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Gatun Lake – Panama’s Biodiverse Tropical Escape

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Start your adventure through the Panama Canal where you will witness enormous cargo ships passing from one ocean to another. Take an expedition boat ride out on Gatun Lake – an artificial lake that supplies water for operation of Panama Canal locks – where rainforest covered islands (former hill tops) await discovery in Gatun Lake.


Gatun Lake, part of Panama Canal, offers visitors an idyllic environment in which to admire nature and wildlife. Comprised of several islands, the lake boasts exotic species including Capuchin, Titi, Howler Monkeys as well as crocodiles and numerous bird species – an idyllic retreat where nature meets wildlife!

As part of its main channel, the Panama Canal features a vast man-made reservoir. In the 1970s, peacock bass (Cichla monoculus), a popular game fish species introduced for recreational sport fishing purposes were released into this artificial lake, rapidly outcompeting native populations and altering its water chemistry significantly.

Gatun Lake islands are biological hotspots. First created in 1913 when six islands less than one hectare each were isolated from Central Panama’s mainland forest by rising waters in Gatun Lake, creating rainforest habitats more biologically diverse than nearby plots of mainland forest and also providing an invaluable opportunity to study predator effects on ecosystems.


Rudy will meet you at your hotel and lead you directly to Soberania National Park, where you’ll board a boat on Gatun Lake alongside massive ships that traverse the Panama Canal. Here you’ll see wildlife such as toucans, green iguanas and three-toed sloths living among rainforest trees; plus crocodiles and sergeant fish in the waters. You will also visit Monkey Island where you’ll feed white-faced capuchin, Geoffroy’s Tamarins and howler monkeys in their natural environments!

Gatun Lake’s lush rainforest setting has kept its ecosystem virtually unspoiled and is one of the few places where you can observe a wide array of Central American animal species in their natural environment. Barro Colorado Island was formed as the lake filled, becoming home to world renowned Barro Colorado Tropical Research Institute.

The Smithsonian’s presence in Panama dates back to a biological survey conducted in 1910. Today, this institution operates research centers in Panama City and Gamboa as well as on artificial lakes like Gatun. Staff scientists such as Klaus Winter monitor how tree populations change as carbon dioxide concentrations fluctuate – their work helps inform policymaking decisions on climate change mitigation measures such as planting more trees when carbon levels decrease or rise.


Gatun Lake of Panama Canal serves as a haven for wildlife. From hundreds of Geoffroy’s and white-face capuchin monkeys, to an abundance of bird species and mammals such as agoutis and capybaras – taking a boat ride around Gatun Lake is a wonderful opportunity to observe these animals in their natural environment.

The lake provides millions of gallons of water required to operate the locks when ships transit the canal, as well as drinking water for Panama City. To assess whether its quality was being negatively impacted, samples were taken at multiple depths from Buoy D near the Canal Locks to better understand their effects on lake quality.

Gatun Lake has long been a hotbed for marine invasions, and Gatun Lake has not been spared from this trend. Since its creation, many species from both Atlantic and Pacific oceans have found their way into Gatun Lake; Cichla monoculus (peacock bass) in particular has proven an invasive species which has outcompeted native cichlid species in terms of dominance.


Gatun Lake, part of Panama Canal and man-made reservoir, is one of Panama’s most captivating attractions. Surrounded by tropical rainforest, this unique ecosystem is home to various native Central American animal species in their natural environments.

Barro Colorado Tropical Research Institute specializes in biodiversity and has made numerous ground breaking discoveries over time.

Lake Chagres is fed by Chagres River and serves as a natural sanctuary for monkeys, sloths and exotic birds – often including capuchin and howler monkeys that live there! Monkey Island – named for these residents – often makes an appearance during tours. Monkey Island protects an array of bird and mammal species including toucans!

There are various boat tours available, with the Southbound Panama Canal Cruise being among the most popular. This full-day excursion begins from Gatun Lake toward Pacific Ocean via Flamenco Island before passing through Culebra Cut, Pedro Miguel Locks and Miraflores Locks before sailing under Bridge of Americas into Colon.


Gatun has accommodations suitable for family trips, romantic vacations, business journeys and solo exploration. Our Gatun travel guide makes it simple to compare and select the ideal accommodations based on your travel goals and preferences – such as coffeemaker availability, swimming pools or shuttle services – making finding just the right accommodation much simpler!

The Panama Canal is a world-famous engineering marvel that draws thousands of visitors each year, but dense rainforest and deserted beaches draw even more travelers seeking an ecotourism experience with tropical biodiversity at its most natural state.

Popular activities in this area of Panama are monkey island tours, fishing trips, partial Panama Canal tranists/tours and rainforest trekking. Lake Cocibolca also provides small group tours that explore its jungle and wildlife as well as visit native Panamanian villages – with options of guided or self-guided treks – or staying overwater in one of Jungle Land’s houseboats for accommodation.

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