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Blue-chested Hummingbird. Credit: Canopy Family

Panama Wildlife Photo Workshop with Don Cohen

Nature & Wildlife
Active Travel
Land-Based Expeditions
Blue-chested Hummingbird. Credit: Canopy Family

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Panama Wildlife Photo Workshop with Don Cohen

Develop your photographic skills in some of Panama's most biodiverse areas on International Expeditions' Panama Photo Workshop hosted by Don Cohen! Enjoy ample time to observe and photograph the wildlife, landscapes and people at a leisurely pace. You’ll learn lots of ways to improve your picture taking, and get tips on digital editing and Photoshop techniques.

Photograph the Famed Canal Zone

Don Cohen's photography tour of Panama emphasizes the bird-rich lowland tropical forests of the Canal Zone. From our base at a variety of boutique ecolodges, savor access to Panama's premier wildlife locations, including world famous Pipeline Road, along with Semaphore Hill, Plantation Trail, Summit Ponds, Panamá Rainforest Discovery Center and its remarkable tower, Chagres River, Gamboa and the marshy Ammo Ponds.

Travel to Panama & Discover Dazzling Nature

This isthmus of mountains, rainforests and tropical coastlines is the crossroads for wildlife from both North and South America, and at this crossroads we find some of the greatest biodiversity on Earth. Geoffroy’s (red-naped) tamarins and colorful tropical birds and a riot of orchid are just a few highlights included in International Expeditions’ Panama photography tour.

Daily Itinerary

Panama Photo Workshop

  • Day
    1

    Arrive Panama City / Canopy Tower

    You are met after clearing customs at the Toucamen Airport in Panama City. Our guide transfers you to the Canopy Tower approximately 1 hour from the airport. The Canopy Tower lounge and observation deck are ideal places to set your tripod and camera in comfort, while a variety of monkeys, sloths, iguanas and birds are close enough for great eye-level pictures. On the ground floor, hummingbird feeders are abuzz with activity. Get great shots of perching hummers and maybe even that one-in-a-million spot-on flight shot. At night the observation deck becomes a great place to take pictures of star trails, while at sunrise, the surrounding forest dotted with patches of fog and clouds make for great landscapes. Spend four nights at the Canopy Tower.

    Canopy Tower. Credit: Canopy Family
  • Day
    2

    Canopy Tower / Semaphore Hill Road / Gamboa Marina

    Start our day at sunrise on the observation deck on the Canopy Tower. The Canopy Tower’s observation deck offers a great opportunity to scan the treetops, where we can often see Geoffroy’s Tamarin, Mantled Howlers, Two- and Three-toed sloths, Red-tailed Squirrel and a variety of colorful birds that come to feed on the Cecropia trees. Keel-billed Toucans, a colorful variety of tanagers, majestic raptors and even Blue Cotingas can be seen from the observation deck. Some of the bird species that we are likely to see from the observation deck are Green & Red-legged honeycreepers, Green Shrike-Vireo, Blue Cotinga, Scaled Pigeon, Mealy and Red-lored parrots, Keel-billed Toucan, Collared Araçari, flycatchers of various kinds and raptors, including King Vulture and Ornate Hawk-Eagle! Breakfast will follow. After breakfast, we will start walking down Semaphore Hill Road through the lush lowland rainforest of Soberania National Park to continue our search for mammals and other creatures. On this road there is a chance to find Brown-throated three-toed Sloth and Hoffmann’s two-toed Sloth, as well as a Northern Tamandua and White-nosed Coati. This paved road is a little more than a mile long, and passes through some of the most beautiful forest around! Here we will get a chance to see mammals as well as birds and interesting plants, wildflowers and butterflies. The rare Silky Anteater, as well as the secretive Tayra, have been spotted occasionally along this road. We also have a great chance for understory birds including Slaty-tailed and Gartered trogons, Rufous and Broad-billed motmots, and several species of antbirds. After lunch and a “siesta,” we will drive north to Ammo Dump Pond, located in the small town of Gamboa. This is a great place to look for the world’s second largest rodent, the Lesser Capybara, which can be found in or near the Chagres river. It is the best place to see the elusive White-throated Crake, as well as a host of other water birds. Least Grebes and Purple Gallinules are common, and Rufescent Tiger-Heron and American Pygmy-Kingfisher are also resident. Here, we often find Greater Ani, Red-legged Honeycreeper, Whooping Motmot (recent split from Blue-crowned), Yellow-tailed Oriole, Southern Lapwing, Yellow-crowned Tyrannulet, Tropical Kingbird, Scrub Greenlet, Lesser Kiskadee, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck and Panama, Social & Rusty-margined flycatchers and even an Olivaceous Piculet. Birding here will be excellent, as we add to our impressive list of birds. Also, in Gamboa's forested neighborhoods, we hunt for Red Squirrels and Central American Agouti, a large diurnal rainforest rodent. Depending on time, we will make a quick stop at the marina on the Chagres River, the main source of water for the Panama Canal. With a bit of luck, we can find a Neotropical River Otter and Variegated Squirrels. Water birds including Wattled Jacana, Striated Heron and the beautiful Snail Kite can be seen hunting here. After dinner we board the Canopy Tower’s open back Rainfomobile for a night drive down Semaphore Hill Road. Many Neotropical mammals are nocturnal, and night drives are the best way to find them. We hope this evening to find Panamanian Night Monkey, Paca, Central American Woolly Opossum and if lucky, a Rothschild’s Porcupine. (B,L,D)

    Birding at Canopy Lodge. Credit: Canopy Family
  • Day
    3

    Pipeline Road / Summit Gardens / Old Gamboa Road

    This morning after an early breakfast, we will board the Canopy Tower’s Birdmobile and spend the morning at the world famous Pipeline Road. Hundreds of species of birds, mammals and countless insects and plants have been recorded here. This 17-km gravel road with eleven creeks has much to be explored, and is a great place for mammals, including White-faced Capuchin, Mantled Howler, Central American Agouti, White-nosed Coati, Tayra and Collared Peccary. We will keep an eye on the openings of tree cavities for Rufous Tree Rat. There have also been sightings of three species of cats, namely Jaguarundi, Ocelot and even, rarely, the Jaguar. Over 500 species of birds have been recorded here, so there are good chances we will enjoy quality sightings of Crimson-crested Woodpecker, White-tailed Trogon, Spotted Antbird and if lucky, Tiny Hawk! After lunch, head up to the Summit Botanical Garden, just 10 minutes from the tower. Our main target here will be to find a roosting colony of Common Tent-making Bats under the large palm leaves at the entrance to the park. Other mammals are always a possibility. Great Black Hawk, Crane Hawk, Giant Cowbird, Yellow-backed Oriole and Masked Tityra also may be seen. After a short visit to the gardens, we will cross the road to explore the area of Old Gamboa Road and the adjacent Summit Ponds. This site boasts the nearest access to Pacific Dry Forest from the Canopy Tower. The ponds are a great place to look for some secretive herons, namely Boat-billed and Capped herons, and the diminutive American Pygmy Kingfisher, along with Spectacled Caiman and Common Basilisk or “Jesus Christ Lizard.” Carrying on down Old Gamboa Road south, we hope to encounter Tayra, Red-tailed Squirrel, more Two-toed and Three-toed sloths, Jaguarundi, White-nosed Coati and other mammals we have yet to encounter. Back at the Canopy Tower, we will review our checklist and enjoy happy hour prior to dinner. During dinner, Little Mastiff Bats may be seen flying around the dining room as they head out for their evening hunt, and we will watch for the largest bat in the Americas, the False Vampire Bat, hunting around the Cecropia trees out the windows. This evening after dinner, we will head out on another night drive, targeting nocturnal mammals. Common Opossum, Northern Tamandua, Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloth and Collared Peccary are just a few of the species we hope to see on our night drives. (B,L,D)

    Blue Cotinga. Credit: Canopy Family
  • Day
    4

    Canopy Tower / Chagres River / Gamboa Feeders

    The Canopy Tower has five hummingbird feeders, where White-necked Jacobin, White-vented Plumeleteer, Long-billed Hermit and Blue-chested, Violet-bellied, Rufous-tailed and Snowy-bellied Hummingbirds regularly congregate. Hummingbirds are also attracted to the ground's heliconias, erythrinas and verbenas. Regular visitors to the feeders and the garden are Garden Emerald, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, Purple-crowned Fairy, Long-billed Starthroat, Green Thorntail, Rufous-crested Coquette, Green, Stripe-throated, and Rufous-breasted Hermits, Green-crowned Brilliant and Rufous-tailed, Violet-headed and Violet-capped Hummingbirds. After lunch, we take a short drive to Chagres River and the accompanying fields & forest. First, we must stop at the Canopy Bed & Breakfast in the picturesque village of Gamboa, to look at the bird feeders! With a beautiful backdrop of Cerro Pelado, the backyard at the Canopy Bed & Breakfast is teeming with bird life. At the fruit feeders, we are likely to see Red-legged, Shining & Green honeycreepers, Flame-rumped, Crimson-backed & Blue-gray tanagers, Thick-billed Euphonia, Yellow-bellied & Variable seedeaters, Whooping Motmot and Gray-headed Chachalaca. Next, we're off to Chagres River, the main tributary for the Panama Canal. The birding along the river banks and the forest edges of Gamboa Resort can be spectacular! Here, we search for Amazon, Green and American Pygmy kingfishers, as well as, Whooping Motmot and Cinnamon Woodpecker. We could also see Gray-Necked Wood-Rail, Cocoi, Green & Striated herons, Wattled Jacana, Pied-billed Grebe, Anhinga, Royal and Sandwich terns, Brown Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Tricolored and Little Blue herons, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Mangrove Swallow, Black-chested Jay, Lesser Kiskadee, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, Yellow-billed Cacique, Black-bellied and Buff-breasted wrens, Fasciated & Barred antshrikes, Cinnamon Becard, Slaty-tailed Trogon, White-bellied Antbird, and even Slaty-backed Forest-Falcon and Blue Cotinga at times! (B,L,D)

    White-necked Jacobin. Credit: Canopy Family
  • Day
    5

    Canopy Tower / David / Miraflores Locks / Canopy Lodge

    Enjoy one more magnificent morning of photography on the observation deck before we head to the Miraflores Locks Visitors Center. Visit multiple exhibits of the canal and have the opportunity to view the operations of the Panama Canal. Lunch here offers views of ships passing through the locks. After visit to the Miraflores Locks, travel to El Valle de Antón, also known as Crater Valley. Spend three nights at this lovely village nestled in the crater of a long dormant volcano that last erupted five million years ago. The resultant scenery is quite unique: a steep valley surrounded by jagged peaks and filled with flowers, streams and verdant forests. Our home for the next three nights will be the Canopy Lodge a charming eco-lodge built next to a bubbling mountain stream and adjacent to the protected area of Cerro Gaital Natural Monument. At 2,400-feet in elevation, you will immediately appreciate the noticeably cooler temperatures here. You will immediately want to scan the bird feeders and grounds. Crimson-backed, Blue-gray, White-lined, Flame-rumped, Dusky-faced and Plain-colored tanagers, along with Red-crowned Ant-Tanager are about, as are Thick-billed Euphonia, Chestnut-headed Oropendola, Streaked and Buff-throated saltators, Lineated and Red-crowned woodpeckers, Red-legged Honeycreepers, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Social Flycatcher, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Barred Antshrike, Clay-colored Thrush, Rufous Motmot; Rufous-tailed, Snowy-bellied and Violet-headed hummingbirds and Garden Emerald. (B,L,D)

    Rufous Motmot. Credit: Canopy Family
  • Day
    6

    Las Minas Trail / Cara Iguana

    After breakfast (during which we watch for Orange-billed Sparrow calling off the end of the dining area), head to Las Minas which is an excellent place to get a wide variety of birds. The road follows the ridge line with sweeping vistas of forested mountains, speckled with grasslands and small fincas. The views from here are fantastic. On a clear day near the summit both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans can be seen! Specialties of the region include Black-and-yellow, Bay-headed and Emerald tanagers, Tawny-capped Euphonia, Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant, Spot-crowned Antvireo, Gray-headed Kite, Barred Hawk, Bat Falcon, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, Swallow-tailed Kite, Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer, White-tipped Sicklebill, Green Thorntail, Orange-bellied and Black-throated trogons, Wedge-tailed Grass-Finch, Tawny-faced Gnatwren, Plain Antvireo, the endemic Stripe-cheeked Woodpecker, Spotted Woodcreeper, Red-capped and White-ruffed manakins, Band-rumped Swift and Black Guan have all been recorded here! A forested slope here is also our best chance for Black-headed Antthrush. Head to Cara Iguana Trail, where we enjoy outstanding foothill birding in some of the last remaining examples of quality Dry Pacific Forest. Specialties we hope to find in this bird-rich habitat are Lesser Elaenia, Yellow-olive and Panama flycatchers, Pale-eyed Pygmy-Tyrant, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Lance-tailed Manakin, Rufous-breasted & Rufous-and-white wrens, Rosy Thrush-Tanager, Tody and Whooping motmots, and Long-billed Gnatwren. Also resident are Striped Cuckoo, Little Tinamou, Common Potoo, Dusky and White-bellied antbirds, Barred Antshrike, White-winged Becard, Tropical Screech-Owl and Bat Falcon. Hummers to watch for are Garden Emerald, Long-billed Starthroat and White-vented Plumeleteer. During migration we look for Bay-breasted, Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Green and Worm-eating warblers. (B,L,D)

    Rufescent Tiger Heron. Credit: Canopy Family
  • Day
    7

    Altos Del Maria

    4x4 SUVs take us into the mountains. As the sun rises over the highlands ahead of us, spectacular mountains, vast valleys and towering cliffs come into view! Set in the mountains on the continental divide east of El Valle, Altos del Maria provides a spectacular addition to our explorations. Ascending an excellent paved road, we will climb a ridge to our destination, an expansive area of cloud forest at 3,600 ft. This area harbors an exciting variety of highland forest birds. Some of the characteristic species of this cloud forest include Black-crowned Antpitta, Black-headed Saltator, White Hawk, Barred Forest-Falcon, Orange-bellied Trogon, Spotted Woodcreeper, Red-faced Spinetail, Spotted Barbtail, Russet and Great antshrikes, Tufted and Sulphur-rumped flycatchers, Rufous-browed Tyrannulet, White-ruffed Manakin, Ochraceous Wren, Gray-breasted Wood-Wren, Pale-vented Thrush, Green Shrike-Vireo, Yellow-billed Cacique; Black-and-yellow, Bay-headed, Dusky-faced and Tawny-crested tanagers; White-vented Euphonia, Slate-colored Grosbeak and Yellow-eared Toucanet. Even the bizarre Brown-billed Scythebill is seen here regularly. Hummers we may spot include Band-tailed Barbthroat, the exquisite Snowcap, Garden and White-tailed emeralds, Purple-throated Mountain-Gem, White-tipped Sicklebill and Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer. After a picnic lunch in the field, we will drop down into a valley and climb to the ridge on the opposite side. Reaching some large swaths of mature humid forest along this ridge, we will explore some trails and roadside spots in search of even more forest birds. Around mid-afternoon, head back into El Valle to relax prior to dinner. (B,L,D)

    Canopy Lodge. Credit: Canopy Family
  • Day
    8

    El Valle / Panama City / Canopy Bed & Breakfast

    Return to Panama City and to Casco Viejo where you will enjoy a historical walking tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Casco Viejo is home to the Presidential Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Theater, the French Plaza and several other iconic landmarks that offer testament to the city’s rich history, culture and heritage. From the top of old city’s wall enjoy spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean dotted with local fishing boats near port and massive ships lined up waiting to cross the Panama Canal as well as the impressive skyline of modern Panama City. After a delicious lunch at Casco Antiguo, continue to the Canopy Bed & Breakfast. Upon arrival, you will feel the rich history that this area boasts from the century-old one-way bridge entering town to the restored Canal Zone houses circa 1937. Enjoy a relaxing afternoon in Gamboa or enjoy shooting the fruit feeders and the lodge where you are likely to see Red-legged, Shining and Green honeycreepers, Flame-rumped, Crimson-backed and Blue-gray tanagers, Thick-billed Euphonia, Yellow-bellied & Variable seedeaters, Whooping Motmot and Gray-headed Chachalaca. Spend two nights at the Canopy Bed & Breakfast. (B,L,D)

    Crowned Woodnymph. Credit: Canopy Family
  • Day
    9

    Panama Canal Transit

    Board a ship this morning for a half-day transit of the Panama Canal. Since Balboa crossed the isthmus in 1513, becoming the first European to see the Pacific Ocean, men dreamed of a canal to connect the Pacific and Caribbean. In 1904, the U.S. began construction of the Panama Canal. This modern marvel is now such an integral part of shipping that ships are measured in terms of their ability to travel through the Canal’s locks. Our dramatic partial passage of the Panama Canal included the Gaillard Cut and Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks. This is the Canal’s narrowest portion, with the Gaillard or “Culebra” Cut, taking us through an eight mile channel cut through solid rock. Tonight enjoy a farewell folkloric dinner show including traditional Panamanian cuisine accompanied by a dance and music presentation where you will learn about the local Pollera dress and its cultural value, the musicians and their instruments, songs, clothing and singing. (B,L,D)

    Three-toed Sloth. Credit: Canopy Family
  • Day
    10

    Depart Panama City

    Say good bye to your new Panamanian family and pack all your memory cards full of images from your wildlife adventure in Panama. Transfer to the airport at the appropriate time for your flight home. (B)

Things to Know

Are there any required or recommended vacinations for this trip to Panama?

Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required only when arriving from a country where yellow fever is present. Yellow fever is not present in North America so guests arriving from the US or Canada do not have to show proof of vaccination.  According to the CDC, yellow fever is not present in the areas of Panama you will visit on this itinerary so they do not recommend vaccination. No other vaccinations are required but guests should contact their physician to discuss health abroad and consult with the CDC at wwwn.cdc.gov/travel with regard to travelers’ health.

What are the passport requirements for visiting Panama?

U.S. and Canadian citizens are required to have a passport valid for six months beyond projected stay and with two blank pages for stamps.

What is the weather like in Panama?

Panama lies between 7 degrees and 9 degrees above the equator, which places it firmly within the Tropics. Accordingly, average year-round temperatures are a balmy 75°F to 85°F (24°C-29°C), varying only with altitude. The average temperature in the Chiriquí Highlands, for example, is 60°F (16°C), and is the only area in Panama where you will likely feel cold.

Humidity is always high in Panama, and rainfall varies noticeably between the Pacific and Caribbean sides of the country, with some areas in the Caribbean receiving almost twice the yearly rainfall of Panama City. The best time to visit Panama is during the summer dry season from mid-December to mid-April. Caribbean destinations such as Bocas del Toro have a shorter dry season, usually September/October and February/March, but really showers can occur on any day

The Chiriquí Highlands experiences a variety of microclimates that can change drastically, sometimes even within a few miles. In Boquete, high winds and a peculiar misting rain called “bajareque” are common from mid-December to mid-February; January sees the occasional thunderstorm, and March to May is the sunniest time.

Accommodations

Canopy Tower at Dusk. Credit: Canopy Family

Canopy Tower

The Canopy Tower features rooms and an observation deck mere feet from the canopy of the rainforest, virtually at eye-level with such avian treats as toucans, tanagers, honeycreepers and hawks, as well as amazing looks at two- and three-toed sloths and Geoffroy’s Tamarins and Mantled Howlers, two monkey species otherwise nearly impossible to see this well!  From the Canopy Tower you can visit legendary Pipeline Road, arguably the best birding location in Mesoamerica, and other very birdy sites. 

Canopy Bed & Breakfast

Located in a restored canal house dating back to 1937, the Canopy Bed &Breakfast is just a 15 minute walk to the world famous Pipeline Road—perfect for nature lovers! The Canopy Bed and Breakfast offers well-appointed spacious rooms, each with private bath, air-conditioning and internet access. From the quiet village of Gamboa, you have access to Barro Colorado Island, and Pipeline Road & the Panama Rainforest  Discovery Center are but a short walk away!

Canopy Lodge Room. Credit: Canopy Family

Canopy Lodge

The Canopy Lodge is a full service lodge specializing in nature tourism, particularly birds. It is about 60 miles west of Panama City in the picturesque village of El Valle de Anton, right in the center of a gigantic crater of an extinct volcano. This is the largest inhabited crater in the Western Hemisphere and second only to the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. It is surrounded by the Cerro Gaital Natural Monument. The lodge consists of 12 bedrooms, an open living/dining room (with WiFi Internet), and a well-stocked library with natural history books and bird guides from several countries of Latin America.The rooms are quite ample and have lots of storage space, an overhead fan, a desk, reading lamps behind the bed and a towel warmer in the bathroom. You may very well spend a whole morning in the balcony watching the birds in the garden or reading a good book. That is what a Panama vacation is all about.

Field Leaders

Don Cohen

Don Cohen

Don has had a keen interest in nature and wildlife photography, and has been traveling worldwide to areas such as the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Fiji, Grand Cayman, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in search of beautiful subjects. Don’s wildlife photography workshops cover a wide variety of essential concepts and techniques in digital photography and Photoshop, accelerating the learning curve for photographers of all skill levels.

From: $4,995 per person
Duration
10 Days, 9 Nights
Trip Type
Land

Trip Highlights

  • 2018 Departure: April 5
  • Field instruction plus one-on-one guidance from an experienced nature photographer.
  • Discover the astounding biodiversity of the Canal Zone.
  • Enjoy a partial transit of the Panama Canal's dramatic Gaillard Cut & Pedro Miguel & Miraflores Locks.
  • See the inner-workings of the Panama Canal.