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Panama Itinerary Review (1 Viewer)

kkdd

Member
Netherlands
Hello everyone,

I'm new to the forum and decided to join after being inspired to plan a trip to Panama. I across some threads with valuable information that helped me draft a plan. I would appreciate it if you could take a look and give me some feedback.

Background:
  • I will be traveling with my wife. We are in our early 30's.
  • My wife is interested in birds, but certainly not as much as I am. Would be nice to include some non-birding activities for her during the day.
  • This is not our first time traveling to Central America. We traveled to Costa Rica in December 2022, and that's where I found out how much I enjoy birdwatching and wildlife photography. I did not have the right lens or photography experience at the time, so I returned home with unsatisfactory pictures. I'm hoping Panama will help me make up for CR.
  • We are both beginners when it comes to birding. We have been to several places in Europe and very recently a trip to Sri Lanka and have seen a lot of exciting birds. However, this will be our first trip (almost) fully focused on birding and will kick off our life list.

Trip Preferences:
  • Dates: April 27 to May 11.
  • We do not have any specific birds in mind (we are still too ignorant anyway), so we would like this trip to introduce us to neotropical species in general.
  • We do not like one night stays unless absolutely necessary.
  • We do not want to book organized tours but do not mind hiring the service of a local guide where necessary.
  • Accommodation is just a place to sleep at night and store our stuff during our day out. We are not very particular about hotels or lodges.
  • We will be renting a car.

The Plan:
  • Apr 27-28: Travel from Frankfurt and arrive at David airport. Pick-up rental car and drive to Bambito. Rest and do some birding in and around the hotel.
  • April 29: Visit La Amistad International Park.
  • April 30: Visit Volcan Lakes (Lagunas de Volcán)
  • May 1: Check-out early, and spend the day at Birders Paradise before making our way to Boquete.
  • May 2: Volcan Baru National Park
  • May 3: Pipeline trail + waterfall trails
  • May 4: Drive to Canopy Lodge in Anton Valley (6 hours drive, so will stop for lunch somewhere).
  • May 5: La Mesa area
  • May 6: The forest next to Canopy Lodge in the morning, then drive to Canopy Tower Lodge.
  • May 7: Canopy Tower, Semaphore Hill and Summit Ponds
  • May 8: Discovery Tower and Pipeline Road
  • May 9: Metropolitan Natural Park
  • May 10: Summit Area and Pipeline Road
  • May 11: Drive to the airport and fly back to Frankfurt.
Summary:
  • 3 days Bambito
  • 2 days Boquete
  • 1 day lost (driving)
  • 2 days Anton Valley
  • 4 days Panama City (Summit Rainforest & Gamboa)

Questions:
1. I know I said we are not particular about accommodation, but from what I've read on the forum, the Canopy Tower and Lodge are probably a must to make the best of this trip birding. Reading through their website and FAQ's I get the impression that we can book a stay there without a tour package. Can you confirm my understanding is correct? Have you done that before, and was it worth it without the all-inclusive package?
2. Given the time of the year and the number of days we have, is focusing completely on the western side of Panama a better choice than maybe Darien National Park?
3. Do you think I packed too much in terms of distinct areas / stops / accommodations?
4. Do you think the areas I chose are good for a first timer, or would you recommend anything different?
5. I heard about the La Mesa area I planned for May 5 on a YouTube video. I could not find it on Google maps. Did I get it right, or have I heard wrong?
6. Do you have any recommendations for hotels/lodges (even in Panama City and Anton Valley, just in case we did not end up staying with the Canopy Family)?
7. Any specific species you think we should be on the lookout for? Where are we likely to see them?
8. Any places you think hiring a local guide would be a MUST?
9. Any other tips or comments you would like to share?

I know it's a long post, sorry for that! I hope this will be an engaging discussion and will help anyone planning a trip to Panama in the future.

Thanks in advance!
 
Summit Rainforest and Golf resort is great for a very comfortable stay on arrival or pre-departure from Panama City; guaranteed Capybara at the entrance pond!
Darien is impractical without a guide; transport and food are part of the package. Great birding however; Harpy and Crowned Eagle nestlings when I went.
If you hire a guide, I cannot recommend Euclides Campos highly enough; great travelling companion, superb organiser and first rate birder; however I believe he prefers full trips rather than short sessions. No harm in asking.
 
As for targets; I was looking for 5 family ticks, all of which I ended up seeing supremely well. These included Wrenthrush hopping around our feet, several clear sightings of Rosy Thrush-Tanager, super views of Black-crowned Antpitta and walk away views of Sapayoa (not the greatest looker, but a fascinating evolutionary story).
 
Hi Welsh, thanks for your feedback, I appreciate that!

What areas did you visit during your stay? Which one or two would you say are a must?
 
I visited Panama for about 10ish days shortly after Covid restrictions eased: I did a trip report of the venture which you can find on the site in the trip report forum.

My random thoughts:

As others have said, Darien really isn't worth doing without a guide: there are not a lot of housing options and many of the key targets would need a guide to see.
If this is your first focused birding trip, I wonder if you are not trying to cover too much? That is a lot of driving, and you don't give yourself a lot of extra time at any place in case you run into poor birding luck, bad weather, or get lost. Nothing sucks more than to feel you lose out on birds just by rushing through sites, especially since it will probably take you longer to find and identify stuff. Again everyone has there own preferences for recreational trips, I just personally wouldn't want to do that much running around, especially without the help of a guide.

I would make use of the provided guides and maybe consider some sort of package for Canopy Lodge. The property that the Lodge sits on isn't huge, and a lot of the local birding hotspots generally require a drive and are not really formal parks and trails. Also the guides here are great.

Canopy Tower is worth a night or two stay, mostly for access to the top of the tower at first light. I think as far as access goes, the sites around the tower are pretty easy to to reach and bird. I also think this area probably offers the most options for non-bird related fun, at least compared to the Canopy Lodge. There are also some cheap options for lodging.

As far as targets, at least for the areas I visited, I would say some of the major targets are Black-crowned Antpitta, Sunbittern, Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo, Tody Motmot, Green Shrike-vireo, Blue Cotinga, and Rosy Thrush-Tanager. Also Army ant swarms and there specialized bird followers.
 
Mysticete, thank you for your feedback. I'm going through your trip report, very helpful so far!

Yes, I am afraid I might be covering too much ground, and this is one of the concerns I raised in my questions. I'm torn between two thoughts:
1. I want to cover different habitats and mix things up, especially for my wife so she wouldn't get too bored.
2. I want to give myself enough time to explore what the "hotspots of Panama" have to offer.

With that said, if you were planning the trip, which area(s) would you skip? Where would you spend the recovered days?

As for the Canopy Family tours, they're out of our budget, unfortunately. However, as I've mentioned in my initial post, we wouldn't mind hiring the service of local guides where necessary, and I would appreciate it if you could point out some of those spots where you think would be impossible for a beginner (like myself) without a guide.
 
Based on the feedback I'm getting, I think I should define a target of maybe 50 birds, 10-15 at each location, and then hire a local guide at least for one day every time I move to a new area. The guide will certainly help in locating the birds and I would have a nice start of my life list.

On a different note, does anyone have an indication of what it costs to stay at the Canopy Tower and Canopy Lodge without booking their tours? I could not find accommodation prices on their website... Maybe they do not allow it? I'm getting mixed signs on this... In all cases, I've already explored other options including the amazing Summit Rainforest and Golf resort (thank you Welsh for the tip!).

I'll wait and see if I get some more advice before I proceed with the bookings, but so far I feel comfortable about the plan.
 
Summit Rainforest and Golf resort is great for a very comfortable stay on arrival or pre-departure from Panama City; guaranteed Capybara at the entrance pond!
Darien is impractical without a guide; transport and food are part of the package. Great birding however; Harpy and Crowned Eagle nestlings when I went.
If you hire a guide, I cannot recommend Euclides Campos highly enough; great travelling companion, superb organiser and first rate birder; however I believe he prefers full trips rather than short sessions. No harm in asking.
How do we find Euclides Campos please?
 
Hello everyone,

I'm new to the forum and decided to join after being inspired to plan a trip to Panama. I across some threads with valuable information that helped me draft a plan. I would appreciate it if you could take a look and give me some feedback.

Background:
  • I will be traveling with my wife. We are in our early 30's.
  • My wife is interested in birds, but certainly not as much as I am. Would be nice to include some non-birding activities for her during the day.
  • This is not our first time traveling to Central America. We traveled to Costa Rica in December 2022, and that's where I found out how much I enjoy birdwatching and wildlife photography. I did not have the right lens or photography experience at the time, so I returned home with unsatisfactory pictures. I'm hoping Panama will help me make up for CR.
  • We are both beginners when it comes to birding. We have been to several places in Europe and very recently a trip to Sri Lanka and have seen a lot of exciting birds. However, this will be our first trip (almost) fully focused on birding and will kick off our life list.

Trip Preferences:
  • Dates: April 27 to May 11.
  • We do not have any specific birds in mind (we are still too ignorant anyway), so we would like this trip to introduce us to neotropical species in general.
  • We do not like one night stays unless absolutely necessary.
  • We do not want to book organized tours but do not mind hiring the service of a local guide where necessary.
  • Accommodation is just a place to sleep at night and store our stuff during our day out. We are not very particular about hotels or lodges.
  • We will be renting a car.

The Plan:
  • Apr 27-28: Travel from Frankfurt and arrive at David airport. Pick-up rental car and drive to Bambito. Rest and do some birding in and around the hotel.
  • April 29: Visit La Amistad International Park.
  • April 30: Visit Volcan Lakes (Lagunas de Volcán)
  • May 1: Check-out early, and spend the day at Birders Paradise before making our way to Boquete.
  • May 2: Volcan Baru National Park
  • May 3: Pipeline trail + waterfall trails
  • May 4: Drive to Canopy Lodge in Anton Valley (6 hours drive, so will stop for lunch somewhere).
  • May 5: La Mesa area
  • May 6: The forest next to Canopy Lodge in the morning, then drive to Canopy Tower Lodge.
  • May 7: Canopy Tower, Semaphore Hill and Summit Ponds
  • May 8: Discovery Tower and Pipeline Road
  • May 9: Metropolitan Natural Park
  • May 10: Summit Area and Pipeline Road
  • May 11: Drive to the airport and fly back to Frankfurt.
Summary:
  • 3 days Bambito
  • 2 days Boquete
  • 1 day lost (driving)
  • 2 days Anton Valley
  • 4 days Panama City (Summit Rainforest & Gamboa)

Questions:
1. I know I said we are not particular about accommodation, but from what I've read on the forum, the Canopy Tower and Lodge are probably a must to make the best of this trip birding. Reading through their website and FAQ's I get the impression that we can book a stay there without a tour package. Can you confirm my understanding is correct? Have you done that before, and was it worth it without the all-inclusive package?
2. Given the time of the year and the number of days we have, is focusing completely on the western side of Panama a better choice than maybe Darien National Park?
3. Do you think I packed too much in terms of distinct areas / stops / accommodations?
4. Do you think the areas I chose are good for a first timer, or would you recommend anything different?
5. I heard about the La Mesa area I planned for May 5 on a YouTube video. I could not find it on Google maps. Did I get it right, or have I heard wrong?
6. Do you have any recommendations for hotels/lodges (even in Panama City and Anton Valley, just in case we did not end up staying with the Canopy Family)?
7. Any specific species you think we should be on the lookout for? Where are we likely to see them?
8. Any places you think hiring a local guide would be a MUST?
9. Any other tips or comments you would like to share?

I know it's a long post, sorry for that! I hope this will be an engaging discussion and will help anyone planning a trip to Panama in the future.

Thanks in advance!

Volcan Baru is great for birding, but it does require a high clearance 4 wheel drive with an experienced driver. we ended up organizing it the day before we went up the volcano via the Finca Lerida (Hotel Finca Lérida Coffee Plantation a Boutique Hotel in Boquete Panama) the trails on their property were good for the bellbird and chiriqui quail dove for example. looking into your schedule for the west. I would recommend to switch volcan baru with the pipeline trail day, so you have time to organize the 4-wheel drive for the volcan baru day.
 
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Can you fly in and out of David in both directions? Then I would likely stay in western Panama the entire time. Because of the mountain and the lowland, you have several habitats to choose from. I would not necessarily hire a guide every day, but early in each general region to get an impression to start from.

If you want a lower elevation area in western Panama, then I have on a couple of occasions stayed in Playa Las Lajas, but an area just south of David seems on the map as being able to provide some experiences as well. Check ebird.org, select explore - hotspots and check the areas where you would like to go.
Niels
 
I visited Panama for about 10ish days shortly after Covid restrictions eased: I did a trip report of the venture which you can find on the site in the trip report forum.

My random thoughts:

As others have said, Darien really isn't worth doing without a guide: there are not a lot of housing options and many of the key targets would need a guide to see.
If this is your first focused birding trip, I wonder if you are not trying to cover too much? That is a lot of driving, and you don't give yourself a lot of extra time at any place in case you run into poor birding luck, bad weather, or get lost. Nothing sucks more than to feel you lose out on birds just by rushing through sites, especially since it will probably take you longer to find and identify stuff. Again everyone has there own preferences for recreational trips, I just personally wouldn't want to do that much running around, especially without the help of a guide.

I would make use of the provided guides and maybe consider some sort of package for Canopy Lodge. The property that the Lodge sits on isn't huge, and a lot of the local birding hotspots generally require a drive and are not really formal parks and trails. Also the guides here are great.

Canopy Tower is worth a night or two stay, mostly for access to the top of the tower at first light. I think as far as access goes, the sites around the tower are pretty easy to to reach and bird. I also think this area probably offers the most options for non-bird related fun, at least compared to the Canopy Lodge. There are also some cheap options for lodging.

As far as targets, at least for the areas I visited, I would say some of the major targets are Black-crowned Antpitta, Sunbittern, Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo, Tody Motmot, Green Shrike-vireo, Blue Cotinga, and Rosy Thrush-Tanager. Also Army ant swarms and there specialized bird followers.
A bit of additional info regarding the Darien: You also need a permit from the government to visit the region (certainly so for the best parts such as the NP), so just showing up is a no-no. Not to mention that it requires quite a bit of logistics planning. It's certainly worth it, but doing the region justice you'll easily spend 7+ days there and it'll require camping for a good bit of it. We organized the Darien part of our Panama trip via Isaac Pizarro.
 
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I just returned from my 4th trip to Panama in the last 2 years. Great place for birding. A couple of words of advice, if you don't mind:

Be very careful about following Google Maps driving advice. I've found in Panama, it can take you places you don't want to be. I went to Birding Paradise last year and got stuck on a road that hadn't been traveled in years. I had to walk back to a main road and find a local family with a truck to pull me back up a hill. If possible, get directions from someone local and don't turn onto any roads that you aren't sure about.

I've flown into David twice and stayed in Cerro Punta. La Amistad is beautiful, but was hard to navigate through for an outsider. Be careful about making a wrong turn somewhere and if you think you are on a wrong road, you probably are. For Lagunas de Volcan, you'll probably want to park near the coffee shop at the airport and walk the road to the lakes. There is good birding along the roads.

On my first trip to Pipeline Rd, I was disappointed at the amount of birds I saw there. I went back with a guide this time and it makes a world of difference. They know where to look for specific birds and pretty quickly know if they are in the area or not. There are lots of good guides who are friendly with each other and let others know what they've seen and where they've seen it. I had a target list of about 20 birds and I got good looks at over half of them as well as many others that were not on my list. My guide pointed out two different species of Trogons, a Great Jacamar, Red-capped and Golden-collared manakins, several antbirds/ant pittas and a Choco Screech Owl that I likely would not have seen without him.

If you go to the Metropolitan Natural Park (and you should), you'll do OK without a guide there. I've found the best route is to walk all the way back along the main road from the visitor center and take the Mono-Titi trail. Look for mixed flocks along the hike up. There was one tree (don't know what kind, but had many small berries/fruit) about half way up that was visited by a Toucan, Squirrel Cuckoos, Baltimore and Yellow-backed Orioles as well as several Tanagers and Warblers during the 20-30 min I was there. Great views of Panama City from the top of the trail.

Let me know if you have any questions or need help with finding guides, or places to stay. This is my first post here, so I don't want to look like I'm pushing any accommodations or guides in particular, but I can help if you like.
 

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