Tourism and Conservation in Panama

Panama’s wildlife is just stunning – 10’444 different types of plant species, 678 fern species, 1’500 varieties of trees, as well as 255 species of mammals and 972 indigenous bird species. There is a history behind this rich biodiversity, let’s start from the very beginning: Everything started 65 million years ago; the two continents, North and South America were joined by a land bridge, as we know it from today. Then, around 50 million years ago, the continents split apart, and for millions of years they kept separate from one another. This allowed mother nature to create unique and fascinating landscapes in both continents. The land of South America soon gave rise to a numerous species, such as bird families, neo-tropical rodents, iguanas, frogs and more. In North America, animals such as horses, deer, raccoons, squirrels and mice flourished, as the continent repeatedly collided with Eurasia.

Three million years ago happened the world change!   The natural history for both continents: The land bridge of Panama arose. Migration started and species from North America went south and from South America north, where they found their homes in the lush forest and wetlands along the isthmus. The great variety of plant species created the perfect conditions for nourishing wildlife including the Jaguar.

‘Yaguará’ is a Panamanian Foundation that works towards the conservation of  wild cats. They are studying the Jaguar’s behavior through placing cameras and GPS Collars, in order to develop conservation in the jaguar habitats. They also directly work with the local communities, which has proved to be very important and successful to immediately apply conservation of this beautiful mammals.

Ricardo Moreno who has been nominated by National Geographic as an emergent explorer, is a Panamanian biologist and one of the the leader of  Fundación Yaguara. He fights for the conservation of the Jaguar and the Puma in Panama, and says that “the situation is critical, and there is no time to wait. It is important to create a pacific cohabitation between mankind and the felines.”

The conflicts between Felines and humans arose because their natural prey was scarce, due to human activities such as hunting and habitat occupation, threrefore the cats attacked livestock’s. Unfortunately, people used to “solve” the situation by just sacrificing the felines, and this caused a serious fall in jaguar’s populations in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor and Panama. Several studies showed that if the cats had enough natural prey, they wouldn’t attack livestock.

“Yaguará” started a program which gives a monetary compensation to the owners of domestic animals, if their animals were preyed.  They also support the local communities by educating in learning to live with the jaguars and avoid killing them.   The communities could take benefit from conserving the natural habitats and supporting the trend in the tourism industry:  Adventure and Conservation.

Academic and Educational adventures are a way to discover Panama and learn about the efforts of several scientists, guides and tour companies that promote the restoration of our natural habitats.   In conjunction with different organizations such as STRI, Fundacion Avifauna, APTSO, YAGUARA among others EcoCircuitos is promoting Tourism, Conservation and Education.

Explore with the experts in the field and discover a country full of contrasts.  You can contribute to the conservation and efforts of this organization and others by traveling responsable.

For more information contact us info@ecocircuitos.com

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Re-Discovering Colon Province

By Carina Forster

The low season is here!   the time when the EcoCircuitos team explores the regions of beautiful Panama, looking for new exciting activities, tasty restaurants and nice hotels to use in our programs. All departments are working together, developing ideas and creating new exciting itineraries to our favorite places in Panama. Yesterday we explored beautiful Colon region, with its laid-back Caribbean flair, deep rainforests and colorful towns full of pirates and buccaneers history.

Crossing the country in the early morning by train, our way led along the Panama Canal from Panama City on the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean town of Colon. We quickly forgot the early hours with breathtaking views of lush rainforest, the Panama Canal and jungle lakes covered in mystic morning fog.

Being picked up by our EcoCircuitos driver Roberto at the train station in Colon, we started our road trip along the palm-fringed coast line to the colorful town of Portobelo. The charming little village does not only offer incredible history, with once being one of the most important ports in the Caribbean Sea, but surprises with lovely remains of African culture in form of Congo dances and expressive pieces of art next to lush rainforest adventures and superb snorkeling.

Every team member has his or her own preferences and opinions; however, when it came to the Arrecifes restaurant we discovered in the town of Colon, everyone was just as excited about the delicious typical fresh seafood lunch offered next to an extensive view of the Panama Canal.

To continue our road trip deep into the jungle to the Fort of San Lorenzo, we waited for a spot between large container ships to cross the Panama Canal by ferry. Following a romantic wild road surrounded by lush rainforest, we let monkeys, birds and coatimundis cross the street. The fortress of San Lorenzo lies on the edge of steep cliffs, overlooking the surrounding coast lines with abandoned beaches and wild rainforest as far as your eyes can reach.

After a successful day of collecting inspirations, testing logistics and forming partnerships, the creative part starts, with using our experiences and ideas for developing unique brand-new itineraries.

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.

Things to do during your vacation in Boquete

Boquete is a small town nestled in the green mountainous highlands located in the westen-most Chiriquí Province that boards with Costa Rica.  The Caldera River makes its way through this picturesque town.

Due to its elevation 1,200 metres (3,900 ft) above sea level, its climate is cooler than that of the lowlands. Its beautiful mountain landscape, temperature, and natural environment make it popular destination for the adventure traveler.

Our staff suggests the following activities while during your stay in Boquete:

  1.  White water river rafting –  Experience adrenaline-filled, world-class white water rafting in amazing scenic rivers.  We suggest the following outfitters:  BOA and Chiriqui River Rafting.
  2. Horse back riding tours – Boquete and Caldera offer amazing horseback riding adventures through the stunning Chiriqui landscapes. This local tour supports community farms in Boquete and use local farmers as guides. We suggest Franklin’s horseback riding.
  3. Hiking the Baru National Park – you don´t have to go to the top of the mountain to experience a great adventure.  There are several trails in the national park for all levels.   For safety always go with a local expert guide from  EcoCircuitos Panama.
  4. Los Quetzales Trail – this is one of Panama’s most spectaculars hiking trails of the western highlands. The 8km route takes between 5 and 7 hours. It runs between Boquete and Cerro Punta, crossing Caldera river.  For those in very good shape.
  5. Hot Springs and Caldera Petroglyphs – enjoy nature at its finest and discover Caldera’s famous hot springs. You will visit a typical town and walk to the petroglyphs where you will be able to observe part of the history of Panama’s indigenous past.
  6. Coffee Tours – Boquete offers some of the best coffees in the world and you can´t miss the unique opportunity to visit a coffee plantation, discover the processing mills and learn about how coffee makes it journey from the coffee bush to your cup.   Don´t miss to taste a cup of Geisha coffe from Ruiz coffee shop.
  7. Rock Climbing – Boquete is becoming a world-class rock climbing destination. You can learn from the masters and climb one of the most incredible natural columnar basalt rock formations with different levels from easy to very difficult.
  8. Birding tours in private reserves, national parks and pipeline trail – don´t miss the opportunity to admire a great variety of the species from the highlands of Panama.  The Resplendant Quetzal, Bell Bird and Volcano Hummingbird are some of the stars. Make sure to reserve a birding guide with our team!
  9. Canopy Adventure / Zip lining -glide on zip lines through the canopy of old cloud forest, high above rivers and waterfalls, an unforgetable adventure with 3 kilometers in total length and 12 different platforms.
  10. Try the local gastronomy of the area – we suggest El Pianista, Finca Lerida restaurant, La Roca, Panamonte and if you have time to drive towards volcan, why not Cerro Brujo Restaurant.

12 Buddhist Eco-Guidelines – Inspiration

Buddha by EternalTraveler
Buddha by EternalTraveler

As we strive to cultivate a positive relationship with the environment, we need to first realize there are two facets to the journey – preserving inner happiness and maintaining outer ecological balance.

We encourage everyone to start with beautifying one’s mind and spirit and then extend outward to beautifying their environment.

Below are twelve guidelines when travel to a new destination:

 * Speak quietly – do not disturb others.

* Keep the ground clean – do not litter.

* Keep the air clean – do not smoke or pollute.

* Respect oneself and others – do not commit violent acts.

* Be polite – do not intrude upon others.

* Smile – do not face others with an angry expression.

* Speak kindly – do not utter abusive words.

* Follow the rules – do not seek exemptions or privileges.

* Be mindful of your actions – do not act unethically.

* Consume consciously – do not waste.

* Be grounded – do not live aimlessly.

* Practice kindness – do not create malice

Adapted from Living Affinity, by Hsing Yun (Lantern Books, 2004).

Whale Watching in Panama: Eco Guidelines for a sustainable adventure

Awe-Ispiring . Amazing . Unforgetable

Observe these elegant giants of the Pacific Ocean during their migration season that goes from July till November. At just 40 miles south from Panama City you will enter a rich biological corridor home the Pearl Islands Archipelago. Observe these amazing creatures as they make there way to their favorite warm tropical waters to give birth to their calves. Join this once in a life time experience with EcoCircuitos Panama; we will guide you through the deep waters of the Panama Bay onward to the Pearl Islands in search for these magnificent mammals.  Other options available in Azuero Peninsula and the Gulf of Chiriqui.

Here is some important guidelines for whale watching:

  • Slowly approach Cetaceans sideways, never from front or rear.
  • Never cross the path of a Cetacean or a group of Cetaceans in the aim to anticipate their moves and facilitate a closer encounter: they will most probably feel chased and avoid you.
  • Slow down to “no-wake” speed, and maintain a steady direction. You will make them feel more secure, and the probability of a close encounter will be higher.
  • Never split a pod or group of Cetaceans.
  • Be aware of other boats in the surrondings. Dolphins and Whales should never feel encircled, and it is very sensible to leave the area if it happens to be already busy.
  • Be especially aware of the presence of mothers and calves, exactly as you would be in your intraspecific relations.
  • Never spend more than 20 minutes with Cetaceans, unless they want to spend a longer time with you.
  • Never feed cetaceans. You do not want to perturb their natural feeding habits, which may cause big problems in the long run.
  • Try to make as little noise as possible.
  • Be aware of possible signs of distress (see below), and leave at very low speed the area if you notice any.
  • Kindly discourage other people from putting a lot of pressure on the Skipper in the aim of making her/him get closer and closer (and finally too close) to Cetaceans. It sadly happens more often than one can imagine. The best Whale Watch Operators are the ones who are more sensible, not the ones who get closer. Moreover, the most sensible operators have often the best encounters.
  • If you swim with Cetaceans, do not try to touch them or get closer than they want you to. As important, check the local regulations before you get in the water with them. Most countries or states do not let people swim with Cetaceans.

EcoCircuitos realizes that has important environmental and social responsibilities in and out of the office.  We create memorable travel experiences in Panama’s natural history and cultural heritage.   Our office team and supplier ensure quality service, cultural sensitivity, local knowledge, innovation and social and environmental responsibility.  As travellers ourselves we believe giving something back is essential.  Therefore we work with our team, suppliers and customers to ensure that benefits will contribute directly to the communities we visit and their environment.

For more information and tour description please contact us info@ecocircuitos.com