Panama: Canal Zone & the Darien

Central America
Land Tour
Highlights

Highlights

  • Diverse and rich wildlife; some of the finest birding locations in the Neotropics, in the Canal Zone and in the Darien
  • Spectacular scenery, excellent lodge in the Canal Zone, and unique history surrounding the Panama Canal
Map

Map

Tour Overview

Panama with its very rich avifauna has quickly emerged as a top birding destination. Panama is the transition zone between Central and South America. It feels more “tropical” even than adjacent Costa Rica, with many representatives of typical Neotropical families – woodcreepers, toucans, jacamars, motmots, manakins, antbirds, cotingas, tinamous, plus a plethora of tanagers, flycatchers, honeycreepers and parrots and much more, and with always the chance of a mega-bird such as Harpy Eagle and scarce mammal such as Ocelot or Tapir.

Our Panama birding tour focuses on two main areas – the Canal zone, and east into the Darien at Torti. The hotel in Torti is in a world-class birding zone and many endemic species occur here. This is followed by several days investigating the superb and rich birdlife of the Canal Zone forests, including marvelous Pipeline Road which runs through wet forests in Soberanía National Park. The hummingbird feeders at Cerro Azul are often very productive, and Panama City’s Metropolitan Park supports Lance-tailed Manakin, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, even Red-naped Tamarin monkeys. With its short distances, excellent infrastructure and outstanding wildlife, Panama is superb, and our visit will be a truly unforgettable experience.

Read the trip report from our 2022 Panama Birding Tour.

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Panama City

Our Panama birding tour begins with an evening orientation at our hotel. Night in Panama City.

Our first destination is Cerro Azul, where we take in the hummingbird feeders which are often highly productive and may include a couple of species we will not encounter elsewhere, such as Violet-capped Hummingbird. We then transfer to the Darien for a three night stay.

The hotel in Torti lies in a world-class birdwatching zone and is becoming one of Panama’s top birdwatching sites. The forest is part of a biological corridor linking species east and west, Pacific and the Caribbean, as well as being on a zone between lowland and piedmont regions. It is an Important Bird Area, with many endemic species of the Darien lowlands and highlands. It has excellent hummingbird feeders including species not found anywhere else we go, such as Long-billed Starthroat and Scaly-breasted Hummingbird and is located very close to some excellent birding with plenty of species not found further west such as Sooty-headed Tyrannulet, Unicolored Becard, Sirystes, Barred Puffbird and Golden-headed Manakin, and other species that are rare elsewhere in Panama such as Speckled Mourner. The list of birds is increasing each year: they include several hummingbird species such as Stripe-throated and Green Hermits, Garden Emerald and Black-throated Mango; parrots including Mealy, Brown-hooded and Blue-headed; toucans such as Yellow-eared Toucanet and Keel-billed Toucan; tanagers like Golden-hooded and Sulphur-rumped, and rare and stunning species as Black-faced and Black-headed Antthrush, and Black-crowned and Streak-chested Antpittas. Night at Torti.

We then transfer to the Canal Zone for a three night stay with some very productive birding on our way there. Night near the Panama Canal.

Nestled in the vast Soberania National Park Rainforest, on the banks of the Panama Canal, is our superb accommodation. This is an area rich in bird species, including 3 species of forest-falcons, 16 species of hummingbirds, Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, Great Jacamar, Masked Tityra, Bright-rumped Attila, Broad-billed and Rufous Motmots, Blue Cotinga, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Brownish Flycatcher (Twistwing), Plumbeous and Semiplumbeous Hawks, Great Black Hawk, Black Hawk-Eagle, Crested Eagle, Green Shrike-Vireo, Short-tailed Nighthawk, Spectacled Owl, Black-chested Jay and many antbirds, woodcreepers, puffbirds and trogons. Mammals include Three-toed and Two-toed Sloths, White-faced Capuchin and Agoutis.

Old Gamboa Road passes through scrubby and secondary growth habitat as well as pastures and other open country areas. Possibilities include Red-naped (Geoffroy’s) Tamarin monkeys and Central American Agoutis, along with Lance-tailed Manakin, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Orange-billed Sparrow, Blue-crowned Motmot, Rufous-and-white Wren (a fine singer), Rufous-breasted Wren, three species of greenlets, and Green Honeycreeper are some we look for as well as a Panamanian endemic, Yellow-green Tyrannulet. Both Jet and White-bellied Antbirds occur in brushy thickets, and other interesting birds in this area include Scrub Greenlet and White-necked Puffbird.

We should do well for raptors; Gray-headed and Swallow-tailed Kites, Short-tailed and White Hawks and King Vulture are frequently seen.

Pipeline Road starts out in scrubby mature secondary tropical moist forest with patches of primary forest, eventually merging into primary forest. This legendary place ranks as one of the finest birding areas in the neotropics, and daily tallies can be very impressive: tanagers, woodcreepers, antbirds, toucans, puffbirds including Black-breasted and Pied, and much more. We concentrate on those goodies that we haven’t already found, and with luck we may find Rufous-fronted Wood Quail or Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo. If we find an army ant swarm, then attendant ant-followers could include Spotted, Bicolored, Ocellated and Chestnut-backed Antbirds. Manakins include Golden-collared, Blue-crowned and Red-capped, trogons include Slaty-tailed, Gartered and Black-throated, and woodpeckers include Cinnamon, Black-cheeked, Crimson-crested and Lineated Woodpecker. Nights at near the Panama Canal.

Our final birding day begins with a boat tour on the Panama Canal. After a short blast alongside the massive ships transiting the canal, we explore a series of small islands and inlets. Being on the water gives us a new perspective of the canal zone, and the chance to add some different species. Snail Kites are frequent here, and the diminuitive American Pygmy Kingfisher hunts from the trees along the banks. Monkeys of various species are another common sight from the boat, lounging and foraging in the treetops. After our tour we return to Panama City for lunch, then make a short visit to the historic Casco Viejo, or Old Panama City. Shorebirds like Willet and Whimbrel may be seen along the shoreline. Night in Panama City.

Our Panama birding tour ends this morning. The hotel will provide breakfast and transfer to the airport at the appropriate time, depending on each person’s flights home.

DEPARTURES

We have no scheduled departures at this time.

What's Included

Tour Includes

  • All accommodation (Good, modern accommodation in Panama City; excellent accommodations in the Canal Zone; basic hotel in Torti)
  • All meals
  • Ground transportation
  • Guides - 1 guide with 4 to 8 pax, 2 guides with 9 to 12 pax
  • All park, conservation and entrance fees
  • Gratuities to local guides and drivers

Tour Does Not Include

  • Flights to and from Panama City
  • Travel Insurance
  • Items of a personal nature

What to Expect

Our days on our Panama birding tour usually start with an early morning, before-breakfast walk, as it is best to begin birding at daybreak in the tropics, when bird activity and song are at their peaks. In forest regions, we concentrate on “edge” birding until light is sufficient to enter forest trails. Often bird activity slackens off by noon and we may return to our hotel for lunch and a short siesta, after which we bird again in the coolness of the late afternoon, and on occasion we may stay out after dusk to search for nightbirds. Sometimes we have picnic lunches so that we can eat in the field, maximizing our time and allowing us a more flexible schedule.

Accommodations range from very good to simple but comfortable. In the Canal Zone, accommodation is very good. Weather conditions range from hot to cool; mostly, it will be warm with a mixture of sun and cloud. Walking conditions range from easy to moderately strenuous, with some steep and rocky sections; if there has been rain, then trails will be muddy. Strong, waterproof footwear is advised and a light rain-jacket and waterproof hat are often essential. There will be opportunities for photography, as many birds and other wildlife allow close approach. In the evening we usually eat at the hotel or lodge where we are staying. At this time we discuss the day’s activities, review the list of birds and other wildlife that we have seen and heard, and prepare for the next day’s activities.

Featured Wildlife

Even though we cannot guarantee a sighting of the animals below, we feel quite confident that an encounter with the ones listed below is quite likely.

  • Black-crowned Antpitta
  • Black-chested Jay
  • Lance-tailed Manakin
  • Rosy Thrush-Tanager
  • Blue Cotinga
  • Black-breasted Puffbird
  • Yellow-eared Toucanet
  • Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon
  • Syristes
  • Speckled Mourner

Tour Reviews