The Quick Guide to Panama National Parks for Nature Lovers

When thinking of Panama, our default idea of the country is its beautiful natural resources. Among the best assets of Panama are its protected sites, as much as 76 protected areas. Out of these, there are 16 national parks that make up a good chunk of Panama’s pride.

Some of Panama’s national parks include Altos de Campana, Barro Colorado Island, Cerro Hoya, and Chagres National Park. There’s also Coiba National Park, Darién National Park, Omar Torrijos National Park, Golfo de Chiriquí, Isla Bastimentos, and La Amistad International Park. Las Cruces Trail, Metropolitan National Park, Portobelo National Park, Sarigua, Soberanía National Park, and Volcan Baru complete this list.

If you’re looking to visit one of Panama’s national parks, take this guide with you. Give it a read and see everything you need to know about their national park system.

Before You Visit Panama National Parks

Panama has one of the most complex ecosystems in the world. They have many types of natural systems that are a wonder to any tourist. This ecosystem includes forests, jungles, mountains, and vast coasts north and south of the country. With almost 30% of their natural resources listed as protected territory, there’s no wonder Panama has many beautiful national parks.

Panama has so many national parks that they have one of the highest biodiversities in the world. They have 1500 tree types, with 1200 species of orchids, and more than 670 types of ferns. The isthmus even has a combination of different wildlife, with more than 10,000 species.

This level of diversity makes Panama one of the most crucial ecological locations on the planet. Among the 5 million hectares of protected lands in the country, they have 16 national and marine parks. Many of these are open to the public for tourism.

Like any country, Panama has some rules in place to continue the protection of these locales. If you’re going to visit, expect to experience many of these rules and see them enforced.

For starters, most of Panama’s parks charge anywhere between $3 to $15 depending on the location. This money goes straight to the Autoridad Nacional de Ambiente (ANAM) that maintains these parks. If they allow campers, you will likely pay at least $5.

ANAM provides park rangers and even a few places where you can crash the night. Even then, expect to get very little in the way of helpful information and even trails. The ANAM has severe funding issues, so you’re on your own when exploring their national parks.

You would also want to make sure that the national park you’re visiting is open to visitors. For example, Darien National Park is impenetrable and not open to the public. It’s best to ask the local authorities first if the park is open to tourists before you go there. Places like the La Amistad International Park is also a challenge to visit.

Remember that some national parks also double as a wildlife refuge, so some can be off-limits too.

With that said, let’s look at all the national parks of Panama.

Altos de Campana National Park

Altos de Campana is Panama’s oldest national park, declared as the first national park in 1966. Translated literally as “Tall Bells,” it gets this name from the many hills in it. This 4,817-acre (1,950 hectares) park has a peak of 2789 feet (850 m). It offers some of the most beautiful views of Punta Chame, the Pacific Ocean, and even Isla Taboga.

The valley of Altos de Campana is rough and rugged, with hard to access trails. The park itself has many different features that visitors will enjoy.

First, there’s an estuary nearby where different types of marine life live, where Quebrada Campana and Rio Sajalices meet. The park’s only proper trail is the Sendero Dela Cruz, which runs through different types of land. For visitors, they’ll see the remnants of an old volcano, humid forests, and lava fields.

Birdwatchers would love to visit Altos De Campana for its many bird species, include:

  • White-ruffed Manakin
  • Silver-throated Tanager
  • Bay-headed Tanager
  • Orange-bellied Trogon
  • Black-crowned Antpitta
  • White-Tipped Sicklebill

There are also other animals in the area, which include opossums, sloths, and even the golden frog.

Barro Colorado Island

Barro Colorado Island, considered as the mecca for tropical biologists, is a sight to behold. It offers quick access to Central Panama and has a very interesting history. As it came out once the Chagres River underwent damming in 1914, the 3855-acre (1,560 hectares) island is now a great national park in Panama.

Barro Colorado and its surrounding peninsula is home to one of the best isolated tropical ecologies. Located 18.65 miles (30 km) from Panama City, researchers visit the island for its amazing biodiversity.

If you want to visit the island, tourists can do so, but the entire experience is under the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s (STRI) purview. General admission rates go from anywhere between $25 for local students to $100 for foreign tourists. The cost, however, is worth it.

Barro Colorado Island is home to more than 1500 species of flora and fauna. You’ll find nature trails everywhere, with guided tours by nature experts. See local scientists in the middle of their research in the forests and enjoy marvelous sights.

Cerro Hoya National Park

The Cerro Hoya National Park is a vast, protected wildlife habitat and forests. It has many different natural biomes and terrains in the area that any tourist will enjoy. Found on the southwest tip of the Azuero Peninsula, this mountain range in Panama is a natural wonder.

The mountains of Cerro Hoya come from the same geological origin as Coiba. At around 80 million years ago, the island drifted to Panama from its origin in the Galapagos Islands. The park itself is large, covering 61190 acres (28000 hectares). Around a fifth of the entirety of Cerro Hoya is a marine reserve.

The locale of Cerro Hoya is hard to access as a national park, making it a very pristine location. It has some of the rarer flora and fauna in the region, home to jaguars and azuero parakeets. There are even rumors that Cerro Hoya is home to some undiscovered hummingbirds, insects, and plants.

The day trip for tourists goes at around $75, which includes transportation, a local guide, and food. There are also other special trips like summit climbs and cloud forest trips from $350 – $450.

Chagres National Park

Chagres National Park is a vast 319,000 acres (129,000 hectares) of rivers, lakes, and forests. Many of the local bodies of water, like the Chagres River basin, is a crucial water source. Established in 1985, it houses many animals, trees, and other wildlife near the Panama Canal.

Chagres National Park houses tropical rainforests and important bodies of water, including Alajuela Lake. It has some of the most mountainous terrains in Panama, with Cerro Jefe at the top. The highest peak of Cerro Jefe goes as high as 3,300 feet (1,000 m). Other peaks in the park include Cerro Azul and Cerro Bruja, which are easier to visit.

There are many rivers in Chagres National Park, which doesn’t stop at the Chagres River. Other rivers offer locales where you can go whitewater rafting, fishing, and kayak. These rivers include the beautiful Rio Pequeni and Rio Boquerón.

Coiba National Park

Coiba National Park is a marine reserve along Panama’s Pacific coast. It is an archipelago of 38 islands, including the main Coiba Island as the biggest locale. It covers 430,825 acres (174389 hectares) and acts as a massive archipelagic beauty.

The Coiba National Park has received World Heritage Site status from the UNESCO in 2005. This made the park hard to access, doable only with some tours with permits from ANAM. It used to work as Panama’s penal colony, so most of its marine wildlife have good preservation. The islands’ resources have almost no contact with human life.

What can you do here in Coiba? Depending on your tour provider, you can go fishing, ecotours, and even diving trips. You can go and find some of the rarest wildlife, go birdwatching, and go kayaking in the area.

Darién National Park

Darien National Park is the biggest bridge between two worlds, being Panama’s best-kept secret. It’s mostly inaccessible to tourists, with the general area being a thick, dense jungle. The fascinating rainforest is almost the same as it was for a million years ago. Its canopies hold one of the biggest, most valuable protected sites in Central America.

Darien became a UNESCO heritage site in 1981, experiencing major deforestation during its early history. Located almost along the border with Colombia, it was home to the first colonial settlement in 1510. Darien is 1.42 million acres (575000 hectares) of lush rainforest, its biggest area being Santa Cruz de Cana.

If you visit Darien National Park, you’ll see many of the local native tribes like the:

  • Embera Tribe
  • Kuna People
  • Wounaan People

Apart from the natives, you’ll find beautiful waterfalls and as many as 530 bird species. Of its hundreds of fauna, it houses some of the most endangered. These include the Giant Anteater and the Central American Tapir. There are five trails you can follow, but the government noted visiting Darien as dangerous. You would need an experienced tour guide to help you through the process.

Omar Torrijos “El Cope” National Park

El Cope National Park is one of the more developed but still beautiful national parks in Panama. Established in 1986, you can find it on Panama’s central cordillera. It is a beautiful cloud forest and a forest reserve for rubber and loquat trees. You can access it from the town of Penonome, going west-southwest through Llano Marin.

El Cope is a park for experienced hikers, with low montane forest and a descending premontane forest. Its forest park has a very humid microclimate, with many peaks that include:

  • Cerro Marta
  • Cerro Punta Blanca

The park is famous for its thick mists, fogs, and precipitation, with endangered animals living within. These include jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, puma, and white-tailed deer.

Golfo de Chiriquí National Park

The Golfo de Chiriqui National Park is a 37120-acre (15021 hectares) marine park. It’s one of the more famous national parks in Panama, established in 1994. Much like its forest counterparts, its marine biodiversity is among the best in the world. It is home to miles of coral reefs, marine meadows, and even mangrove swamps. The Park itself has 25 islands and 19 coral reef systems.

Golfo de Chiriqui has the entire Isla Parida archipelago in its borders, with two dozen islands. These are home to exotic wildlife and its waters have much diverse marine life. These include hammerhead sharks, manta rays, different sea turtles, and humpback whales.

This national park is one of the easiest to access, with many tours going around this area. Many hotels can bring you to local eco-tours and fishing tours in the general waters.

Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park

Much like Golfo de Chiriqui, Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park is famous for tourists. It covers an area of 32682 acres (13226 hectares), with 28654 acres (11596 hectares) being waters. You can find this park across Bocas Del Toro, with a wide catch that contains the largest mangrove swamp in Panama.

Accessing the beach of Isla Bastimentos Park is hard. Its waters are some of the wildest in Panama, so you want a good boat if you want to start from the beach. If you visit it, however, it’s going to be a good time, with many activities you can do.

Apart from surfing, you can visit the locals in Quebrada de Sal. The people here will take you to a local jungle where you can find sloths and monkeys. The trails are great for people who are fitter than normal as they offer some difficulty to traverse.

La Amistad International Park

La Amistad International Park is a transboundary protected locale in Central America. The almost 1 million acres (401,000 ha) of forestry divides between Costa Rica and Panama. It is the largest nature reserve in Central America and is almost inaccessible via Panama.

Accessing La Amistad is a big challenge, only possible if you go to Costa Rica and follow specific tours. You would need to use a 4×4 vehicle via Alta Mira. From the Panama side, you would need a knowledgeable guide to help you.

La Amistad houses five big cat species, including the puma, margay, ocelot, jaguars, and jaguarandis. Together with these cats, they have 600 bird species and more than 17,000 types of animals.

Las Cruces Trail National Park

Las Cruces Trail National Park, also known as the Camino de Cruces, is among the most accessible national parks in Panama. Located almost 10 miles (16km) from Panama City, the park covers 11342 acres (4590 hectares) of forests. The park is a trail of soft, rolling hills and is more developed than others in its locale.

Camino de Cruces established in 1992, originally a road created during the Spanish colonial times. They used this trail to transport supplies and riches from Peru, California, and Chile and moving it to Spain. You can find it between Soberania National Park and Metropolitan National Park.

Metropolitan National Park

The Metropolitan National Park is one of the few national parks within the city of Panama. It’s a 10 to 15-minute drive from the city itself, adjacent to the Las Cruces Trail. It’s a 573-acre (232 hectares) of pacific dry forest, with three easy to traverse trails. It is easy to access and has good maintenance, which makes it a good place to visit for tourists.

The trails of the Metropolitan National Park include many lookout points that offer a beautiful view of Panama. From these trails, you can see the Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal, and even the Port of Balboa.

If you want to visit, the park is open from 6 AM to 5 PM every day.

Portobelo National Park

Portobelo National Park goes along the Carribean coast of Panama, containing protected rainforests and seas. At 86000 acres (34,846 hectares), it is a vast area with as much as 20% of the locale as the marine area. It has some of the best beaches on this side of Panama, making it a place for visitors and tourists.

Portobelo is very accessible to tourists, most of the area being a coastal village with local hotels. It is accessible from Panama City by driving 1.5 hours. The national park has many diving spots, fishing spots, and even historical ruins you can visit.

Sarigua National Park

Found on the Gulf of Parita in Herrera, the Sarigua National Park is easy to access but a very underdeveloped park. The park established in 1985 and is reachable through Santa Maria and Parita.

The 19770 acres (8000 hectares) park in Panama hosts three types of biomes. These include craggy soil, a coastal desert locale, and a large seaside. Sarigua National Park is the driest region of Panama with a fragile ecosystem. This desert region with gullies is perfect for beachgoers.

Soberanía National Park

The Soberania National Park is a 55000 acre (22,000) shoreline area that extends along the shores of the Panama Canal. It is a short drive from Panama City and among the most accessible tropical forests. It is a superior birding site, home to 525 species of birds, many of which are exotic.

If you’re an ornithologist, you will love Soberania National Park for its bevy of birds. This list includes motmots, trogons, woodpeckers, hawks, crested eagles, and ground cuckoo. Among its crown jewels is the endangered harpy eagle.

Volcan Baru National Park

Found outside Boquete, Volcan Baru National Park is a vast western highland. It contains Panama’s only volcano, Volcan Baru, which serves as the nation’s highest peak. Its rugged, craggy trails are a good challenge for your average hiker.

Birding enthusiasts would love to visit Volcan Baru National Park for sure. It is home to more than 250 species of birds, including the very beautiful Quetzal.

Conclusion

Panama’s national parks are some of the best places to visit for a nature lover. Whichever you decide to visit, you’ll be happy to know that you won’t get it wrong. Whether you want a challenging trail or an easy day trip, you can pick from the many choices Panama offers.

Are you looking to visit one of Panama’s National Parks? Take a look at our guide and see which one do you think fits the activities you want to do.

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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