Panama has several nature reserves, national parks and pristine islands.
The National Park "Volcán Barú" in the province of Chiriqui is the oldest nature reserve in Panama. On top of the highest mountain of the country with 3.477 meters, you can see the Caribbean and Pacific coast from there if you are lucky. A hike through the tropical rainforest and the untouched cloud forest is a unique experience, for example in the region around El Valle de Antón, in Coclé. The largest contiguous rainforest area in all of Central America is located in the southeast of Panama in the province of Darién. UNESCO has declared this extensive Darién National Park a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve.
With 64% forest cover, did you know that Panama has the highest forest cover of any country in Central America?
Panama has 1.33 million hectares of primary forest ecosystems with humid, tropical rainforests as the dominant vegetation type. Providing extreme importance for preserving these forests and their species, 33% of the land in Panama is set aside for conservation. Many indigenous communities live in the protected areas of Panama and they also help to protect and maintain these national parks and other protected areas.
There are 15 national nature parks in Panama:
- Parque Internacional La Amistad
- Parque Nacional Altos de Campana
- Parque Nacional Camino de cruces
- Cerro Hoya National Park
- Chagres National Park
- Darién National Park
- Isla Bastimentos National Park
- Parque Nacional Isla de Coiba
- Omar Torrijos National Park
- Parque Nacional Portobelo
- Santa Fe National Park
- Sarigua National Park
- Soberanía National Park
- Parque Nacional Volcán Barú
Biodiversity of the national parks of Panama
Mostly because of its complex geological history, the vast tropical forests and numerous islands of Panama have astounding biodiversity. Ranging from the crawling agoutis on the rainforest canopy to toucans, macaws, and prowling pumas and jaguars, the country teems with unique animals and plants.
Panama connects Central and South America as a land bridge and offers room for migratory species like birds. Panama has around 978 species of birds which makes it the country with the highest number of bird species in Central America. It is also one of the world’s best birdwatching sites!
Toucans, parrots, macaws, and quetzals find their home here in Panama. The national bird of Panama is the harpy eagle which is considered the world’s most powerful bird of prey. It is best spotted in the Parque Nacional Darién.
Amongst the unique mammals of Panama are tiny monkeys called Geoffrey’s tamarins which live up to groups of 40. These can easily be spotted in Parque Natural Metropolitano, Monumento Nacional Isla Barro Colorado and the Darién.
Parque Nacional Darién - the crown jewel of Panama
Most of Panama’s tropical rainforest is protected by the Parque Nacional Darién. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site, Darién National Park has pristine primary forests with dense greenery. The park is considered a global biodiversity hotspot and also has iconic landscapes.
Parque Nacional Soberanía - Bird watcher’s paradise in Panama
The best place for birding in Panama is the Parque Nacional Soberanía. Here, you can see hundreds of bird species in just a single day!
Bird migrations are truly a sight to behold in Panama. Almost a dozen species of raptors migrate over Panama in October. Some migrations worth seeing at least once are the Kettling hawk migrations in Bocas del Toro in October and the Turkey vulture migrations over the islands in early March and October. You could also see some migrating songbirds in the rainforests which add a burst of color and sound to the usual forest landscape.
Marine national parks
Parque Nacional Coiba in Veraguas is one of the largest marine parks in the world. The Isla bastimentos not only has rare and beautiful marine wildlife, but it also has dense rainforests right on the island!
Parque Nacional Isla Bastimentos - Bocas Del Toro
Parque Nacional Isla Bastimentos - Unique Underwater World.
Due to the crystal clear waters, the region is very good for diving and it is rare to find such large and intact coral reefs in the world.
Cloud forests of Panama
In the vicinity of Panamas highest peak, Volcán Barú, is the famous trail Sendero de los Quetzales. You go through these magical cloud forests with a chance of seeing the elusive emerald-quetzal bird in season from January to April!
Other interesting national parks that are worth visiting in Panama include Parque Internacional La Amistad. A protected area managed jointly by Costa Rica and Panama, this park has been a World Heritage site since 1983. The Parque Nacional Altos de Campana, established in 1966, is the oldest national park in Panama. A short drive from Panama City, you can see unique birds like violet-bellied hummingbirds and trogons here.
Entry to all national parks in Panama excepting Parque Nacional Coiba is free after obtaining a permit!