Panama Birding

GETTING THERE: The Canopy Tower (800-930-3397 from the United States and Panama, is in the Gamboa area of the former Panama Canal Zone, about a 40-minute drive from downtown Panama City and an hour from the airport. The lodge will pick up guests downtown or at the airport. A taxi to or from downtown is about $20; from Tocumen International Airport, it's about $50. Public buses also run along the main road from Gamboa, but it's a long uphill hike from that road to the lodge.

STAYING THERE: The cost of a stay varies with the season -- rates are lowest in the "green season" (rainy), from May through September. Panama's rainy season can be very, very wet. There's a shoulder "migration season" in October and November. High (and dry) season is December through April. In the dry season, there's a three-night minimum, and the basic Canopy Room costs $175 plus tax per person per night, double occupancy, including admission to surrounding Soberania National Park, meals (including wine at dinner) and one bird tour. That comes to about $550 per person for a three-night stay. In December, we chose a three-night package that included two bird tours per day, plus transportation to and from the city, for $664 per person, including tax. (Bird tours purchased a la carte would have cost quite a bit more.) Tips to hotel staff and guides are additional; they can add up. The tower is not air-conditioned or handicapped-accessible.

WHAT TO BRING: Bird-watching requires comfortable walking shoes, comfortable outdoor clothing (lightweight long pants are best because of bugs) and a decent pair of binoculars.

Binoculars are usually described using two numbers, such as 6x26 or 8x42. The first describes the magnification, the second the amount of light admitted. You want the second number to be as big as possible without the glasses becoming too heavy; most bird-watchers use 8x42 binoculars. Good binoculars can be expensive; those that cost less than $100 may just end up frustrating you, but you can buy a nice pair for $100 to $200. The $200 to $500 range is considered mid-priced. If you start lusting after lenses that cost more than that, you have become a fanatic.
--Maryann Haggerty

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