Shrouded in thick vegetation and visible from most parts of Panama City, Ancon Hill is one of the capital’s most prominent landmarks (besides the canal of course!). Located in the former Panama Canal Zone, Ancon Hill was once used as a small US military base for communications and security. Today, it remains largely untouched by urban development and is one of the best places in the city to spot wildlife, particularly if you are an early riser.
Up until recently, cars were allowed to drive to the top. However this is no longer the case and the only way up is on foot or by bike (if you a serious biker I should add).
Ancon Hill with Kids
Although the gradient is reasonably steep (the hill is 200m high), the tarmac surface of the road makes the climb fairly easy going and stroller-friendly (providing you have the muscle power!). I even spotted one papa pushing his child up the hill in one of those kiddie-size cars. Kudos!
Halfway views of the city
The walk to the summit only takes around 30 minutes. However, if you have little kids and are unable to make it to the top, you can still enjoy impressive views of the city skyscrapers to the east and Casco Viejo to the south from a half-way vista point.
The Flora and Fauna of Ancon Hill
The trail cuts through thick neon-green rainforest that is home to more than 68 animal species. These include monkeys, sloths, agoutis, coatis (gato solo), white-tailed deer, armadillos, butterflies, bats, toucans, parrots, black vultures, iguanas, frogs, snakes and countless migratory birds.
On our visit a toucan swooped over our heads, a pair of orange butterflies performed a courtship dance just inches from our noses, a beautiful Blue Morpho fluttered over our heads, an enormous spider went about fixing its magnificent web, a couple of vultures pecked on their breakfast at the side of the road and an unidentified bird that croaked like a frog kept us guessing. If we had been in an animated movie, this would mark the point at which all the Ancon chorus animals burst into song and dance!
With such large areas of impenetrable rainforest, it’s easy for the imagination to wander off the tarmac road. But alas, no dancing sloths on this visit.
The views from the top of Ancon Hill
In addition to a hearty walk and show-stopping wildlife, Ancon Hill offers some of the finest views of the city. Looking south from the top, the views stretch from the modern city centre in the east to Casco Viejo to the south. From the other side of the hill, the views follow the canal inland, from the Bridge of the Americas in the south, to the Miraflores Locks sitting north-west and up to the Centenario Bridge in the far distance.
At the summit there are two notable landmarks:
Firstly, the Panamanian Flag. Roughly the size of a basket-ball court, this giant flag was hoisted up the flag pole on 7 October 1977 to mark the signing of the Torrijos-Carter treaties. This US-Panama agreement guaranteed that Panama would take control of the canal from 1999.
Secondly, a statue of the Panamanian poet, Amelia Denis de Icaza. At the turn of the 20th century, she wrote a poem entitled ‘Al Cerro Ancon’ about the changes and suffering of Ancon hill. The poem, which reflected her thoughts of a US-controlled canal zone, is one of Panama’s most cherished patriotic odes.
How to access the footpath up Ancon Hill
Walking up Ancon Hill is the easy bit. Finding the start of the trail is where it gets tricky. There are no signs, nor is there any official car park. If you are taking a taxi (Uber works well here) ask to be dropped at ‘Mi Pueblito’ (this is where I parked our car, although when I returned to the car I noticed someone had placed cones around this area and so I don’t know if it is privately owned??).
From Mi Pueblito, it’s a short walk up the hill to the foot of some steps (see photo below). There are two flights of steps which lead to the start of the trail. Continue up the hill and from here, it’s very straight-forward. As there is only one road up, you must descend the same way. It would be very hard, if not impossible, to get lost on the hill itself so hiring a guide is not necessary.
What to bring
Water! You’ll need at least one bottle per person, and having a few snacks at hand is always a good idea when travelling with kids.
Binoculars might also come in handy.
At the foot of Ancon Hill sits Mi Pueblito, a reconstructed village portraying three Panamanian cultures: Afro-Caribbean, people from the interior, and indigenous groups such as the Kuna and Embera indians. We didn’t have time to visit it after our walk but it might be worth a peek if you are passing by? From what I’ve read about it online, it’s not going to win any tourist awards just yet but for kids, it might be an interesting concept. Pastel-coloured Caribbean-style houses sit alongside thatched huts, showcasing some of key cultures that form the backbone of Panama.
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