If you are planning a trip to Panama City, one of the sites that you should consider visiting is the Metropolitan National Park. Since Panama City is surrounded by a rainforest that is protected by law, the city is literally surrounded by jungles and wildlife. You don’t have to leave the city in order to escape into nature and see some of the exotic wildlife that the country has to offer. It is about a fifteen minute drive from downtown Panama City to reach the park and the cost to enter is only $4 per person for non-Nationals ($1 for Nationals).
Although it is located on the edge of the city and temperatures are often hot and humid, the Metropolitan National Park is still a rainforest, so you should definitely wear closed-toed shoes or hiking shoes. After stopping at the visitors center to purchase your tickets and get information on the park and the animals that live there, you will walk a short distance to the actual start of the trail system within the park. The trail in the park is basically a giant loop and if you are willing to follow it to its furthermost point, you will be rewarded with wonderful views of the city as the summit is the second highest point within the city. There are some steep sections on the trail, but overall it is considered to be moderate, but be sure to have plenty of water with you.
One of the first things that you see along the trail is a pond that has many turtles swimming, lazing on the shore, or propped up on twigs and sticks. They were fairly active while we were there, but obviously not the most unique of animals to see during your time in a rainforest. Another of the first animals that we saw during our time in the park was a tree sloth, although this particular sloth was just curled up and sleeping. We saw several agoutis, which are rodents that are almost a cross between a rabbit and guinea pig. It is possible to see other animals such as monkeys, deer, toucans, and parrots, but due to the number of people that visit the park, those sightings can be rare.
The views of the Panama City are definitely a highlight of visiting the Metropolitan National Park. As you reach the final plateau above the trail, you have 180 degree views of the city and the surrounding suburbs. It is a perfect place to sit and relax before continuing along the trail back to the start. Another common sight along the trail are the leaf-cutter ants, which traverse the trails at many different points as they carry the leaves back to their nests. You will also see many different termite mounds on the trunks of trees as well as variety of flowers, trees, and plants. If you hear some leaves rustling next to the trail, a closer inspection will likely uncover a lizard, but beware of snakes as there are many varieties in the park.
The Metropolitan National Park is a wonderful way to see a rainforest without having to leave Panama City. For a variety of reasons, we would certainly recommend having a more immersive experience in a rainforest, but visiting the park is perfect for young children or those that don’t have time to spend doing a tour or staying at an ecolodge. As Panama continues to embrace ecotourism, experiences such as these will only continue to become more accessible. We were told by one of our guides that 36% of the country of Panama is actually protected, making plenty of opportunities to enjoy nature. Although many people visit Costa Rica, a trip to Panama might just provide a more authentic and less touristic experience.