Monday, April 13, 2015

Visiting the Soberania National Park and Gamboa Rainforest Resort, Panama

March 2015 - Another day we drove from our resort to the Soberania National Park.  It took about 35 minutes from the Intercontinental Playa Bonita Resort and was not that difficult.  What was challenging was trying to figure out where the park started. There is no visitor center, but instead small signs listing the name of the hiking trails.  Therefore, you must check the names of the hiking trails first.

We stopped at the El Charco Nature Trail (Sendero Natural El Charco) and parked in the dirt parking lot. As we approached the trailhead, a smiling young man stepped out and told us it was $5 to hike the trail. At first we thought we had to pay $5 for each trail, but it turns out that you receive a receipt and can hike all of the trails in the park for that price.  This trail is short and only takes about 20 minutes to complete the loop.

We were given a map and started along the trail. It was a beautiful rainforest, complete with waterfall, stream, pond, swaying bridges, and signs that listed the names of the trees and plants in both Spanish and English. Kids would probably enjoy it, as you have to ford the stream in a few places, and one of the bridges was broken. In the US it would not pass any safety standards, but it was fun in Panama.  We saw several birds, but no monkeys or sloths.  We were hoping that there were be guides we could hire to explain everything to us, as there were in Costa Rica, but this was not the case.

Hiking in the Panama Rainforest
Next we drove to the Pipeline Trail (Camino del Oleoducto), which is quite famous for animal sightings, and about 20 minutes drive from the first trail. To get there you must cross a rickety railroad bridge over the canal and through the ghost town of Gamboa. Then you must drive on a very bumpy dirt road until the trail entrance. We hiked 2 km along the trail (which is a road), but only saw a few birds. We did hear the howler monkeys screaming, but couldn’t see them.

Eventually we arrived at the Gamboa Rainforest Center where we bought some water. It was a $30 entrance fee, so we decided to pass. After that we hiked back, and saw a few more birds along the way, but didn’t know what they were. It would be nice if Panama trained guides the way Costa Rica does so that we could easily find a naturalist, rather than try to do it yourself.

View of Marsh with Crocodiles at Los Largatos Restaurant
For a late lunch we went to the Los Largatos Restaurant in the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. At first we drove to the resort and walked around, but were told we could catch the buffet at the lower restaurant situated on the marshy part of the canal. This was a great tip and not to be missed. The restaurant sits on the edge of the marsh and we saw hundreds of birds, plus crocodiles and turtles. The Sunday buffet was only $25, and was excellent. Since it was so hot, we had Panamanian beer with lunch.  My vegetarian friends were thrilled with the many vegetable and pasta options.  As for me, I went to for the spicy Panamanian chicken soup and pork in gravy dishes.

It is also possible to go boating from the restaurant, as well as hike on nature trails and bird watch.

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