5 Reasons A Costa Rica & Panama Cruise Needs To Be On Your Travel Buck List
The Central American countries of Panama and Costa Rica both hit the biodiversity jackpot. Their protected rainforests, mangroves, and waterways are home to some of the most abundant wildlife in the region. Panama, which is located at the southernmost edge of the North American continent, is not just known for the engineering marvel of itsworld-famous canal, but also for pristine wilderness and rich wildlife.Costa Ricahas long been known for its dedication to preserving its natural resources, boasting 27 National Parks.
The calm waters of the Pacific coasts of these two nations are brimming with marine life. International Expeditions'new Costa Rica to Panama cruisesoffer ample opportunities to visit destinations that are unreachable by road and get up close to rare and exotic birds and mammals.
Here’s a look at a few of the region’s most noteworthy natural highlights:
1) Soberanía National Park, Panama
Sitting along the eastern bank of the Panama Canal isSoberanía National Park, which boasts over 530 species of birds, 105 species of mammals, and 55 species of amphibians across its 55,000 acres.
Located just a short drive away from Panama City, the park has well-maintained hiking trails through tropical rainforest. It offers plenty of chances to spot sloths, toucans, howler monkeys, anteaters, and adorable “honey bear” kinkajous in the early morning hours.
Bird lovers can spot avian life from the famous Pipeline Road, which was built during World War II to transport fuel from one ocean to the other. Here, the Audubon Society held its Christmas bird count world record 19 years in a row, with 357 species identified in just 24 hours. Deep in the old-growth forests, you might find yellow-eared toucanets, crimson-bellied and black-cheeked woodpeckers, and Purple-throated fruit crows. If you’re lucky, you may even catch sight of the endangered harpy eagle, Panama’s national bird.
A mile from the Pipeline Road is the Rainforest Discovery Center, an ideal perch to witness the morning flight of keel-billed toucans, red-lored amazons, and other canopy birds from its 100-foot observation tower. Take a break at the hummingbird feeders and you may be able to spot up to 10 different species.
2) Punta Patiño Nature Reserve, Panama
Set along the southern shore of the Gulf of San Miguel,Punta Patiño Nature Reserveis the largest private preserve in Panama. This wildlife preserve consists of 74,132 acres of primary and secondary forest, and is home to fascinating wildlife. But because it’s surrounded by dense forest, the only way to reach it is by boat or plane.
Feathered creatures populate the reserve’s trees, mangroves and waterways, and can be spotted via its well-maintained trails and from small boats. If you’re lucky, you might catch the clumsy mating dance of the male blue-footed boobies, watch frigatebirds wheel overhead, and admire the beauty of blue dacnis, the Orange-chinned parakeet, blue-headed parrot and the crowned woodnymph.
If you haven’t seen the majestic harpy eagle before, your chances greatly increase here. You may also be able to see capybaras (the largest rodent in the world), crab-eating raccoons and gray foxes.
Just offshore, in the Gulf of San Miguel, pods of humpback whales, pilot whales, and bottlenose dolphins are often spotted swimming happily near boats.
3) Coiba Island National Park, Panama
Panama’s largest National Park,Coiba National Park, covers an astounding 667,500 acres of marine reserve. It is often referred to as the Galapagos of Central America, due to its biodiversity and myriad opportunities to see marine life on dives and snorkeling adventures around its healthy coral reefs. Because this was the home of a brutal penal colony until 2005, locals kept away from the area. As a result, nature seems relatively untouched in this region, which can be reached by sailing across the Gulf of Panama from the mainland.
Coiba is a great place to see the scarlet macaw in the wild. Hiking along the Los Monos Trail, you can also find bicolored hawk, white-throated thrush, lance-tailed manakin, and native brown-backed dove.
The Hot Springs Trail passes through primary rainforest and mangroves, offering you the ability to soak your feet in the therapeutic, thermal springs at the end. Hiking the trail may also yield sightings of the blue-throated golden tail, Scaly-breasted Hummingbird, howler and white-faced monkeys, and the main attraction: the endemic Coiba spinetail. In the shallow waters surrounding the island, snapper, grouper, jack, and benign white-tipped reef sharks are often found.
After taking in the island’s natural wonders, enjoy a relaxing picnic at Granito de Oro. This beautiful small islet lies off the northeastern coast of Coiba, with a white sand beach and a grove of coconut trees. Just keep your distance from the hermit crabs!
4) Piedras Blancas National Park, Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s newest national park,Piedras Blancas National Park, is situated next to Golfito National Wildlife Refuge. It was created to protect the flora and fauna inhabiting the evergreen primary forests, bays and beaches of Golfo Dulce. The park’s rugged landscape is shaped by the Esquinas and Piedras Blancas Rivers, which empty into the Golfo Dulce.
Piedras Blancas is considered one of the best birdwatching parks in the country, as it is an important gathering point for many birds of the Americas. Species you may encounter there include the fiery-billed aracari, violaceous trogon, red-capped manakin, long-tailed hermit, scarlet-thighed dacnis and green honeycreeper.
Wildlife such as sloths, howler monkeys, white-nosed capuchins, and spider monkeys can often be seen and heard in the trees. The park is also home to five species of wild cats: the ocelot, margay, jaguarundi, puma, and the increasingly rare jaguar. Just don’t expect to have any encounters with these elusive and nocturnal creatures!
5) Terraba-Sierpe Reserve and Isla del Caño Biological Reserve, Costa Rica
In Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, situated between the deltas of the Terraba and Sierpe Rivers, you’ll find the largest protected tidal ecosystem in Central America. It’s near Corcovado National Park, which National Geographic has described as one of the most biodiverse places on the planet.
Covering 85 square miles of lagoons, estuaries, and mangrove forests, theTerraba-Sierpe Reserveis best explored by boat. Along the way, you may catch sightings of the American crocodile, Jesus lizard (a.k.a. basilisk), river turtles, coatis, and primates. Bird lovers can look for herons, egrets, the yellow mangrove warbler, toucans, common potto, and frigatebird.
The Isla del Caño Biological Reserve, which is located 12 nautical miles offshore, boasts some of the bluest waters in the country. For snorkelers and divers, it offers unparalleled visibility to see Olive Ridley sea turtles, dolphins, rays, and reef sharks. You might have a chance to see humpback and pilot whales during their migrations from July to October, and again in December through March. It’s an experience you’ll surely remember for many years to come.
BIO: Lavanya Sunkara is a writer, animal lover, and responsible traveler based in New York City. Her love of nature and adventure has taken her all over the globe. She cherishes sharing her experiences and being a voice for the voiceless. Follow her adventures on her blog,Nature Traveler.
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