During the construction of the Panama Canal some of the excavated soil was used to build a road linking Panama City to four islands positioned 6km off the mainland. On the first island that the causeway reaches, Isla Naos, is a small open-air museum that showcases some of Panama’s rich biodiversity. This Smithsonian-funded centre covers 1.5 hectares and is a fun place to bring little kids, especially those in need of a run-around.
The Nature Trails
The entrance to the museum starts with a short nature trail through a tropical dry forest, typical of Central America’s Pacific coast. Look up and you may see a sloth, look down and you may see an iguana, and that’s before you’ve reached the exhibits themselves. Sadly, many of the world’s Tropical Dry Forests ecosystems are in endangered of becoming extinct due to excessive burning, overgrazing and deforestation.
As the paths are made up of large stones and thick tree roots, parents with little kids may find it easier to leave the stroller in the car and opt for the baby carrier instead.
Well-worn signs are positioned throughout the centre with some fun facts that kids will appreciate. Did you know, for example that the Corotú is one of the largest trees in the forest and on a sunny day can take up to 125 gallons (500 litres) of water from the soil? Nor did I!
The Touching Pools
In the main section of the museum, there are a couple of intriguing touching pools. Here, kids are invited to stroke starfish and other sea creatures such as sea cucumbers, sea urchins and stingrays under the supervision of a Smithsonian representative. Visitors are reminded to wash their hands in the nearby sink before and after.
The Turtle & Shark Pool
As the name suggests, this is the spot to marvel at turtles and (small) sharks. It’s also a good place to watch the colossal container ships cruising in and out of the canal.
The Indoor Aquarium
In this small aquarium, a handful of tanks display the diverse marine ecosystems that are found on either side of the isthmus.
Behind the aquarium is a mirador overlooking a rocky outcrop towards the line of ships waiting to enter the canal. The rocky shore is best seen at low tide and like the rest of the island is home to numerous marine species. There is also a large pair of binoculars for spying on the various birds, crabs and ships.
The Exhibition Area
The Exhibition Area also houses additional temporary and permanent exhibits, as well as a projection room that runs shorts wildlife films on loop. Also within this section is a small gift shop.
Sandy Beach Area
The sandy beach area that connects Isla Culebra to Isla de Naos is also worth exploring as this is where female iguanas lay their eggs (the eggs hatch at the start of the rainy season).
Rates & Visiting Hours
The centre is open Tuesday to Friday from 1pm to 5pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 6pm. During peak holiday periods, the weekday opening hours are the same as the weekends.
- Residents: US $ 3.00
- Non-Residents: US $ 5.00
- Children Under 12: US $ 1.00
- Retirees US $ 1.50
Punta Culebra is located on Amador Causeway, approximiately 3.5km from the start of the causeway and around 10 minutes drive from Casco Viejo. Look out for the sign that marks the turn off at the restaurant, Mi Ranchito.
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