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.
Day 1: Arrival in Panama City
Our Panama birding tour begins with an evening orientation at our hotel. Night in Panama City.
Day 2: Cerro Azul
We depart early for our first destination; 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 spend a full day day birding the cloud forest here, including Chagres National Park. There are a number of species here that will not be found at the lower elevations during the rest of the tour. We return to our hotel near the Panama City airport.
Day 3: Travel to Tortí
Early departure to make our way east towards the Darien province. Our first stop will be along the Llano-Cartí Road which offers some fantastic roadside birding, especially if we encounter mixed species flocks. This road is by far the best site to see the range restricted Sulphur-rumped Tanager which tends to move in flocks with other tanagers such as Speckled, Rufous-winged and Golden-hooded. Some other possible range restricted species which occur here are Stripe-throated Wren, Slate-throated Gnatcatcher, Slaty-winged Foliage-Gleaner, Spiny-faced Antshrike, Sapayoa and Green Manakin.
As we look for these rarities we will also be spotting species such as Golden-collared Manakin, Black-breasted Puffbird and Spot-crowned Barbets. After a picnic lunch we will continue our way east to the small rural town of Tortí. Night in Tortí.
Days 4 and 5: Torti
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. Nights in Torti.
Day 6: Transfer to Canal Zone
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.
Days 7 and 8: Summit Gardens and Pipeline Road
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.
Day 9: The Panama Canal and Return to Panama City
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.
Day 10: Departure home
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. You can depart anytime today.
Departures & Prices
Tour Price Includes
- All accommodations
- 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 Price Does Not Include
- Flights to and from Panama City
- Travel Insurance
- Items of a personal nature
What to Expect
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 (Good, modern accommodation in Panama City; excellent accommodations in the Canal Zone; basic hotel in Torti). 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.
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
- Speckled Mourner
Past Tour Checklists
Past Tour Checklists
View the list of birds and other wildlife we encountered on our past tours.