"Thanks again for a fantastic holiday in Panama. We had a wonderful time, really enjoyed the birds, the great company and the expert guidance from you, Kilo and Ariel". Karen and Alan, UK, March 2014
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Easy access to some of the best birdwatching on the planet draws many people to this small Central American country. Just outside the capital, the Radisson Summit Resort is close to the lowland rainforest of Soberania National Park and the famous Pipeline Road. A couple of hours west, we will search for foothill species in the vicinity of the beautiful town of El Valle de Anton. A little further west is the town of Santiago, from where we will visit lowland wetlands as well as the Santa Fe highlands. Further west still we will find ourselves close to the border with Costa Rica. Here, the slopes of Volcan Baru are home to abundant birdlife including the amazing Resplendent Quetzal.
All accommodation is of a high standard, food is excellent and tap water is safe to drink. In addition to the abundant birdlife (we can expect more than 400 species), there are many mammals that can be seen, all with the help of our local guide. We will visit in the driest month, which also coincides with the start of the spring raptor migration.
We will arrive at Panama City on the evening of day one and transfer straight to the Radisson Summit Resort for a four night stay. We then have two nights in El Valle and two nights in Santiago, followed by two nights near Boquete and the last four nights near Volcan. On day 15, we will fly back from David to Panama City and connect with our evening flight home.
SOBERANIA AND CHAGRES NATIONAL PARKS
Arriving in the evening, we will transfer straight to the Radisson Summit Hotel for a stay of four nights. Here we are at the edge of the rainforest and yet just 20 minutes from the city!
On our first morning we will quickly forget about the previous day’s journey. In the grounds there are numerous parrots, toucans and other colourful species that can be watched sitting out on exposed perches to get the benefit of the first warming rays of sun. Sloths and Capybaras can also be seen in the grounds.
The engineers who built the Panama Canal realised that it was vital to protect the surrounding forest. The trees regulate the flow of water and prevent the canal from silting up during the rainy season, while the system of locks relies on a steady supply of fresh water for its operation. The Soberania National Park was created to protect this forest and the result is the best preserved and most accessible lowland rainforest in Central America. Access to the park is along Pipeline Road. Many species which do not occur in neighbouring Costa Rica are found here. We will go in search of Purple-throated Fruitcrows, Black-breasted Puffbirds, Broad-billed Motmots, Golden-collared Manakins, Slaty-tailed Trogons and Cinnamon Woodpeckers. We will hope to come across an ant swarm, with its attendant birds which may include Spotted Antbird, Ocellated Antbird, Northern Barred Woodcreeper and Greater Ani.
We will visit wetlands in the area, where we have a chance of seeing Boat-billed Heron, Rufescent Tiger-heron, Agami Heron, White-throated Crake, Grey-necked Wood-rail and Lesser Kiskadee.
A short drive from our hotel will take us to some dry forest at Chagres National Park where we can look for the common but secretive Rosy Thrush-tanager, as well as Lance-tailed Manakin, Rufous-and-white Wren, Crimson-backed Tanager and the endemic Yellow-green Tyrannulet. Various mammals are likely to be seen such as Two-toed and Three-toed Sloth, Geoffroy’s Tamarin, Agouti, Coati, Mantled Howler Monkey and Northern Tamandua. On one afternoon we can visit the Miraflores Locks, and watch huge cargo ships passing through the canal with just inches to spare.
EL VALLE DE ANTON
Two hours west of Panama City, the pleasant town of El Valle nestles in the crater of a huge extinct volcano. At nearly 2000 feet above sea level, temperatures are pleasant and life is very relaxed. We will stay at the lovely Los Mandarinos Spa Resort, at the edge of town. Nearby trails take us in search of Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Red-crowned Ant-tanager, Rufous-capped Warbler and the elusive Tody Motmot.
The hills above El Valle are home to the unusual White-tipped Sicklebill, a hummingbird which is attracted to flowering heliconias. This is also a great place to search for Orange-bellied Trogon, White Hawk, Blue-throated Toucanet, Brown-billed Scythebill, Tufted Flycatcher and Silver-throated Tanager.
SANTIAGO AND SANTA FE
On day seven we will leave El Valle and drive to Santiago, birdwatching en route. Our first stop is Aguadulce, an area of lagoons and salt pans on the Pacific coast. We will look for Common Black Hawk and Mangrove Yellow Warbler, as well as a variety of waders including Black-necked Stilt, Southern Lapwing, Collared Plover, Short-billed Dowitcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper and Western Sandpiper.
From Santiago, we will have a full day in the highlands of Santa Fe. Here, the birdlife has a distinctly Caribbean flavour, with Emerald, Speckled and Crimson-collared Tanagers, Black-faced and Black-thighed Grosbeaks and Lattice-tailed Trogon all likely. Black-crowned Antpitta and Yellow-eared Toucanet are two highly sought possibilities.
On day nine we will drive west to Las Lajas, where we have a good chance of finding the endemic Veraguan Mango. We will then continue on to the lovely Panamonte Inn, for a two night stay.
The Panamonte Inn is a beautiful old fashioned hotel with lovely gardens. The accommodation and food are superb. It is close to Los Quetzales Trail where we can see Three-wattled Bellbird, Sulphur-winged Parakeets, Prong-billed Barbet, Golden-browed Chlorophonia and perhaps even our first Resplendent Quetzal. The next day we will head to Volcan for our final four nights.
At 11,411 feet above sea level, the dormant Volcan Baru dominates the western province of Chiriqui. Closely reminiscent of the Costa Rican highlands, many species of bird are found only in this region. Four nights at the excellent Casa Grande Resort will give us a great opportunity to explore the cloud forest which cloaks this mountain.
We will find a new range of birds here including Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher, Ruddy Treerunner, Buffy Tufted-cheek, Flame-throated Warbler, Collared Whitestart, Black-cheeked Warbler, Sooty-capped Bush-tanager and Yellow-thighed Finch. The forest resounds to the hauntingly beautiful songs of Black-faced Solitaires and Ruddy-capped Nightingale-thrushes. We also have a great chance of seeing the world’s most beautiful bird, the Resplendent Quetzal. Hummingbirds are a feature of this mountain. White-throated Mountain-gem, Magnificent Hummingbird, Magenta-throated Woodstar, Scintillant Hummingbird and Volcano Hummingbird are all likely.
At a nearby farm, shade-grown coffee plantations have plenty of large trees in which numerous birds can be seen, including Flame-coloured Tanager, Cherrie’s Tanager and Elegant Euphonia. Migrant warblers from North America are found in good numbers: Golden-winged, Blackburnian, Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, Tennessee and Mourning Warblers are all easier to see here than on their breeding grounds.
On day 15, we will drive the short distance down to David, then take a morning flight back to Panama City. We will have lunch at a small hotel in Cerro Azul, in the hills above the airport, and spend the afternoon birding and relaxing in the relative cool of this lovely spot. We will have day-use of a couple of rooms, where you can shower and re-pack at your leisure. It is then just a short drive down to the airport, allowing plenty of time to catch our flight home.
CLIMATE AND PACE
In the Canal zone and other lowland areas it gets hot, so we will birdwatch during the cooler parts of the day. At higher elevations the temperatures are very pleasant. March is the driest month, although rain is nevertheless a possibility. Most days we will make an early start but have a short siesta in the afternoon. The birding sites are close to the hotels, so with the exception of the transfer days, travelling is kept to a minimum. Basic fitness is all that is required. There is some uphill walking, but at a sensible pace.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided, with four nights at the Radisson Summit Hotel near Gamboa, two nights at Los Mandarinos Spa Resort in El Valle, two nights at La Hacienda, Santiago, two nights at the Panamonte Inn, Boquete and four nights at the Casa Grande near Volcan. All accommodation is of a high standard with private facilities en suite. Lunches will sometimes be packed, but more often will be taken back at the hotel or at a local restaurant.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guide, full-board accommodation (starting with dinner on 4th, ending with lunch on 18th), soft drinks at meal times, bottled water throughout, local transport by mini-coach, park entrance fees, one domestic flight and international flights.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flights from most UK airports to Panama City (via Amsterdam) using the scheduled services of KLM. Outbound flight departs early morning, return flight arrives back late afternoon.
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