5 Reasons to Visit Panama during Green Season

Everybody wants to travel during the dry season but you will be missing the most amazing lush colors and unique experiences that only happens during the rainy season (May to December).  I want to share with you some reasons to escape to Panama during the wet season, my favourite time of the year.

1. Amazing Hotel discounts all over

Hotels lower the rates during the green season, which runs from May to mid-November in Panama.  Some offer discounts of more than 25% less than during the high season.   During September there are amazing offers of 4 nights paying only 3.   You can stay at the amazing Isla Palenque Resort , a beautiful island of  160 hectares of lush jungle, framed by 7 untouched beaches, house a number of wilderness trails and hidden spaces to be explored by guests of the barefoot-luxury Beach Suites, for $499.00 per night (versus $900.00 in high season).   Or stay at the renowned Canopy Lodge in the core of the Soberania National Park for 30% off.

Isla Palenque

2. No crowds in Casco, Canal, Biomuseo or SkyWalk

While summer vacationers flood the City Arqueological sites Panama La Vieja, Casco Viejo, during high season, the off months or green season are less crowded and great to explore attractions such as the unique Biodiversity MuseumThe Rainforest Discovery Center in Soberania National  Park at less than an hour from the City, where you could admire the tree canopy from an observation tower of 30 meters from the ground.  Also in the highlands of Chiriqui, you can experience the Skyline and Zip lining during the wet months.  Amazing experiences without the crowds.

Biomuseo, evento Los Humedales.©Victoria Murillo /istmophoto.com
Panamarama

3. The Rain brings us more life and colors!

The surrounded forest around the Panama Canal Watershed is more lush and green during this time of year.  You can see more life and with the rain more flowers, birds, mammals and beautiful butterflies are easy to spot.   On a jungle boat tour, you will be amazed by the amount of wildlife that you will encounter in one day.

tithorea-butterfly

4. Whale Watching tours!

During the months of July–October, you have 99% chances to encounter Humpback whales around the Pacific waters. They come to have their calves in Panama.   The most popular spots to see the whales here are Contadora, The Gulf of Chiriqui, Isla Iguana and even Taboga.   Though you can see dolphins and bottlenoses.  You can take a whale watching tour the Pearl Archipelago.

whale

 

 

 

 

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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.

Army Ant

One of the most interesting ants of the tropics are the army ants, which march through the rainforest with the sole intent of devouring small creatures within minutes, turning them into carcasses.  The army is like a wolf pack, but with thousands of miniature creatures of prey merging and uniting to form one great living organism.  Army ants´ jaws are so potent, Indians once used them to suture wounds.  The determined insect was held over a cut and its body squeezed so that its jaws intuitively shut, clamping the flesh together.  The body was then pinched off and the wound left to heal.

Another feature is that, unlike most ant species, army ants do not construct permanent nests; an army ant colony moves almost incessantly over the time it exists. All species are members of the true ant family, Formicidae, but several groups have independently evolved the same basic behavioral and ecological syndrome. This syndrome is often referred to as “legionary behavior”, and is an example of convergent evolution.

Mercenary ants defend agricultural society

From Stri.org

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Often superior to citizen soldiers, mercenaries have played an important role in human conflicts since ancient times. A research team working at STRI discovered that a species of agriculturalist ants, Sericomyrmex amabilis, hosts a species of better-armed mercenary ants, Megalomyrmex symmetochus, who come to their rescue when their fungal gardens are invaded.

“Newly mated queens of the parasitic mercenary ants stealthily enter and establish their colonies in the gardens of the fungus-growing host ants,” said Rachelle Adams from Jacobus Boomsma’s lab at the University of Copenhagen. Adams is lead-author of the report published last week in PNAS.

With co-authors from Copenhagen and from the Department of Chemistry at the Virginia Military Institute, she found that the parasitic mercenary ants use their potent chemicals called alkaloids to defend host colonies against the raiding predatory ants, Gnamptogenys hartmani. The raiders can take over Sericomyrmex fungal gardens and nests.

During an attack, the mercenaries proved to be much more efficient than the host ants at killing the raiding predators. Even a moderate number of parasitic guest ants can provide protection against predatory attacks, effectively reducing host ant mortality.

However, the host ants pay a high price for the help. The mercenaries hamper host colony growth by feeding on the brood–the eggs and larvae–and by clipping the wings of host virgin queens, possibly to retain them as an additional work-force rather than let them disperse.

In addition, the authors show that raider ant scouts prefer to recruit to the colonies of the fungus-farming ants whose odor indicated that no mercenary ants were inside.

The inspiration for this project was a direct outcome of the University of Copenhagen and STRI supported graduate course, Tropical Behavioral Ecology and Evolution, offered in 2011, 2013 and planned for 2015. Two Copenhagen students from the 2011 course are junior authors on the study.

Adams, R.M.M., Liberti, J., Illum, A.A., Jones, T.H., Nash, D.R. and Boomsma, J.J. 2013. Chemically armed mercenary ants protect fungus-farming societies PNAS http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1311654110

12 Buddhist Eco-Guidelines – Inspiration

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

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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 sanctity 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. Twelve guidelines were offered:

*  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.

Can secondary forests capture carbon faster?

Joseph Wright
Joseph Wright

From:  STRI.org

There are an estimated five million square kilometers of abandoned farmland and logged forests in the tropics. This area, which is more than half the size of the United States, could become an important carbon sink if reclaimed by forests. Within 25 years a secondary forest can absorb as much as 80 percent of the CO2 that is held in a mature forest. Joseph Wright, a STRI forest ecologist doesn’t think that’s enough carbon, given how quickly humans are pumping it to the atmosphere. “I think we can do better,” he says.

The reason is that quickly removing a large amount of carbon from the atmosphere and locking it away for centuries is not something most tree species do well. Many grow too slowly, are too small, die too young or are not dense enough to rise to the task. Doubling the amount of carbon held in a forest might be as straightforward as slightly increasing the number of fast-growing, long-lived, high density, massive individuals in it.

This might not only be possible, it might also be profitable, says Wright, who is testing the thesis with a new reforestation experiment in western Panama. The experiment draws on 30 years of data he has collected on the life cycles of Panama’s hundreds of trees, the discount equations economists apply to carbon pricing and the latest prices for carbon offsets in Australia, Europe and British Columbia.

“We’ve been studying these trees for 30 years and hopefully we’ve learned some things about them that are useful,” says Wright.

Useful things include knowing what trees meet the desired criteria to manage a forest with higher-than average carbon storage: rapid growth, large mature size, and high wood density, all of which increase the amount of carbon stored by the tree. The Dipteryx and Terminalia trees Wright selected for the experiment also grow tall in full sunlight, as opposed to branching early in absence of neighboring trees. These potentially 40- to 50-meter-tall canopy giants usually rise to the canopy top late in secondary succession through gaps created by fallen trees. In mature forests, they account for a much greater percentage of stored carbon relative to their population size. In this experiment, Wright hopes to give them a low-investment head start, increasing the future mature forest’s population density of these trees as shade-tolerant trees gradually fill the understory and restore the area’s former biodiversity.

“I think we can skip an intermediate step of succession dominated by smaller, trees and go straight to the 30-40-meter tall forest,” says Wright. In 2010, Wright and his team planted hundreds of Dipteryx panamensis and Terminalia amazonia trees in quarter-hectare plot pairs across 50 hectares of former grazing pasture in Veraguas province in Western Panama.”If we end up with just ten of those surviving (per quarter hectare), we will have a forest that will have twice the biomass of an unmanaged forest in Panama,” says Wright. Even if survival is only ten per hectare, the forest will hold about 40 percent more carbon than it would otherwise, says Wright, who hopes to try a similar experiment with six species with complementary resource requirements to increase the likelihood of establishing a still denser forest.

Whether enough trees will survive is a question that will take many years to answer. In the higher-than-normal species density situation that Wright has created, pests might be a problem in the short-term. After two years, the plantations are doing well with the young trees up to 10 m tall and no signs of pest outbreaks.

Carbon offset prices currently mandated in California, British Colombia and Australia make the enterprise profitable on otherwise abandoned lands and there are two million square kilometers of such lands in the tropics. The international community, however, lacks a mechanism to recompense governments for augmented carbon sequestration in secondary forests. Wright believes that as atmospheric CO2 concentrations and global temperatures continue to climb, this mechanism will appear.

Kayaking in the Rainforest

By Meret Schueschke

Last week I got the chance to do something I had wanted to do for quite a while: To go kayaking in the rainforest with EcoCircuitos. It was going to be my first real rainforest experience, and I was really looking forward to it, but the real experience exceeded my expectations by far.

After less than an hour we arrived at Gamboa, where we were supposed to start off our kayaking excursion. While our guide and driver got the equipment ready we strolled around, had peeks into the butterfly house and aquarium they have there, and already spotted the first birds.

And then, we started out onto the lake. The cries of howler monkeys greeted us, accompanied by the distant sound of drumming that came from the Embera Village further down the shore. Along with wisps of mist hanging between the trees and the soft dripping of water from the paddles, this sound created a truly unreal experience. One of our little group described it very accurately when he said: “I could almost imagine KingKong coming out of this forest right now”

The next hours were an almost meditative experience. We spotted uncountable amounts of birds: since the kayaks make almost no sound passing through the water, you can get really close to animals as long as you don’t talk too much.

Before too long, the thatched roofs of the Embera village appeared between the trees, and by a stroke of luck we got to witness a short musical performance of the men of the tribe, as they were just receiving a group of visitors when we passed by.

I was  already feeling  like I had completely left the normal world behind, and then, weirdly enough, it got perfect when it started to rain. It had been a hot day so far, and the soft summer rain was so refreshing, and it changed the atmosphere into something almost magical. There was steam rising from the trees around us, the birds and monkeys seemed to wake up, like us being revived by that burst of fresh air the rain brought, and suddenly it was just us, the water, and the rainforest around us, and the real world so far away…

At some point we spied the howler monkeys, high up in a tree, another time we passed a large iguana. Eagles, herons, kingfishers and many more crossed our paths. Fish passed silently beneath us. We were silent, mostly, enjoying the tranquility of this spot we had all to ourselves, each taking in this different world for himself.

The three hours passed far too quickly, and all too soon we had to head back to the shore, and then to the city with all its activity…but the feeling of tranquility I had experienced there on the lake stayed with me for several days, and I am sure I will not forget this special feeling of being out on in this primeval forest so far from everyday life, and yet so close to home.

if you would like to know more about this or other rainforest tours, have a look at our website