Because of its unique geographical position. Panama harbors a greater diversity of wildlife than any country in Mesoamerica. A natural land bridge connecting two continents, the country of abundance is home to many South American species as well as North and Central American wildlife. At this moment, about 29% of Panama’s land area is protected in 14 national parks, more then a dozen forest reserves and 10 wildlife refuges. Almost 1,000 species of birds call Panama home, as do 220 mammals and 354 reptiles and amphibians. The country also owns hundreds of islands and miles of protected coral reef, sheltering a fantasic diversity of marine life. It is home to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, where scientists from around the world study Panama’s unique ecological heritage. Blessed with this natural bounty, and with a growing store of ecological information, Panama is becoming one of the most exciting ecotourism destinations in the Americas and the world.

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It offers visitors an excellent choice of destinations, from the remote rainforests of Darien National Park to Metropolitan Park, virtually within the capitol’s city limits. Birdwatchers, who should come prepared with Ridgely’s "Birds of Panama," head out to a number of world-renowned birding sites, including Cana in the Darien, the rugged Cerro Azul mountain range with stunted forest sheltering unique species like the Tacarcuna Bush Tanager, the Nusagandi wildlife refuge in San Blas, the cloud forest habitats of Baru Volcano and Cerro La Vieja, and, of course, the famed Pipeline Road at Lake Gatun, where records are consistently set in the Audubon Society’s Christmas bird count. One of Panama’s most popular ecotourism destinations is the Barro Colorado wildlife refuge at Lake Gatun, a site of ongoing research by Smithsonian scientists.

For learning about marine life, there are superb snorkeling and diving opportunities in the Isla Bastimentos National Park of Bocas del Toro, with a protected coral reef and mangrove swamps. Several species of sea turtles climb onto the beaches of Bocas del Toro to lay their eggs. Snorkelers may also explore the reefs belonging to the Kuna people of San Blas, and divers will be astounded by the number of fish around Pacific islands such as Mogo Mogo in the Pearl Island group, Iguana Island and Coiba Island.

Ecotourism adventures include 3 to 14 day trips on foot and by dugout canoe in the Darien, where you can visit the Embera and Waunana indigenous groups. You can take whitewater rafting trips on the Chagres River beginning high in the Cerro Azul mountains, or travel by horseback from Cerro La Vieja in Cocle down to the Caribbean coast. In the Valle de Anton, you can whiz through forest canopy while hanging 30 feet above the ground, and see the rare golden frog, one of Panama’s most beautiful animal species.

No matter where you go in Panama, you’ll find an abundance of wildlife and superb facilities to guarantee you an unexcelled ecotourism experience. Panama, crossroads of the world and the land bridge of the Americas, is your natural ecotourism destination!

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