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  • Writer's pictureMark Vogel

Monkeying Around in Magical Panama: A Private Tour of Monkey Island and Gatun Lake

Panama City, Panama


Monkey Island Tour in Panama City, Panama
Monkey Island Tour in Panama City, Panama

On a recent trip to Panama City, Panama, my girlfriend and I planned an excursion - a private tour to Monkey Island in the heart of Gatun Lake. Early in the morning, we stepped outside the Hilton Panama and met our tour van at the hotel’s entrance.





“Embarking on a small, intimate boat, we raced past monumental ships, the giants of the sea, gracefully pacing through the waters on their destined paths through the Panama Canal.”

We were warmly greeted by our incredible team for the day – two men, one was the van driver and the other, was our experienced tour guide. Accompanying them was a woman, whose title was "Monkey Whisperer."


The van weaved through the beautiful Panamanian landscapes during our hour-long drive. We reached Gatun Lake, which is an enormous artificial lake formed during the creation of the Panama Canal and serves as a crucial conduit for the ships that traverse the canal’s waters.


Embarking on a small, intimate boat, we raced past monumental ships, the giants of the sea, gracefully pacing through the waters on their destined paths through the Panama Canal.




We stopped near water’s edge at several spots in search of the elusive monkeys. Finally, a delightful troupe of monkeys graced us with their presence, swaying through the trees, their curious eyes meeting ours. Other large tour groups soon joined the audience, everyone in search of their unique Monkey Island tale.


We moved on and nudged closer to another corner of this vast island. Here, we revved the boat's engine to illicit a response from the howler monkeys. As soon as our engine quieted, they bellowed their powerful howls from high above the treetops, filling the air with an extraordinary chorus of the wild. Our "Monkey Whisperer," attuned to the language of our jungle hosts, also called out with various enchanting sounds, weaving a conversation with the monkeys.


As the curtain fell on our extraordinary tour, we headed back to the van and made our way back to the comfort of the Hilton Panama, with new experiences and new memories.


More about Monkey Island and Gatun Lake


Monkey Island:


Monkey Island, despite its name, is not actually an island. It's a part of the mainland that protrudes into Gatun Lake. A sanctuary of biodiversity, Monkey Island lives up to its name by being home to an array of monkey species such as the white-faced capuchin, Geoffroy's tamarin, and the mantled howler monkey, among others. The island’s unique position and natural habitat have made it a sanctuary where these incredible primates can thrive.


But the island doesn’t only limit its residents to monkeys; it also hosts a delightful array of other wildlife. From crocodiles lurking in the water to exotic birds adorning the sky, Monkey Island is a lively part of Panama’s diverse ecosystem.


Gatun Lake:


Gatun Lake is a man-made marvel and an essential part of the Panama Canal. Created between 1907 and 1913 by the damming of the Chagres River, Gatun Lake was once the largest artificial lake in the world. The lake acts as a reservoir, ensuring that the Panama Canal has a continuous water supply.


It’s not just ships that traverse its waters, but also an array of wildlife that has made the lake and its surrounding areas their home. It’s where the vast wilderness meets human engineering, creating a blend of natural beauty and historical significance.


The waters of the lake are dotted with islands that were once the peaks of mountains before it was flooded. These islands, including Monkey Island, have become biodiversity hotspots, showcasing the extraordinary flora and fauna of the region.


Visiting Monkey Island and Gatun Lake isn’t just about witnessing the wildlife; it’s also an immersive experience into the rich ecology and history of Panama. The lake and its surroundings allow one to peek into the incredible engineering feat of the Panama Canal and appreciate the resilience and beauty of nature as it adapts and thrives in diverse habitats. From the echoes of howler monkeys to the passage of massive ships, every moment spent in these magical realms is a chapter in the grand tale of Panama's natural and historical saga.


If you are in Panama, be sure to visit Monkey Island and let me know below about your own experiences!



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