We can’t believe it’s been 25 incredible years!
CT_Eduardo Estrada_2024
Raúl Arias de Para_RLK
Raúl Arias de Para: President & Founder of Canopy Family

Back in 1999, the marvelous Canopy Tower began its second life as a birding lodge, representing the birth of the Canopy Family. It has certainly been a journey full of ups and downs, but ultimately, it was a dream brought to realization. Little did Raúl Arias de Para, our Canopy Family President and founder, know that 25 years later, the Canopy Family would have become a family company of not only one, but three highly unique ecolodges, with 70 direct employees. Over these years, we’ve collected amazing anecdotes, some of which we will reveal little by little during this and future issues of our Newsletter.

How was the dream born? In 1990 (nine years before the official opening of the Canopy Tower), Raúl was a businessman working for the government, striving to put Panama back on track after a long period of dictatorship. One day, he saw an advertisement in the newspaper where the Panama Audubon Society was offering a birdwatching course. He immediately asked his wife Denise, “What if we joined this course?” to which she replied, “Let’s do it!” The course included theoretical classes on Wednesdays and practical sessions on Saturdays in Panama City. At that time, Raúl used to spend weekends in El Valle de Antón, where he had a second home (and where the Canopy Lodge is located today). So, he attended the Wednesday classes but missed the Saturday field sessions. However, every Saturday, he would go birding with his friend Danilo Rodríguez (who is now one of our most experienced Canopy Family birding guides) and share everything he had learned during the week. After a few weeks, the course instructors asked Raúl why he was missing all the Saturday practices. Raúl told them about his birding sessions in El Valle with his friend Danilo and how they had been spotting birds like the Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo and the White-tipped Sicklebill. The instructors were skeptical about the existence of this Danilo and the sighting of such secretive birds.

Danilo Rodríguez Sr.
Danilo Rodríguez Sr., one of the first Canopy Family guides, currently guiding at Canopy Lodge

Therefore, Raul bought a camera and asked Danilo to take pictures of all the birds he would see during the week. Sure enough, Danilo took pictures of these and many other foothill birds which Raul promptly showed to the class the following week.  The pictures convinced the instructors and, for the next field session the whole group went birding to El Valle. There, they finally met Danilo and saw many of the birds Raúl had been mentioning, and, it was true! Danilo and all the amazing birds they had been observing were real!

After this course, Raúl, already deeply interested in nature, started thinking about the possibility of opening a nature-related business, recognizing the potential Panama—and its birds—held for such a venture. However, he didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do. With this idea in mind, one day while in a dentist’s waiting room, he saw another advertisement that was key to what the Canopy Tower is today. It was for a course called “How to Build an Ecolodge” held in Maho Bay, St. John, Virgin Islands, a concept that at the time was in its infancy. Once again, accompanied by his wife Denise, Raúl took the course, and upon returning, the idea clicked in his head. What if he could create an ecolodge dedicated to birdwatching? What if it could be among the amazing forests of the Panama Canal area? Little did he imagine where he would find the inspiration for his project! But that is a story we will leave for the next issue of our newsletter. Stay tuned!