Picturesque Panama with Ignacio Yúfera
Panama is a relatively small but extremely varied and wildlife-rich country that has a lot to offer as a neotropical photographic destination. Being the southernmost portion of Central America, its wildlife and avifauna comprises of South American species not found further north, and its wide variety of landscapes and habitats allow for a wealth of photo opportunities without the need for long drives or flights.
From 22- 30 March 2017, ORYX’s first private Panama photography tour concentrated on the lowland rainforests around the Panama Canal area, close to its capital city, and the Western Highlands in the Chiriquí province, reachable after a comfortable 1-hour internal flight to the city of David.
Located within less than an hour’s drive from the capital city, the Canopy Tower is a former US Army radar installation that was privately purchased and converted into a unique lodge. From the tower’s dining area and top platform, 35 meters above the forest floor, eye-level views can be obtained of such sought-after birds as Black-breasted Puffbird and Blue Cotinga, as well as more common but not less photogenic species like Collared Aracari, Keel-billed Toucan and a variety of tanagers. It is also one of the best sites in the world to photograph Brown-throated Three-toed sloths as they feed on the leaves and fruit of cecropia trees right next to the windows, as well as roaming bands of Mantled Howler Monkey. These guys often get so close that long lenses are often redundant!
Found only in Panama and northern Colombia, the charming Geoffroy’s Tamarin is the only member of its family (tamarins and marmosets) found in Central America: both the Canopy Tower and the nearby shores of the Chagres River, which we explore on our own boat when the water levels allow it, offer the best opportunities anywhere to see and photograph it at close quarters.
Close to the Canopy Tower within the limits of Soberanía National Park are legendary birding destinations like Pipeline Road and the nearby Rainforest Discovery Center, where deep-forest treasures like Pheasant Cuckoo, Streak-chested Antpitta or Ocellated Antbird can be found. Photographing shy and elusive birds like these can be challenging, but all the more rewarding when achieved. Our team of local guides and resident ornithologists kept a constant watch for the most sought-after species on our Panama photography tour.
The Chiriquí Highlands share the Talamanca mountain range with neighboring Costa Rica, and support large numbers of regional endemic birds. We were based at the Los Quetzales lodge, where we could photograph some of the several species of tanagers and highland hummingbirds around the garden feeders and flowers.
Several coffee estates in the highlands have built excellent lodges and beautifully landscaped gardens, often within walking distance from pristine montane forest. From the conveniently located Los Quetzales, we took day visits to some of the best ones, combining the search of regional endemics like the stunning Volcano and Scintillant hummingbirds, Three-wattled Bellbird, and of course Resplendent Quetzal, with some excellent lunchtime meals. Our Panama tour’s itinerary was designed in such a way that so many different sites and hotspots were reachable within short driving distances, allowing us to decide where to go depending on weather and species availability, all thanks to the latest reports from our cracking team of local guides.
After our stay in the highlands we returned to the Canal area for the last two nights of our Panama photography tour, again exploring the Chagres River and Canal shores. We also took a day trip to Cerro Azul, a gated community home to many American expats, in a set of hills covered in surprisingly well-preserved mid-altitude forest. We were welcomed into two private homes of our acquaintance, whose garden feeders attract an astonishing number and variety of hummingbirds and forest birds, including the stunning and rarely seen Rufous-crested Coquette.
Back to our lodge we walked some of the best-known and accessible trails in the Canal area, where unexpected finds are always possible: on one of our outings we saw a Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloth, a nocturnal species rarely found during the day, sleeping on an unusually low branch, from where he briefly checked us out and offered some great photo opportunities before returning to sleep. What a great way to end our Panama photography tour!
The creatures that can be discovered on a Panama tour are so colourful, diverse and unique that it would be a shame to not add this destination to your exotic nature photographic check list.