Monkeying Around in Panama’s Eco-Retreat
Nestled in the lush jungle mountainside of the Chiriqui Provence in Northwestern Panama is the Alouatta Sanctuary. An ecotourism destination, the sanctuary offers guided jungle walks, yoga classes and presentations about its local conservation efforts with resident wildlife specialists.
In the last ten years, Panama’s ecotourism industry has taken off. With a significant emphasis on the importance of conserving the environment, ecotourism is a modern, sustainable form of travel. Although almost 30% of Panama’s land is protected as a National Park, hundreds of the country’s animals are still endangered or critically endangered, and most are likely to be extinct in the next 15 years. Therefore, responsible travel is crucial for this unique area of land and sea.
One of the more important ecotourism destinations in Panama is the Alouatta Sanctuary. It is a wildlife rehabilitation, research and conservation center that allows visitors to get up-close-and-personal with howler monkeys and the various other animals that inhabit the jungle – including toucans, dart frogs, and capybaras. The 41 acres overlook the Golfo de Chiriqui and contain both primary and secondary forest. Primary forest is completed natural and undisturbed forest, while secondary forest is that which has had a serious disturbance at some point, usually by humans.
Guided walks and yoga
The best way to get acquainted with the sanctuary is to take a guided nature tour with one of their resident wildlife specialists. For just $10 per person the tour covers a large portion of the land and it is almost guaranteed to include a sighting of a troop of wild howler monkeys. To go alongside these informative guided tours, the sanctuary also offers more relaxing and spiritual options in the form of private and group yoga classes. Also just $10 per person, the yoga classes take place on a scenic platform that overlooks the Golfo de Chiriqui – a truly spectacular view.
Local Excursions with the Sanctuary
Another excursion the sanctuary offers is an opportunity to visit the local Ngöbe tribes. These tribes usually live in houses made from sticks and banana leaves among the wild jungle. While the male attire is quite plain, the women wear handmade bright cloth dresses called naguas that can be very elaborate with embroidered bands of color. This indigenous village tour includes a 4×4 transport to the village, lunch, a history talk and a visit to the local waterfall – all for $45.
Another popular excursion is a guided coffee plantation tour. The villages here produce some of the best coffee in the Chiriqui Provence, sustainably grown in the shade of the jungle, dried and then ground by hand to be sold to the locals. With coffee tasting included, it is $30 well spent.
Overnight guests in Alouatta Sanctuary can enjoy a stay in a remote Jungle Cabin. Offering some of the most intimate views of the jungle, it’s the perfect way to be at one with nature.. It costs just $60 per night, including three meals a day. Alternatively, to have fewer crickets in more posh accommodation, you can try the Private Casida ($160) located within the botanical garden.
As well as being a tourist attraction, Alouatta has also recently become an international hub for biologists and primatologists interested in studying mantled howler monkeys. Multiple research studies are conducted throughout the year, including so-called howler monkey cognitive studies, behavioral follows and troop identification. The hope is that more definitive information on howler monkey cognitive ability and behavior will help raise awareness for their conservation in the future.
All in all, the Aloatta Sanctuary remains one of Panama’s best – and most eco-friendly – retreats.