Panama Jungle Paradise - Gamboa Rainforest Resort
By Larry Larsen
When you think of traveling to a resort located in the middle of a national park, your preconceived notion might be of a rustic setting, limited amenities and an
even more limited menu. The total opposite is true of the "attraction/destination" called Gamboa Rainforest Resort.
Located about one hour from the capital of Panama, the Gamboa could not be more ideally situated. Its location in the Soberania National Park provides the
resort guests with a birds eye view of the "Eighth Wonder of The World", the Panama Canal, its primary source of freshwater, the beautiful Chagres River, and the
unspoiled jungle habitat surrounding them.
Upon arriving in Panama, Gamboa resort guests are greeted by Gamboa Tours transportation. As you travel through the "new" and "old" Panama City, the contrast is
evident. The "old" Panama City, founded in 1521, still shows its roots of Spanish ancestry and pirates, as well as the European and American influence during the "early days" of
construction of the Panama Canal. Historic churches have been renovated and a new focus on improving parks and cultural centers for visitors in this part of the city is well under way.
The "new" Panama City is a cosmopolitan business and economic center which is truly becoming the most modern in Central America. The large majority of Panamanians speak
English and the U.S. Dollar is common currency. The road to the Gamboa Resort parallels the historic Panama Canal and travels by many of the buildings and barracks built by the
workers and by the U.S. Government while it had an active military base in the country.
Upon arrival at Gamboa Rainforest Resort, it is easy to be impressed by the modern "atrium-style" lobby with 3-story
arched windows which immediately bring the beautiful scenery into the ambiance. Personal attention to the decoration is obvious. Tiffany lamps and an imported chandelier complement
the hand-carved wooden bookshelves in the library, wooden carvings of native fauna at the lobby bar and the individually-carved guest room doors. And these are only of the few of the
unique decorative touches throughout the facility.
The very comfortable accommodations at the resort are uniquely decorated, and no two rooms look alike. All rooms have balconies overlooking the Chagres River and the Panama
Canal, with beautiful hammocks beckoning. Each expansive guest room also has remote control color TV, direct dial phones with voicemail, internet access, coffee maker, hair dryer
, iron and electronic safe. The entire resort is fully handicapped-accessible.
Opened in June 2000, the resort is located on 340 rainforest acres, but just 40 are utilized. With only 145 guest
accommodations, guests can enjoy quiet solitude in almost every part of the resort. At the entrance to the hotel are 43 fully renovated apartment-style villas that include kitchenettes and
provide even more privacy while giving guests access to the resort's amenities. The beautifully restored villas were built in the early 1920's to house canal workers, and later were used by the
U.S. military as barracks for the nearby canal operations.
The Resort's Outside Activities
Take your pick. Visit the resort's marina and go fishing for the exciting peacock bass in the Chagres River or Lake Gatun or take a wildlife boat tour. Join a guided hike of one of many
historic trails around the resort or take the resort tram tour and visit the ecological exhibits on property. Or schedule a round of golf at the nearby Summit Golf Course. These are
only some of the available options.
The property's marina offers half day or full day fishing trips on Lake Gatun, which has been formed by the damming of
the canal waters. Anglers need not be experienced to catch peacock bass and an occasional snook. For info on the great peacock bass fishery, visit http://www.peacockbassassociation.com . If you prefer to see exotic wildlife, there is plenty just a few minutes from the marina.
Our morning boat tour gave us plenty of opportunities to see and photograph colorful and loud Toucans, green parrots, capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, huge iguanas, four sloths (both three-toed
and two-toed species), and the beautiful blue morphos butterflies. We also saw bats during the daytime and at night. In all our travels, no other trip to the jungle has offered so much
fauna in so little time!
Panama's wildlife is a laboratory for studies. Scientists from the Smithsonian Institution, Audubon Society and National Geographic have ongoing research activities at various
locations just a few minutes from the resort. While guests are not able to visit these spots, it does underscore how the unspoiled habitat is among the most interesting in the world.
Bird watchers are particularly impressed with opportunities in Panama and the Gamboa Rainforest Resort is a great
destination or point of departure for them. The resort recently hosted the American Bird Watchers Association, and even for people like us, who know very little about the 950 species of
birds that live in the area, the abundance is evident. The resort offers guided birding tours to Pipeline Road, La Laguna Trail and Las Cruces Trail, and approximately 250 species have been
sighted in this area. One of the easiest places to see a large variety was at the top of the resort tram tower. For a nominal
fee, guests can take a cable car tram through the jungle canopy past colonies of monkeys and up to the mountaintop tower. It's a bit of a climb then up the ramp to the top, but well worth it.
Here, you are above the tree tops and can see the beautiful colorful birds of all sizes flitting around everywhere.
Also included in the price of the Tram Ride is a guided visit to the ecological exhibits. You can visit the serpentarium, the interesting butterfly house, a large variety of orchids and
botanical gardens, and a freshwater fish exhibit, a great way to learn about the wildlife that you will sooner or later encounter during your stay.
After the Tours
When you return from your adventures outdoors, there are still many nice amenities/options for guests of the resort. Take a dip in the huge pool or enjoy the resort's spa facilities.
Gamboa offers separate men and women's areas with dry and steam saunas, Jacuzzi and therapy spas. A variety of massage therapies are available. As is usual in Latin America,
the service and attention to the guest is excellent.
While we didn't have the time, you could easily spend a full day in the spa. There are ten facial treatments and eleven body treatments to choose from. Four Thalaso Theraphies,
which are a variety of body wraps and hydromassages based on saltwater algae, muds and temperature baths, are also offered. The Gamboa has the added advantage that any of
these treatments can be performed outdoors or on an ample-sized pontoon boat floating down the Chagres River. And after your treatment, you therapist departs and leaves you
to enjoy the scenery while sipping a drink of your choice.
To recharge your energy level, Gamboa offers three restaurants; the elegant Chagres River View is for fine dining, with an impressive display of wine bottles at a glance. The Corotu
offers casual dining for breakfast buffet, as well as lunch and dinner, and Los Lagartos, open for lunch, by the Marina. Each restaurant offers an excellent variety of menu options.
Other amenities and resort fun, in addition to the massive swimming pool, include video games, pool, ping pong, free
nighttime guided wildlife tours, painting contests, tennis and many other scheduled activities. A discotheque is also open weekends for
adults and young adults and there are a couple of bars off the main lobby. The beautiful surroundings keep guests busy enjoying the Gamboa Rainforest Resort and its amenities. Plan on the time you'll
need there and then double it. You still won't be able to see everything you want or participate in everything you want. We guarantee it!
To find out more about Gamboa Rainforest Resort at the Panama Canal, visit their website at www.gamboaresort.com or contact (877) 800-1690 or via email at
email@example.com. The resort and their marina can be contacted directly at 011-507-314-9000 for more info on the fishing and boating, and most resort
employees speak excellent English.
High season is normally from late October through April, which is also the driest season. Rainy season starts in May. We encountered rain nearly
every day during our visit in early October, but it did not keep us from enjoying the scheduled activities. Rainshowers were brief and did not spoil the beauty of the
surroundings. In fact, we noticed increased wildlife activity after each rain.