuela Lake, and part of the historic Camino Real.
Portobelo National Park, 42 miles (70 km) of coastline, rich coral reefs, a World Heritage Site because of the ruins of a Spanish colonial town where gold was loaded onto ships bound to Spain.
Though not a national park, Panama’s Canopy Tower (www.canopytower.com) offers one of the world’s great birding experiences. A converted radar tower, it has bedrooms at canopy level, home of blue cotingas and green shrike-vireos, among many others.
Another spectacular avian offering is the sight of raptor migrations in October and November, with millions of Swainson’s and broad-winged hawks plainly visible from Ancon Hill, Metropolitan Nature Park and the Bahai Temple hill just outside Panamá City. and the hill just outside Panamá City.
San Lorenzo National Park, on the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal, became a protected area in 1999 when the U.S. military handed over to Panama the area formerly used for jungle operations training. It may be the easiest place to see wildlife in Panama, and its Achiote Road bird site ranks with the Pipeline Road as one of the world’s best. Access is from Gatun Locks, Colon. See website www.sanlorenzo.org.pa.
Also, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, El Cope National Park in the province of Coclé and the Taboga and Uraba Wildlife Reserve, accessible by launch from the port of Balboa, dry forest home to thousand of nesting brown pelicans in March and April.
SOBERANIA NATIONAL PARK as well as...
Summit Botanical Gardens
La Amistad National Park
Baru Volcano National Park
Bastimentos Island National Marine Park
Cerro Hoya National Park
Sarigua National Park
Altos de Compana National Park
Camino de Cruces National Park
Chagres National Park
Portobelo National Park
Metropolitan Nature Park
San Lorenzo National Park
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
El Cope National Park
Taboga and Uraba Wildlife Reserve