Trip Number: 14505A
Price: $3,695 (10-12)
$4,275 (or fewer)
Staff: Pati Rouzer
- Bird the world-famous Panama Canal Zone and western highlands with an
- Experience the unique blend of Pacific, Caribbean, and tropical highlands
on un-crowded trails
- Celebrate New Year’s Day in an eco-lodge & spa on Volcan Baru
searching for Resplendent Quetzals
- All lodging, meals, guides, and entrance fees
- All on-trip transportation, in-country flights, and taxes
- All tips to guides and drivers
Photo: Pati Rouzer
The meeting of two continents on this narrow isthmus weds North and South America,
resulting in the highest biodiversity of any country its size. Panama has two
oceans, 50 rivers, volcanic highlands, and the largest rainforest reserve outside
the Amazon Basin. Over 40% of the country retains original forest, and approximately
34% (2.5 million hectares) of the country’s natural areas are protected.
Panama contains 53 Important Bird Areas, three Ramsar wetland sites, three UNESCO
World Heritage sites, and two Biosphere Reserves. It has a country list of 972
species, 16 globally threatened birds and eight country endemics. The Canal
is one of the world’s most remarkable engineering feats completed in 1914
by the US, but many do not realize that Panama offers easy exploration of unique
ecosystems and exceptional neotropical birding trails, un-crowded even along
the famous Canal Zone.
We will explore 5-6 protected national parks, a 100-foot rainforest observation
tower, Caribbean lowlands and foothills, dry Pacific forests, wetlands, cloud
forests and volcanic highlands. Comfortable lodges and delicious Panamanian
cuisine fortify us during full days searching for fascinating families of neotropical
birds and familiar North American migrants. A short flight takes us to the western
highlands and La Armistad International Park, a World Heritage site. There we
will bring in the New Year with a tropical flare at a conservation oriented
eco-lodge and spa, nestled within the protected highland tropical forest of
Although our focus will be on birds, Panama boasts 218 species of mammals,
242 known reptiles, 182 species of amphibians, and around 9,915 species of higher
Our guide is internationally famous guide, instructor, author, and ornithologist
Alvaro Jaramillo. Together with your Sierra Club trip leader this small group
of 10 maximizes guide assistance, tropical birding emersion, and safety. A checklist
will be provided for the nightly review of species observed.
Photo: Pati Rouzer
Day 1: You will be picked up at the airport and transferred
to our hotel for our orientation meeting in the evening. We might see Keel-billed
Toucans flying over the lodge grounds. Our lodge serves until 9 p.m., however
dinner this evening is on your own. Overnight at our lodge near the southern
Day 2: Birdsong will greet us from our hotel as we head out
for an early morning start to the Discovery Tower that's located within the
Soberania National Park. We will bird the layers of the canopy as we climb the
100 feet to the top platform, appreciating the complexity of a tropical forest.
Our bird’s-eye view might reward us with Blue Cotinga, tiny Dacnis, or
Keel-billed Toucans. We will have lunch on the deck of the Visitor’s Center
while enjoying the antics of hummers coming to the feeders, with possible visits
by motmots, brush-finch and showy tanagers. Afterwards we continue to the nearby
Old Gamboa Road with an eye out for army ant swarms and their accompanying cadre
of ant birds, including the magnificent Ocellated Antbird. At the Summit Ponds
we will search for three species of kingfishers and the comical Boat-billed
Heron, its most reliable hangout. Overnight at our lodge near the southern Canal
Day 3: Today we will continue to explore the richness of the
Canal Zone, birding the world-famous Pipeline Road. Little cuties with odd names
like Olivaceous Flat-bill, Golden-crowned Spadebill, and Southern Bentbill are
interspersed with supersaturated tanagers, roosting owls, stationary Potoos
and raucous Keel-billed Toucans. Mammals like the Rufus-naped Tamarin, White-faced
Capuchin, and Agouti may cross our paths, and we are sure to hear the crashing
and deafening roar of Howler monkeys. Strange lizards, brilliant Morpho butterflies,
eerie mushroom caps, brilliant flowers or a Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth
will attempt to distract us from our avian quest. After lunch we will drive
to the Carribean side of the Canal Zone to our lodge in the Santa Rita Arriba
foothills at around 1,500 ft. elevation. Overnight at lodge.
Day 4: Today’s adventure in the Caribbean tropical lowlands
begins with a passage across the Gatun Locks, the Atlantic entrance to the Canal.
If we need to wait for ships passing through the locks, we can look for the
surprising birds that frequent this site -- Magnificent Frigatebirds, Long-tailed
Flycatcher, and the rare Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Once we pass through the
locks a full host of Caribbean lowland forest birds await, such as Red-breasted
Blackbird, Sandwich Tern, Spot-crowned Barbet and of course, more Trogons. Achiote
Road offers frequent roadside pullouts and the Trogon Trail, which is maintained
by the indigenous Achiote Community. This is a special opportunity to visit
and support a local community, working to sustain their natural resources and
encourage birding eco-tourism. We return to our foothills lodge for a delicious
dinner of local cuisine and an evening of amphibian serenade.
Photo: Pati Rouzer
Day 5: This morning will be spent birding trails and skies
of the eastern Caribbean highlands that are adjacent to our lodge. Hammocks,
feeders, and trails surround the lodge property. Here we have opportunities
for migrating raptors, Blue Cotinga, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Shining Honeycreeper
and a chance for eye-level, soaring King Vulture. After lunch we return to Panama
City’s Albrook Airport for our afternoon flight to David in the Chiriqui
province. Weight restrictions may apply on this in-country flight of approximately
one hour. Previously a checked luggage allowance of 25 lbs was allowed. Binoculars
and camera gear may be carried in your backpack. If you have excess weight you
might be able to leave it at our lodge while we are in the highlands, but you
are encouraged to pack lightly for the whole trip as all of our luggage will
travel with us in our van while moving from lodge to lodge. Depending on our
arrival time in David, we will check local hot spots for regional specialties
before driving to our lodge. Overnight lodging in Volcan.
Day 6: An exciting day of highland birding awaits us as we
try for our first looks at the Resplendent Quetzal along the Los Quetzales trail
in the Volcan Baru National Park. Long-tailed Silky Flycatchers lure us farther
up the trail. Lunch is at the park’s Friendship Center among hummingbird
feeders. This site will be hard to leave, but our lodge for the next three nights
is nearby -- the spectacular Los Quetzales Eco Lodge and Spa -- where we will
ring in the New Year surrounded by bird-friendly gardens & feeders. Or,
you may prefer a spa treatment before our gourmet dinner. This will be our highest
elevation area at around 6,000 ft.
Day 7: We will continue to celebrate nature on New Year’s
Day by exploring La Armistad International Park, a World Heritage site. This
protected mountain bioregion is of volcanic origin and a part of the Talamanca
Mountain Range. Sharing a common border with Costa Rica, La Armistad (“Friendship”)
contains the highest concentration of endemic and threatened species in Central
America. Violet Saberwing, White-throated Mountain-gems, Black Guan, Silvery-fronted
Tapaculo and many furnarids are possible. After lunch we will visit local gardens
to rest among hummingbird feeders, have close-up photo opportunities and perhaps
stroll garden trails. The weather in the Chiriqui highlands will be cooler than
in the lowland areas, delivering a welcome cool morning mist, refreshing after
the tropical humidity of the Canal Zone. Overnight at the eco-lodge.
Day 8: Our base lodge adjacent to La Armistad’s enormous
park offers some of the best highland birding experiences in Central America,
and today’s birding will originate at the Las Nubas headquarters. We have
the option of exploring the El Retono Trail, an easy 500 m loop called the Panama
Verde, or the vigorous La Cascada Trail to a waterfall. A pack lunch will allow
us to spend the day in the park among its 400 species. Those who wish may spend
the day at the eco-lodge, relax, take a spa treatment, photograph around the
grounds and feeders, or explore the quaint local town of Cerro Punta. Additional
options (arranged for and paid on your own through the lodge) include horseback
riding, archeological tours, or a visit to Finca Dracula (an farm featuring
2,600 species of orchids, but no vampires). Some of the lodge birds have been
Buffy Tuftedcheeks, Ruddy Treerunners, and Black-billed Nightingale-Thrushes.
Overnight at the eco-lodge.
Photo: Pati Rouzer
Day 9: The early morning can be spent relaxing, birding/photographing
or sorting out the myriad species of hummingbirds at the feeders around the
lodge. After breakfast we drive back to David for a mid-morning return flight
to Panama City. We will lunch at a nearby local restaurant, then either bird
the urban Metropolitan Park and its 267 plus species, or drive out along the
Culebra Point checking for Pacific waders, pelagics and shorebirds. Both options
offer exciting opportunities, but the time and tides will help us choose which
one to explore. Overnight in Panama City.
Day 10: We will have an early morning departure for the cool
foothills of Cerro Azul and Cerro Jeffe east of Panama City. A one-hour drive
will take us to an entirely different habitat contiguous with the Chagres National
Park, the watershed supplying the Canal. We have a chance for a Panamanian endemic
such as the Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, Yellow-eared Toucanet, tanagers and 40
additional species not seen in the lowlands. Visits to garden feeders will supplement
our hummingbird species with possible Rufus-crested Coquette and Violet-capped
Hummingbirds. We will stop at a craft market in the afternoon in Panama City
for last-minute shopping on our return to our lodge and farewell dinner. Overnight
in Panama City.
Day 11: Breakfast at the lodge and transfers to the airport,
or continue exploring Panama on your own.
Arrange your flight to the Tocumen International Airport (PTY), Panama City,
Panama. You will be met at the terminal exit by a driver holding a sign with
your name on it and transferred to our hotel.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Pati Rouzer
Our lodges have been selected based on locations in or near natural habitat.
They will be comfortable, clean but modest with private bathrooms and hot water.
Water is generally safe to drink in most of Panama, but bottled water will always
be available in lodges and our van. Panamanian cuisine is fresh, safe, and delicious.
Early morning departures will necessitate boxed breakfasts and we will have
several field box lunches to maximize our time birding. Vegetarians and special
diets will be accommodated as much as possible. All meals are included except
as noted, but sodas and alcoholic drinks are on your own.
You should be in good physical health, be able to rise early, walk ‘birding’
pace several miles with frequent stops and stand for prolonged periods. Most
trails are graded tracks or maintained trails with occasional muddy or washed
out parts, or along roadsides. We have a few trails with mild elevational gains.
The highest elevation we will be hiking at is around 6,500 ft. The Discovery
Tower is 174 ft, consisting of 100 steps with several observational levels that
allow you to rest and observe the layers of the canopy. We will take this slowly
to bird as we ascend, but you have the option to wait back at the birdy Welcome
Center. We will travel in a comfortable air-conditioned van with occasional
rapid exiting to view a spotted roadside bird.
Equipment and Clothing
Good-quality waterproof binoculars, a bird guide (see references), field notebook,
and a scope, if you have one and are willing to carry it. Our guide will carry
a high-quality spotting scope.
Panama uses the same current as the US (110 AC); therefore no adaptors are
needed for using or charging electronics and batteries. There will be many opportunities
for excellent photography as we walk the trails and enjoy the feeders; however
super-telephotos may not be appropriate for this active type of trip.
Photo: Pati Rouzer
We will be traveling during the ‘dry’ season, but rain is possible
any time. The lowlands will be warm to hot and definitely humid. The foothills
are pleasant but might be cool and drizzling, and the volcanic highlands are
cool during the day to cold and windy at night. Layers of quick-drying clothes,
lightweight fleece, rain gear, sunscreen protection for skin/lips and hats are
essential. Wear footgear that's solid enough to provide daylong support, with
non-slip soles adequate for forest hiking, and also bring a pair of sandals
to change out of in the evening. Panama has few insects, but bug juice will
protect you from the occasional mosquitoes and other biting/sucking bugs. Laundry
service will be available at most lodges.
As always, consult your physician with any health concerns, and recommended
vaccinations/inoculations or emergency travel medicine for gastro-intestinal,
respiratory, or allergy events. Although medical and some dental care is provided
free in Panama, it is strongly recommended that you purchase your own travel
cancellation insurance with medical/evacuation coverage.
A travel visa is not necessary for Panama, but your passport must be valid
for six months after leaving the U.S.
A detailed equipment list, packing suggestions and a checklist for study will
be mailed to registered participants.
- Angher, George R. and Robert Dean, The Birds of Panama. This
is the most up to date and useable field guide.
- Angher, George, Dodge Engleman and Lorna Engleman, A Bird-Finding Guide
to Panama. Describes the regions and birds likely to be seen in them.
- McCullough, David G., The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the
Panama Canal 1870-1914. History of the canal’s early years.
- Keller, Ulrich, The Building of the Panama Canal in Historic Photography.
- Forsyth, Adrian, Ken Miyata and Thomas Lovejoy, Tropical Nature: Life
and Death in the Rain Forests of Central and South America.
- Kricher, John, and Mark Plotkin, A Neotropical Companion: Second Edition
(1997) or An Introduction to the Animals, Plants and Ecosystems of
the New World Tropics.
- The Rainforest Publications has quick foldout guides to mammals, amphibians
- Panama 'AdventureMap' by National Geographic
- Panama bird songs may be downloaded from Xeno Canto http://www.xeno-canto.org.
Photo: Pati Rouzer
Each ship passing through the Canal requires 52 million gallons of water.
To supply the Canal’s water source, vast regions of the majestic Chagres
River watershed are protected. The 1977 Panama Canal Treaty obligated Panama
to provide water for the canal and local communities, create national parks,
conduct water resource studies, and promote sustainable communities. We will
visit three of these community projects during our tour. Strong national and
international interests coalesce to protect the hydrology of the Canal, resulting
in benefits not only in the Canal Zone but throughout Panama’s natural
areas. Conservation challenges will always be present with the ever-increasing
population and its attendant demands on land and resources. Chief among threats
are inadequate enforcement protecting against illegal clearing, poaching,
timber logging in and adjacent to protected areas, road construction, extraction
operations, illegal trafficking for the pet trade and hunting for food, pesticides
and other chemicals in agriculture, conversion of coastal mangrove forest
for shrimp farming, invasive elephant grass along the Canal Zone, and the
ever-present development pressure for housing and leisure activities, including
tourism. During our visit to Panama we have the opportunity to observe conservation
successes and challenges while supporting sustainable tourism. In alignment
with the Sierra Club’s mission to explore, enjoy, and protect wild places,
our tour also provides immersion in priority goals of resilient habitats and
complex water conservation issues.
The Panama Audubon Society has had phenomenal success working with its NGO
and governmental partners to document important bird areas, inform resource
managers, and implement conservation action. We will have a short presentation
on their current projects.
This trip requires a $200 per-person deposit. An additional payment of $300 per person is due six months prior to trip departure. International trip prices are subject to change and are based on double-occupancy or group accommodations as described above. Single rooms may not be available or may cost more than the listed price. If you have any questions regarding double occupancy, please contact the trip leader.
See the How to Apply for an Outing
section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the
trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing
up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing
approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical
Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on
the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to
the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and
notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
The Sierra Club accurately and fairly budgets and prices our trips. However, unforeseen costs such as devaluation of the dollar compared to other currencies and fuel surcharges assessed by our international providers may necessitate adjustment in trip price. We will make every effort to mitigate and absorb these fees. If a price increase is necessary, however, you will have 14 days after announcement to cancel without penalty.
Pati Rouzer is an avid birder with a strong interest in conservation. She has served on the Board of Directors for the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory, is actively involved with the Audubon Society, the local birding community, and is currently serving on the development committee for the Belize Raptor Research Institute. She has led trips locally and internationally to the neotropics and India. In her spare time she enjoys bird photography, bird-friendly gardening, and is contemplating finally starting a life list.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips