The Rainforest in Panama City
Known as ‘the lung of Panama City’, the Metropolitan Park (Parque Natural Metropolitano) is one of the most accessible rainforests in the world. Located within the city boundaries, the park covers 232 hectares of tropical dry rainforest and is home to a smorgasbord of plants and animals. It is also the first link in a chain of protected areas stretching from the Pacific to the Caribbean. This biological corridor not only allows animals to move freely across the isthmus but also protects the watershed and operation of the Panama Canal. For us, as a family, it provides lots of fun walking trails to explore at the weekends.
The Park has a handful of well-marked trails that are easy for kids of school age and up as they are not that long (1-2km on average). Note the trails are not very stroller-friendly so for little kids you may want to bring a backpack or baby carrier. There is a map at the visitor’s centre which outlines the various trails and estimated length to complete them. However unless you are a sloth you’ll most likely complete the trails in half the suggested time. The following are our favourite walks.
1. Sendero Los Momótides
If you don’t have much time, this 1km circuit is the shortest and easiest for kids. Although the park signs estimate 45 minutes, we usually complete it in 15 minutes. The trail is shaded and is rated ‘easy’ by the park.
2. Sendero Los Caobos (& Sendero El Roble)
This 45-minute walk is my kids’ favourite as it passes a small lake, home to dozens of turtles (on Sendero El Roble). Feeding the turtles is not allowed, but my children can’t walk past it without proffering a leaf from the side of the lake. For this circuit I find it best to leave the lake for the end of the walk and to follow the circuit in a clock-wise direction. The first 20 minutes is uphill and can get a little challenging for little legs, but there is a lovely mirador at the top which is a good place to bring out a snack / bribe.
3. Sendero La Cieneguita and Camino del Momo Titi
This circuit (my favourite) combines two trails (a total of 2.2km) and takes around an hour to walk. Marking the halfway spot is ‘Cerro Cedro’ (Cedar’s Hill), the second highest point in the city after Ancon Hill. From here you get a good view of the city’s skyscappers and of the bay beyond. Because of its incline the park rates this trail as ‘moderate’.
What to look out for in the Metropolitan Park
The park is home to a staggering variety of mammals, birds, reptiles and insects. For kids, nature trails don’t get much better than this. We often see gato solos (coatis) and ñeques scurry across our paths and on our last visit we spotted a HUGE a tarantula at the foot of a tree. Remember, kids, to stick to the paths!
In the Visitors Centre you can buy laminated booklets to help you identify animals, plants and birds.
The Tropical Canopy Crane
At the lower end of the Camino del Mono Titi is a 42m high construction crane which was installed by Smithsonian to study the canopy’s biodiversity. Although it’s aimed more at scientists than tourists, it is possible to book a tour with 2-days notice. The crane lifts visitors above the rainforest and lowers them at various observation points. The crane can cover 180,000 cubic metres of forest.
There are two gondolas which can take up to 4 visitors each (plus a guide). The tour lasts approximately 30 mins. For safety reasons children under 12 years are not allowed. For enquiries call +507 232-5552 or email firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
The Visitors Centre / Tickets
Before beginning your walk, you should pass by the visitors centre to buy a ticket. Although no one is likely to check your ticket, the rates are low and your contribution helps to support the park. Children under 2 are free.
As the trails are short and well marked guides are not necessary. However their knowledge of the park will certainly add a lot to the experience. For example there is a particular tree in the park which sloths like to hang out in. Guided tours can be booked with advance notice.
- Nationals / Residents: $1 adults / $0.50 children
- Foreigners: $4 adults / $2 children
Hours: Monday – Sunday 6am – 4:30pm (Visitors must leave park at 5pm).
What to bring / not to bring
Remember it’s hot and humid in a rainforest so bring plenty of water (e.g. a bottle per person) and like any trek with kids, it helps to have a pocket full of snacks too.
The following are not permitted:
- Loud music
- Removing flora and fauna
- Feeding animals
- Going off the trails
The Metropolitan Park visitors centre (where the trails start) is located on Avenue Juan Pablo II near Albrook, Panama City. The trails, Sendero La Cienaguita and Camino del Mono Titi, start half a kilometre up the road from the Visitors Centre. There is a second, unattended car park at the start of these trails too.
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