Panama is a safe, welcoming and fascinating country, perfect for first time visitors to the Neotropics looking for a relaxing tour with an excellent balance of butterflies, birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, while enjoying the comforts of two of Panama’s finest wildlife lodges.
After being met at Tocumen airport we have a short drive to our hotel where we can relax after our long transatlantic flight. Next morning after breakfast we drive for about 5 hours to reach our first lodge, Canopy Camp, on the edge of the Darien.
Here we stay in large, luxurious “African safari-type” tents, each equipped with comfortable beds, chairs and 24hr electricity. The tents are on individual raised wooden decks, each with a large verandah, reclining chairs and an attached private bathroom with hot showers. A few metres away is a large covered area with restaurant and a lounge from where we can watch several species of tanagers and hummingbirds at the feeders and bird table. A truly wonderful place to spend the next 5 nights!
About 500 butterfly species have been recorded in the grounds of the lodge and on excursions into the nearby forests. Heliconius butterflies are common, and Verbena bushes attract dozens of other species including the Cattleheart Parides eurimedes, White Yellow Eurema albula, Belus Swallowtail Battus belus, Dumenil’s Hairstreak Arawacus dumenili, Castimonia Hairstreak Iaspis castimonia, and the beautiful Hecale Longwing Heliconius hecale.
On our recce tour we had no less than 14 species simultaneously feeding at a sap run – Owl butterflies Caligo brasiliensis and C. telamonius, Two-eyed Numberwing Callicore pitheas, Mosaics Colobura dirce and C. annulata, Stinky Oakleafs Historis odius, Northern Ectima Ectima erycinoides, Split-banded Tree-bark Opsiphanes cassina, Tiger Beauty Tigridia acesta, and 5 species of Cracker – Hamadryas feronia, februa, ipthime, amphinome and laodamia! Crackers get their name from the “crackling bacon” sound that males produce during territorial displays. All 4 species are very beautiful, particularly the gorgeous blue amphinome and laodamia.
Excursions from the lodge should provide opportunities to see many other fabulous species such as Blue Doctor Rhetus periander, Blomfild’s Beauty Smyrna blomfildia, Monarch Danaus plexippus, Red-striped Leafwing Siderone galanthis, Broken Silverdrop Epargyreus exadeus, Blue Flasher Astraptes fulgerator and the exquisite Barcastus Firetip Mysoria barcastus.
At the end of our stay at Canopy Camp we head back towards Panama City and transfer to the legendary Canopy Tower – an ex-US airforce radar base set in the rainforest and cloud forest of Soberania national park. Rooms here are fairly small, but the treetop level lounge/restaurant is very spacious, and has facilities including a library, iMac, printer and free wi-fi.
The observation deck of the tower offers spectacular views across the rainforest and splendid opportunities to see and photograph monkeys, sloths and toucans. Often, the stunning long-tailed metallic green Regal Hairstreak Evenus regalis and equally impressive Balint’s Hairstreak Arcas gozmanyi settle on treetop foliage, within easy reach of a 300mm telephoto lens. In the small compound around the tower the gorgeous Green-celled Cattleheart Parides childrenae can be regularly seen basking on bushes early in the morning. We also have a moth sheet with attracts many interesting hawkmoths, silkmoths, geometrids and many beautiful pyralids.
During our 4 night stay at the tower, we will make daily excursions to nearby tracts of forest where we should see Brown-bordered White Itaballia pandosia, Sky-blue Hairstreak Pseudolycaena damo, Dusky-blue Groundstreak Calycopis isobeon, Ziba Scrub Hairstreak Strymon ziba, Blind Eurybia Eurybia elvina, White-patched Emesis Emesis lucinda, Mantus Metalmark Nymphidium mantus, Lavinia Glasswing Hypoleria lavinia, Juno Longwing Dryas juno, Doris Heliconius doris, Iphiclus Sister Adelpha iphiclus, Pavon Emperor Doxocopa pavon, Little Banner Nica flavilla, Mexican Sailor Dynamine postverta, Sunset Daggerwing Marpesia furcula, Malachite Siproeta stelenes, Seasonal Leafwing Zaretis ellops, Orange-striped Leafwing Memphis philumena, Moon Satyr Pierella luna, Stigma Skipper Paramimus stigma and Glorious Blue-skipper Paches loxus.
On our excursions we will also have fascinating views of the Panama canal – it’s quite a surreal experience to see an ocean going ship drifting silently past on the narrow channel that slices through the middle of the rainforest!
Notes: The use of butterfly nets is prohibited on this tour. Tour starts and finishes at Panama Tocumen airport (PTY). Grading: Walks of up to 5 kms on easy trails. Suitable for anyone who is reasonably fit. Please note that Canopy Tower has restaurant/lounge on 3rd floor and stairs are steep.