Anyone can cruise through the Panama Canal or visit one of the canal-side observation facilities, as we told you in our previous post about how to explore the Panama Canal. Few travelers know that it’s possible to sleep next to the Panama Canal in a converted US Air Force radar tower or even spend the night right on the Panama Canal in the only houseboat hotel in Panama. Here’s your guide to sleeping around on the Panama Canal.
Panama’s only houseboat hotel
Jungle Land Panama is Panama’s only houseboat hotel. On top of that, it’s located in a secluded section of Lake Gatún which forms a crucial part of the Panama Canal. Jungle Land Panama is the creation of Captain Carl, an expat from the US who has connected two houseboats, crafted a handful of simple but comfortable rooms and leads boat and kayak tours on the lake.
While staying at Jungle Land Panama you can go fishing, look for monkeys and caiman, or just relax in the hammocks or on the two astro-turfed “lawns”. The food is terrific and Carl’s stories are entertaining, but the best part is sleeping in a totally wild and peaceful arm of the lake just a short distance from the world’s busiest shipping channel.
From radar tower to hotel on the Panama Canal
In 1965 the US Air Force built a radar tower on the banks of the Panama Canal and by 1969 is was being used by the Federal Aviation Administration to control air traffic in the area and by the Panama Canal Commission as a communications tower.
In September of 1988 the radar tower became Site One in the Caribbean Basin Radar Network which was used by the US government to monitor, spot and deter planes suspected of carrying drugs north from South America.
In 1995 the US decommissioned the tower and in 1996, the tower was transferred to Panamanian control. After extensive renovation, the round tower was transformed into the Canopy Tower hotel.
Located within the Soberanía National Park, in which more than 500 species of birds have been identified, Canopy Tower soon became a magnet for bird watchers, including some famous ones like Oprah Winfrey, eager to explore the surrounding rainforest and spot wildlife from their own rooms which are at tree top level.
We spent a lot of time gawking at toucans, tanagers, and tityras as well as small groups of mantled howler monkeys, Geoffroy’s tamarins, sloths, and a bunch of stuff we’re not smart enough to identify from the window-filled public spaces, rooftop deck (from which you can also see the nearby Panama Canal), and even from the huge window in the shower in our room.
And don’t worry. You won’t be roughing it in barracks with a bunch of drill sergeants. Rooms are clean, simple, and comfortable with fans and good screens to keep critters out. Electric towel heaters and clothes drying areas help keep the jungle damp at bay.
There’s an ear plug dispenser because the all-metal structure can creak and groan but we never heard anything. You’re more likely to hear frogs and owls in the night.
The food is plentiful and terrific and meals often include local seasonal specialties like palm nuts. The guides are knowledgeable, patient, and enthusiastic and the trips, including hiking along the wildlife filled (but not very ecologically named) Pipeline Road and night drives, are fulfilling.
Hey, if it’s good enough for Oprah…
Here’s more about travel in Panama