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WINGS Birding Tours – Information

Panama: Bocas del Toro and the Western Highlands

Tour Information

Note: The information presented here is an abbreviated version of our formal General Information for this tour. Its purpose is solely to give readers a sense of what might be involved if they took this tour. Although we do our best to make sure what follows here is completely accurate, it should not be used as a replacement for the formal document which will be sent to all tour registrants, and whose contents supersedes any information contained here.

ENTERING PANAMA: Panama requires a passport valid for at least three months after entry by U.S. citizens. Citizens of other countries may need a visa and should check their nearest Panamanian embassy. As of 2016 Canadians and citizens of the UK do not need a visa.

Anyone coming directly from a country where Yellow Fever is endemic must show proof of a current vaccination.

COUNTRY INFORMATION: You can review the U.S. Department of State Country Specific Travel Information at https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/panama.html and the CIA World Factbook background notes on Panama at https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/pm.html.

PACE OF THE TOUR: Most days will involve departures between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. Breakfasts will be at either Tranquilo Bay or Los Quetzales Lodges before our departure (sometimes with an optional pre-breakfast birding trip). Most of the birding sites that we visit on the tour are within a 30-minute drive or boat ride of our lodges.  Around the Bocas Lowlands we will bird from our boat (with seating for most participants and shade), or standard 12 passenger vans.  The trails can be muddy in patches, but are mostly level with small rises.  Our walks should be no more than 1.5 miles roundtrip.  For our day in the foothills we will walk along the paved road for some longer stretches, with the van following us.  Around Los Quetzales Lodge we will likely have one or two longer walks of about 2 miles on trails that are somewhat narrow and uneven in places.  Transport from our lodge out to the more remote birding sites will be in a standard 12-passenger van, with general roadside birding near the van.  Most days we will return to our lodge for lunch and a early afternoon siesta, and we will plan an hour break before dinner whenever feasible.

HEALTH: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all travelers be up to date on routine vaccinations. These include measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, polio vaccine, and your yearly flu shot. They further recommend that most travelers have protection against Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Please contacting your doctor well in advance of your tour’s departure as some medications must be initiated weeks before the period of possible exposure.

The most current information about travelers’ health recommendations can be found on the CDC’s Travel Health website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/panama.

Special medications may be unavailable so bring enough to cover your particular needs for the entire trip.

Malaria: Malaria is present in lowland Bocas del Toro area of western Panama. The portions of the tour in the Chiriqui Highlands (Los Quetzales Lodge) are not in malaria areas.  Consult your physician about appropriate preventative measures.

Zika:  This virus is expanding northward from tropical South America into the northern Caribbean and southern United States and health authorities are still trying to gage its full impact.  Couples who expect/hope to become pregnant should consult their physician. The virus is transmitted by mosquitos of the genus Aedes, a day-flying mosquito typically found near people in crowded urban environments that have only a minimum of public services like sanitation, window screens, and drainage; in other words locations that aren’t on most tour itineraries. WINGS tours spend most of their time in natural areas where the Aedes aegypti mosquito is altogether absent.  

Elevation:  Maximum elevation reached on the tour is about 8500 feet around Los Quetzales, although we will not do any extended uphill or long hikes at that elevation. Otherwise we’ll be below 3500 feet, and for the Bocas portion of the tour very close to sea level.

Sun:  Sun in Panama can be very intense. Please bring adequate protection, including a sun hat and a strong sun screen of at least 15 rating.

Insects: Biting insects and arachnids are seldom a major nuisance although chiggers, mosquitoes and biting gnats can be locally numerous in the forested and coastal areas of Western Panama. Careful application of repellent provides good protection and the leader will advise you when it will be necessary. In general, a repellent should contain 30% of the active ingredient, diethyltolumide (DEET). However, care must be taken to avoid getting the DEET repellent on optical equipment as DEET dissolves some rubber and plastic and can damage coated lenses. Camping supply stores and outfitters carry some reasonably effective alternatives, which contain natural products and aren’t corrosive.  Tranquilo Bay generally offers sulphur powder that can be dusted onto shoes, pant legs and socks as a prophylaxis against chiggers.

Smoking: Smoking is prohibited in the vehicles or when the group is gathered for meals, checklists, etc. If you are sharing a room with a nonsmoker, please do not smoke in the room. If you smoke in the field, do so well away and downwind from the group. If any location where the group is gathered has a stricter policy than the WINGS policy, that stricter policy will prevail.

CLIMATE: The days will likely be between the mid-70s and high 80s around Bocas, and as cool as the upper 50’s to mid-70s around Los Quetzales, with some afternoon showers. Rarely do these showers reach the intensity or duration that would impact on a birding excursion, but November birding in Panama will involve some wet weather on some days. High-quality rain gear and a small umbrella will go a long way toward making rainy periods more enjoyable. Bring at least one heavier shirt or light jacket as well, as if windy and wet the higher elevations can feel surprisingly cold.

ACCOMMODATION: Three hotels are used during the tour. The first and last night of the tour will be spent at the Country Inn Amador, a fully apportioned hotel just west of Panama City along the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal with free fast wifi.

Our lodge in Bocas, the delightful Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge, has six deluxe cabins, with private bathrooms and air conditioning.  Each has a private porch complete with comfortable hammock and chairs.  Wifi is available in the main dining house, although it can be slow at times. 

Our highland lodge, Los Quetzales, has beautiful suites with hardwood floors and walls.  Each features the expected amenities of a comfortable western hotel, with ensuite bathrooms, large windows, and wood-burning stoves.  Wifi is available and generally quite fast around the common areas and most rooms.

FOOD: Breakfasts will involve fresh fruit, cereal, yoghurt, eggs, bread and a meat dish. Some lunches will be picnic and some will be held at the lodges. On our full day excursions a light mid-morning snack will be provided, often with coffee and tea.  All dinners will be at either the Tranquilo Bay or Los Quetzales, save for the final dinner at the hotel in Panama City. The food is of very good quality and features local produce and seasonings.

Food Allergies / Requirements: We cannot guarantee that all food allergies can be accommodated at every destination. Participants with significant food allergies or special dietary requirements should bring appropriate foods with them for those times when their needs cannot be met. Announced meal times are always approximate depending on how the day unfolds. Participants who need to eat according to a fixed schedule should bring supplemental food. Please contact the WINGS office if you have any questions.

TRANSPORTATION: Transportation during the tour is by standard 12 or 15 passenger vans, and around Tranquilo Bay by small boat (a half-shaded boat that carries up to 12 people, with seating for about 8).

Created: 30 August 2016