The Best National Parks In Panama For Hiking And Camping
Panama Has Tropical Biodiversity That Rivals The Amazon Rainforest
From the raw wilderness of the Darien Gap, tropical island archipelagos like Bocas Del Torro and Guna Yala, to unique biodiversity spots like Coiba Island, Panama has a lot to explore.
An Overview of Panama's National Park System
Despite being a relatively small country, Panama has 18 national parks and some of the highest biodiversity of flora and fauna found anywhere in the world.
Over 30% of the country is protected in forest reserves, which means the jungle hiking and the potential for off-the-beaten path trekking in Panama is extraordinary.
If you want to do a week-long trek there is the untamed wilderness of the Darien Gap and the legendary El Camino Real, an ancient Indian path that the conquistadors used to transport gold and silver from the Pacific to the Caribbean on a 77 km trail at the narrowest part of the Panamanian isthmus.
If you would prefer a day hike near Panama City there are many options as this city on the Pacific coast is surrounded by 5 national parks. There is good hiking in Panama City's large Metropolitan Natural Park, which offers beautiful views of the city's futuristic skyline and the surrounding islands in the Gulf of Panama.
If you're looking for a full day hike then I highly recommend Jaguar Falls that can be reached from the eco-village of Kalu Yala.
Another must-see hiking trail is the world-famous birding trail Pipeline Road in Soberanía National Park where the Audubon Society observed recorded 525 species of birds in a world record census in 1996.
You will find fascinating flora and fauna to stimulate your senses anywhere you find yourself on the Panamanian isthmus.
1. Chagres National Park
A short drive from Panama City, 500 square mile Chagres National Park offer exceptional hiking, bird watching and one of the largest intact tropical rainforests in Central America.
The most popular way to explore massive 319,000 acre Chagres National Park is by boat tours on Lake Alajuela that involve visiting indigenous Emberá village a short trip up the Chagres River.
To the south of Panama City, there is excellent hiking access through the community of Altos de Cerro Azul. You can climb to the top of Cerro Azul at 3,100 feet (950 m) and Cerro Jefe, which rises to 3,300 feet (1,000 m) and is the highest peak in the national park.
If you want to do some serious trekking, there is the El Camino Real, a 4-day trek that passes through Chagres National Park. It was built in the 16th century to move gold and loot plundered from the Inca Empire from Panamá Viejo and the Caribbean port of Nombre de Dios.
2. Altos de Campana National Park
Established in 1966, Altos de Campana is Panama’s oldest national park. Along with nearby mountain town Valle De Anton, the province of Cocle offers some of the best hiking in Panama.
Although only 4,817-acres Altos De Campana packs a lot of awe-inspiring vistas. The park's highest peak 850 meter (2,789 foot) Cerro Campana offers dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean, the Punta Chame pennisula and Taboga Island far off in the distance.
The most famous hike is a must-do morning sunrise or evening sunset adventure on Sendero La Cruz hiking trail.
A short drive to the west, you will find the picturesque mountain town of Valle De Anton. Here you have easy access to some of the best hiking in Panama.
La India Dormida hike is one of the most popular sunrise viewpoints in the Anton Valley. Other excellent mountains to hike in the area are Cerro Cara Iguana, Cerro Gaital, Cerro La Gaita, Cerro Turega, Cerro La Silla and Cerro Picacho.
Panama is known for its hundreds of epic waterfalls and this area is one of the best for waterfall adventures. The best waterfall hikes in the area are the Pozo Azul Waterfall Canyon, El Chorro Macho Waterfall and Los Cajones de Chame is also a must-see river canyon.
3. Darién National Park
Darién National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest national park in Central America. It is legendary as a wild frontier but this also makes it the most dangerous place in Panama.
The Darién Gap is 106 kilometres (66 miles) in length and it is the only break along the 30,000 km (19,000 mile) Pan-American Highway that goes from the tip of South America to Alaska in the north.
This is one of the wildest places anywhere and it is notorious as one of the most dangerous jungles in the world.
If you want to trek in the Darién Gap, you should hire a local guide or join an a 5-day or 14-day expedition run by local trekking companies.
The area is mostly inhabited by three different indigenous groups: the Guna, Emberá, and Wounaan tribes.
The birding is incredible in the pristine valley of Cana, near the Rancho Frío Ranger Station and along the Corredor Biologico Serrania del Bagre, which is prime habitat for the elusive Panamanian jaguar.
The highest mountain peak in the national park is 1875 meters (6152 foot) Cerro Tacarcuna but 1,615 metre (5,400 foot) Cerro Pirre is a much more accessible hike in the region.
4. La Amistad National Park
One of the most famous trails for birdwatching is Los Senderos Quetzales, which is the best place to spot a Resplendent Quetzal and it can be reached from the northern mountain town of Boquete.
5. Bastimentos National Park
In the Bocas Del Toro archipelago, you will find in Bastimentos National Park, which is a great tropical island for hiking and exploring the white sand beaches along Red Frog Beach, Wizards Beach and Playa Larga.
6. Coiba National Park
The largest island in Central America, Coiba once held Panama most brutal prison colony. Over 80% of the island remains largely unexplored and many pre-Columbian artifacts have been found suggesting there may be a lost city buried in the jungle.
7. Santa Fe National Park
In the center of Panama, Sante Te offers some of the best hiking trails and most epic waterfalls. Cerro Tute offers exceptional views and the El Salto Waterfall hike is a collection of 22 waterfalls deep in the rainforest.
8. Soberanía National Park
Some 525 bird species were documented here in a single day along 17.5 km Pipeline Road hike that passes through old-growth and secondary forest. Camino de Cruces is another excellent hike with a fascinating colonial history.
9. Volcán Barú National Park
Volcan Baru is an active stratovolcano and the tallest mountain in Panama, at 3,475 metres (11,401 ft) high. This area offers the best trekking in northern Panama and the nearby town of Boquete is a good launching pad for hiking adventures.
10. Chiriqui National Park
Near the Costa Rican border are the many islands of Chiriqui National Park, which consists of 150 km of protected marine ecosystems, including spectacular coral reefs, mangrove forests and over two dozen islands around Islas Parida.
About The Author
Kyle Pearce is an avid naturalist and learning experience designer who leads educational retreats and group storytelling adventures around the world through Social Creators.
Our mission at Animist Ecology is to rewild education through adventure-driven ecological learning designed to help people develop all of their senses through Eco-Mindfulness Training.