Tranquilo Bay & Pipeline Road

A 12-day, small group birdwatching tour to Panama

Limosa’s autumn birding tour to Panama is a comfortable tropical holiday featuring 7 nights at the excellent Tranquilo Bay Ecolodge, on the Bocas del Toro archipelago in Northern Panama. For a coastal birdwatching and rainforest experience, few places can match this superb location. This is the coastal Caribbean lowland, with its lush tropical forests, mangroves, islands, bays and turquoise waters. An October visit finds Red-billed Tropicbird, Snowy Cotinga, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis and Tawny-crested Tanager among a host of possible birds - and migrating birds of prey may be moving in numbers, too. We conclude our trip with a return to Panama City, where we spend two days discovering the legendary birding of Soberania National Park and the Pipeline Road on Panama's Pacific slope.

Tour Dates & Prices

Mon 5th October 2020

Fri 16th October 2020

  • Booking Closed

Tour Cost: 12 Days from £3895 inc return flights from London Heathrow

Deposit: £500Single Supp: £525Land Only: £3320Group Size: 10Leaders:  Gary Elton & local guides
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What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Resident English-speaking naturalist guides at Tranquilo Bay
  • Expert English-speaking bird guide at Pipeline Road (Soberania NP)
  • Return flights - London-Panama City, with KLM
  • Panama domestic flights - Panama City-Bocas del Toro and return
  • 10 nights accommodation in Panama (7 nights at Tranquilo Bay (Caribbean coast), plus 1+2 nights Panama City (Pacific Coast)
  • All main meals - with drinking water also provided
  • PLUS most drinks also included during our stay at Tranquilo Bay *1
  • All local travel - including boat transfers, boat rides and minibus transport
  • All excursions, local guides, permits, entry fees
  • All tour-based tips (local guides, drivers, boatmen, lodge staff) and taxes
  • Map and Limosa checklist of birds

Cost Excludes

Insurance, drinks (outside of those included at Tranquilo Bay), airport meals/snacks & other items of a personal nature.

View or Download Tour Info Pack


The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights. • Please note on this tour the Land Only price includes the cost of the Panama domestic flights from Panama City-Bocas del Toro and return, but excludes the cost of all other flights. *1 During our stay at Tranquilo Bay, drinks that are also INCLUDED with the cost of our meals there are: house wine, Panamanian rum, domestic beers, soft drinks or sodas and freshly made juices.

Tour Highlights

  • Wonderful tropical birding amid both Panama's Caribbean and Pacific coastal lowlands
  • 7 nights at lovely Tranquilo Bay - plus 3 nights in Panama City, birding Soberania NP and Pipeline Road
  • In 2019, tour highlights included Snowcap, Slaty-tailed Trogon, Snowy Cotinga, Black-chested Jay, Black-and-yellow Tanager
  • Golden-collared Manakin and Tawny-crested Tanager among 200+ bird species recorded at the lodge
  • Tranquilo's 65ft high birdwatching tower for eye-level encounters with canopy dwelling species
  • Boat trips to the islands and mainland visits for a dazzling array of rainforest specialities
  • Red-billed Tropicbird, Yellow-throated Toucan, Montezuma Orependola, Black-breasted Puffbird
  • Small group tour expertly led by Limosa's Gary Elton and resident bird guides

Outline Itinerary

  • Fly London Heathrow to Panama City (KLM via Amsterdam). Night Panama City

  • We take a one-hour morning flight from Panama City to Bocas del Toro and transfer by boat to lovely Tranquilo Bay Ecolodge, arriving for lunch. Afternoon birding Tranquilo Bay. Night Tranquilo Bay Ecolodge

  • Birding excursions from Tranquilo Bay, including La Fortuna Forest Road, Isla Popa, Almirante and Changuinola River Valley, Palo Seco Forest; Finca de Cacao, San San-Pond Sak Wetland and Isla Pajaros. Six nights Tranquilo Bay Ecolodge

  • We leave Tranquilo Bay and catch the morning flight back to Panama City. Afternoon of Day 9 plus all of Day 10 birding Soberania National Park and the Pipeline Road on Panama's Pacific slope. 2 nights Panama City

  • Morning birding at Panama City. Early evening  KLM departure from Panama City for home

  • Afternoon arrival London Heathrow (via Amsterdam)

Trip Info
Trip Reports
Brown Pelican Panama Gary Elton 2.jpg
Welcome to Tranquilo Bay!... A Brown Pelican and Royal Terns sit atop posts beside the quay © Gary Elton, Limosa

Beautiful Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge is located on the island of Bastimentos, in the Bocas del Toro archipelago off northwestern Panama. It lies a short 25-minute boat ride to the southeast of Bocas del Toro (the provincial capital into which we fly), which is situated on the neighbouring island of Colon. This is the species-rich Caribbean lowland with its lush tropical forests, coastal mangroves, islands, bays and turquoise blue waters... and lots of great birds to enjoy!

The island on which we stay encompasses the majority of the Isla Bastimentos National Marine Park. More than 200 species of birds have been recorded from the grounds of our lodge - and with day trips over to the nearby mainland and short excursions out to neighbouring islands that total is pushed to more than 500 species.

Our purpose-built lodge comprises of nine comfortable cabanas, each equipped with air-conditioning, coffee makers and warm showers, and is located within a forest clearing close to a 65ft high birdwatching observation tower. Food and service at Tranquilo Bay are among the best in Latin America. We spend seven nights at this lovely lodge before flying back to Panama City and enjoying two further nights there exploring the famed Pipeline Road in bird-rich Soberania National Park on Panama's Pacific slope - where a whole plethora of new rainforest species await!

Birds are abundant in tropical northern Panama and personal favourites from our 2019 tour to Tranquilo Bay included Boat-billed Heron, Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift, Band-tailed Barbthroat, Purple-crowned Fairy, Yellow-throated and Keel-billed Toucans, Snowy Cotinga, Black-chested Jay, Shining Honeycreeper and Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant among a host of hummingbirds, tanagers and other neotropical delights.

The lodge's observation tower is outstanding for viewing birds that can otherwise be tricky to see in the forest canopy. Roost flights of hundreds of Red-lored Amazons pass by at eye-level every morning and evening, and Common and Short-tailed Nighthawks may appear over the distant woodland canopy as dusk falls. Tranquilo's grounds are a delight, comprising lowland rainforest, mangroves and lovely gardens planted with bird-friendly shrubs.

From here we will make daily excursions to explore nearby islands and visit the mainland. Potential highlights will be many and varied: from Chestnut-backed Antbirds and lively flocks of raucous Tawny-crested Tanagers through to bright jewels such as Speckled Tanager, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis and animated, 'wing-snapping' Golden-collared Manakins at the lek. Green Ibis are also quite common, roosting in trees close to the lodge and are often heard calling at dusk.

Offshore, Isla Pajaros (Bird Island) is home to breeding seabirds and our boat trip here should reward us with intimate studies of supremely elegant Red-billed Tropicbirds, nesting Brown Boobies and piratical Magnificent Frigatebirds.

In the evenings we will dine at the lodge, which offers a mix of delicious local and international dishes. The veranda has hummingbird feeders that are attractive to Rufous-tailed Hummers, while flowers around the lodge building lure the likes of Green-breasted Mango, Purple-crowned Fairy, Crowned Woodnymph and Bronzy Hermit.

On a couple of days of our stay we will take a boat to Punta Róbalo on the mainland, where we'll drive a bird-rich road from sea level up to 1400m (4,500 feet). The birding here can be so good we will go there twice. We'll discover the wildlife trails at the sustainable Finca de Cacao (Green Acres Chocolate Farm) and spend a day on the mainland around the banana-producing town of Changuinola. Another excursion will find us birding by boat along the Snyder Canal near the San San-Pond Sak Wetlands reserve, where Northern Jacana, Grey-necked Wood Rail and five (out of six) species of American kingfisher were seen on our October 2019 tour.

Flying back to Panama City at the end of our stay on Panama's Caribbean coast, we conclude our tour with two nights at a good hotel on the edge of town - and ideally placed to explore nearby Soberania National Park. Situated on Panama's Pacific slope, we'll find the birdlife here is different but no less exciting, and we are sure to add a hatful of new species - expect anything from antbirds, antshrikes and antwrens to trogons, tanagers and tyrannulets - as we journey through the park along the famous Pipeline Road. It’s legendary in birding circles!

Our October 2020 tour will be guide Gary Elton's third visit to Panama and Tranquilo Bay. He'll be assisted throughout our stay there by one of the lodge's own expert English-speaking naturalist guides, and by a specialist bird guide living in Panama City during our birding excursions there.

All in all, this is a fabulous tropical birding tour with comfortable accommodations throughout - and we hope that you will be tempted to join us for the 'Tranquilo Bay experience'.

Green-and-black Poison Dart Frog 1 Panama Gary Elton.JPG
The tiny Green-and-black Poison Dart Frog is one to look out for on the leaf litter © Gary Elton, Limosa

Day 1
Our birdwatching tour to Panama begins with a KLM morning flight from London Heathrow (change of planes Amsterdam) to Panama City, where we arrive late afternoon. As the 'plane descends into Tocumen Airport, watch for the Bridge of the Americas at the entrance to the famous Panama Canal.

It is not possible to connect with a same day onward flight to Bocas del Toro, so we will be met upon arrival in Panama and transfer to a nearby hotel for dinner and overnight. Night Radisson Hotel Panama Canal

Day 2
In the grounds of our Panama City hotel early risers might be rewarded with their first views of Red-crowned Woodpecker and Tropical Kingbird, plus noisy Crimson-backed, Palm, Blue-grey and Plain-coloured Tanagers.

After breakfast we head to the nearby domestic airport for our one-hour, mid-morning flight along the Caribbean coast to tiny Bocas del Toro, in northwest Panama. Upon arrival in Bocas, we transfer from the airport to our boat and the 25-minute ride out to Isla Bastimentos and lovely Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge. Having settled into our comfortable and well-appointed cabanas, we'll gather to enjoy a relaxing first lunch at the lodge, taking some time to enjoy our surroundings and perhaps a siesta during the heat of the day.

The lodge and its grounds are bedecked in flowers all year round and attract a fascinating variety of hummingbirds. Rufous-tailed is the most numerous species, but with patience and careful checking of patches of Heliconia and Verbena we should also find Blue-chested Hummingbird, Green-breasted Mango, Purple-crowned Fairy, and Stripe-throated and Bronzy Hermits - and a plethora of tropical butterflies.

Within the grounds, patches of forest are good for Chestnut-backed Antbird and Black-crowned Antshrike, which have become less timid over time and sometimes allow close approach. In October, the island is ideal for migrant North American warblers and the fruiting trees can hold Yellow and Chestnut-sided Warblers along with the luminous yellow Prothonotary Warbler. We might well see Scarlet and Summer Tanagers and a Red-eyed Vireo or two, while tropical residents adding to the mix can include Blue Dacnis, Bananaquit, Shining Honeycreeper, Red-capped and Golden-collared Manakins, and the energetic Tropical Gnatcatcher.

As night closes in at the end of a great first day and flights of Red-lored and Southern Mealy Amazons head to their roosts, we’ll stroll to the lodge’s canopy tower to enjoy the evening show of nightjars, raptors and swifts silhouetted against a setting sun. We return to the lodge (as we will every day) for a delicious evening meal; dinners at Tranquilo Bay will vary according to the local ingredients available, but expect three or four courses each night. Night Tranquilo Bay

Days 3-8
Please note that the below is intended only as a guide and we may vary the programme locally depending on recent bird news, weather or sea conditions at the time of our visit. On some days, we’ll return to our lodge for lunch followed by a siesta and afternoon birding on the grounds.

After a good breakfast at the lodge, on a couple of days we’ll depart Isla Bastimentos early and take a 45-minute boat ride to Punta Róbalo on the mainland in order to reach the best habitat in time for the peak of morning bird activity. We have some exciting highland birding ahead of us along La Fortuna Road that passes from Bocas del Toro into neighbouring Chiriqui Province.

Cleared areas around the town of Punta Róbalo are home to birds typical of more open country in Central America, such as Groove-billed Ani, Red-breasted Blackbird, Olive-crowned Yellowthroat, Dickcissel and Morelet’s (formerly White-collared) Seedeater. Hedgerows between the lowland fields often support larger fruiting trees, where we’ll seek an array of flycatchers and tanagers. There should also be Boat-billed Heron, Northern Jacana, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Spotted Sandpiper, and Montezuma and Chestnut-headed Oropendolas to watch for.

Our destination is a large protected area known as the Palo Seco Forest, its 167,000 hectares of wet Atlantic forest, foothills and watersheds forming part of the La Amistad Biosphere Reserve within BirdLife International's ‘Endemic Bird Area Central American Caribbean Slope’.

Driving up into the forest we’ll be looking to encounter some of the region’s more interesting or localised species, while mixed feeding flocks bring with them a fine array of tanagers, vireos and warblers. Among a long list of birds to watch out for in the highlands today are Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Green Hermit, Russet Antshrike, Grey-capped Flycatcher, Three-wattled Bellbird, Torrent Tyrannulet, Black Phoebe, Black-crowned Tityra, Cinnamon and White-winged Becards, Orange-billed Nightingale-thrush, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Yellow-throated Bush Tanager, Tooth-billed, Passerini’s, Emerald, Bay-headed, Speckled, Golden-hooded, Black-and-yellow and Silver-throated Tanagers, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis, Shining Honeycreeper and Yellow-faced Grassquit. Snowcap was a nice surprise on our last visit here and others we could see in the hills include King Vulture, Ornate Hawk-eagle, Finsch’s Parakeet, Gartered Trogon, and Grey-rumped and Vaux’s Swifts.

After lunch enjoying views over the undisturbed foothill forest - perhaps unsurpassed in all of Middle America - we continue our exploration of the area during the afternoon, keeping a keen eye skyward for the flocks of migrant raptors that pass this way every autumn. Given the right conditions, as the afternoon heat builds, the movements can sometimes be spectacular and regularly include large numbers of Turkey Vultures, Broad-winged and Swainson’s Hawks, and Mississippi Kites - often with the odd Swallow-tailed Kite mixed in amongst them.

As we drop back down towards the coast further forest possibilities include up to 5 species of parrots, Cinnamon, Chestnut-coloured and Pale-billed Woodpeckers, Rufous and Broad-billed Motmots, Cocoa Woodcreeper and Brown Jay.

Situated little more than a mile away across the tranquil blue waters of the Caribbean, Isla Popa is the second-largest island in the Bocas archipelago. It’s proximity to the mainland has resulted in a variety of bird species colonising it. We’ll spend time exploring the mangrove-lined channels here by boat looking for one of our key targets: the Daz-white Snowy Cotinga. While birding from the boat affords good views of the surrounding habit, finding the cotinga can still be something of a challenge - so a degree of patience is required! As we search for it among the treetops however, the likes of Royal Tern, Ringed Kingfisher, Scaled Pigeon and Keel-billed and Yellow-throated Toucans might also come our way. We’ll also want to keep an eye open for Three-toed Sloths, often to be encountered hanging from the branches of the mangroves.

After our trip to Isla Popa, we return to Tranquilo Bay for lunch and take a siesta during the hottest part of the day - while those that wish might enjoy a swim. Come late afternoon, we willl venture out again to explore the trail system that winds into the park behind the lodge.

Pineapple Hill is a large, elevated clearing that offers chances to look for Short-billed and Pale-vented Pigeons, Black- cheeked Woodpecker, Red-capped Manakin, Blue-grey Tanager, and Red-legged and Green Honeycreepers. Within the forest, we hope to find wandering flocks that hold active White-flanked and Dot-winged Antwrens, while the loud chips of Blue-chested Hummingbirds soon give them away. We are likely to hear White-throated Crake, too and this is one of the few sites in Panama to see Stub-tailed Spadebill. A tiny creek often has pools where colourful manakins and hummingbirds come to drink and bathe; with any luck, we may be treated to views of a beautiful male Crowned Woodnymph or the busy Stripe-throated Hermit.

As dusk falls, a return visit to the canopy tower could find us watching for Blue-headed Parrot, Masked Tityra and the pint-sized White-vented Euphonia. While for those with energy to spare, an optional after dinner walk about the grounds spotlighting for nocturnal wildlife might reveal a Mottled Owl along with mammals such as Crab-eating Raccoon and Grey Four-eyed Possum.

After birding from the lodge’s terrace with a Panamanian coffee followed by breakfast, we will take an easy 20-minute boat ride through Dolphin Bay to Buena Esperanza and pay a morning visit to Finca de Cacao - better known simply as the ‘Green Acres Chocolate Farm’.

The tropical flora at Green Acres represents the best collection of plants - and ergo butterflies - in the archipelago. A superb water garden and natural creek running through the property also attracts many mammals and multicoloured amphibians. The psychedelic Green-and-black Poison Dart Frog (Dendrobates auratus) can be prolific with sufficient moisture. The landowners, who live onsite, protect this beautiful piece of mainland forest by using the property to operate an artisanal chocolate farm. Cacao trees grown to produce eco-friendly organic chocolate thrive beneath the shade of the forest canopy.

It all makes for a terrific spot for birds and we will be searching for such delights as White-tailed and Gartered Trogons, Keel-billed and Yellow-throated Toucans, Plain Xenops, Streak-headed and Olivaceous Woodcreepers, the minuscule Black-capped Pygmy Tyrant (one of the world’s smallest passerines), Lesser Greenlet and Black-chested Jay. Migrant American warblers also featured strongly on our October 2019 visit, with Black-and-white, Tennessee, Chestnut-sided and Canada Warbler among species seen. Mammalian possibilities today could include Bottle-nosed Dolphin, Mantled Howler Monkey, and both Two-toed and Three-toed Sloths... plus there’ll be an opportunity to sample some of the Green Acres chocolate, too!

Following coffee, fresh tropical juices and a complete Panamanian breakfast, we will leave the dock at Tranquilo Bay at 06:15 for a sunrise boat ride to Almirante, a banana producing town on the mainland.

From Almirante, our vehicle will take us through the foothills stretching along the coastline in one of Central America’s narrowest migratory bottlenecks. Due to the mainland topography, thermals channel the annual raptor migration down this beautifully rugged coastline and, in October, we may again be lucky to encounter large ‘kettles’ and flights of soaring birds of prey. While the number and make up of species will vary from day to day, Turkey Vultures and Broad-winged and Swainson’s Hawks are likely to be the predominant species, along with smaller numbers of Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites. This area is also important for a diverse group of resident Neotropical raptors including Black and Ornate Hawk-eagles, White Hawk and the eye-catching King Vulture.

We will enjoy our lunch at an amazing overlook in the Caribbean foothills. This beautiful vista over the low wet forest in the San San-Pond Sak wetlands affords another fine opportunity to scan the canopy for more soaring birds of prey.

We will be birding today along sideroads that branch out into villages where the indigenous Ngäbe people practise subsistance farming along the Changuinola River. The fields, forest edge, cocoa farms and patches of gallery forest should reward us with a different selection of species today: Green Ibis, Southern Lapwing, Purple Gallinule, Groove-billed Ani, Long-tailed Tyrant, White-winged Becard, the ultra-smart looking Bay Wren and Thick-billed Seed Finch were among species seen on our 2019 visit here.

Today will be a tranquil day of ‘birding by boat’ within several lush coastal wetland habitats. The San San-Pond Sak Wetlands is a designated Ramsar site, as well as part of the La Amistad UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The area is rich with habitats including Atlantic wet lowland forest, Raphia palm swamp, freshwater river course, mangroves and ocean impact beachfront.

Access to the reserve is via boat through the historic Snyder Canal, as birds conveniently fly through the gallery forest back and forth across the waterway. After the Snyder Brothers finished construction of the canal in the late 1890s, it was used to transport bananas from the Changuinola River Valley to the sheltered waters of Almirante Bay at Boca del Drago, where they were loaded onto transport ships. Panama’s first canal was vital in establishing The United Fruit Company and the very beginnings of what would become known as ‘The Banana Republic’. This is an excellent place to find lowland bird species, northern and altitudinal migrants, raptors and shorebirds.

Five of the six species of kingfishers known to the Americas can be found here, and Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Grey-necked Wood Rail, Northern Jacana, Squirrel Cuckoo and Long-billed Gnatwren are also likely from our boat. Birds of prey to watch for include Yellow-headed Caracara, Western Osprey, and Laughing, Bat and Peregrine Falcons. We will also be watching closely for regional endemics such as the range-restricted Nicaraguan Seed Finch, Olive-backed Euphonia, the yellow-fronted Almirante form of White-collared Manakin, Black-cowled Oriole and Canebrake Wren.

Exiting the canal, Soropta Beach is important for migrating and resident shorebirds (and is also a nesting ground for Leatherback and Hawksbill Turtles). We will picnic on the beach or along the nearby riverbank, enjoying the fresh sea breeze and the shorebirds. In autumn, the rivermouth could produce Arctic and Pomarine Skuas along with Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Collared and Semipalmated Plovers, and Western, Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers. Willet join Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs to probe the beach and up to four species of tern may be seen at roost. Last year, a Black Skimmer was a surprise find in amongst a party of Black-necked Stilts here.

Sea conditions permitting, in the afternoon we will head two miles offshore to visit Isla Pajaros - or ‘Bird Island’. Here we should enjoy close looks at Panama’s only known breeding colony of Red-billed Tropicbirds, supremely elegant seabirds once known by sailors as the ‘Bosun Bird’ after their whip-like central tail streamers. Brown Boobies and Magnificent Frigatebirds also nest in numbers here and we'll enjoy seeing those too before crossing back to our lovely lodge in the late afternoon. Six nights at Tranquilo Bay

Days 9-10
After an early breakfast at Tranquilo Bay, we bid a reluctant farewell to our hosts and return by boat to Bocas del Toro in good time catch the one-hour morning flight back to Panama City.

Our hotel for these two nights lies a short drive to the north of the captial, on the edge of the Parque Nacional Camino de Cruces. Having checked-in and taken lunch, we’ll spend the afternoon of Day 9 and all of Day 10 in the company of an expert bird tour guide living locally.

Protecting some 55,000 acres of tropical forest, Soberania National Park is situated on Panama's Pacific slope, close to the famous Panama Canal. Legendary in birding circles, the Pipeline Road runs north-south through the park for the best part of 11 miles. Passing through old-growth and secondary forest, it is one of the best places to see birds in the American tropics - with a bird list remarkably exceeding 400 species!

A short drive carries us first to ‘Ammo Dump Ponds’ (a reference to earlier American military activity in the area), looking for Least Bittern, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Striated Heron, White-throated Crake and American Pygmy Kingfisher. We’ll listen too for the range-restricted Isthmian Wren (formerly known as ‘Plain Wren, when  included with two taxa that now are recognised as separate species: Cabanis’s and Canebrake Wrens).

The pace of birding hots up as we continue on to join the Pipeline Road - where the long list of species we could possibly see inevitably makes it impossible to second guess them all accurately here!... Three species of puffbird were seen on our October 2019 visits here: White-whiskered, White-necked and Black-breasted - a tough call as to which one’s the smartest!

If we are lucky to encounter an ant swarm, we have chances of seeing a host of attendant ‘ant specialists’ such as Black-crowned Antshrike, Chequer-throated Antwren, and Dusky, Bicoloured, Chestnut-backed, Spotted and the ornate and remarkably beautiful Ocellated Antbirds. Blue-crowned and Red-capped Manakins are two colourful local specialities to try for - but in truth we might encounter anything from the ‘stump-like’ day-roosting Great Potoo and nimble Long-billed Hermit through Slaty-tailed and Black-tailed Trogons, Whooping and Rufous Motmots, and Black-streaked and Cocoa Woodcreepers to Bright-rumped Attila, Yellow-rumped Cacique and Yellow-tailed Oriole. The possibility of North American migrants such as Grey-cheeked Thrush and Golden-winged Warbler will also keep us on our toes!

All in all, we are sure to encounter a host of new and exciting species during our visits here to ensure a cracking finale to our Panama tour. Two nights at the Radisson Summit Hotel, Panama City

Day 11
Our hotel sits on a hilltop amid a golf course surrounded by tropical forest - the ideal spot to enjoy our final morning of birding in Panama!

As noisy Great Kiskadees greet the dawn, a walk around of the birdy hotel grounds will reveal an splendid variety of Central American species. Southern Lapwings strut about the fairways, Wattled Jacanas feed on the pools and we may spot the attractive Bat Falcon or see Short-tailed Hawk cruising over the trees.

Exploring the trail, birds come thick and fast, with Collared Araçari, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet (with its ‘free beer’ call), Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Grey and Tropical Kingbirds, Golden-fronted Greenlet, the snazzy Mangrove Swallow, Rufous-and-white Wren, Orange-billed Sparrow, Rufous-capped Warbler, Red-throated Ant Tanager and Golden-hooded Tanager all seen last year. One further highlight here in October 2019 was a troop of Geoffroy’s Tamarins, a very smart and squirrel-like monkey.

Our Panama birding adventure over, we return to our hotel for lunch, before departing to nearby Tocumen International Airport and our early evening KLM flight home.

Day 12
Lunchtime arrival in Amsterdam and onward connection to London Heathrow, where our birdwatching tour to Panama concludes this afternoon.

Tawny-crested Tanager 1 Panama Gary Elton.jpg
The fiery crown of the Tawny-crested Tanager glows in the undergrowth © Gary Elton, Limosa

Comfortable tropical birding tour including 7 nights at the excellent Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge on the Bocas del Toro archipelago in Northern Panama. For a birdwatching, rainforest and ocean experience all rolled into one, few places can match this superb location. This is the coastal Caribbean lowland, with its lush tropical forest, mangroves, islands, bays and turquoise waters.

An October visit finds Red-billed Tropicbird, Snowy Cotinga, Scarlet-thighed Dacnis and Tawny-crested Tanager among a host of possible birds - and migrating birds of prey may be moving in numbers, too. Mammals to watch for include Mantled Howler Monkey and Two-toed and Three-toed Sloths.

We conclude our trip with a return to Panama City, and spend two days discovering the famed birding of Soberania National Park and the Pipeline Road on Panama's Pacific slope - where a host of new species await!

Our strategy in hot climates such as this will be to start early, bird in the morning and, where possible, to have a rest during the midday siesta time before enjoying the rest of the afternoon back in the field. We offer occasional (optional) evening and after dark excursions, too. Our explorations will be on foot, by boat and by vehicle.

The climate in northwest Panama is warm to hot, with mornings in the 70s (low 20sC) and afternoons in the 80s (high 20sC). Conditions around midday can be humid and very warm, with temperatures reaching into the lower 90s (low 30sC) at the coast. Unsurprisingly in this rainforest area, tropical downpours may occur at any time of year, but are more likely during the rainy season. Global weather patterns are becoming increasingly unpredictable nowadays, but the two ‘seasons’ with the least amount of rain here are February-March and September-October.

On two days visiting the mainland from our lodge at Tranquilo Bay we travel up to a maximum of 4500 feet (1375m) in the forests near La Fortuna, where the temperatures will usually be lower - and it can even feel cool. Clouds and overcast skies frequently prevail in higher areas, leading to damp and sometimes chilly conditions. A good waterproof jacket is recommended.

Good to excellent photographic opportunities in more open habitats, including the coast and of canopy feeding birds from the top of the tower at the lodge. Generally tricky in the forest, where light levels are low.

270-310 species

10 nights accommodation in Panama - including a 7-night stay at the excellent Tranquilo Bay Lodge on the Bocas del Toro archipelago in northwestern Panama, plus 3 nights in Panama City (with one night at the beginning of our trip plus two at the end of our stay). Here we stay at the comfortable Radisson Panama Canal Hotel (or similar) upon arrival in Panama, and at the Radisson Summit Hotel (convenient for Soberania National Park and the Pipeline Road) on our return.

Accommodation at Tranquilo Bay is in individual, purpose-built cabanas. These are modern, spacious and well-appointed, providing all the creature comforts of a good wildlife lodge, with hot water and electricity available 24/7 (so recharging batteries is never a concern). The power supply at the lodge is 120 volts (as in the USA) so bring US-style plug adaptors.

The cabanas are situated a short walk (about 100m) from the main dining area along a paved path, so at night a headlamp or torch is recommended. There are just a few steps up to enter the cabanas and a flight or two to reach the main dining area (either from the boat ramp or the cabanas). Of course, if you want to access the lodge's sturdy 65ft Canopy Observation Tower you will need to be able to climb more than a few flights of stairs - but the birding and views from the top are well worth the effort!

During our stay you are free to bird the lodge's many trails, make return visits to the bird bathing pool in the forest or take time out from our organised programme of daily birding excursions to enjoy a little private snorkeling, kayaking, fishing or just relaxing outside your comfortably appointed cabin, if you wish. A covered porch with a hammock and Adirondack chairs awaits to help you escape the 'every day' left behind when you arrived at Tranquilo Bay.

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with dinner on arrival at the Panama City hotel on the evening of Day 1 and concluding with lunch there on Day 11.

Dining at Tranquilo Bay is excellent in quality with local food offered. Home-cooking, with local dishes freshly prepared by the lodge’s own cooks (vegetarian needs can also be catered for). Breakfasts and dinners at the lodge; some lunches will be picnics.

During our stay at Tranquilo Bay, please note that most drinks - house wine, Panamanian rum, domestic beers, soft drinks, sodas and freshly made juices - are also included within the cost there.

All walks are easy. Sturdy waterproof walking shoes or lightweight boots with good grip advised, with lightweight comfy shoes, trainers, sandals or flip-flops to change into afterwards.

There are no direct flights between the UK and Panama. So on this tour we fly London Heathrow to Panama City with KLM (change of planes in Amsterdam).

Our tour price also includes return domestic flights from Panama City to Bocas del Toro with Air Panama.

Land Only Participants

If you are booking this tour as Land Only (i.e. making your own international flight arrangements getting to and from Panama City), please be sure to check and confirm the group flight details with our office BEFORE booking your own flight arrangements. Note that our Land Only price excludes the cost of any international flights but includes the cost of the two domestic flights within Panama as per the itinerary.

Ground Transport   By minibus

Transfers between the mainland and Tranquilo Bay, as well as several birding and wildlife excursions during our stay at the lodge, will be by the lodge's own boats. These are 27-foot, centre console 'ribs' equipped with 200 HP Yamaha Outboard and partial sun cover.  

Red-billed Tropicbird 6 Panama Gary Elton.jpg
Isla Pajaros or ‘Bird Island’ is home to Panama’s only known breeding colony of Red-billed Tropicbirds, supremely elegant seabirds once known by sailors as the ‘Bosun Bird’ after their whip-like central tail streamers © Gary Elton, Limosa

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