Adventures in the Rainforest

We have been fortunate enough to take several trips to Central and South America, including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Panama. During each of the trips, we specifically made a point of getting into the jungle and seeing different wildlife and plants. Each of them was unique in their own ways and we stayed in eco lodges in both Bolivia and Ecuador. Many of these experiences were quite unique and we have many wonderful memories. Here are some of our favorite rainforest adventures that we’ve had during our travels.

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Up Close and Personal with Monkeys in Panama
  1. Monkey Islands in Panama – One of the most interesting things that we did during our time in Panama was to take a boat passed the famous locks and going to the Monkey Islands. Our boat would pull up to the islands and the monkeys would climb down from the trees to take grapes and bananas from our hands. Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t do that, but since the monkeys rely on humans for the survival, we felt okay with the experience.
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    Hiking in Carrasco National Park
  2. Visiting Carrasco National Park in Bolivia – Our first Amazon experience was during our trip to Cochabamba when we stayed at an eco lodge and spent a day hiking through Carrasco National Park. We climbed into caves with different varieties of bats, blind birds called Guacharos, poisonous frogs, as well as snakes. It was definitely an interesting way to get introduced to the Amazon Jungle.
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    Napo Wildlife Center in the Yasuni National Park
  3. Staying at the Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador – After our experiences in Bolivia, we chose to go even deeper into the jungle during our trip to Ecuador. We spent several days at the Napo Wildlife Center, which is an eco lodge sitting on a lake with caiman, birds, monkeys, and giant river otters. Every day, we would get up early and go into the rainforest to experience different wildlife.
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    Paddling in a Small Canoe in the Amazon
  4. Traveling on the Amazon River – We spent time on a motor boat as well as canoe on the tributaries of the Amazon river. After flying into the tiny town of Coca, Ecuador, we took a boat down the Amazon River where we then got out and hiked to get to our canoes. To say that it was a fascinating experience would certainly be an understatement.
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    Traditional Dance and Music in the Embera Village
     
  5. Visiting Indigenous Villages – We went to indigenous villages in both Panama as well as Ecuador and each was a truly special experience. The local tribes are very friendly and happy to welcome you into their village where they share their traditions, art, and lifestyles. We even danced with the local Emberá tribe members during our time in Panama, which was something we will forever treasure. We know that these types of opportunities are dwindling over time, so it is important to take advantage of any chance that you happen to get.
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    Parrots and Parakeets at the Salt Lick
  6. Bird Watching in the Rainforest – With over a thousand species of birds in the Amazon Rainforest, the opportunities to see birds a quite diverse. We climbed to the top of the forest canopy in Ecuador to see different colorful birds including macaws, toucans, and parrots. Going the parrot clay licks and seeing so many different parrots feeding on the mineral rich soil was absolutely amazing.
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    Canons in Fort San Lorenzo
  7. Fort San Lorenzo in Panama – Going the fort that was captured by the famous Captain Morgan, which is located in the jungles of Panama was a truly educational experience. Whether imagining swash-buckling pirates, canons blasting off of the cliffs, or picturing the ships traveling down the Chagres River, it is something worth making the effort to see when planning a trip to Panama.
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    Scarlet Macaws in the Jungle

Obviously we hope to spend more time in different rainforests in other parts of the world. There is such a diversity in the biology of the jungle that it really takes several days to truly get an understanding of everything that there is to see. If you ever get a chance to spend a few nights in the rainforest, we’d highly recommend it as it allows you to see it both during the day, but also at dawn and dusk when the animals are the most active.

Metropolitan National Park in Panama City

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).

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Views of Panama City

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One of the Many Birds in the Park

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Resting Agouti

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Start of the Trail

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.

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The Trail Takes You Above the Canopy

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Cityscape of Panama City

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Turtles on the Shore of a Pond

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The Trails Get Narrower

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.

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Turtles Coming Up for Air

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Another Agouti

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Typical Rainforest Tree

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Lizard Trying to Hide

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.

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Looking Out Towards the Bay

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Leaf-Cutter Ants Hard at Work

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Termite Mound

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Start of the Loop

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.

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Tropical Flower

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Prickly Tree Trunk

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The Views are Amazing

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In Case You Haven’t Seen Enough Agoutis

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Camouflaged Lizard

 

Visiting an Emberá Village in Panama

 

Visiting an indigenous village is always fascinating and if you go to Panama City there are tours that will take you to an Emberá village. The Emberá people are tribes that live in the Panama rainforest and still keep their traditional lifestyle. They make a living by hosting tour groups and selling their native crafts which include wood carvings, basket weaving, and jewelry. You can find these crafts being sold in Panama City, but purchasing them in the village will ensure that the money spent goes directly to the families that created them. They are very proud of their traditions and are happy to share them with the people who visit their villages.

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Dugout Canoes

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First Glimpse of a Village

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Greeting Us at the Entrance

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Ceremonial Masks

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Music as We Arrived

There are several different villages along the river in the rainforest, each comprised of different families. In order to reach one of the villages, we travelled in a motorized dugout canoe, which was hand carved by the villagers. On our way, we stopped to see a beautiful waterfall. We were fortunate that there were no others on the tour besides ourselves, which made it even more enjoyable. In order to reach the waterfall, we walked up through the stream, so bringing a change of shoes is advised. If you want to go swimming, you can also bring swimming suits, although we chose not to during our tour.

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Women of the Village

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Wood Carvings

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Beautiful Waterfall

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Happy Children

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Traditional Dance and Music

Our guide took us to one of the more remote villages, which was nice because not as many tours take the time to go there and we ended up being the only people to visit that village that day. As we beached our canoe, family members came to the village entrance and greeted us with traditional music. We then had time to wander through the village and learn more about their daily life. Their homes are simple huts with open walls and everyone sleeps on the floor. In the past, the Emberá tribe members wore nothing but small swaths of cloth around their waist, but now the women also cover up their chests as well since tourists were tending to stare at them too much.

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Simplistic Hut

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Adorable Child

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Waiting for Lunch

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School Room

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Our Canoe

Lunch was being prepared for the entire village as well as for ourselves and while it cooked over an open fire we watched the children playing in the open area in the heart of the village. The only modern building in the village is the school, which is built by the government, and teachers arrive on weekdays to provide lessons for children up to the age of 12 to 14. Although older children will leave the village to go on to higher education, most of them return upon completion to rejoin their village or to marry into another village. It is a very simple life, but the people that live in the village seem very happy.

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Cooking Lunch

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Tilapia and Plantains

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Hut with Crafts

 

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Children Dancing

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Colorful Baskets and Jewelry

After eating our lunch of tilapia and plantains served in a banana leaf, the villagers gathered together to play traditional music and dances. We also had the opportunity to get a tribal tatoo, which is more like a hemp tatoo that only lasts a couple of weeks. Afterwards, we took our time to look at the crafts that were set up in a large hut with each table belonging to a separate family. For any craft that you purchase, the money goes directly to the family that created it. We were told before going to the village not to give candy or money directly to villagers other than to purchase items. If you want to give them money, it should be given to the chief, who will then be sure that it gets distributed properly.

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Coming to the Shore to Say Goodbye

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Dancing Like a Local

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Getting a Tatoo

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Birds on the Shore

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More Crafts

As we went down to our canoe to head back to our van, many of the villagers came down to the river to wish us goodbye and to cool off by swimming in the river. Once again, we were invited to join them, but chose not to go swimming. It was truly an interesting day and the Emberá tribe members were extremely friendly and welcoming. Visiting an Emberá village is certainly worth taking the time to do when spending time in Panama. It is also an excellent way to spend a little time deeper in the rainforest, enjoy the beautiful scenery, and see some of the wildlife in the area.