On my second morning I went on an excursion to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. The small town of Gamboa is located in the formerly American-governed Canal Zone and is about a 30-45 minute drive from Panama City. I was going to take a taxi, but for $10. more my hotel concierge suggested that I hire a driver/tour guide, and it was definitely worth it. My driver and guide Luciano Granie drove me through a few of the former U.S. Canal Zone towns (Ancón, Balboa and Gamboa) and pointed out places of interest like the old YMCA, an English-language church, a French colonial cemetery, and the jail where Noriega is currently living out his days. It was interesting to see the architecture of the old “Zonian” (American) wooden bungalows and the English street names.
The Gamboa Rainforest Resort is a beautiful resort located on the Panama Canal and inside of the Soberania National Park. They offer a variety of nature activities for guests or day visitors, such as birdwatching, boat tours, and an aerial tram tour (in addition to a Clarins spa). Apparently the historic-looking main building of the resort is new-ish (c. 2000), but the wooden “villas” (AKA bungalows) on the grounds date back to the 1930’s and were previously the homes of American Canal Administration officers.
I had wanted to visit the resort since watching the Samantha Brown Panama episode where Samantha visits the hotel and goes on a boat tour of the nearby animal sanctuary Monkey Islands. I bought a ticket for the Gatun Lake Exploration tour, which included viewing the Monkey Islands in the description.
The one-hour boat tour took us through Gatun Lake, which is a huge man-made lake that serves as one of two water sources for the Panama Canal. We saw a lot of gigantic Chinese freight ships from the Canal.
Sadly, I found out on the tour that the Monkey Islands do not really exist anymore. The Canal is currently being expanded to fit larger vessels (called Post-Panamax ships) and the landfill from the construction project has merged the islands with the mainland, resulting in the monkeys walking/scattering. While we still saw some monkeys, it wasn’t the plethora that I was expecting 😦
We did, however, see several alligators and an iguana (not cute).
When the tour finished, I thought about having lunch at the resort, but I heard the restaurants were overpriced and not that great. Instead I decided to have a drink at the Monkey Bar to make up for the low number of monkey sightings (I will say that the bar had a reasonably priced menu, but I wasn’t in the mood for fried bar-ish food).
After my cocktail, Luciano drove me back to the city and dropped me off at my next requested stop, which will be covered in Panama post #4.