Canopy Tower-13

Above the Treetops in Panama

The driver is waiting for us in the parking lot as we offload the tender and spill out onto the bustling port, a gray and dreary Panama City skyline lying just beyond. He carries a sign that reads “Canopy Tower,” and even though we are technically early, he’s ready for us. Odd, I think, this is definitely not the Central America I’m accustomed to where times are merely suggestions.

Panama City skyline

Samantha and I load into his air-conditioned van and head for the hills, seeing a small slice of Panama City as we go, old and dilapidated colonial-style buildings, hammocks haphazardly strung from posts. The MV Explorer is docked in Balboa, and most of the other participants are headed to the Embera village or out to see the locks. But I’ve already sailed through the Panama Canal. This time I want to see a part of Central America for which it is so widely known: the rainforest.

Gamboa | Panama rainforest

It’s not such a long drive actually. Even with pretty heavy traffic, it only takes us 45 minutes to turn off onto the bumpy, steep road that leads up into the canopy. I first heard of the Canopy Tower only a couple months prior to my arrival in Panama; my friend Fidel, all the way over in Japan, featured it on his blog as a hotel he’d like to visit. Lucky for me, I knew I’d be in Central America’s biggest city not too long after, so I bookmarked the hotel and made a mental note to stay there once I reached Panama. I’m nothing if not a woman of her word.

Canopy Tower | Gamboa, Panama

We arrive to a still, quiet environment—well, quiet at first, until the surrounding rainforest becomes accustomed to your presence and the chirpin’, screechin’, hootin’ and hollerin’ starts up again. I later Skyped SVV and my dad from inside the tower, and neither could hear what I said too clearly over the sound of the wildlife just beyond the open windows.

Canopy Tower | Gamboa, Panama

Samantha and I enter the tower, are given the keys to our room and start climbing the spiral staircase up to our dwelling. Our room is modest, as are all accommodations in the tower, but that’s OK: We’re here for the birds, not for Four Seasons-like luxury. We haven’t even unpacked when Samantha starts to point eagerly out the window and jump up and down. “Use your words, woman!” I say, mimicking how my sister-in-law speaks to her five-year-old son. “I don’t know what it is!” she exclaims. “But look right there!”

Canopy Tower | Gamboa, Panama

“There” is a tree not 15 feet from our room. Scampering along a branch just a few feet above eye level was…a raccoon? No, it’s a possum? A marmot of some type? No, actually, it was something neither of us had ever seen before. So I snap his (her?) mug shot—I am suddenly patting myself on the back for having the foresight to rent a long lens before my trip—and post it to Instagram. “It’s a coati!” one of my Semester at Sea kids quickly writes back. These SAS students—not just hat racks; they sure are worldly and knowledgeable!

Coati in Panama

We watch the coati for a bit before wandering upstairs and exploring the rest of our temporary digs.

It is hot and sticky both inside and out—duh, Kristin; it’s the rainforest in Central America…what do you expect?—but as the sun dips down beneath the canopy, the tower cools considerably. The windows remain open, and as if the atmosphere weren’t inviting enough, there are hammocks strung up in the living room for guest use. Samantha and I bust out our Kindles and don’t move for hours. This is the life; this is all I need to be content. (The Tower’s complimentary wine and beer fridge helps, too.)

Canopy Tower | Gamboa, Panama

The observation tower is at the top of a very steep and narrow staircase. But once up there, it’s another world, one of quiet and tranquility.

Canopy Tower | Gamboa, Panama

That night, we have dinner with the other guests—a hodgepodge of four other older couples from California and England—around a long table. They tell us all about their bird sightings from the day, and our excitement builds for the following morning’s rainforest safari, despite the 5am wake-up call. Then, they all leave for a night drive, and we return to our hammocks. But only after stealing up to the tower and taking in the nighttime view. You can’t really tell below due to the extreme darkness that encased us, but we can see Panama City lit up in all her glory amid the late night fog.

Canopy Tower | Gamboa, Panama

For such unique specialty lodging, it’s still relatively affordable. We paid $35 each way total for a transfer (up to three people), and rooms start at just $110 a night. Worth every penny, too. There’s also the Canopy Bed and Breakfast in Gamboa, as well as the Canopy Lodge—complete with zipline—about two hours west in El Valle de Antón that has a bit fancier accommodations. We preferred to be in the rainforest, though, and for me, the tower was just perfect; when else are you going to have the chance to sleep in a giant tower dome high above the trees in Panama? Never, is the answer.

Canopy Tower | Gamboa, Panama

Unrelated to all things Enrichment Voyages and Panama, but a big happiest of birthdays to one SVV! Today, he is a youthful 38 and doesn’t look a day older than when I met him at 31. We will be celebrating with a round of golf, cookout, some competitive games of cornhole and, of course, fireworks!

COMMENTS
  • July 4, 2012
    Samantha

    Thanks for such a memorable trip!! This was one of the best parts!!

    • July 4, 2012

      And you get to do it all over again in five months! Jealous! Also, happy early 30th birthday, my dear, dear friend!

  • July 4, 2012

    I am glad you had a great time in Panama. I enjoyed my time in the country too and saw quite a lot of wildlife. Happy Birthday to SVV!!
    Ruth (Tanama Tales) recently posted..Secrets of the Taulabe CavesMy Profile

    • July 5, 2012

      The birding was unreal. I had no idea I could be such a nature geek until I went to Panama. Would have loved to have spent more time there–two days was only a teaser!

  • July 4, 2012

    This looks so fun and beautiful! Yet another place you’ve put of my wish list!

    • July 4, 2012

      I would have never known to put Panama on my wish list either had I not ended up there with Enrichment Voyages! It’s definitely never been somewhere I’ve “longed” to visit, and yet it ties Costa Rica for my favorite country in Central/South America to date.

  • July 4, 2012

    sounds like a great trip. if I still had a list of places to go to I would add it…. but there is not a lot I don’t want to see, so I got rid of it…

    • July 5, 2012

      That is such an excellent point. Whenever people ask me where I really want to go, I usually respond “everywhere!” Even places I’ve visited over and over again. There’s so much of the world to see…and so little time…

  • July 4, 2012

    So today I learned that my life is incomplete without having a coati as a pet/travel sidekick.

    • July 4, 2012

      I know, right?! Even though he(/she) is technically a relative of the raccoon, the coati is SO much cuter than your average rodent!

  • July 5, 2012

    That hotel looks fantastic! Modest but clean, and right in the center of everything. So lovely. And I love the sign telling you how to get down the stairs; it sounds like they’re trying to walk you through a new dance!

    • July 6, 2012

      If that photo is any evidence, clearly I don’t take instructions well! Walking down a set of stairs backward just seems…wrong!

      • July 18, 2012
        bob guetzlaff

        After the first trip up and down those stairs, it became quite routine. You just have to be a bit careful. After all, the staff takes morning coffee, juice, and treats up there everyday. Also, coati’s are not uncommon in the U.S. They are seen regularly in southern Arizona. And though not aggressive, they do have nasty BIG teeth and DO bite. They can be quite tame! I spent a week at the “tower” and another at the “lodge”. Don’t ask me to pick my favorite. They’re quite different and both quite unique. You’ll see more of Raul at the lodge – where he lives.

  • July 5, 2012

    Panama wouldn’t have been on my destination radar at all but it sounds amazing – although that staircase to the observation tower would freak me out a bit!
    Lisa recently posted..Glamis CastleMy Profile

    • July 6, 2012

      Me neither–I doubt I would have ever gone here were it not for Enrichment Voyages!

  • July 7, 2012

    This looks like such a cool place to stay! And one of my big reasons for wanting to make it to Iguazu Falls is the coatis, so that little guy definitely got my attention.
    Emily in Chile recently posted..Review: Fierro Hotel, Buenos AiresMy Profile

    • July 12, 2012

      How had I never heard of them before? I guess they’re all over Central/South America!

  • July 7, 2012

    Definitely a spot I will check out if I get back to Panama. We did some forest trips (amongst many others) when I lived there, but it was SO long ago. Panama is so unique in that you have two oceans on either side of you, tons of islands for diving and exploring and a great Indian culture that has a lot of wonderful food, I remember lots of ceviche and plantains and good coffee from my youth!
    Andi recently posted..Saturday Six #105My Profile

    • July 18, 2012

      Do you get to go back to visit frequently? I am *dying* to go to the Caribbean side–specifically to Bocas!

  • July 7, 2012

    Is that smog/pollution over Panama, or is it just a filter on your camera?
    Lawrence Michaels recently posted..Top Ten Phuket BeachesMy Profile

    • July 7, 2012

      The first photo was shot in sepia, though it was very gray and hazy that day. The next shot was early morning fog; it was super foggy out in the rainforest until about 10am. We never did see the sun come out either…

  • July 8, 2012

    This place looks awesome and just went on my list for this winter’s trip to Central America. Looking forward to more.

    Happy Birthday SVV!
    Gaelyn recently posted..Cloud shadows in Grand CanyonMy Profile

    • July 8, 2012

      It’s totally a Gaelyn-type of hotel if I ever saw one!

  • July 8, 2012

    What a cool setting. And any place with hammocks and complimentary wine and beer gets my vote 😉
    Pete recently posted..This Kind of RomanceMy Profile

    • July 12, 2012

      You and I would be suitable travel companions as that’s more or less my philosophy!

  • July 8, 2012

    Such breathtaking views! And I adore the coziness of the place – the tower surrounded by the sound of trees and wildlife species… just wow! Now I’m considering a trip to Panama next month!

  • July 9, 2012

    Cutest. Place. EVER.

    Our time in Panama was SO WEIRD. I wish we had the funds to re-do it. I think we could do it with much more panache. 😛

    I still haven’t written about our gay couchsurfing host in Panama City that was an old Hollywood model in the 1970s that was suicidal and wanted to sleep with us. I think if I left out names it would definitely make for an interesting story.
    Erica recently posted..Hometown Tourism: Crawfish, My Little MudbugsMy Profile

    • July 11, 2012

      Um, WHY haven’t you written about that yet? Leave the names out, and give the people (i.e. ME) what they want, woman! =)

  • July 9, 2012

    I remember the first time I saw a coati in Costa Rica. I was so excited to discover such a cute “new” creature.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Punk Tango in Buenos AiresMy Profile

  • July 10, 2012

    This experience sounds really cool! I love the coati. Do I dare say I want one as a pet??
    dtravelsround recently posted..Daily Wanderlust: World’s Largest Baseball BatMy Profile

    • July 18, 2012

      I think a sloth might make a more amenable pet 😉

  • July 11, 2012

    Wow, looks nothing short of spectacular! I’ve always wanted to go to Panama but more for the canal. I never even thought of the wildlife side of it (extremely out of character for me). If I can see one of those coati though, I’m sold!
    Lindsey recently posted..Walking London’s South BankMy Profile

    • July 18, 2012

      We did the canal in December, and while the locks were interesting, the whole process wasn’t that mind-blowing. The rainforest is definitely WAY cooler!

  • July 11, 2012

    What an awesome experience! I’m pretty obsessed with coatis! They are all over Argentina. What a cool hotel and I love the pics.
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..Hong Kong: Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery (Part 2)My Profile

  • July 12, 2012

    Love the picture of the coati! Sounds like a great experience!!

  • July 13, 2012

    You got to sleep in a tower? And you had hammocks?? Kali is going to be so jealous – he’s always telling me that we need to buy a lighthouse and live at the very top. 😛
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Dublin’s Medieval ArchitectureMy Profile

    • July 18, 2012

      And rent it out as a B&B so Scott, Ella and I can come and stay, right??

  • July 15, 2012

    AH! So amazing – how wonderful to be right there in the trees amongst the critters. I love that! And that coati? I would like to snuggle him right this instant because he is seriously the cutest critter I never knew existed!
    terra recently posted..{5 Points} Foods I Could Eat Forever & EverMy Profile

    • July 18, 2012

      You might want to rethink that idea, as a commenter below said they have nasty bites! 😉

  • July 15, 2012

    That is so cool. We looked into the lists and lists of things to do within an hour or two of Panama City — there was SO much! I need to go back. There’s just never enough time!
    Abby recently posted..Cleansing Waters of Santa TeresaMy Profile

    • July 18, 2012

      I know, right? I didn’t even get to explore PC at all because we spent our entire time in the rainforest!

  • August 14, 2012

    An interesting hotel you found there.

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