That old saying about early birds is totally true. Since temperatures in the Panamanian jungle begin to soar soon after 9 a.m., you've got to wake up well before sunrise if you want the chance to behold majestical birds flying and feeding above the rainforest canopy.
Nestled in the heart of Gamboa, The Panama Rainforest Discovery Center is a breath of fresh air after visiting the hustle and bustle of Panama City. After passing through a visitor's center, you earn your view by climbing 174 winding steps of the observational tower that sways back and forth in the wind. Once at the top, a birding expert helps novices (like me), figure out how and what to look for, and the types of markings on the birds that make each one special.
What you see and learn at the center is fantastic, the guides are a wealth of information and the natural beauty is astounding. However, what was most impressive to me was the sustainable and low-impact way the center was constructed. The structures here were built mostly with reused materials reclaimed from the Panama Canal, and took advantage of natural clearings in the forest without cutting down existing trees. Sustainable, clean technologies are used to keep the center running, such as solar panels and rainwater collectors. Air conditioning is unnecessary as the visitor's center is kept nice and cool by cross ventelation and the natural shade from the rainforest canopy. The Panama Rainforest Discovery Center not only makes it possible for tourists and locals to access nature, but also helps keep our impact as low as possible so that the rainforest can thrive with little interruption.
(Images: Smith Schwartz)