Archive for March, 2009

This posting is very interesting for those who wish to hike near Panama City; it was recently posted by Jerin on several of the Yahoo Panama Groups and he agreed to allow us to repost it. Thank you!

I have recently started exploring the areas around the city for things
to do in my limited free time. I love nature and the idea of being
away from it all, but I rarely have the time to get far away.
Although I have known about it since I moved here, I had not until
recently visited Soberania National Park. The park is only 20 minutes
from the city, yet you feel like you are worlds away. To get to the
main entrance of the park, take the road to Gamboa. Where you turn
left at Gamboa road, you will see the offices of the park. Here is a
map I made of the park and its trails:

Since I first went 3 weeks ago, I have been back every weekend. The trails are a
birdwatcher´s and nature lover´s paradise, and with the exception of
the Old Gamboa Road, all feature pristine rainforest. Here are some
great day trips you can make to the park.

Summit Zoo and Old Gamboa Road:
How to get there: At the entrance to the park, take a left on the
road to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. While driving, look for the
signs that say Parque Zoologica Summit. Depending on how many people
are there, you can either park on the right hand side of the road next
to the gate or on the left side parking lot across the street.
What to do: The summit zoo is an aging zoo that has a good
representation of the wildlife and fauna of Panama. The zoo does have
a few modern exhibits for the harpy eagle and jaguar. The zoo is set
up in a park like way, including a bamboo road. Admission is $1.
After seeing the zoo, cross the road and next to the parking lot you
will see a small road crossing the railroad tracks. Cross the tracks
and walk (or drive) about 100 meters until you come to a T. To the
left you will see a gate with a Policia Nacional sign on it. Yes, you
can walk past the gate, and you will be on the Old Gamboa Road. This
is the old road that went to Gamboa (duh). The first things you will
see on the trail are the Summit Ponds, and the trail cuts right
between the ponds. We spotted some caiman, owls, and agouti near the
ponds. After the ponds you walk through some impressive bamboo growths
and some overgrown military installations. You can walk past that all
the way to the end of the trail, but there really isn´t much to see.
I recommend walking about 45 minutes and then turning around.
Compared to the other trails on my list, this one is not that
exciting, but it is very easy and if you are already at the zoo it is
worth the side trip.

What you need: Sunscreen, insect repellant , walking shoes. Shorts
are good for the zoo and should be OK for the Old Gamboa Road, but
long pants are always better.
Photos I took:


Plantation Road:

How to get there: At the entrance to the park, take a left towards
the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. Drive for about 5 minutes and you will
see a sign that says Camino de Plantación 500 metres. This is also
the entrance to the Canopy Tower. Turn right at the entrance, and
then turn left to the entrance of the trail. There is space for
parking here. You will see signs with a history of the trail, and
also a sign that says entrance is $3. Nobody is ever there to take
the money, so don´t expect to pay it, even if you wanted to.
What to do: During the construction of the Canal a three mile
improved road was constructed from the town of Empire to the Las
Cascadas Plantation. This was the first paved road in the interior of
Panama. This trail is the remnant of the Plantation Road and along it
you may still find remnant Cocoa, Rubber Trees and Coffee Plants.
(according to the sign) Less than 400 meters into the trail, you will
see an amazing waterfall. The trail itself go for about 3.5 miles,
and is definitely worth the hike. Right after it passes the old
plantation, it ends at the Camino de Cruces. At this intersection is
a bamboo station which is a perfect spot to eat a sack lunch. After
you reach the end of the trail you can either return via the
Plantation Road, or turn right on the Camino de Cruces and follow it
to Madden Road. The Camino de Cruces (see below) is a very difficult
trail and should only be attempted by those who are well prepared and
experienced in hiking. The plantation road however, is a well defined
and an easy walk with a few moderate hills. We spotted some monkeys,
motmots, agouti, and iguanas. If anyone is interested in hiking this
or any of the trails and would like some help, please contact me,
6733-0657, and I will give you more information or guide you.
What you need: Good walking shoes, long pants, sunscreen (although
almost all of the trail is shaded by trees), insect repellant, and water.
Photos I took:


El Charco Trail:
How to get there: At the entrance to the park, take a left towards
the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. Drive for about 7 minutes and look for
a sign that says Sendero El Charco, 500 metros. Turn right into the
parking area. You will see many signs and the entrance to the trail.
What to do: The El Charco trail is the shortest and most accessible
trail in the park. It is a very short (less than a mile) circular
trail with many bridges and educational signs along the way. With the
exception of a short uphill walk, the trail is flat and very easy to
walk. Near the entrance to the trail, a totally paved path leads down
to a waterfall with a swimming hole and covered picnic area. Here you
find restrooms and BBQ pits. Although the trail is short and flat,
you will see pristine rainforest and lots animals. We saw monkeys,
agouti, and an amazing large orange and blue bird that we couldn´t
identify or take a picture of as it flew across our path.
What you need: Walking shoes, insect repellant, picnic supplies, and
swimsuit. Shorts are OK for the trail, but long pants are always better.
Photos I took:


Camino de Cruces:
How to get there: At the entrance to the park, take a left towards
the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. You can either enter at the Plantation
Road (see above) and meet the trail at the bamboo station and walk the
last half towards Madden Road, or you can walk the whole section from
Cruce de Ventas. To reach Cruce de Ventas, follow the Gamboa road all
the way until just before the Chagres bridge. You will see a little
Marina on the right hand side before the bridge. Park your car there
and ask the men at the marina to take you to Cruce de Ventas. You
should not pay any more than $5 per person to get to the start of the
trail. If you use the marina at Gamboa Rainforest Resort, expect to
pay a lot more. It is best to take two cars, and park one at each end
of the trail. To get to the Madden Road entrance of the trail, go to
the entrance of the park, but keep going straight towards Chilibre.
Look for a sign that says Camino de Cruces, 500 metros. You can park
one car here to have when you get done with the trail. Another option
is to hike from Cruce de Ventas, and turn right at the bamboo station
onto the Plantation Road.
What to do: Be very careful, the Camino de Cruces is a very difficult
and long (6.5miles) hike. You should only attempt this trail if you
have lots of water and are prepared to climb over fallen trees, walk
across rivers, and do intense uphill walking. The Camino de Cruces
is the old road the Spanish used to carry gold from Panama City to the
Chagres River for transport to Portobello. A good history of the
trail is here:

Along most
parts of the trail you can still see the cobblestone laid 500 years
ago by the 4,000 Indian slaves used to make the road. At the ruins of
Cruce de Ventas, there are many signs telling you of the history of
the town and trail. Once you get on the trail, follow the pink and
orange ribbons that mark the trail. At many points the trail splits
into its dry and wet season routes. Be careful as sometimes one of
the ways is blocked by impassable fallen trees. As a rule, I always
take the routes to the right. At some points the trail can get hard
to follow, so always be on the lookout for the pink and orange
ribbons. Look for the bamboo trail which is the halfway point and a
great area for resting and eating. This trail is difficult, yet very
rewarding. Please take great caution when hiking this route. Along
the trail, we spotted howler monkeys, iguanas, agouti, and many
amazing birds and flowers. If anyone is interested in hiking this or
any of the trails and would like some help, please contact me,
6733-0657, and I will give you more information or guide you.

What you need: Backpack, lots of water, sack lunch, waterproof hiking
boots, long sleeve shirt and long pants, insect repellant, and
sunscreen (although almost all of the trail is shaded by trees).

Photos I took:


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Taboga Island, Playa Honda

Taboga Island, Playa Honda

03-07-2009 | ROB KIRCHER

Taboga, the garden paradise only a few kilometers offshore and less than an hour ferry away.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “So close, but yet so far away”; which by the way originated during the US Civil War between the States when bales of cotton would be stacked close together, so the enemy would face a seemingly impregnable barrier.

Well, that phrase couldn’t be any more accurate than describing quaint little Isla Taboga; which I’ve heard much about and finally visited a short time ago. To me, it was always an intriguing place, but unfortunately more than a taxi drive away. So therefore, it wasn’t a realistic destination that fit with my hectic schedule.

It wasn’t until I met a new friend of mine, Monarch, that the thought of traveling to the close but seemingly far away island became a real desire. As we were sitting last month in the Café Havana in Casco Antiguo enjoying one of the best mojitos on this planet, she enthusiastically introduced me to the finer aspects of the garden paradise only 20km offshore and less than an hour ferry away.

But, being a previous New Yorker with an engrained mentality that whatever someone needs should be attainable within a 5-block area of where they reside, the thought of traveling over an hour by boat just to see some pretty flowers was becoming a tough sell. And, oh by the way, that was just one way. Another hour would be needed for the return trip. My mind started to race. What if I get bored because there are not enough things to keep my interest? What if there are no quality restaurants? What if it rains? What if I miss the last ferry back and I have to stay the night? Will there be an available hotel room? What then? Should I make reservations just in case? No. The whole notion of visiting this seemingly far away island was becoming a big hassle.

Being the clever person she is and knowing how much I enjoy historical places such as Casco Viejo, Monarch ordered another round of mojitos and started to relieve my concerns by filling me in on the fascinating past of the scenic island? a place she was very passionate about.

Over the next half-hour I learned that Taboga was founded in the XVI Century by the Spaniard Sancho Clavija and that the island’s original name was “Aboga”, which means “an abundance of fish”. She also told me that Taboga is surrounded by several other islands, including Isla Taboguilla, Isla Urava, and Isla El Morro and that they were a small group of more than a thousand islands found within the Gulf of Panama. Then with a big smile Monarch began to enlighten me about the picturesque pueblo of San Pedro and how small eateries and shops line its main street and continue down some of its constricted paths too narrow for automobiles.

With my concern about finding adequate restaurants successfully satisfied, Monarch launched herself onto the main reason why Taboga is known as “The Island of Flowers” by reciting a list of floral species that are abundant throughout much of the island, such as lianas, bromeliads, orchids and ferns; along with a host of fruit trees that include nisperos, mameyes, nance, mango, tamarind and pineapple.

Finally, she appealed to my love of fishing and expounded upon the fact that Isla Taboga is world famous for its sport fishing and that the majority of its roughly 1000 inhabitants make their living from the sea. Some of the prized trophy fish caught off its shores are Amberjack, Pacific Sailfish, Black Marlin, Yellowfin Tuna, Wahoo, Cubera Snapper, Blue Marlin, Corvina and Roosterfish.
Then with a twinkle in her eye, Monarch added that the dazzling skyline of Panama City can be easily observed at night anywhere on the island and when there is a full moon the island lights up with a special air of romance. As things happen, it rained the day I visited the island, so I never got to experience what she described. However, blooming flowers were everywhere and the food was very tasty.

Rob Kircher is marketing and advertising specialist, writer and filmmaker

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