National Parks to visit in Panama
Panama is home to 16 national parks and 50 other protected areas. Combined, approximately 25% of the land in Panama is protected, which shows a commitment to protecting wildlife in the country.
According to the National System of Environmental Information (Sinia), natural parks are terrestrial and/or aquatic areas with relatively large surfaces, in a natural or almost natural state. These areas are vital for sustaining ecosystems and populations of species on a national or global scale.
Generally speaking, Panama’s National Parks are not well equipped with amenities like bathrooms, campsites, and well-maintained trails, that being said they offer breathtaking views and access to the country’s natural beauty.
Here are a few of Panama’s National Parks you can visit! You should keep in mind it is always best to hire a local guide, and travel with sufficient water and supplies.
Panama National Parks:
- Camino de Cruces
- Cerro Hoya
- Division General Omar Torrijos Herrera
- La Amistad and the Gulf of Chiriquí (marine).
- Isla Bastimentos marine park
- Santa Fe
- Volcán Barú
-Altos de Campana
Camino de CrucesThis is an old cobble stone trail near Panama City that was built around 1527. The path was used to transport good like textiles, spices, gold, and silver to ships that would sail out the Chagres River.
The trail is 10.8 km (21.6 KM round trip) which takes about 6 hours total with an elevation Increase of 152 m (498 ft.). Along the trail, you will find historical notes, lush forests, streams plants, and wildlife. It is commonly used for hiking and bird watching. The difficulty level of the hike is considered moderate, as there is some rough terrain including river crossings, dense vegetation, large rocks, slippery ground, and steep trails.
Camino de Cruces is managed by the National Government - Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente (ANAM)
The Hours of operation are Monday - Sunday 8:30 - 4:30 (Soberanía National Park Ranger Station)
The cost of entry is $5.00 for foreigners and $3.00 for nationals.
Contact Information: Soberanía National Park: (507) 232-4192 ANAM Metro Regional office:(507) 500-0908
National Department of Protected Areas: (507) 500-0855 - (507) 500-0839
Local Guides: Rogelio Nuñez - (507) 6618-9062 | email: email@example.com
Cerro Hoya National Park
The Cerro Hoya National Park is located in the southwestern region of the Azuero peninsula spanning the provinces of Veraguas and Los Santos. The protected area is approximately 333.43 km², with 85% in Veraguas and 15% in Los Santos. Also known as Tres Cerros, Cerro Hoya is one of the most important forested areas in the Cordillera Occidental de Azuero or Sierra de Azuero. As there is little to no infrastructure in the park it is best to go with a local guide. Using a local guide not only ensures your safety, but they can also help you spot birds, monkeys, and other wildlife in the area.
To access the park and its remote beaches from the south coast, you can travel by boat or 4x4 (dry season) from Cambutal, Panama. The park boundary begins in La Ventana, and it is highly recommended to use a guide to reach it. Daniel Saénz in Cobachón is an experienced birder and knows the area well.
Local guide in Cobachón/La Ventana (South Entrance to the park): Daniel Saenz (507) 6789-9528
Boat rides can be arranged however there is limited cell service in this area so it is best to plan in advance.
Chagres National Park
The Chagres National Park just 40 km from Panama City was established in 1985 covering129,000 hectares. The park protects the Chagres River, which was dammed in 1914 to control the feed of water to the Panama Canal. In 1935 the Chagres was dammed a second time, forming the artificial Lake Alajuela, with a surface of over 5,000 hectares. The park produces some 40% of the water required for the Panama Canal, and provides all the drinking water for Panama City and Colon.
The Chagres river and the Alajuela Lake are the main attraction in the park with the Camino Real running through the park. At the top of Alajuela Lake, there is an indigenous settlement of people from the Embera tribe who moved to the area from the Bayano and Darien forests.
This national park is easy to access, with the well-paved road from Panama City. However, you can also travel by motorboat through Alajuela Lake and Chagres River. The administrative office plus three ranger stations in Altos de Cerro Azul, with designated camping areas in Cuango and Alajuela.
By accessing the park with a local tour guide you can support local tourism in an indigenous Embera village and gain access to some of the area’s hidden gems like waterfalls, and walking paths immersed in nature.
For a full-day excursion local guide: Ricardo Salomon (507) 6510-7036. He offers transportation from Panama City or Coronado. A traditional piragua boat ride on the Chagres River, followed by lunch in an indigenous Embera village, where you can learn about their culture, food, and traditions. The day is closed with a live performance of traditional music and dance.
Coiba National ParkIn June 2021, Panama expanded the protected area in Coiba’s Marine Protected Area from approximately 6,500 to 26,200 square miles in an effort to meet the goal of the Global Biodiversity Framework’s "30x30 Initiative which aims to protect 30% of the marine areas of the country by 2030.
The ecosystem, which protects fourteen marine mammal species that use it as a migration and feeding area, was classified as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, due to its rich and well-preserved natural resources.
Due to the fact that the Island of Coiba was used as a prison, access to the island was very restricted, this accidental protection led to 80% of the island’s natural resources. With limited human contact, the areas remain pristine.
Coiba National Park is managed by the National Authority for the Environment (Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente, ANAM) and the park is accessible only by permit from ANAM. However, a number of tour operators in Panama offer eco tours and diving trips in the area and can assist in obtaining appropriate permits.
Santa Catalina is the closest access point with about an hour and fifteen-minute boat ride from Santa Catalina’s beach to Isla Coiba.
To obtain permission to access the Island of Coiba, Contact ANAM at (507) 998-0615, or the National Park office at (507) 998-4271.
Darien National Park
The Darien National Park is also a UNESCO site and Panama’s largest protected area covering 575,000 hectares. Connecting with protected areas like the Los Katios National Park in Colombia the protected park allows for the connectivity of flora and fauna, creating a corridor for the movement of larger mammals like jaguars.
Due to its extreme isolation, this National Park is not very accessible. There are, however, two places where the park is often visited. Santa Cruz de Cana (more simply known as Cana) and Pirre Station.
Pirre is an ANAM ranger station with primary forests and an abundance of wildlife, including several types of monkeys, sloths, and many bird species. There are several trails leading away from the ranger station that can be hiked.
The best way to visit this area is with the Canopy Family. They can be reached if you are out of the country at 1-800-616-7451 (Toll-free from the USA and Canada) or locally at (507)-264-5720 and via E-Mail at. firstname.lastname@example.org
Omar Torrijos Herrera Division General National Park
With 25,275 hectares of primary forests, The Omar Torrijos National Park is part of the National System of Protected Areas (SINAP). Located in the Central Cordillera of Panama in the province of Coclé this is a great park to visit if you are staying in The Pacific Beach area. From Coronado, the park’s most visited attraction La Gloria waterfall is about 1.5hrs away.
The park also offers several options for hiking through a network of trails, with Los Helechos being one of the most visited, as well as Sendero Marta and Las Ranas.
La Gloria Waterfall is located in Capira, but accessible through the district of Chame. A 4×4 is required to access the waterfall. There is a short easy hike of about 10 minutes to reach the waterfall. When you reach La Gloria there is a house right before the falls where you will pay $2.00. This gives you access to the area, parking, and a bathroom. You are also able to reserve a lunch at the waterfall for just $5.00 per person from a local family as well as a guided tour for $45.00.
Contacts Anibal, owner of the house in La Gloria at (507) 6571.6791 or the Medina Family at (507) 6706.6181.
For tours or if you don’t speak Spanish, Jerry of Traveling Souls Panama can help, (507) 6153-8924 (WhatsApp), or contact him by email at email@example.com
Gulf of Chiriquí Marine National Park
Created in 1994, this marine park covers 150 square kilometers of marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, mangroves, seagrasses, and about twenty islands of the archipelago. Access to this area via Boca Chica by taking the Interamerican highway to the Horconcitos Crossing - San Lorenzo, in Chiriqui, to reach Boca Chica.
If you are looking for a luxury option Isla Palenque is the spot! For info and reservations call (507) 833-7595 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For a more rustic experience, you can stay on Isla Gámez and Isla Bolaños two pristine islands in the area Private tours start at $140 for 2-6 people, you can book a trip with Boca Brava Adventures by calling (507) 6386-8701
Isla Bastimentos Marine National Park
The island of Bastimentos is located in the Caribbean in the province of Bocas del Toro. The island offers intermediate hiking trails, Las Bromelias and Cayo Zapatilla 2.
This was the first marine park established in the Republic of Panama. If you plan to visit it, keep in mind that bonfires are not allowed. You can camp on the island for as little as $10 a night if you have your own gear. The easiest way to do this is with Palmar Beach Camp. They also have accommodation available including luxury family-sized tents for the "glampers" out there. Contact them at email@example.com or by WhatsApp at (507) 838-9670.
Portobelo National Park
Portobelo is a small town on the Caribbean coast of Panama. The area is easily accessible and you do not need a guide to enjoy the area. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the remains of colonial Spanish forts and cannons. Visitors can see these remains of the colonial town for free.
Fort Santiago, is the first site, with cannons still pointing toward the entrance to the bay, however, the biggest fort in Portobelo is San Jerónimo, which boasts 8 cannons, some watchtowers, and an officer’s quarters that you can explore. Two more forts known as San Fernando and San Fernandino can be found on the hills surrounding Portobelo.
It is also important to note that the Congo culture has been maintained by descendants who were brought to Panama during Spanish colonization. This population in Panama maintains its own culture with special celebrations and theatrical dances. With this comes unique food, songs, and religious figures in Portobelo.
Nazareno or the Black Chris is one of these figures, he is commemorated with a life-size wooden sculpture that is on display at the Iglesia San Felipe, a church built by the Spanish in 1814.
Volcán Barú National Park
Volcán Barú National Park extends 14,325 hectares and is located in the province of Chiriquí. The dormant volcano has a height of 3,478 meters and on a clear day, you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea from the summit. One of its most popular trails is Los Quetzales, it is highly recommended to use a guide when hiking in this area.
The hike to the summit is known as one of the most challenging in the country. It is a steep and rugged climb by foot, with a breathtaking panoramic view of both of Panama’s coastlines, on a clear day. You can hire a guide from the Boquete ranger station to reach the summit, a hike that even experienced hikers say takes 5-6 hours.
El Machico Hostel can organize a ride to the base camp and a guide. Call (507) 203-9430
Santa Fe National Park
Panama’s Santa Fe National Park was established in 2001, covering over 700sq km of highlands in Central Panama, spanning the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. While most of the park is remote with no access roads or trails, recent road improvements have made the park more accessible. There are 8 official destinations within Santa Fe National Park, with several hiking trails starting outside the park, and leading into the park.
While there is a ranger station located along the new road to the Caribbean, approximately 10km from Santa Fe, the station mainly is used for the protection of the national park and does not have a visitor center.
Hiking Trails include, Cerro Mariposa, Camino Historico de Chilagre, Loop at Ranger Station, Cascada Loma Grande, Cascada La Isleta and Cascada Bermejo.
For a guided tour on one of these trails, overnight camping, horseback riding, river tubing, and coffee tours, Coffee Mountain Inn is a highly recommended outfit to use. You can reach them by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (507) 6988-0921.
Sarigua National Park
The Desert of Sarigua or Sarigua National Park is located in the district of Parita in the province of Herrera in Panama. With an area of 8,000 hectares, the area is one of the driest places in the country. Although it is called a desert, it is not a actually desert, rather the area has undergone a process of salinization. This process is to thank for the beauty of its landscapes, with little vegetation and with deep cracks in the earth.
Soberania National ParkSoberania National Park is the most accessible national park in Panama City. Just 45 minutes from the city, this park sits on the canal zone spanning 55,000 acres. The park is one of the best places for bird-watching in Panama. While a guided tour is not necessary as trails are well marked and moderate in difficulty tours are accessible through Gamboa Rainforest Reserve by calling (507) 314-5000 or emailing: email@example.com
Hiking the Pipeline Road is a great place to start, as it is perfect for bird watching a moderate difficulty.
For an especially scenic hike, take Plantation Road. This is a gentle, sloping 8-mile trail that will take you past viewing points for waterfalls, wildlife, and lush vegetation.
Altos de Campana National Park
The Altos de Campana National Park and Biological Reserve are located in the western region of the province of Panama, 60 km west of Panama City off the Inter-American Highway. The entrance to the National Park is about 5 km after Capira, at the beginning of the well-known "Loma de Campana." One at the highest point of this “Loma” there is a road that veers to the right. Take that road to the park headquarters.
The park is managed by the National Environmental Authority (Altos de Campana National Park). The hours of operation at the headquarters are Monday to Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 pm. The fee to enter the park are $5.00 for Foreign visitors, and $3.00 for nationals. If you are interested in visiting the Altos de Campana National Park and Biological Reserve you must make a reservation 72 hours in the advance. You can email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the ANAM Regional Administration Office for Panama Oeste - (507) 234-2848 / (507) 254-3048