Home to seven different indigenous groups of people, Panama's diverse natural history and ethnic culture make it different to Costa Rica and other countries in Central America. Panama is one of the most affluent countries in Central America and Panama City is the cosmopolitan hub. Tourism is in its infancy, so, for the present it is a real off-the-beaten track destination.
Costa Rica has been a model for Panama which is now promoting "nature friendly" tourism. Panama has taken steps to preserve its ecology. The map of Panama shows the number and area of National Parks, and currently they cover almost 29 percent of the total area of the country. There are 14 national parks, more then a dozen forest reserves and 10 wildlife refuges.
Ecotourism is defined as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people." In order to meet this objective for Ecotourism, the following criteria need to be met
Panama is the hub of the natural land bridge that connects the two continents of North and South America. So Panama is home to many South American species as well as North and Central American wildlife. There are said to be over 10,000 varieties of plants and 1500 species of trees, and more then 1,000 species of birds. This is more than can be found in North America and Europe combined, and it includes some of the rarest on Earth.
There are also 220 mammals and 354 reptiles and amphibians. Panama also had hundreds of islands and kilometers of protected coral reef, which shelter a wide diversity of marine life. It is also home to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, where scientists from around the world study Panama’s unique ecological heritage.
If you are into nature then arm yourself with Ridgely’s "Birds of Panama," and make for world-renowned birding sites, like Cana in the Darien, the rugged Cerro Azul mountain range with its 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, or the Pipeline Road at Lake Gatun. Another popular ecotourism destination is the Barro Colorado wildlife refuge at Lake Gatun, Smithsonian scientists have a base.
The Isla Bastimentos National Park of Bocas del Toro has a protected coral reef and mangrove swamps. Marine turtles nest onto the beaches of Bocas del Toro archipelago to lay their eggs. Snorkelers can also enjoy the reefs belonging to the Kuna people of San Blas, and divers can enjoy both the Pacific islands such as Mogo Mogo in the Pearl Island group, Iguana Island and Coiba Island, as well as the Caribbean coast dive spots.
Apart from visiting the National Parks and seeing their flora and fauna, there are also ecotourism adventures which can include, for example, trips on foot and by dugout canoe in the Darien, where you can visit the Embera and Waunana indigenous groups. Or 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, fly by wire through the forest canopy as you hang 30 feet above the ground.
International Ecotourism Society