Panama offers some of the best bird watching in Central America, harbouring nearly 1,000 bird species in an area only slightly larger than Ireland, and offering prime locations to witness spectacular spring and autumn migrations. On this holiday we’ll be based at the world-famous Canopy Tower within the Soberania National Park which extends to the suburbs of Panama City and the Panama Canal. Comfortable canopy bird watching from the tower is an undoubted highlight of this tour, but we’ll also explore the surrounding bird-rich rainforest in search of trogons, motmots, jacamars and puffbirds, plus Neotropical mammals, reptiles and much more!
- Millions of birds flying through Panama on autumn migration
- Watch Blue Cotinga & other canopy birds just metres from bedroom windows
- Hummingbird feeders attract White-necked Jacobin & many more
- Sloths, spider monkeys, howlers & Kinkajou among mammals possible
- Night excursion to hear/see more than 8 species of owls, plus potoos
- Optional visit to the Panama Canal
- Led by expert local naturalists
Included in the tour price.
The Canopy Tower is a converted former radar and look out tower. See full tour itinerary for detailed information on accommodation.
Ocellated Antbird (David Tipling)
Day 1 In flight to Panama City; Canopy Tower
Day 2 Semaphore Hill & Ammo Pond
Day 4 Summit Pond and Old Gamboa
Day 5 Plantation Road & Chagres River
Day 6 Cerro Azul and Costa de Este
Ocellated Antbird by David Tipling
Panama forms the narrowest part of the Meso-American Isthmus, which is not only of huge historical importance linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by rail and canal, but also of considerable bio-geographical importance as the land bridge between North and South America. Panama offers some of the best birdwatching in Central America, harbouring nearly one thousand bird species in only 80,000 square kilometres and offering prime locations to witness the spectacular spring and autumn migrations. It also contains large tracks of avian-rich tropical rainforest, of which the Soberanía National Park extends right down to the suburbs of Panama City and the famous Panama Canal. Here we will spend an entire week residing in the canopy itself at the world famous Canopy Tower in the hands of expert ornithological guides.
The Canopy Tower was built in 1965 by the United States Air Force to house a powerful radar used in the defense of the Panama Canal. By 1969, the site was jointly used by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to control air traffic in the area, and by the Panama Canal Commission (PCC) as a communications tower. The FAA permit terminated on its own terms in June of 1979 and its function was deactivated, but the PCC continued to use a small area of the tower until 1995. In September of 1988, the radar tower received an important new assignment when it was reactivated as Site One in the Caribbean Basin Radar Network (CBRN). This network of radars was used by the United States government to detect airplanes suspected of carrying drugs from South America. The tower played this role until June of 1995 when it was closed and left vacant waiting for better days.
In November of 1996, the radar tower and the Semaphore Hill site, consisting of approximately 35 acres of rainforest within Soberania National Park, was transferred to Panama in compliance with the Torrijos-Carter Treaties. The government of Panama, in turn, signed a long term concession contract with Divertimento Ecologico, S. A., a Panamanian corporation, to transform the site into a center for the observation of the neotropical rainforest. A fitting use for Panama, a peace loving country with no armed forces. The radar tower is now The Canopy Tower, an exclusive ecolodge offering its guests an extraordinary opportunity to appreciate the rich and diverse fauna and flora of Soberania National Park.
Rufescent Tiger Heron by David Tipling
Awaken to a tropical chorus of motmots, toucans, and fruitcrows. Your bedroom is at treetop level, no more than 40 feet from the birds. In the cool Panamanian dawn you can feel Panama's great rainforest awakening around you. Blue Cotingas and Green Shrike-Vireos, birds normally glimpsed high in the tops of trees, perch right outside your Canopy Tower room. Up a flight of stairs in the dining room, a cup of coffee and rolls await you. Settle down at a table next to the window. Above the endless tropical forest of Soberania National Park, a ship glides through the Panama Canal. The hooting of a distant troupe of monkeys punctuates the birdcalls. You keep your field guide open on the table in front of you beside your rolls and fresh orange juice. In complete comfort, you greet the morning sun.
Visiting in the second half of April we hope to combine our tours with the end of the spring migration and the beginning of the breeding season when birds are vocalizing more than in the dry season. The weather in April is still largely sunny, with daily tropical showers that help to reduce the mid-day heat. Although canopy birdwatching from the tower is an obvious highlight, the surrounding rainforest offers a variety of habitats and superb neotropical birdwatching including various trogons, motmots, jacamars, puffbirds, woodcreepers, manakins, antbirds and tanagers. The November tour should coincide with the incredible spectacle of the autumn hawk migration. Every year from the beginning of October till mid-November nearly 2 million Broad-winged Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks and Turkey Vultures fly south from North America and are funneled through Panama. Within this period, activity can vary from no birds recorded to a staggering half a million in just one day when the skies are filled with kettles of these birds riding the thermals! The Canopy Tower is indeed one of the locations used to count the migration, along with locations on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Climatic conditions will determine how many birds pass on a given day and on which side of the isthmus. We hope to be lucky enough to see this spectacular sight and to catch some of the other migrants passing through at this time of the year. November is at the end of the rainy season, but rains are mostly in mid-afternoon and rarely disturb birding completely.
This is a great place to start birding the neotropics. Hundreds of species can be seen right from your window, most of them clearly illustrated in Panama's excellent bird guides. The Canopy Tower is also a great place for those with a general interest in exploring the tropical forest. Giant, iridescent Morpho Butterflies flash their blue wings at you as you ride up the twisting road up to the Tower. Howler Monkeys startle you with a sudden roar overhead. Each shrub, tree and flower seems to be different from the last, reflecting Soberania's extraordinary diversity.
Come to the Canopy Tower with Naturetrek. Our client comments speak for themselves!
Couldn't fault Alexis Sanchez. Brilliant at finding the birds, knowing their calls and replicating all the calls, not just a few. That is really impressive. He also organised everything food wise and drink wise. An exceptional guide.
Superb accomodation at both Canopy and Lodge, rooms and food excellent, guides good.
I chose the holiday because it stayed in one place for a week but still gave lots of variety which it delivered in spades. The accommodation was much better than I had thought it would be. I was hoping the guiding would be good and I wasn't disappointed - Alexis was excellent.
Tyne and Wear
Our guide, Alexis Sanchez was friendly and helpful and worked hard all tour to help us see the birds. The Canopy Tower is a very special place and I am very happy I visited it.
Our guide, Alexis, was excellent. He met us at the Tower and explained everything to us. He was available to answer any questions. He was with us at the Lodge as well and provided brilliant guiding throughout. We also had Daniello with us on two days out from the Lodge, who was also an excellent bird guide. All the staff at both locations were excellent and very welcoming and friendly throughout. This was the first time we’ve been on a fully guided holiday and we enjoyed it a lot. The birding was amazing and the guides also allowed time to look at mammals and reptiles.
A really lovely place - comfortable, cosy, a great natural history library and the food was really delicious. I hated leaving. I was delighted with the number of mammals that we saw really well. It is an amazing place. The staff in the Canopy Tower were helpful and friendly, and everything was spotless. It was great not having to travel too far every day to see terrific new birds. The sites were close but with diverse birds and other wildlife. The bird guide was terrific - very knowledgeable about all aspects of natural history, good with people and a wonderful mimic of local bird calls. He made sure that we all saw the bird if at all possible. He was calm and relaxed, not rushing us, yet he was so enthusiastic and excited when we got a new bird or mammal. I really enjoyed this holiday. Thanks.
The local guide, field trips and general organisation were very good. I wish to make a return visit sometime in the future.
I liked being in the same place for the whole 8 days. I felt I was really starting to get to grips with the bird identification by knowing what to look for and where.
The trip was excellent - 245 bird species, 10 mammals and 11 reptiles. This was principally down to our guide Alex (Alexis) who was superb. He is an excellent birder - sightings, sounds and general identification. He combined these exceptional skills with a gentle and very pleasant character and took care to be inclusive of all the group members. The Canopy Tower is comfortable and clean, the food was superb and the birding from the tower was excellent. We were provided with tea, coffee and nibbles at 6am on the balcony and watched as the sun rose, before breakfast at 7.30am.
Our local guide was excellent, finding, calling and identifying birds and ensuring everyone saw them...very professional. The Canopy Tower staff were friendly, courteous and helpful. The group was a happy, friendly and sociable one.
The trip was most enjoyable, the group worked together very well, I think a good time was had by all. Staff and catering at the Lodge were excellent. The local guide would take some beating...knowledgeable, courteous, always helpful and always with a smile.
Both leaders were excellent, but I would like to particularly mention Danilo, our local guide for the El Valle extension... He knows the birds back to front (as well as their English names) and was a very pleasant individual to spend time with. His ability to locate and pin-point birds in the dense forest undergrowth was nothing short of astounding.
S. & A.W.
Jose and Tino are both superb bird-spotters, rating amongst the best we have encountered in all our travels. Both were very friendly, enthusiastic, and very patient.
A wonderful trip. Thanks to ALL concerned.
...the holiday was superb: well-organised, friendly, knowledgeable and communicative guides, clean and comfortable accommodation, first-class cuisine. A holiday I shall be glad to strongly recommend to anyone with an interest in birding. Well done, and many thanks.
The staff at Canopy Tower and Lodge were very helpful, and the guides at both places very skilled. For me the highlight of the trip was a clear and close sighting of a Pheasant Cuckoo - a very difficult bird not often seen.
Overall a most enjoyable holiday. Jose was a very knowledgeable, friendly and helpful guide, and the facilities and birding at the canopy tower were excellent.
The El Valle Lodge was superb and an absolutely essential part of a trip to Panama. The food was excellent and our guide was superb.
Canopy Tower was a delightful idea. The living area on the third floor was especially well done and the bedroom comfortable. The views from the roof were spectacular. Birding of passing migrants was excellent. Excellent management, excellent in field snacks, other food good. Service efficient. Panama is obviously a great birding country.