Tropical environments and ecosystems are extremely diverse in comparison to their temperate counterparts. Panama encompasses many distinct biomes and ecosystems, teeming with plant and animal life. Location, elevation and climate influence these environments and the plants and animals within, all part of an intricate and delicate web of interactions. When you first step into a tropical forest, you may be overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells around you. From the towering canopy above to the soil beneath your feet, there is life lurking in every nook and cranny.
The Canopy Family and Naturalist Journeys are excited to offer a special Tropical Rainforest Biodiversity workshop, featuring guest scientists Dr. Howard Topoff and Dr. Carol Simon, both formerly of the City University of New York and the American Museum of Natural History. For more than ten years they have brought their expertise on tropical environments and biodiversity to us for this event! We will spend our time exploring the forests in search of birds, mammals, frogs, insects and fascinating trees and plants, and almost every day there will be an informative and entertaining presentation on a wide variety of tropical biodiversity topics. Lodging will be at the world-famous Canopy Tower, surrounded by the lowland tropical forests of Soberania National Park, and the Canopy Lodge, in the picturesque foothills of El Valle de Antón, both perfect locations for exploring tropical ecosystems.
The Introduction to Tropical Biodiversity special eight-night tour will run September 28th – October 2nd at the Canopy Tower, and from October 2nd to October 6th, 2024 (FULL TOUR) at the Canopy Lodge, with a minimum of six people. Departures are on October 6.
Rate for this special tour: $3,100.00.
(Contact us for 2025 rates)
Rate is US$ per person (+ taxes), double occupancy. This all-inclusive rainforest tour includes lodging and meals at the Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge, bilingual professional guides, wine with dinner, airport transfers to and from Panama City and all tours and presentations as per the itinerary. Please check with our reservations office for the times of our scheduled airport transfers to coordinate your arrival and departure times.
This tour does not include taxes, flights to and from Panama City, private airport transfers, tips and alcoholic beverages (apart from dinner).
To book this special nature package, please contact us. Spaces are limited so book your spot now!
ARRIVAL AT CANOPY TOWER
Welcome to your Introduction to Tropical Biodiversity tour!
You will be met at the airport and transferred to the Canopy Tower, a 45 minute drive from Panama City. Situated in the lush lowland rain forests along the Panama Canal, the Tower is a very different and unique setting. One of the first things you should do is to make your way up to the observation deck overlooking the vast forest canopy of Soberania National Park. You can see glimpses of the Panama Canal plus Panama City. You can also view many stunning tropical birds, mammals and reptiles. It is common to see Geoffroy’s Tamarins, Mantled Howlers, Brown-throated Three-toed Sloths and Green Iguanas in the rainforest canopy here. Green-and-Black Dart Poison Frogs are just outside the front doors of the Tower, along with Turnip-tailed Geckos. Tungara Frogs call loudly there and you can often find their foam nests nearby. It is an exciting place to stay.
Today, if time permits, your guest scientists will present their first multi-media presentation, Introduction to the Rainforest. Future presentations are geared towards the interests of the participants and may include tropical botany, butterflies, social insects, reptiles and amphibians, bird sensory systems, new world primates, animal coloration, the Panama Canal and more. These talks are always a highlight of the workshop.
DINNER AT CANOPY TOWER
AM: PLANTATION ROAD (5 MINUTES FROM CANOPY TOWER)
As we awaken to the roars of Mantled Howlers in the distance, breathe in the fresh air and make your way up to the observation deck at dawn. This is the best time of day to observe the canopy, both for the beautiful sunrise and for the bird activity. With warm coffee or tea in hand, watch for Red-lored and Mealy Parrots, Keel-billed Toucans, Black-cheeked Woodpeckers, Masked Tityras, Green Honeycreepers, Green Shrike-Vireos and dozens of other species as they actively communicate and feed in the treetops. After breakfast, we board one of the Canopy Tower’s specialized nature-watching vehicles and head slowly down Semaphore Hill Road, scanning the understory of the forest for animals such as the Central American Agouti and White-nosed Coati. This morning we take a walk along Plantation Road, one of the trails of Soberania National Park.
The Canopy Tower is surrounded by 22,000 hectares of lowland tropical rainforest of Soberania National Park, adjacent to the Panama Canal and mighty Chagres River. It is the perfect setting for our first morning in the lowland rain forest. Walking through the forest with its towering giants (Ceiba and Cuipo trees), we will spend the morning searching for animals from tiny leafcutter ants on the ground to large raptors and sloths in the treetops. Broad-billed Motmots, White-whiskered Puffbirds, Gartered Trogons, South American Common Toads, Northern Tamanduas and so much more can be found along this trail. The rainforest is so full of life! After our morning walk we return to the Canopy Tower in time for lunch.
PM: SUMMIT GARDENS & HARPY EAGLE EXHIBIT (10 MINUTES FROM CANOPY TOWER)
This afternoon we visit the Summit Municipal Park and Botanical Gardens. We can find free-roaming Central American Agoutis, Central American Whiptail Lizards, Laughing Falcons, Tropical Mockingbirds, Crimson-backed Tanagers and hundreds of other species of birds. We also visit some of the enclosures housing Panama’s native fauna. In the 1960s, Summit Botanical Gardens started receiving injured and non-releasable animals from all over Panama. Now, this facility houses over 100 animals including macaws, spider monkeys, tapirs, jaguars, pumas and Panama’s national bird, the Harpy Eagle. We will make a stop to visit a non-releasable Harpy Eagle living at this wildlife refuge. It is a great opportunity to see some species that are rather difficult to encounter in the wild in Panama.
Back at the Canopy Tower, we will meet at the cocktail hour for Howard and Carol’s early evening presentation. For dinner we can expect an enjoyable blend of Panamanian and international fare!
EVENING: NIGHT RIDE/WALK
After dinner we will take a short night excursion, riding in one of the open vehicles and then walking in the national park. We will listen for owls and potoos and scan the trees with a spotlight for Western Night Monkeys, Kinkajous, Olingos and other nocturnal wildlife. Many frogs are present and an occasional snake. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, we’ll reschedule for another evening.
BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND DINNER AT CANOPY LODGE.
AM: PIPELINE ROAD (20 MINUTES FROM CANOPY TOWER)
After some time on the observation deck, head down to a hot breakfast at the Canopy Tower’s third floor dining room, surrounded by the forest canopy just outside the open windows. We will board our vehicle once again and head out to the world-famous Pipeline Road — once an access road built during WWII to serve aa a pipeline installed as a precautionary measure for the Panama Canal. It was never used. Surrounded by mature secondary lowland forest and protected within the boundaries of Soberania National Park, Pipeline Road boasts incredible biodiversity—over 500 species of birds have been recorded in these Caribbean slope forests, as well as hundreds of mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and even more insects and trees and other plants. As we walk the first part of the dirt and gravel road, we will watch for five species of trogon, Whooping and Rufous Motmots, Cinnamon and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, three species of manakin, hummingbirds, raptors, peccaries, lizards, frogs, butterflies, insects and more. It is hard to decide whether to look up or down! We hope to come across a swarm of army ants, where many species of birds attend the feeding frenzy! Howard is an army ant specialist, and we can look forward to his very entertaining talk on social insects. Central American Whiptails and Striped Rocket Frogs may be seen along the road. Our list from the morning alone will no doubt be extensive! After a full morning in this superb forest, we will make our way back to lunch at the Tower.
PM: BIOMUSEO (45 MINUTES FROM CANOPY TOWER)
Today we will also visit the BioMuseo. The stunning facility is along the Amador Causeway in Panama City. This spectacular and unique building, designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, features several halls focusing on the biodiversity of the isthmus of Panama—from its geological beginnings through to modern day culture, the great faunal interchange over the land bridge and other fascinating exhibits. Our visit will no doubt open our eyes further to the incredible biodiversity of Panama! And don’t forget your binoculars, as we may see Brown Pelicans and Magnificent Frigatebirds flying over the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal.
BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND DINNER AT CANOPY TOWER
AM: SUMMIT PONDS AND OLD GAMBOA ROAD (20 MINUTES FROM CANOPY TOWER)
We will start our morning once again on the observation deck before breakfast and as the mist lifts from the valley we will watch for Crane Hawk, Golden-hooded Tanager and Blue Dachnis in the treetops. Howler Monkey and Green Iguana are sometimes seen here in the mornings also. After breakfast we will visit one of the best sites down the road from the Canopy Tower. Our first stop will be at the two forest lagoons. Here we can find Boat-billed Herons, Capped Herons, five different kingfishers, American Crocodile, Spectacled Caiman, Black River Turtle, Common Basilisk and so much more. We have even seen a Boa Constrictor here. Moving down the Old Gamboa Road we will scan the grassy edges and emerging roadside trees for arriving migrants, as many species of raptors, warblers and flycatchers are passing through Panama on their way to South America. Leafcutter Ant highways cross the path several times. Variegated Squirrel and White-nosed Coati are just some of the mammals we may find. We are sure to have a great morning.
We’ll return to the Tower for lunch.
PM: OLD GAMBOA RESORT (15 MINUTES FROM CANOPY TOWER)
In the afternoon we visit the Old Gamboa Resort Grounds. The Chagres River is the main tributary for the Panama Canal. Here Embera Indian Trails lead from the river, and we often see individuals fishing from their canoes. The birding along the banks and forest edges of Gamboa Resort can be spectacular, and so is the tropical vegetation. Here you may be “kissed” by Psychotria, commonly known as Hot Lips. And if you are fond of Panama hats, you will be interested to see the Toquilla Palm, whose fibers are woven to make your hat. There is a butterfly house and the Verbena shrubs around it attract dozens of species of butterflies, including Erato Longwing, Apricot Sulphur, Banded Peacock, and Banded Orange. There is also a sloth recovery center and a dart poison frog display. We may even find some bats, hiding out in the daytime. After a pleasant afternoon we make our way back to Canopy Tower for our evening talk.
We’ll return in time for our evening presentation at the cocktail hour. Perhaps the butterfly talk is a good one for tonight.
BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND DINNER AT CANOPY TOWER
AM: JUNGLE BOAT TOUR (15 MINUTES FROM CANOPY TOWER)
As always, you can enjoy early morning hours on the observation deck where there will always be a bird guide with a scope. After breakfast, we board a small, covered boat for a spectacular tour on the Panama Canal. Most of the Canal is actually an artificial lake, Gatun Lake, and our tour will take us from Gamboa—just 15 minutes from the Canopy Tower—to the edges and inlets of this large lake. We start our tour by exploring the edges of the mighty Chagres River, where Common and Purple Gallinules, Rufescent Tiger-Herons, Amazon Kingfishers and Spectacled Caimans may be found. Along the way to Gatun Lake along the Panama Canal we pass huge cargo ships and ocean liners; American Crocodiles are seen basking along the beaches and we should spot Common Basilisks, also known as Jesus Christ Lizards, for their ability to run across the water. We will visit hidden coves and beautiful inlets with fascinating fauna and flora, and search for White-faced Capuchins, Mantled Howlers and Proboscis Bats along the water’s edge.
PM: MIRAFLORES LOCKS, PANAMA CANAL (20 MINUTES FROM CANOPY TOWER) AND TRANSFER TO CANOPY LODGE
The Panama Canal is nearby, and not be missed. After lunch, we head for the Miraflores Locks. The entire canal is an engineering marvel, truly one of the wonders of the modern world. The Miraflores Locks are the first set of locks on the Pacific side of the canal. They operate 24 hours a day and have changed very little since 1914 when the Panama Canal opened. Today over 14,000 ships and boats pass through the Canal annually. At the Miraflores Visitor Center we visit the four-floor museum and watch a large container ship or two pass through the locks from an observation deck. Newly added is an I-Max Theater and we will watch an informative presentation about the canal there.
There will be several hours of driving before we arrive at the Canopy Lodge. Upon arrival you can check into your room and enjoy the comfortable el Valle location. Here we will be greeted by our local Canopy guide. Just outside your bedroom window, the cloud forest beckons. Birds abound and Basilisk (Jesus Christ) Lizards, sitting on rocks in the stream, can be seen with a little patience, running across the water. Dinner will be served on the veranda, as are all meals. On many evenings here you can accompany Carol as she wanders the grounds looking for frogs.
BREAKFAST AND LUNCH AT CANOPY TOWER, DINNER AT CANOPY LODGE
AM: LA MESA AND LAS MINAS ROAD (15 MINUTES FROM CANOPY LODGE), CANOPY ADVENTURE (5 MINUTES AWAY)
This morning early risers can enjoy checking out the feeders that are positioned near the outdoor dining area. There is an abundance of hummingbirds including Long-billed Starthroats, Violet-headed and Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteers and Garden Emeralds. Black-throated Mangos feed at the verbena in the gardens, as well. Thick-billed Euphonias, Dusky-face and Flame-rumped Tanagers, Rufous Motmots, Gray-headed Chachalacas and many others are commonly found at the banana feeders. Central American Agoutis also forage in the garden.
After breakfast, we continue our biodiversity tour along several roads, searching mainly for birds, insects and plants. Las Minas Road follows a ridge line, with sweeping vistas of forested mountains, speckled with grasslands and small fincas (farms). The views from the higher elevations are fantastic, and on a clear day near the summit, both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans can be seen! The road is lined with sensitive Mimosa, a plant that closes up quickly when touched. It is a great place to see some of the most beautiful tanagers, including Black-and-yellow, Bay-headed & Emerald, as well as many other birds. It is also a great place for butterflies, as many skippers, satyrs, ticlears, hairstreaks and clearwings flutter along the roadsides.
Moving to the Canopy Adventure, we will be in a long-time private refuge adjacent to the Canopy Lodge. A large waterfall is one primary focus here. We can see birds, rain-forest flora, Turnip-tailed Geckos, Water Anoles and Brilliant Forest Frogs. It is simply a lovely walk in a dense tropical forest.
PM: MARIO URRIOLA’S REPTILE AND CONSERVATION FACILITY (15 MINUTES FROM CANOPY LODGE)
After lunch, we’ll head out to meet Mario Urriola, a native of El Valle who has extensive experience and knowledge about the reptiles of the area. Mario is the owner of “El Serpentario Maravillas Tropicales,” a reptile facility in El Valle, which houses various species of snakes and lizards that can be found in the area. Up-close looks at some of these difficult-to-find creatures will be paired with an informative narrative about local species. Mario is an important figure in the area for both education and conservation. Carol also has a strong interest in reptiles and amphibians and tonight’s presentation will focus on poisonous amphibians and venomous reptiles.
BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND DINNER AT CANOPY LODGE.
AM: BUTTERFLIES AND NATURAL HISTORY OF CERRO GAITAL (20 MINUTES FROM CANOPY LODGE)
This morning, while birding (there is always a Canopy bird guide with us) and searching for other animals in the forest, such as the deep forest Dunn’s Spiny Lizard, we will take a close look at the fascinating world of butterflies and insects in Central America. The biodiversity of butterflies (and moths, their nocturnal counterparts) is incredible in tropical regions around the world, and Panama alone has over 1500 species! From the beautiful metallic blue of the large Blue Morpho, to the pretty little Passion Vine butterflies (Heliconius spp.), tropical butterflies always capture the attention. We will look for such eye-catching species as Mimosa Yellows, Deep-blue Eyed-Metalmarks, Sara Longwings, Orange Mapwings, Togarna Hairstreaks, Puerta Satyrs, Common Ur-Satyrs, Red-headed Firetips and the crepuscular Yellow-bordered and Giant Owl-Butterflies, roosting along the trails. Insight into the lives of butterflies – their life cycles, how they eat and various methods to evade predation – are just a few of the interesting topics we will explore! This is Howard’s favorite local area.
We’ll be back for lunch at the Lodge.
PM: ARTISAN AND FRUIT MARKET PLUS EL VALLE AMPHIBIAN CONSERVATION CENTER (10 AND 15 MINUTES FROM THE CANOPY LODGE)
This afternoon, first we will visit the local amphibian conservation center. Here we will see captive Panamanian Golden Frogs; they no longer exist in the wild. An informal, informative presentation will be given by one of the owners and we will have the opportunity to see some other species of frogs that would be difficult to find in the field.
We also visit the artisan and fruit market in the heart of El Valle de Anton. The market is run by Panamanian artisans from Guna Yala and sells beautiful “molas” – traditional handmade panels sewn by combining layers of fabric and showing geometric and animal designs, – as well as hand-painted wooden decorations, paintings and jewelry. The market in El Valle is very colorful, and a great place to take photos and purchase souvenirs before returning home.
We’ll return to the Tower in time for a presentation at the cocktail hour, as is our custom. Perhaps the butterfly talk is a good one for tonight.
BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND DINNER AT THE LODGE.
ALTOS DEL MARIA FULL DAY (40 MINUTES FROM CANOPY LODGE)
Departing after an early breakfast, we’re off into the highlands of Altos del Maria! With the sunrise ahead of us, we will climb into the mountains along the Continental Divide east of El Valle. Often engulfed by the mist of the expansive cloud forest that surrounds the area, Altos del Maria sits at an altitude of 1,100 meters (3,600 feet). Today we can find highland forest birds, including Black-crowned and Streak-chested Antpittas, White Hawks, Barred Forest-Falcons, Northern Emerald and Yellow-eared Toucanets, Spotted Barbtails, Tufted and Sulphur-rumped Flycatchers, Rufous-browed Tyrannulets, Orange-bellied Trogons, and the tiny yet stunning Snowcap. We hope to see a tiny Western Pygmy Squirrel working away in the treetops. Plants will not be ignored and this is a good place to see the large white Sobralia orchids.
Carol’s favorite walk is here, on a paved path along a narrow, riparian canyon. The stream here was the last place that Panamanian Golden Frogs were seen in the wild. After a picnic lunch, we return back to the Canopy Lodge by mid-afternoon. It should be a good evening for one of our presentations during cocktail hour.
BREAKFAST AND DINNER AT CANOPY LODGE, PICNIC LUNCH.
DEPARTURE TO THE AIRPORT (45 MINUTES FROM CANOPY LODGE)
You will be transported to the Panama City Airport in plenty of time for your flights. If you chose to stay an extra day you can be dropped at one of the airport hotels. Enjoy your final minutes at the lovely Canopy Lodge. It goes fast and we have a wonderful time! You’ll return home with many photos and memories.
BREAKFAST AT THE CANOPY LODGE.
The Canopy Tower is located in impressive rainforest atop Semaphore Hill within Soberanía National Park, 35 miles north of Panamá City in the Republic of Panamá right in the center of the New World— and just 2½ hours from Miami! It’s one of best locations for birding lodges in Panama.
El Valle de Antón In Coclé Province, home to both the Canopy Lodge and the Canopy Adventure, is an enchanting mountain valley town much cooler than the tropical lowlands. Surrounded by scenic misty mountains traversed by creeks, its true charm is revealed by its unhurried pace and its peaceful residents. Located just two hours from Panama City, El Valle is the perfect resting place for someone trying to escape traffic jams, office buildings, pollution and the pressures of everyday city life.