Panama’s Chagres National Park

El Río Chagres.

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Panama’s Chagres National Park. The Chagres National Park is an undiscovered jewel located between Panama and Colon provinces, in the Eastern sector of the Panama Canal and has a total surface area of 129,000 hectares. The park contains tropical rain forests and a set of rivers which provide sufficient water to guarantee the operation of the Gatun Lake, the main lake of the Panama Canal: The Chagres River and the Gatun River.

The Chagres National Park is located 40 miles (64 km) north of Panama City and reachable by road. The park’s administrative office and ranger station are located at Altos de Cerro Azul.

Panama's Chagres National Park

Panama’s Chagres National Park: The Chagres River. Foto: Ministerio de Ambiente.

Created in 1985, with the objective of preserving the natural forest that composes it to produce water in amount and quality sufficient to guarantee the normal operation of the Panama Canal, to supply potable water for the cities of Panama, Colon and la Chorrera, and the generation of electricity for the cities of Panama and Colon. This park is unique because it has four different habitats.

The most interesting places in the park are the Chagres River and Lake Alajuela. There are several aquatic sports you can practice; the Chagres River is perfect for rafting while in Alajuela lake you can fish, water ski, jet ski, sail or swim.

There are also several Embera-Wounan living in the park, who are more than happy to receive visitors. If you like bird watching, there are plenty of birds wherever you go. For a history buff, there is a lot of history attached to the Chagres River, where traces of the Camino Real and Camino Las Cruces routes can be found, which were used by the Spaniard conquerors for carrying gold and silver from their colonies to send them on ships to Spain departing from the Caribbean side of Panama.

The terrain is very rugged, to get to the highest point at Cerro Jefe 1,000 meters and other peaks at Cerro Bruja, Cerro Brewster and Cerro Azul. From the Summit of Cerro Jefe you have a spectacular view of the Panama Canal and with a bit of luck on a clear day you can see both, the Atlantic and the Pacific

Caves at the Chagres Park

Caves at the Chagres Park. Foto: Ministerio de Ambiente.

Temperatures range from 30º C in the lowest points to 20º C in the mountains. Rainfall varies from 2,200mm in Alajuela Lake to 4,000mm in the mountains. The volcano hills are covered by humid tropical forest, very humid premontane forest, very humid tropical forest and pre-mountain rainforest.

The park has 114 mammal species, including Baird’s tapirs, whitetail deer, Geoffroy’s spider monkeys, and all five species of big cats. Of the 396 species of birds, there are stripe-cheeked woodpeckers, red-legged honeycreepers, violet-capped hummingbirds, and even harpy eagles. Additionally, there are 96 reptile species, 79 amphibian species, and 59 species of freshwater fish.

Some of the main paths if you are using the Campo Chagres in the Alajuela Lake are:

Las Grietas Path: ideal bird watching and it has a panoramic view of the Alajuela Lake. The path is located in a deciduous dry forest.

El Cuipo Path: It is also ideal for birding and see the tree “cuipo”, which gives the name to the path.

The park also has an Environmental Education Center that offers talks and guided tours.

Chagres National Park opens Monday to Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Entrance cost $5 for foreigners, $3.00 for nationals, $1.00 for students and pensioners $1.50.

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