I remain impressed by this special place. The Canopy Tower (tel. 264-5720, U.S. toll-free tel. 800/930-3397, www.canopytower.com, high-season Canopy Room packages US$217 pp, including meals and bird tour) is an old U.S. military radar tower that has been cleverly transformed into a 12-room hotel and wildlife observation platform, high above the floor of a protected forest, Parque Nacional Soberanía. Visitors can look out the window of their room right into the forest.
The rooms are simple but cheerful and comfortable, with teak louvered doors and other touches that soften the utilitarian feel of the structure. Each room has two single beds with ceiling fans and a good hot-water bathroom.
Five single rooms have been added on the level below the canopy rooms, about 5.5 meters above the hilltop. Formerly guides’ quarters, they are quite small (eight square meters, less than half the size of the canopy rooms), have a single bed, and share a bathroom. The high-season rate is US$157.50.
The Blue Cotinga Suite (US$245 s/d in high season) is a large room (34 square meters) that can sleep three and has a private balcony with a hammock swing. This is the fanciest place to stay at the tower. The Harpy Eagle Suite, one floor down, is a bit smaller (27 square meters) and plainer, but the rates are the same for one or two people. It can sleep up to four.
The tower is not air-conditioned so as not to scare away wildlife and separate guests from the sound of the forest. However, the elevation is high enough that, with the screened windows open and the ceiling fan on, it’s quite comfortable. This is not a place for people who like to sleep in or who want a romantic getaway: The tower is made of metal and sound carries easily.
The rooms, however, are only a small part of a visit to the tower. Stays include all meals and a daily, guided tour into Parque Nacional Soberanía on well-maintained trails. The food here is good, concentrating on simple but tasty local dishes.
One flight up from the canopy rooms are the dining and living room, which offer a near 360-degree view. Guests can continue up to the roof, which is a great place to watch the sun rise and set over the forest, listen to the roar of howler monkeys, and watch for owls and other nocturnal creatures at night.
Rates are lower in the rainy season; the chances of spotting birds and wildlife can plummet during a rain, though they come out to dry afterwards. But the “migration season,” which occurs late in the rainy season, can actually be an exciting time to come. This is when literally millions of raptors pass through Panama on their annual migration.
Guests are likely to see more wildlife while lounging in the tower than they would on long hikes in more remote areas. Within five minutes of my first visit I saw a tití monkey (Geoffroy’s tamarin) and a host of other creatures. By the end of my second visit, I had seen a kinkajou, a dozen coatimundi moms and babies, a sloth, an unidentified snake, and innumerable birds (short-tailed hawk, three toucans in a single tree, dusky-capped flycatcher, white-whiskered puffbird, white-shouldered tanager, blue-crowned manakin, and on and on). At last count, bird-watchers had identified 283 species of birds just from the tower and Semaphore Hill Road.
Getting to the Canopy Tower
The Canopy Tower is 25 kilometers from Panama City, about a half-hour drive. Those driving must take the left fork off Gaillard Highway after the railroad bridge and follow the road toward Gamboa. The well-marked turnoff to the Canopy Tower will be on the right 1.6 kilometers past Summit Botanical Gardens. There’s a gate across the entrance to the tower road that you may have to open. Go up the one-lane, well-maintained road 1.7 kilometers to the tower. Note: The tower is not wheelchair-accessible. Access to the top of the tower is by stairs—five dozen of them.
Make reservations, even for day trips, as far in advance as possible; the tower is world-famous and extremely popular.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition