After reading all the reviews, I approached my recent 4 day stay with a bit of trepidation. However, this resort came through.
We stayed in the most expensive room in the resort, with a loft, which worked great for my 12 year old son. The price was decent, better than a similar room in most Caribbean and Central American lodges/resorts of a similar class. The room was very nice, bed was great, TV had a limited number of channels but we were not there for the TV. Air conditioning worked well, and the balcony had a great view of the grounds and the Chagres River. Internet was expensive and was slow at times, but just having wireless internet in the rainforest was nice. Rooms were thoroughly cleaned each day, staff in general was very good. Laundry is expensive, wash you clothes elsewhere.
We ate at the main restaurant , Corotu, each night, off the menu. 20 meals purchased over four days, 19 were great. Prices per normal entree (the 10 ounce NY strip for $35 was the exception), were around $15, which in my experience is very, very reasonable for this type of accomodation. And there is nothing around, so they really do have you over a barrel. Dinner menu was limited, but the food was very good and i did not get bored eating the same thing two nights in a row. Breakfast (room service) was expensive, but comprehensive, and worth it dollar wise.
We did the night safari a couple of times, it is quick tour of the grounds and you will see some things (opposums, armadillos., night birds, caimans, etc). Not a life changer, but it was quick and free.
Did the Pipeline Road tour. Not a bad tour, but probably could have used a more expert guide. The guides for their paid and free tours are somewhat interchangeable. For example, we crossed paths with another tour, tour guide had a spotting scope, which all guides should have at this price point. Our guide did not. We did see birds, nothing earth shattering, and keep in mind it is a 2-3 hours of walking in very humid conditions on a slippery path. I would recommend this tour for serious birders only, not enough bang for your buck at the current quality of the tour if you just want to see a toucan (we did see all three of the main species by the way). There is a private place, the Rainforest Discovery Center, which we did on our own, much less walking, they have a tower, a lake overlook, and a deck with a million hummingbirds flying over you to get sugar water. We saw alot of stuff with a free tour, guides were very knowledgeable, this would be a better option for most folks, especially those with children, before deciding to do the pipeline tour.
We did a 6 hour Gatun lake fishing tour, used minnows, and caught between three fishermen and the guide, about 90 peacock pavons, generally aaround a pound or so. Action was non stop, and while this is not a cheap tour. it was a heck of alot of fun and I would do it again. Birdwatchers should bring a camera, you will see hawks, kites, etc, and we even did a short trip to monkey island. saw sloths, holwer and capuchin monkeys on our way back to the marina. The marina restaurant is good (if it is open) and it is not expensive.
A quick trip to see monkeys, a sloth, caimans, etc. Not as hokey as it seems, recommended.
Night Boat Ride
Expensive tour, limited on the night we were there due to floating debris in the Chagres River. Stayed in the marina, but not at a discount, no earth shattering encounters here. need a really, really good guide to make this sort of tour work, since so much is subtle at night. Their guides were very friendly and tried hard, but nature guiding is a very tough thing to do really well.
Pool is very nice, and their are lots of birds on the grounds if you take the time to look. One of the trees near the pool was loaded with a number of different species of tanagers, some of the best birding I experienced on the trip.
In all, I think this is a very nice place. Maybe the food is expensive by Panamanian standards, but not by US or Caribbean standards. Stock up on beverages beforehand, the small store charges $1.50 for a can of soda, which can add up. it is only 45 mintues or so from Panama City, hit the Canal Museum in Miraflores on your way there or back.
Bring good bug spray, and try to put most of it on your clothes and not your skin. Long pants for tours are a great idea.
We rented a car, which was ok for driving to and from Gamboa, but unless you have the spirit of adventure, driving in Panama City (Motto: Street Signs: We don't need no fricking street signs) is an experience to be avoided at all costs. Being lost in the poor section of town after dark, requiring a police escort to figure a way out, and still being left far from where we needed to go, stopping and asking for directions every five minutes...I think i can do without this next time. For a city with a million sky scrapers being erected, the planning department might want to put a few dollars into signs, or limiting roads to one name only....
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