Parque Natural Metropolitano
Amazingly enough, you don’t even have to leave the limits of Panama City to find a tropical forest. The 265-hectare Parque Natural Metropolitano (entrance on Avenida Juan Pablo II, tel. 232-6713 or 232-5516, 5 A.M.–6 P.M. daily, free, donations encouraged) is just minutes from downtown, and it’s a lovely little place with a surprising amount of wildlife given its location and size. Only brief day hikes are available here. Give it a miss if you plan to visit any of Panama’s national parks.
Most of Parque Natural Metropolitano is dry lowland Pacific forest, now rare in Central America because of deforestation, and it’s home to about 45 species of mammals, 36 species of reptiles, and 14 species of amphibians. These include such colorful creatures as two- and three-toed sloths, monos tití (Geoffroy’s tamarin), and boa constrictors. As usual, however, don’t be surprised if you see only birds during a hike. The park has recorded 227 bird species.
Having an urban center this close to a nature park has its drawbacks: A highway, Corredor Norte, cuts right through the park’s eastern edge, and other busy streets run by its borders. You’re never far from the roar of the road. Sadly, there have also been reports of occaisional muggings. Don’t wander on a trail alone.
There are about four kilometers of trails spread among three main loops. Not surprisingly, the most strenuous one, La Cienaguita, also offers the best chance of seeing animals. It takes about two hours to walk. It’s an interpretive trail; the visitors center sells an informative booklet about it for US$2. The Mono Tití Road is, as the name suggests, a rocky road. Mountain biking is allowed on it, which would be great if there was a place to rent mountain bikes. The easiest trail is Los Momótides, across an extremely busy road—be careful crossing the street. It’s short and level, designed for people in a hurry or who have difficulty walking, and it is a nice little walk.
The entrance to the park is on Avenida Juan Pablo II in the Curundu district of Panama City. Trails are open 5 a.m.–6 p.m. every day. The visitors center (tel. 232-6713 or 232-5516, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Min.–Fri., 8 a.m.–1 p.m. Sat.) offers a free brochure, but ask for the glossy color trail guide, which has a much-needed map. Guided tours in English and Spanish are sometimes available, but you have to arrange this at least a day or two in advance.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition