21 Exotic Animals You Can See (and Actually Meet) in Panama

Panama has one of the most diverse wildlife in the world. With its beautiful bodies of water, gorgeous jungles, and breathtaking topographies, Panama is the place you want to go. If you love animals in their habitat, this Central American country is where you should come.

Most of Panama is still wildlands, with lots of undiscovered terrains. Its rich biodiversity lends itself to one of the most remarkable wildlife in the world. This includes majestic animals like jaguars, pumas, ocelots, humpback whales, and hammerheads. Panama even has five species of sea turtles and one of the world’s most diverse bird population.

Are you looking to learn more about Panama’s beautiful wildlife? Looking to see which of these majestic animals you can find once you visit? We listed x of the most exotic animals in Panama for you to see.

Your eyes won’t believe how beautiful these are.

1. Red-Eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas)

little tree frog with red eyes

The Red-Eyed Tree Frog (Agalychnis callidryas) is one of the most iconic wildlife that you can see in Panama. This critter is famous because of its beautiful color features. These include its combination of scarlet-red eyes, bright green skin, and vibrant orange toe webbing.

At 2.75 inches (7cm), the Red-Eyed Tree Frog is a medium-sized frog about the size of a cup. Much like all its cousins, the females are bigger than the males. They’re nocturnal and arboreal, meaning you’ll find them at night on top of the canopy.

If you want to find them in Panama, it’s best to visit during their breeding season. This rut can last from around May to November or January, depending on the length of the wet season. You’ll know it’s the season once you start hearing their chorus croaking at night, especially during thunderstorms.

2. Brown-Throated Sloth (Bradypus Variegatus)

sloth with tree

The Brown-Throated Sloth (Bradypus Variegatus) is one of the cutest things that come out of Panama. A sub-species of the three-toed sloth, the playful nature of this animal coincides with how easy it is to find. There are at least three species of sloths in Panama. The Brown-Throated Sloth is among the most common.

Brown-Throated Sloths are among the internet’s favorite exotic animals for a reason. They sleep between 15 to 18 hours a day, coming out only for a few brief periods to forage. They spend most of their lives on top of trees, coming down around once a week to relieve themselves.

Seeing sloths in Panama should not be much of a problem. Most rainforests in Panama have them as long as you look hard enough.

3. Baird’s Tapir (Tapirus Bairdii)

grey baird's tapir

The Baird’s tapir (Tapirus Bairdii) is a weird, one of a kind animal. Known to locals as the macho de monte, this animal looks like either a small elephant or an enormous rodent. Its features include a lengthy snout and a large body that can grow to 8.2 feet (2.5 m).

The tapir is nocturnal but also wakes up in the morning when it can. It enjoys swimming in shallow waters, so you will likely see one swimming around when you visit Panama. During the dry season, it stays in watering holes for hours to keep its body temperature low.

If you want to find Baird’s tapir, their habitat in Panama is in Barro Colorado Island. They’re under careful study there and are now under conservation.

4. Ocelot (Leopardus Pardalis)

ocelot with rocks

The Ocelot (Leopardus Pardalis) is one of the biggest cats in the world. It’s much smaller than its other big cat relatives in Panama, like the Puma and Jaguar. Even then, it’s still quite sizeable, and it’s easy to find it in conservation areas.

The most prominent feature of an ocelot is its black markings, which is a combination of spots and stripes. They’re solitary and crepuscular, making them also hazardous for human livestock. This is the reason why most ocelots and big cats in Panama are in protected zones.

Ocelots live in Barro Colorado Island, a protected habitat. They are not an endangered species but their tendency to hunt can become a problem for poultry and livestock.

5. Jaguars (Panthera Onca)

relaxed jaguar

Jaguars (Panthera Onca), are another of the more well-known big cats in Panama, the other being the Puma. The big difference is that the Puma is so wild that it will be tough to see them for yourself. The Jaguar, however, is not very hard to find.

The jaguar is a cat with many black spots with the third-largest size in the world. Its coat is yellowish to brown and is one of the best apex predators in the world. Even then, the jaguar is on the near-threatened species list because of its loss of habitat.

If you’re in Panama, you will likely see the jaguar in wild forest tours. The Darien and Guna Yala provinces have the highest concentration of these majestic animals.

6. West Indian Manatee (Trichechus Manatus)

west Indian manatee in the water

The West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus) is one of the more common sights you will see in Panama. If you’re going out to the sea, you can see them swimming around different parts of the country. Once you find them, they’re a sight to behold.

West Indian manatees like to live in different bodies of water, from oceans to estuaries. They are quite agile swimmers but are very friendly. They’ll play with boats and swimmers and will swim around in their distinct wails.

While elusive in general, manatees sightings have been frequent in the past few years. Sightings around the Panama Canal Watershed and in Lake Gatun. They are easiest to find during the dry season where you will see them swimming in colder waters.

7. Geoffroy’s Spider Monkey (Ateles Geoffroyi)

black spider monkey in the grass

Geoffroy’s spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) are large arboreal monkeys that live in Central American forests. They are quite exotic in appearance, with their long limbs and thin bodies. Once you see them, it’s hard to forget how bizarre they are.

Known as the black-handed spider monkey, these monkeys have tails longer than their bodies. They have jet black fur on their heads and limbs, with white and yellowish fur on their chest. Their limbs are also very long, letting them move around in relevant agility.

Geoffroy’s spider monkey lives near the border of Panama and Colombia, along with rainforests and mangroves. While they’re an endangered species, their habitat is commonplace enough for easier sightings.

8. Toucans (Various Species)

toucan on the tree

Panama has a wide variety of Toucan species, from the Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus) to the Northern emerald toucanet (Aulacorhynchus prasinus). Panama has eight species of toucans spread out throughout the country. With so many beautiful toucan species to choose from, it’s going to be hard not to find one.

If you’re looking to watch for toucans, you have quite the options to choose from. In Panama City alone, you have the Chagres National Park and Soberania National Park. The Panama Rainforest Discovery Center is also prime real estate.

9. Fasciated Antshrike (Cymbilaimus Lineatus)

little fasciated antshrike
Fasciated Antshrike” by Brian Gratwicke, used under CC BY / Desaturated from original

When birdwatching, one of the more fascinating birds you’ll see is the fasciated antshrike (Cymbilaimus lineatus). Its striking feature is the black and white cap with a beautiful color combination.

The fasciated antshrike is quite large for antbirds at around 7 inches (17.8 cm) long. What makes it distinct is its hooked bill and the sound of its calls. It uses lazy whistles and rattle-like sounds that make them easy to find.

You can find the fasciated antshrike almost anywhere in Panama. There are large concentrations of these curious birds around Panama City and forested areas around Boquete and David.

10. Sea Turtles (Various)

Sea turtles are one of nature’s most magical creatures, and many of them live in Panama. As much as four species of sea turtles go to Panamanian waters every year to swim and hatch their eggs. Panama is, in fact, well-known for its sea turtle tours in major sea towns.

Hatching season for Sea Turtles in Panama starts at the first break of the wet season. Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), for example, start hatching around mid-May until September. Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), on the other hand, start hatching by the end of June.

If you want to see the sea turtles, it’s best to go around the end of May onwards. Go to coastal and island locations like Bocas Del Toro, Isla Caña and La Marinera.

11. Humpback Whales (Megaptera Novaeangliae)

humpback whale on the sea

Much like sea turtles, one of the most significant and exotic marine animals in Panama are humpback whales. Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) go to Panama every wet season to enjoy its colder waters. They swim with their young from July to October, and sometimes December to February.

During the rainy season, the humpback whales are enjoying Panama’s fairer waters. Whales from Antarctica come here to mate and train their young to swim. Once the wet season ends, the whales start coming back to colder waters.

There are countless whale watching spots in Panama. From the beautiful Pearl Islands to the Gulf of Chiriqui, you have an endless number of choices.

12. Hammerhead Sharks (Sphyrnidae)

hammerhead sharks of Panama

If you’re going to a Panamanian vacation, you likely don’t go out to seek something that can kill you. For those that want to try something wild, hammerhead sharks (Sphyrnidae) are a great start.

Panama’s Hammerhead Sharks are famous around the world. They can weigh around 1000 pounds (453 kg) and likes to swim away from humans. They’re great predators but try to stay away from humans as much as they can.

To get a look at hammerhead sharks, it’s best to visit Panama between May to November. The waters between Panama’s Coiba Island and Malpelo Island are prime real estate for shark viewing.

13. Panamanian Bush Dog (Speothos Venaticus Panamensis)

bush dog of panama

The Panamanian Bush Dog (Speothos Venaticus Panamensis) is a canine-like mammal living in Central America. If you go to the forests of Panama, you’ll see these cute critters run in packs. They’re superb hunters but are very social animals, running a pack of their own family.

Panamanian bush dogs are species famous for their closeness of family. While capable hunters alone, they go out in packs made of their cubs. A typical pack consists of two parents and their cubs, with either parent protecting one end of the line.

Bush dogs are cute, looking like small bears with very short legs. You can find them near the eastern side of Panama, in forests near the border to Colombia.

14. Geoffroy’s Tamarin (Saguinus Geoffroyi)

geoffroy's tamarin on the tree

Geoffroy’s Tamarin (Saguinus Geoffroyi) is a weird-looking small monkey. Known as the Panamanian tamarin or red-crested tamarin, these tiny critters are distinct in appearance. Their reddish nape with black and white fur is a sight to behold.

These tamarins like staying in trees and are very active during the day. They like to avoid their other cousins from other species like capuchins and night monkeys. It also prevents several different animals, especially birds of prey, even if they are not hunting.

Geoffroy’s tamarins are local in many forests in Panama. These include Gatun Lake and in Metropolitan National Park in Panama City. You can also find them in many places along central and eastern Panama.

15. Margay (Leopardus Wiedii)

margay cat
Margay cat” by Marlene Thyssen, used under CC BY / Desaturated from original

The Margay (Leopardus Wiedii) is a tiny wild cat almost similar in appearance to an ocelot. It shares the same spots and stripes combination with its bigger cousins. Their primary difference comes from the small head and super long tail it has.

Margays are nocturnal and are very arboreal. They spend most of their time on top of trees hunting for small animals they can eat. They are carnivorous and will eat meat as needed.

For those who want to see a margay, almost any evergreen and deciduous forest in Panama will have them.

16. Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus Mocinno)

green resplendent quetzal

The Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus Mocinno) is a strikingly beautiful bird located in Western Panama. It’s easy to spot because of its majestic plumage. Its iridescent green body can change according to how the light hits the feathers.

Many quetzals look green because of their plumage, but they are brown in color. They are weak fliers, making them prey to bigger birds of prey.

To find yourself a quetzal, all you want to is bring is a beautiful, quick look using your binoculars. Go to bird watching tours for special access.

17. Harpy Eagle (Harpia Harpyja)

proud harpy eagle

The Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) is Panama’s national bird and the largest, most powerful bird of prey among all the raptors in the world. it’s a sight to behold if you see one when it’s hunting with its razor-sharp claws.

Having a Harpy eagle on sight is a treat. It is rare to see such a bird in flight because of the height it can go on canopies. It’s also under heavy conservation efforts because of its habit loss.

To see a harpy eagle on your vacation to Panama, you would want to go on bird watching tours. Most rainforests in Panama have Harpy eagles living within its ecosystem.

18. Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus Zeteki)

golden frog of panama

If you want to see something odd, the Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus Zeteki) is another exotic animal you want. It’s a species of toad treated as the national symbol of the country itself. It’s hard to deny how magnificent this frog is when you look at it.

The Panamanian golden frog is easy to find with its spotted skin, with colors ranging between light yellow-green to bright gold. They’re very tiny, with bigger females going at 2.5 inches (6.35 cm).

If you want to see the Panamanian golden frog, you can find them in captivity due to their critically endangered status. They haven’t been in the wild since 2006, but some were in captivity as a means of conservation.

19. Capybara (Hydrochoerus Hydrochaeris)

brown capybara of panama

Among the fascinating exotic animals in Panama is the capybara. The capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris) is essential because of its very own characteristics. This will help you find them much more accessible.

Capybaras look like they are gigantic rodents with thick brown fur. While they look cute, one of their most unique skills is their extreme social skills. They are so friendly that they can be in peaceful coexistence with almost any species of animals around them.

You can find capybaras on the eastern side of Panama itself, near its border with Colombia. Most of Panama has capybaras willing to interact with humans – so much that they allow petting.

20. Giant Anteaters (Myrmecophaga Tridactyla)

giant anteaters on the grass

Giant Anteaters (Myrmecophaga Tridactyla) are peculiar but beautiful animals. Anteaters are famous for their long snout used to suck on ant colonies. Their huge, furred bodies are something to behold.

Giant anteaters are a close relative to the sloth, able to weigh as much as a human adult. The anteater has no jaw and likes to snack on ants and termites. They have sharp claws able to tear open ant colonies and consume as many as 30,000 insects.

If you want to see giant anteaters, you can find them on two edges of Panama. The northwest border of Panama north of Boquete and the northeast border along the region north of Yape.

21. Green Iguana (Iguana Iguana)

The green iguana (Iguana iguana) is one of those exotic animals that everyone knows. You might surprise yourself with the resilience of this animal in the wild. Iguanas can live up to 20 years in the wild compared to domestication, giving them only 2 years.

Green iguanas in Panama share nesting sites with other reptiles in a specific habitat, like the American crocodile. They snack on wild plum and other fruit endemic to their area.

Green iguanas are visible in many rainforests and evergreen forests across the entirety of Panama.

Conclusion

Panama is home to some of the most abundant wildlife in the world. The rich and diverse ecosystem is beautiful and should promote conservation first and foremost. For people who want to see exotic animals in Panama, seeing them in the wild is the best choice.

Many exotic animals are abundant in numbers and are available almost everywhere in Panama. Some, however, are dwindling and need conservation efforts. Whether you want to see these animals for entertainment or as a matter of curiosity, learning is crucial.

Give the exotic Panamanian animals in this list a look and behold their beauty right before your eyes. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity you won’t want to miss.

Matt Romero

I’m Matthew Romero, one of the guys behind PanamaLifeInsider.com I am incredibly passionate about Panama, its beautiful territory, and all the incredible opportunities which offer to people coming here from all over the world both either visiting and settling. In this blog, I decided to share my passion with you!

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