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Travelogue: Gamboa, Panama

During our trip to Panama City did take a very early morning excursion out of the capital to Gamboa, a town on the banks of the Panama Canal half way across the isthmus.

Gamboa is surrounded by world-famous birding trails and the tropical rainforest of Soberanía National Park plus the powerful Rio Chagres that feeds the artificial Lago Gatun, via the monumental Gatun Dam, which is an integral part of the Panama Canal.

Rio Chagres supplies most of the water that feeds the lake and much of the water that is drunk by the 880,000 people in Panama City. It is beautiful natural river despite man interfering with it and alongside it are villages that live native Indians such as the Embera tribe, some of whom we met selling their handicrafts and cocobolo figurines.

DSC_0693Lago Gatun was once the largest man-made lake in the world and is an impressive body of water and it was here that we picked up a early morning boat to explore the primate sanctuary scattered around a dozen islands in the lake known collectively as Islas Las Brujas and Islas Tigre.

We came before dawn because it is the best time to catch spider and howler monkeys, tamarins and the cutest white-faced capuchins and see them we did, in their droves. The majority of the monkeys have been rescued from illegal captivity and the whole purpose here of the reserve is to reintroduce them to the wild.

Covered in mosquito spray, we got very close to the shores and the little monkeys jumped and danced around us curious and mischievous and my daughter wasn’t the only one of us still talking about the experience days later.

Another thrill was getting up close to some of the huge container ships making their way up the Panama Canal past anglers fishing for peacock bass. I understood the attraction to anglers but somewhat surprisingly many others scuba dive in the lake. The waters are murky at best and it’s also home to many caimans and alligators, who sidle around the deep vegetation!

DSC_0682At the nearby Gamboa Rainforest Resort there is an Ariel Tram that hoists passengers 80m to an observation platform. The tram is a bit like a canopy zip line but more comfortable and uphill. The resort is meant to be an ecolodge but includes a jazzy spa and a theme park. It is in a beautiful location and is open to non guests as it the unusual Canopy Tower Lodge.

The outside of Gamboa is the Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo which is a good introduction to the countries flora and fauna. The harpy eagle takes centre stage with its own compound. The eagle is the world’s most powerful bird of prey and is indigenous to Panama. Sadly it is also endangered.

The very early start was worth it to see such an array of beautiful wildlife, and all so close to Panama’s capital city 45 minutes away.

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