Canopy Family Panama

Canopy Tower FAQs

Red-capped Manakin by David Tipling
Red-capped Manakin by David Tipling

1. How do I get to the Canopy Tower?

Canopy Tower is located in the extensive lowland rainforest of Soberania National Park, along the Panama Canal, north of Panama City.

It takes only about 30-45 minutes to drive to the Canopy Tower from Panama City; one hour from Tocumen International Airport and about 15 minutes from the local airport at Albrook Field. Take the Gaillard Highway towards Miraflores Locks; pass the entrance to the locks and continue until you pass Pedro Miguel Locks and the town of Paraíso. Keep going until you go underneath a railroad bridge, the only underpass in this road. Immediately after the bridge, turn left. To the right you will see the main offices of Soberanía National Park. Continue on for about one mile. After passing the entrance to Summit Gardens (on your right) take the second road to the right. You will see the Canopy Tower sign, so relax, there is no way to get lost. You are now on Semaphore Hill Road. The Canopy Tower is on top of Semaphore Hill at the end of the road. Stay on the road for exactly one mile and you'll get there. Please drive carefully because this road has more curves than the Girl from Ipanema!!

If you are in a tight budget and don't mind taking a bus, go to the SACA Bus Terminal at the Grand Terminal Albrook in Panama City, it is located behind the main food court in the terminal. Take the bus to Gamboa and ask the driver to please drop you at the entrance to the Canopy Tower. He'll know where it is. Then, you have a mile to walk uphill to reach the Canopy Tower. This is Semaphore Hill, a great birding area, so you can start your birding right there and then.

2. Is transportation from the Int'l airport or Panama City included in the room rate?

The room rate does not include transportation. However, we sometimes offer courtesy transfers depending on the number of days of your stay and the size of the group. On the other hand, all our birding packages do include transfers from/to the International Airport or Panama City. Please find more information regarding our transfers here.

3. What is the best time of the year to visit the Canopy Tower?

The best time for birdwatching holidays on your interests, as there's always something interesting going on in the forest.

For example, if you visit us from early December to mid-January you will see the forest still lush and green as the rainy season has just ended. Some northern migrants are present as well as the resident species. The days are sunny and balmy. January, February and March is our "high season", there is a lot of sun and practically no rain (bring sun block), the birding is continuous from sunrise to sunset and, occasionally, into the evenings to look for owls and potoos.

In mid-March to early May you'll find yourself in the middle of spring migration, a great time to see many different warblers and other Neotropical migratory birds in fresh breeding plumage, as well as hundreds of thousands of raptors on their way north.

In May and June it is the start of the rainy season, and many resident birds will be starting to nest and vocalize more often. From June to August you will see the forest at its lushest, there is plenty of food out there and you will see immature birds being fed by their parents. There is usually a tropical shower in the early afternoon, "siesta" time anyway. After the shower the sun comes out, birding is restarted and life continues on. The nights are clear and cool. Migrants are gone, but you'll find plenty of resident species to keep you distracted. Our prices are heavily discounted at this time of the year because many of our customers prefer to come to the tropics during the winter months to escape the cold, so demand is slower.

In September we start getting the first fall migrants, and this number climbs and reaches its climax around the middle of October and extending until the first week of November. This is the fall migration, a fantastic natural phenomenon when hundreds of thousands of raptors fly over the Tower on the way to their southern wintering grounds. This is one of the most impressive natural spectacles of Neotropical birding.

4. Is the Canopy Tower air-conditioned?

Nope, for several reasons:

1. It is not hot here. The Canopy Tower is located on top of the highest hill in the vicinity, 1000 feet above sea level. There is always a breeze. The temperature often drops into the mid or low 70's (F), and many people wear light sweaters in the evenings. Furthermore, every room has a huge window and a big ceiling fan to enhance natural ventilation.

2. Air-handlers on air conditioning systems are notoriously noisy. We want you to be able to hear the sounds of the rainforest, the howls of the howler monkeys, the hoots of the owls, and the songs of birds, not the hum and growl of technology.

3. Air conditioning consumes lots of electricity. Fifty percent of electric power in Panama comes from thermoelectric plants burning tons of oil and producing tons of pollution. In planning the Canopy Tower's conversion, Raúl made many decisions, including this one, in favor of continuing diverse life on the planet. We hope you'll agree that he made the right choice.

5. What should I bring for my visit?

Mid-December to May is the dry season in Panama. We receive very little rain, and the days are hot, sunny and breezy. Outdoor clothing, preferably made of cotton, of neutral colors to blend with the surroundings and facilitate wildlife observation. You may ask, what are neutral colors? Well, think of a Hawaiian shirt, the opposite of that is attire of neutral colors. For dinner, we like to dress up a bit, nothing fancy, very informal. Please bring a good hat to shade your head from the strong, near-equatorial sun.

If you come during the period of May to early January, bring rain gear; an umbrella might also come in handy. Rubber boots are not necessary since we will not be crossing any streams, but an extra pair of sneakers or hiking shoes/boots is advised since some trails have plenty of mud. A pair of sandals to wear around the tower is also a good idea. Insect repellent is also highly recommended for your walks in the forest. In any case, bring earplugs (we also provide them at no additional cost). Sounds in the Tower travel easily and they might also come in handy: if your neighbor's snoring rivals the howls of the Howler Monkeys, you'll be glad you did! Hair dryers are provided.

A good pair of binoculars is a must, even if you are not a birdwatcher. There are plenty of other critters to look for. We recommend Leica equipment. Our guides use this brand and it is excellent. Finally, we have a Leica 77mm scope available on the top floor, but if you have one bring it anyway -- having an extra scope never hurt anybody.

6. Will I be able to recharge my camera batteries? Do I need a special adapter?

There are plenty of electric outlets in your room. No adapters are needed; our electricity is the same as in the good-old-USA. This was, after all, a USAF military installation.

7. Is there a way to reach the outside world during my stay at the Tower?

We have Wi-Fi internet available for use during our birdwatching holidays. You can also use our phone (213-2095) to call home. Bring an international calling card, or we can sell you a long distance calling card with access worldwide.

8. Do I need a VISA to enter Panama?

US and Canadian citizens need only a valid passport. Other nationalities please consult the nearest Panamanian Consular office. Your passport must have at least 6 months validity remaining.

9. I am not all that interested in birdwatching. What else is there to do?

The abundant bird life around The Canopy Tower may change your mind!

In any event, the rainforest surrounding the Tower offers endless interest. Many of the trees along Semaphore Hill Road have numbered tags that identify them to species level on a booklet prepared by botanists and biologists of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Mammals are also abundant around the tower: coatis, agoutis, and anteaters are commonly seen from the road, and howler and tamarin monkeys are sighted frequently from the tower. Due to "good seeing" resulting from few nearby lights at night, stargazing from the roof on a clear night can be delightful. At night, Panama City's lights are visible on the horizon, and lighted ships traverse the Canal. During the day you can see both the skyline of Panama City and the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal.

The Canal is itself of prime interest to many. Two sets of locks on the Pacific side of the Canal, Miraflores and Pedro Miguel, are a short drive from the Tower, as well as the Panama Canal Visitor Center. Panama City itself, with its museums, fine restaurants and shops, is only 30 minutes away.

Activities at Gamboa, only 15 minutes away, include kayaking in the Panama Canal, an aerial tram, orchids and butterfly exhibits and fishing expeditions in the Gatun Lake.

Please visit our list of Activities for Non-Birders for the many things you can do on our birdwatching holidays around the Canopy Tower and Panama City.

10. What is your policy regarding children?

Canopy Family policy is that no one under 13 years of age is allowed at the Canopy Tower.

11. What is your policy regarding smoking?

Canopy Tower is a smoke-free lodge. However, there are smoking areas in the Observation Deck and in the front patio.

12. What is your Check-in / Check-out policy?

Check-in time is from Noon to 7:00 pm. Due to the nature of our ecolodge, we do not accept arrivals after 7:00 pm. Please contact us for options regarding late arrivals.

Check-out time is 9:00 am. Late check out may be available for an additional fee, and we'll be happy to accommodate our guests given sufficient notice.

13. Do you offer transportation to nearby birding spots, or do I need to rent a car?

Yes, we offer transportation to nearby birding spots. Transportation is included in our Birding Packages and our A La Carte Tours. If you are interested in visiting birding locations on your own, we can provide transportation as well. Contact us for rates. It is not necessary to rent a car.

14. Do I need to bring reference books on plants, birds and other animals?      

We have quite an extensive collection of natural history books, including Birds of Panama, to help guests identify a species on one of our birdwatching holidays, or to learn more about a particular topic related to the ecology of the Neotropics.

15. What is your suggestion regarding tipping?

You may tip as much as you want -- the more the better! However, a rule of thumb is between $5 and $10 per day for lodge staff, among whom tips are divided equally.

The driver who brings you from the airport or hotel, if he is not wearing a Canopy Tower shirt, is an independent contractor and does not share on the tips left for the staff. You may tip him directly -- US $5 will be considered a good tip.

Likewise, our bird guides are tipped individually. How much? We recommend $10 per person per day. Please give your tip directly to the guide. However, it depends entirely on you. Obviously if they show you 75 "lifers" in a week or find you THE bird for which you have been looking for several years, you'd be inclined to be generous. It is your decision. I will say that by recognizing their dedication, enthusiasm and knowledge, we can encourage bird guides to be real professionals.

16. I'm a vegetarian. Will I go hungry?

No way! We serve plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, lots of salads, plenty of nuts, and several veggie dishes made with "tofu", soy products and other ingredients. No problem satisfying your appetite, but please tell us when you make the reservation so we'll be prepared.

Canopy Tower offers family-style dining with a delightful blend of Panamanian and American fare. There is always a hearty protein option with vegetables, salads and local specialties. Don't forget to save room for dessert!

17. Do you have bird lists and bird reports from your area?

We sure do! Please check the Trip Reports, Recent Sightings and the Species Lists sections of our website so you have an idea of what to expect on our birdwatching holidays.

18. What mammals will I see during my visit?

Here is a partial list of mammals which have been spotted in our area. Please also check out our Mammals List.

Kinkajou, Olingo, Central American Agouti, White-nosed Coati, Paca, Geoffroy's Tamarin, Howler Monkey, White-faced Capuchin, Western Night Monkey, Forest Rabbit, Rothschild's Porcupine, Collared Peccary, Ocelot, Jaguarundi, Grison, Tayra, Two-toed and Three-toed Sloth, White-tailed Deer, Gray Fox, Central American Woolly Opossum, Common Opossum, Northern Tamandua (Anteater), Nine-banded Armadillo, Red-tailed Squirrel, Crab-eating Raccoon, Lesser Capybara and several species of bats and forest mice.

19. Are there snakes in your area?

Snakes are a fact of life in a healthy forest, although few are venomous. Nevertheless, if you are worried about snakes, we recommend you bring "snake gaiters" for your hikes on Pipeline Road and Plantation Trail.

20. Do I need Yellow Fever and/or Malaria vaccinations?

We are located in the former US Canal Zone; these diseases have been absent for decades from this area.

21. Is the water potable?

Yes, the water used in the Canopy Tower is potable. You can drink it right from the tap. It comes from two wells located in our property. We also offer bottled water to our guests when preferred. Our goal to reduce our plastic consumption targets plastic water bottles, and we encourage our guests to bring their own refillable water bottles during their stay with us (there is plenty of water!) or refill plastic water bottles.

22. What birding companies bring tours to the Canopy Tower?

All of the top birding companies from the United States and Great Britain offer tours to the Canopy Tower, for example: VENT, Field Guides, WINGS Birding Tours, Naturalist Journeys, Caligo Ventures, Avian Journeys, Flights of Fancy Adventures, Ventures Birding, Talon Tours, Sunrise Birding, Naturetrek Wildlife Holidays, Oriole Birding, JB Journeys and others.

The Canopy Tower is also popular with several Audubon chapters, for example, Massachusetts Audubon, Dallas Audubon, Venice Area Audubon as well as with the American Birding Association and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology which have offered donor trips to the Canopy Tower.

23. If I come in late at night, will I be served dinner?

Our kitchen closes at 8PM, if you have arranged to arrive after this hour please advise us and we'll have a cold snack for you if you wish. Our kitchen staff goes to bed early to be able to wake up very early next day and serve you breakfast.

24. What happens if my arrival flight is delayed?

Please call our office or Emergency Contact Numbers (if calling during non-office hours) and let us know your new arrival time.

If your flight is delayed past our check-in time, we will take you to the Airport Hotel for the first night and will transfer you to the Canopy Tower early the following day. You will be responsible for the costs of the stay in the Airport Hotel.

If you miss your flight completely we will extend your stay one more day to compensate the day lost, provided we have space in the Canopy Tower. Otherwise, there will not be reimbursement for the lost night.

25. What are your payment and refund policies?

Please review our Payment and Refund Policies.

26. At what altitude is the Canopy Tower?

The Canopy Tower is on top of Semaphore Hill at an altitude of 285 meters (940 feet) above sea level.

27. Is there someone on the premises 24hrs?

Yes, one of our staff members is resident overnight for emergencies. There is an emergency bell next to the stairs on each floor with rooms.

28. What are the average high and low temperatures at the Canopy Tower?

The Canopy Tower, sitting at the summit of Semaphore Hill, is almost 1,000ft above sea level. Nighttime temperatures often drop to the mid-to-low 70s°F (21°C). Daytime temperatures range from the mid-70s°F (23°C) to the upper-80s°F (31°C). Due to the elevation there is often a nice breeze.

29. Can I purchase an all-inclusive package shorter than 7 days?

Yes. If you would like to purchase a package shorter than the full 7-day itinerary, please be aware that the tours you receive will depend on the day you join a full itinerary tour that may be in progress at the Canopy Tower/Canopy Lodge. Upon arrival please inform your guide or manager if you would like to request a specific tour, we will make every effort to accommodate you, depending on guide availability.

30. What is the currency in Panama?

Panama uses the US$ as its currency. No need to worry about exchanging foreign currency.

31. What about biting insects?

Biting insects are not as bad in the rainforest as most people think. There could be a few mosquitoes and gnats, which any good insect repellent will work on. In addition to insects, we also have ticks and chiggers (near-microscopic type of mite) that you get from being in the grass and walking through the bush. Sulphur powder is an excellent means to keep the chiggers away. We provide sulphur powder.

32. Does the Canopy Tower offer laundry service?

Yes, we happily offer laundry services during all birdwatching holidays at the Canopy Tower.

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