When it comes to birding, few countries in the world will compare to a trip to Panama. With a stunning diversity of bird species and several world-famous sites from which to observe them in their natural habitat, Panama is at the top of the list for avid birdwatchers. Almost half the country is covered by tropical rain and cloud forests with more than 970 species of birds, including around 120 migratory species and 12 endemic varieties.
WHEN TO GO
Panama is the perfect place to see tropical birds any time of the year. The most popular season is from December to April, but the green season (from May to November) is also great for birding. December is especially good for birders because of the 24-hour Atlantic Christmas Bird Count. This event is the highlight of the birding calendar in Panama, and amateur ornithologists come from around the world to participate.
WHERE TO GO
Soberania National Park
The region surrounding Panama City is rich with bird life and several national parks are within easy reach, including Camino de Cruces National Park and Soberanía National Park. Expect to see harpy eagles (Panama's national bird), brown twistwings, stripe-cheeked woodpeckers and speckled antshrikes in this area.
Best Time to Visit: July-December
Chiriquí & The Highlands
The Chiriquí Highlands are known for the diversity of the bird life that inhabits the dense cloud forests of this beautiful region. The resplendent quetzal is considered among the world's most beautiful birds and is particularly well-known in this region. A hiking trail as well as a hotel have been named after this prominent bird. Other species, including the brown-backed dove, blue-throated toucanet and fiery-billed aracari, can all be seen here.
Best Time to Visit: Year-round
Darién National Park offers more than 1.3 million acres of land, and is home to many of Panama's most exotic birds. In addition to being the natural habitat of four species of macaw, Pirre Mountain, which is located within the park, is also where the reclusive golden-headed quetzal makes its home.
Best Time to Visit: December-March
WHERE TO STAY
We recommend a stay at any of the Canopy Family's 3 properties because of their incredible locations and skilled guides (their birding team ranked 6th in the world in this years Big Birding Day).
Canopy Tower - National Park Soberania
The Canopy Tower is a prime location from which to observe the birds and other wildlife of the forest canopy. You don't have to leave the Canopy Tower to find birds, you don't even have to leave your bedroom! The Canopy Tower features rooms and an observation deck mere feet from the canopy of the rainforest, virtually at eye-level with such avian treats as toucans, tanagers, honeycreepers and hawks, as well as amazing looks at two- and three-toed sloths and Geoffroy's Tamarins and Mantled Howlers, two monkey species otherwise nearly impossible to see this well! From the Canopy Tower you can visit legendary Pipeline Road, arguably the best birding location in Mesoamerica. This really is one of the best bird watching vacations anywhere in the world!
Canopy Lodge - El Valle de Anton
The Canopy Lodge is a full service lodge specializing in nature tourism, particularly birds. It's one of the best sites for Panama birding anywhere in the country. It's located 60 miles west of Panama City in the picturesque village of El Valle de Anton, right in the center of a gigantic crater of an extinct volcano. This is the largest inhabited crater in the Western Hemisphere and second only to the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. The lodge consists of 12 bedrooms, an open living/dining room (with WiFi Internet), a well-stocked library with natural history books, and bird guides from several countries of Latin America ready to give you some of the best birding tours in Panama.
This location is great for families, with a zip-line just a short walk from the lodge and a natural swimming area (created by diverting crystal-clear water from the nearby Guayabo River, with a year-round temperature of 76F).
Canopy Camp - Darien Rainforest
At Canopy Camp, most of the birding is done at ground level. The camp itself is situated on a small plateau in a section of lowland rainforest, sculpted by slow-moving streams in the forest below. The camp features 8 large, comfortable safari-style tents, in the heart of Darién—Panama's most biologically-diverse region, where macaws, curassows, harpy eagles and jaguars can be found. The tents are designed specifically for use in environmentally sensitive areas and are erected on raised platforms, to keep you up off the ground and dry in the lowland rainforest of Darién. Large windows on all sides with flaps allow natural light and breeze to enter the tent during the daylight hours. Each and every observation deck offers beautiful views of the surrounding forest, just as you step outside of your tent.
Many birdwatchers choose to embark on their own tropical adventures across Panama in search of Central America's rarest and most impressive birds. While this is certainly an adventure worth taking, many ornithologists and wildlife lovers choose to hire private guides, as many of the locals know the best times of year and locations to see some of the country's most remarkable birds. If you choose to embark on a guided bird watching tour, be sure to ask which areas will be covered in the itinerary, as well as what species you're likely to encounter.