Just 16 miles (25 km) and a world away from Panama City lies Soberania National Park, a huge area of protected tropical rainforest along the banks of the Chagres River and the Panama Canal. Within its expansive 55,000 acres (220 square km) live an incredible variety of birds and animals, from toucans to sloths and […]
Just 16 miles (25 km) and a world away from Panama City lies Soberania National Park, a huge area of protected tropical rainforest along the banks of the Chagres River and the Panama Canal. Within its expansive 55,000 acres (220 square km) live an incredible variety of birds and animals, from toucans to sloths and more.
Soberania National Park is the ultimate escape from the rush of Panama City. You’ll feel as if you were teleported into a different world as your surroundings change from high-rises and concrete to towering trees and lush greenery.
The park offers world-class birdwatching sites and lovely hiking trails. Thanks to its proximity to the country’s capital, travelers can visit the park on day trips from Panama City to immerse themselves in nature and take in the sights and sounds of the forest.
We recommend spending at least a day to explore the park, although you could easily extend your visit to two or even three days. If you’d like to enjoy the forest with the least possibility of experiencing its characteristic rain, come during the dry season, between January and April.
Keep reading to learn about the park’s amazing wildlife, how to get there, the best things to do, and where to stay near the park if you’d like to extend your visit to multiple days.
Soberania National Park is one of the best places in the world to see a variety of birds. 525 bird species have been identified in the park, including rare red-bellied woodpeckers, yellow-eared toucanets, sirystes, ground cuckoo, crested eagle, and rufous-fantail. You could even see the national bird of Panama, the harpy eagle.
For the best chance of seeing a high number of birds, make sure to arrive to the park very early in the morning. In the first hours of daylight, the birds and other animals of the forest are at their most active.
We also recommend getting a guide to take you on a birding tour. Your guide will be well-versed in the calls of the birds, where they can usually be found, and their behavior, allowing you to make the most of your bird watching adventure.
In addition to birds, Soberania National Park is also home to a huge number of mammals; 105 to be exact! Within the primate family, you could spot mantled howler monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys, Panamanian night monkeys, and Geoffroy’s tamarins.
Keep your eyes peeled for two- and three-toed sloths hanging from tree branches. Other mammals in the park include green iguanas, white-nosed coatis (a relative of racoons), southern tamanduas (also known as collared anteaters), and agoutis (rodents).
From the Albrook Mall area in Panama City, take Avenida Omar Torrijos Herrera (Route 852) to the north. You’ll be driving 12.4 miles (20 km) in about a half an hour on the east side of the Panama Canal, past the Miraflores Locks, the town of Paraiso, and the Centennial Bridge.
After passing Summit Municipal Park, you’ll arrive to the first set of attractions of Soberania National Park, including Plantation Trail, Canopy Tower, and Charco Trail. This is also where park rangers collect a $5 entrance fee.
If you’d like to visit Pipeline Road and the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, continue on Avenida Omar Torrijos Herrera for 6.8 miles (11 km), about 25 minutes, towards the town of Gamboa. Cross the bridge over the Chagres River and continue to the left, following signs for Pipeline Road/Camino del Oleoducto. We recommend driving a vehicle with 4-wheel drive, if possible, because Pipeline Road is unpaved.
A one-way taxi ride from Albrook Mall in Panama City could cost about $25. If you would also like to take a taxi back, we suggest coming to an agreement with a taxi driver on a two-way fare, which you can pay at the end of the day. That way, the driver will come back for you.
We don’t recommend relying on the bus to get to Soberania National Park. Buses to the town of Gamboa within the park are unreliable and infrequent. CoopSACA is the only bus service to Gamboa and leaves from Plaza 5 de Mayo and the Albrook Bus Terminal. The bus usually stops 5 km from the entrance to the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, although you can ask the driver to be dropped off at the Smithsonian dock, which is 2.5 km from the entrance.
This trail used to be an access road to an old cacao plantation. Now, adventurers hike on this route to enjoy the tropical forest environment and see wildlife such as howler monkeys and trogon birds.
The trail is 4.3 miles long (7 km) one-way, with mostly flat terrain. It takes about 3.5-4 hours total to reach the end of the trail and return to your starting point. You won’t find much at the end of the trail; there’s no lookout point or waterfall. But this route is all about the journey, not the destination!
As Plantation Trail connects with the nearby Las Cruces Trail, you can enjoy mountain biking on both trails in addition to hiking.
Las Cruces Trail (Camino de Cruces)
This trail actually crosses all of Panama, from the Pacific to the Caribbean. In the 1500s, the Spanish built the trail to transport gold. You can still see the ancient stones that mark the original path.
6.2 miles (10 km) of the trail passes through Soberania National Park. If you are looking for a more difficult, off-the-beaten-path place to hike, this trail is for you. You can access it by Plantation Trail or by heading north on Avenida Madden towards the town of Chilibre.
Continuing from Plantation Trail north on Avenida Omar Torrijos Herrera, towards the town of Gamboa, you’ll see a turnoff for this trail on the right-hand side. This family-friendly path is only 0.5 miles long (0.8 km) and leads to a lovely, small pond. You can bring food to enjoy in the picnic area and even take a dip in the pond.
Pipeline Road (Camino del Oleoducto)
This north-south road leads 10.8 miles (17.5 km) deep into the jungle of Soberania National Park. It’s one of the best places in the world for birdwatching and wildlife spotting.
As you pass through the old growth and secondary forest, you can see tropical bird species such as falcons, parakeets, parrots, toucans, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and trogons. The full bird list for this area includes 239 species! Our Pipeline Road Birding Tour with a local guide is a great way to spot many of these birds.
You can drive up part of this road, but be aware it is unpaved and some cars may not be able to handle it. Alternatively, the road is great for hiking. Choose how long you would like to walk and give it a go!
Panama Rainforest Discovery Center
About one mile (1.6 km) up Pipeline Road, you’ll come across a rainforest conservation center, whose main attraction is its 100-foot (32-meter) observation tower. From its viewing platform in the forest canopy, you can see many birds and other animals. The visitor’s center also draws 14 species of hummingbirds to its feeders.
The center has 0.7 miles (1.2 km) of maintained trails that meander through the rainforest and lead to Lake Calamito. From those trails, you could see monkeys, crocodiles, coatis, and butterflies, along with birds, of course.
The conservation center is open from 6:00 am to 16:00 pm. The entrance fee is $30 for foreign adults, $12 for residents, and $5 for children (minors are not allowed on the observation tower). Visit their website for more information about the center and special events. For example, for an additional $30, you participate in one of their Night Walks from 18:00 pm to 21:00 pm to observe the nocturnal activity of animals.
Kayaking and River Navigation
Between the Chagres River, Lake Gatun, and the Panama Canal, there are plenty of water routes to explore Soberania National Park. On kayaking day trips from Panama City, you can experience the incredible wildlife of the park, as well as its water-borne species. Our other river navigation tour also takes you to a local indigenous village.
To see the highest number of birds and other exotic rainforest animals, you should enter the forest early in the morning. Staying in a nearby hotel allows you to hit the park’s trails earlier and see more animals. Consider staying at one of the following hotels close to or in Soberania National Park:
If you’re looking for budget options, your best choice is to stay in Panama City and take a day trip to Soberania National Park.
If you’d like to experience a completely different environment than Panama City, head to Soberania National Park. You’ll have a fantastic time soaking in the natural beauty of Panama’s tropical rainforest and observing amazing animals.