Canopy Family | CNN: Towering above Panama’s rain forest


CNN Travel Now Insights
Towering above Panama’s rain forest

From Jim Morelli
CNN Travel Now Correspondent
June 2, 2000

(CNN) — Rising above the treetops of Panama’s rain forest is Canopy Tower, an eco-lodge that offers the most unusual view of the jungle and the potential to see more than 200 species of birds.

The tower is located in Soberanía National Park, 900 feet (274 meters) above sea level. From its roof you can see the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal and the skyline of Panama City.

The vistas from the Canopy Tower weren’t originally intended for tourists. The building was once a military radar station, built by the United States in 1965 to help defend the Panama Canal. Raul Arias de Para discovered the vacant facility four years ago and turned it into a lodge.

“I didn’t have this in mind,” he said. “I was looking for a place to build a traditional lodge in the forest, … next to a stream — the usual idea of an eco-lodge.”

But when de Para saw the tower for the first time, he declared it “love at first sight” and the renovations began. He devoted one floor to six guest rooms, each with huge windows opening up to the forest.
If you buy an inclusive package, which includes meals, transportation and two guided nature walks a day, a double costs $145, a single $200. Tours also are available for $15 a person. Guides speak Spanish, but you can request a bilingual guide for an additional fee.

Don’t expect any air conditioning, de Para’s Web site warns; that’s not part of the eco-tourism philosophy, since it consumes lots of electricity. On top of that, the machinery’s constant whir would drown out the din of howler monkeys, hooting owls and other noisy wildlife.

For the birdsAnother floor at the Canopy Tower houses a common area for reading, eating and socializing. And the top, around the now-empty dome, is for viewing.

“We are above the canopy, which is the highest part of the forest,” de Para said. “Certain animals live in the canopy and they are very hard to see from below. From here you see birds from above and all over, and that’s what makes it unique in the world.”

The chairman of the National Audubon society, Donal O’Brien, visited with his wife and called it “one of the great eco-tourist experiences” of their lives. The site offered “superb birding,” he added.

When is the best time to visit? That depends on what you want to see.

Late February to early May is the spring migration season, and is the best time to see different warblers and other Neotropical migratory birds in breeding plumage. It’s also the start of the rainy season, when many resident birds start to nest.

From June to August, the forest is at its most lush, and is followed by the fall migration season, which begins in September and climaxes in mid-October. Thousands of hawks and vultures journey past the tower at this time.

© 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.

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