A day in the Tropical Rainforest

By Raffaele Capomolla

Yesterday the EcoCircuitos team had the great pleasure to offer a morning rainforest tour to a group of travelers from Australia.  This group has been exploring different sights of Panama and yesterday  they have a wonderful day in the Rainforest.  We want to share with you some of the pictures of this trip.   Our guests enjoyed a delicious lunch with a stunning view over the rainforest and having some very beautiful Hummingbirds to bear company.

Our guests enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Rainforest Discovery Center, an environmental facility that focus on birds habitats.  They learn about the efforts in Panama to support conservation throughout the tourism industry.   The place offers stunning views over the rainforest and having some very beautiful Hummingbirds to bear company and to practice Photography.

Our naturalist guide Kenny Weeks was explaining the group about how Panama is the Isthmus that changes the world by becoming a bridge between continents and offering different interpretations of the tropical rainforest.

As  Tony Coates  mention in an interviewAll the animals of South America would be unique marsupials, like in Australia, very different to today because they would never have been invaded and overtaken by all the species that colonized from North America. The Caribbean and the East Pacific would be one ocean with similar species; today they are very different with corals reefs abundant in the Caribbean but without large supplies of commercial fish, whereas the Pacific has few small coral reefs and large important commercial fisheries. Humans from Asia might not have reached South America via the Bering Land Bridge from the north so different kinds of humans might have arrived, say, from Polynesia. Columbus might have sailed on to Asia! The Ice Age would have been different and Europe’s ports might freeze every winter like the Saint Laurence seaway does. El Niño and climates in other parts of the world might have been different in ways that we still do not fully understand.”

After lunch the group went for a nice hike through the trails surrounding the Rainforest Discovery Center at the core of the Soberania National park, more precisely the Pipeline Road called ‘Camino del oleoducto’, and went up to the top of the tower which has an incredible view over the tree tops. With a little bit of luck, you can see Monkeys, Sloths and beautiful birds in this amazing National Park.

For more information on this tour and others please click here

Do I Need a Special Vaccination to Enter Panama?

You may need malaria prophylaxis if you are planning on traveling to remote jungle areas such as the Darien. There are several cases of dengue fever reported annually throughout Panama; so we generally recommend avoiding mosquito bites by wearing long clothes and using repellents. Yellow fever also exists in certain parts of Panama, mostly in remote Jungle areas like the Darien. We recommend consulting your doctor before your trip to decide, whether vaccinations are necessary or not.

Yellow Fever vaccination 

As of November 01, 2008, Panama requires valid Yellow Fever Vaccination to enter or leave the country for the following countries:

South America: Bolivia, Brasil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela.

Africa: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo Democratic Rep., Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leona, Sudan.

If you have any health concerns, we strongly recommend consulting your doctor or clinic before traveling.

For more information about Panama and our FAQs.  Please click here

Las Perlas off the beaten track

by Carina Forster

A weekend-visit to the picturesque archipelago of Las Perlas astonished me in several ways. While Panama is lush with occasional rain showers during the green season, the islands of Las Perlas hardly see any rain throughout the whole year. Just after a 1,5 hour boat ride from Panama City, you find yourself in a climate and landscape completely distinct from the rest of the country.

The islands are characterized by dry vegetation and palm-fringed beaches, which are amongst the most beautiful ones I have seen throughout Panama, with incredibly white sand and blue waters. The underwater world is spectacular with colorful coral reefs, tropical fish, turtles and rays. Furthermore, the islands are a paradise for bird lovers with hundreds of migrating species passing by in spectacular formations. From May to October humpback whales can be seen on their way to warmer waters.

Instead of visiting the well-developed island of Contadora, we decided to check out its larger, less developed and more economical neighbor Saboga. Without a doubt the beaches being just as beautiful as on famous Contadora, Saboga offers some nice hiking treks and deserted beaches just for your own. For adventurers, the charming village offers authentic local food and simple accommodation behind the police station with a spectacular view over the bay.

We asked a local fisherman to take us to Bartolome Island in the morning, having the little island completely for ourselves before other people arrived at around 11. This white-sanded Robinson Crusoe Island is perfect for snorkeling, with beautiful coral reefs and large colorful fish. And like if it was not perfect enough already, a large group of dolphins accompanied our little boat on the way back.

Weekend getaway: Historic Portobelo and Caribbean Beaches

By:  Carina Forster – Intern from Austria

Insider tipp: Last weekend I explored the charming small town of Portobelo on the Caribbean Coast which is a hotspot for Panamanian weekend retreats; however, it still remains mainly unexplored by foreign tourists. The only way of getting there- except from day tour with a tour operator EcoCircuitos Panama – involved a bumpy ride in a colorful old school bus, where happy salsa music loudly went along with the roaring old engines of the rattling bus.

It was hard to believe that this laid-back village has once hosted Central America`s most important harbor. Only the old ruins and the UNESCO forts, which are spread out all over the charming fishing village, prove of its glorious past.  If you tour with a naturalist and interpretative guide you will travel to the battles between Pirates and Conquistadors.

A short boat ride away, I found cast-away Caribbean beaches, where lush rain forests meet white sand, turquoise waters and coral reefs. And while already being astonished by the unreal beauty surrounding me, two toucans were peacefully flying over the picturesque bay, forming a scenario like in a dream.

If you are interested in this tour and many more, please contact us for more information.  We offer snorkeling tours in the Caribbean side of Portobello.  Contact info@ecocircuitos.com

Best Diving and Snorkeling Spots in Panama

From: Dive Advisor

Panama was named after an indigenous word meaning, “abundance of fish.” This beautiful Central America paradise is one of the few places in the world where you can dive two oceans in one day. With the warm, tropical waters of the Caribbean on its east and the cooler waters of the Pacific on the west, it’s just a two-hour car ride between them in some places. Panama boasts 1,207km of Caribbean coast and 1,700km of Pacific coast.

On the Caribbean side, divers come for the abundance of colorful reef fish and corals. When rating the best diving in Central American, Bocas del Toro always comes up with its white sand beaches and many calm and the Bastimentos Marine National park. It’s a great place to learn how to dive and the marine life make it a great place to keep diving. Another popular spot on the Caribbean coast is Colon, only two hours from Panama City. Just offshore, the Portobelo National Marine Park has beautiful corals and the area is filled with a history of pirate battles and sunken ships.  Sir Francis Drake died at sea in 1596 and his body, clad in a full suit of armour and in a lead coffin, is thought to be off the coast of Portobello.

On the Pacific side, cooler waters and currents make encounters with pelagic common. Lucky divers can see several species of shark, whale sharks, humpback whales, dolphins, and more. Coiba National Marine Park is often referred to as the Galapagos of Central America and has the second largest coral reef in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Pearl Archipelago also offers great options close to Panama City.

Just nine degrees north of the equator, Panama is hot and humid year round. The rainy season is May- November and the dry season is December-April (with less humidity and almost no rain.) Panama is not in the hurricane belt, but it can get strong winds from nearby storms. Air temperatures throughout the year range form 20-32C, being a bit cooler in the winter/dry season. Water temperatures vary between coasts. The Caribbean side the water can be as cool as 25C in the winter and as warm as 28C in the summer. Coiba can get as cold as 20C during winter and reaches a high of around 24C in the summer.

Best Spots to Dive in Panama

Coiba National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes 38 islands. Lonely Planet says it’s “The best diving to be found along the Pacific Coast from Columbia to Mexico.” Coiba gets the big stuff. Sharks can be seen on almost every dive including white-tip reef sharks, black-tip reef sharks, and occasional hammerheads, bull, and tiger sharks. Whale sharks are common visitors from December to April. Humpback whales are seen July through October and orcas and pilot whales frequent the area. Large schools of mantas and mobula rays sometimes swim by, and most dives have turtles, schools of large fish, angelfish, butterflyfish, and dolphins.

On the Caribbean side of Panama, close to the Costa Rica boarder, is Bocas del Toro. This archipelago of nine large islands includes the protected area of Isla Bastimentos National Marine. Bocas is known for its well-preserved hard and soft corals. Being outside of the official hurricane zone, away from large cities and river mouths, the coral is very healthy. It is estimated that 95% of the coral species found in the Caribbean Sea can be found within the archipelago.

Tiger Rock is rated one of the best dive sites around Bocas del Toro, and is three rock pinnacles that rise up from the sea floor at 40m. It’s an advanced dive and can have strong currents, but is a good place to see sharks, rays, large fish schools, whale sharks and dolphins. Its location requires perfect sea conditions for boats to be able to get there. Dolphin Rock is another offshore rock formation where sharks can be seen and has lots of colorful fish life. The diving is also very good around Zapatillas Cays, another more distant boat ride.

Closer to town, Bouy Line is a poplar shallow site (near a deep water channel buoy) that has sea horses, lionfish, crabs, and lots of morays. Hospital Point is near the north end of Isla Solarte and has healthy cauliflower and brain corals on a sloping wall. The dive usually has a slow current and is 15m deep max. Sashek is another drift dive between Bastimentos and Carenero that has rare long lure frogfish. Airport is a protected site good for training dives, and has lots of coral.

Also on the Caribbean side, but further southeast is Portobelo National Park. This is also a popular diving area with great marine life. Being closer to Panama City, people come directly from the city to dive this area that has great reef dives and several wrecks.

Water temperatures on the Caribbean side are warm year round (23-27C) and a 3mm is usually plenty. On the Pacific side, colder currents bring waters (15-23C), so a 5mm will be comfortable. For those doing deep dives in the winter, thermoclines can be present, so a 7mm might be useful.

If you are looking for good snorkelling one of the best spots is the San Blas Archipelago.  In this Guna land is forbidden to dive with a tank but here you will find one of the most untouched coral reefs by mankind. The reef holds its beauty for decades now since people do not pollute the waters around it.  The Kuna Indians or Guna indians live from the sea and hunt on it. They hunt the reefs and sandbanks by using simple snorkeling gear and do not over fish their own waters because they only take what is needed to stay alive. They are scared that scuba dives will kill the great schools of fish and leave the Kuna without food to survive. They will preserve the coral reef for future generations this way.

The rich sea life and the crystal clear water will give you plenty enough time to drift away from the world above water. One of the easy places to get in touch with this sea life is the shipwreck near Isla Perro. This place is perfect for people not used to snorkeling or scuba diving but also gives people that have done it before a nice challenge to spot all the sea life around the ship. Don’t forget to bring your underwater camera because spotting a wild turtle, shark or octopus isn’t a rare sight in the waters around the San Blas Islands.   The best way to snorkel in San Blas is charter a sailing boat.  EcoCircuitos Panama organize this adventure for you.

Do you Know? Bastimentos Marine National Park

Bastimentos Marine National Park is comprised of a group of islands located in Almirante Bay in the province of Bocas del Toro. The park encompasses a large portion of Bastimentos Island, Zapatilla Cays, in addition to the waters and mangroves that surround the island.

The north eastern side of Bastimentos Island faces the Caribbean Sea. Five beaches are found here along with stretches of cove inlets and coral reef. These beaches are: Wizard Beach, Red Frog Beach, Turtle Beach, North Beach and Playa Larga. The south western side of the island has a mangrove coastline with very calm water year round. The landscape is much more dramatic, with large rock faces, stretches of long beaches, in addition to coves and inlets.

Bastimentos was Panama’s first marine park and covers an extremely diverse 28,600 marine acres.  With a protected corridor no wider than seven miles, its oceanic diversity includes sea fan garden, vibrant coral reef, and over 200 species of tropical fish.  Oceanic formations in the area include walls, freshwater caves, tunnels, pinnacles, coral spires and towers, groove and spur, ocean impact reef, sandy ledges, and protected patch reef.  Bastimentos is one of the few protected areas in Latin America that preserves, simultaneously, the wildlife and habitat of beaches, coral reef and mangroves.