Gamboa Rainforest Resort

On the Panama Canal

First Impressions of Gamboa, Panama

On the road into the small town of Gamboa for a stay at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, you experience quite a transformation from your arrival at the modern Tocumen Airport just 45 minutes before. There’s a drive down a two lane highway through dense rainforest before you emerge on the banks of the Chagres River. There, you wait your turn to cross a one-lane Panama Canal era iron and wood bridge to enter the town of Gamboa.

Bridge into Gamboa, Panama

Panama Canal-Era one lane rickety wood and iron bridge into Gamboa, Panama.

Like Stepping Back in Time

While I did feel that my sense of place and time had shifted in a short time, it still didn’t prepare me for the moment I walked into the lobby of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort (GRR) and looked out the floor to ceiling windows.

Panoramic windows of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort

Breathtaking views of the Chagres River and jungle from the five-story windows that grace the lobby of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort.

Even though I had already been in the rainforests of Central America for three weeks, that view of the river and jungle gave me the most potent sense of being in a scene caught in my imagination probably from a dozen jungle movies I had viewed at some time. To me, the trees and river I was viewing looked more like a mural painted on the wall than the actual place I was now inhabiting.

Pool in Gamboa, Panama

The large pool at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort provides a colorful blue punctuation in a green landscape.

Within 24 hours, I told Diane, “I want to own this place.” Not once in my life, had I ever been an aspiring hotelier, but this place somehow captured my imagination for what a destination in the rainforest could be.


The rooms at this resort are quite nice. The beds are comfortable and the bathrooms are a good size. Each room has a balcony with a hammock (I have heard that the hotel is in the middle of a major remodel, so there may be nicer amenities soon.) The hotel tries to capture that turn of the 20th century colonial jungle feel.

Guest room at Gamboa Rainforest Resort

Typical guest room in the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, Panama

Gamboa was originally a small settlement for Panama Canal builders from the U.S. and the historic houses are just outside the hotel grounds. In fact, the hotel also owns some or many of the historic Canal Zone homes which can be rented for large parties or for people who just want to get away from the main hotel.

Gamboa, Panama home built in 1930's

Gamboa homes built around the 1930’s for workers on the Panama Canal

Food at Gamboa Rainforest Resort 

When I say the resort is the only place in town to get food, it is literally true. There is no other place to buy anything in Gamboa—not a convenience store, not a vending machine—nothing! There are three restaurants which are part of the hotel. It’s not that the food is terrible, I just kept thinking about what it could be. Breakfast, which is included in your lodging fee, is served daily and includes a buffet. They have all the usual breakfast fare and it’s exactly what you’d expect. Lunch and dinner, either buffet or from a menu are served in this same dining room which is downstairs in the main building.

There are two other restaurants, El Corotu (serving Panamanian fare in the main building) and Los Lagartos (in a separate building on the river.) Los Lagartos was closed during the time we stayed at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, and El Corotu (dinner only) in the lobby appeared to be quite expensive for the food that was offered.  Perhaps the 2017 renovation will make it into an all-inclusive destination.

Lobby of Gamboa Rainforest Resort with El Corotu Restaurant

El Corotu restaurant is the glass enclosed structure on the right, so you can enjoy the views while you dine.

An Amazing Turn of the Century Library

This resort also boasts a library. It is accessed from the stairs going up in the lobby. Make sure you visit. There’s something about being in a room with dark wood, ornate spiraling iron ladders, and old books that gives me a thrill. It’s so unexpected here! In my imagined ownership of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, this room becomes the resource center for those who want to fill their heads with knowledge of rainforest flora and fauna. During your stay, pick up a book, relax in one of the leather chairs, and soak in the ambience.

Leather chairs in the Library at Gamboa Rainforest Resort

Brown leather chairs grace the turn-of-the-century colonial era library at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort in Gamboa, Panama.

The Gamboa Rainforest Resort Pool

The pool area is expansive and the water is refreshing. Those who spend time in tropical countries know having cool refreshing breaks are lifesaving. The thing is that the pool, like many other things at Gamboa Rainforest Resort just misses the mark. There are little cracks in the cement all around the pool. The plantings in the pool area don’t look good or are non-existent. Everything just seems a little worse for wear and the venue isn’t utilized to its maximum potential. Nonetheless, it is wonderful to have this cool oasis in the heat and humidity of Panama.

Pool Area at Gamboa Rainforest Resort

A spacious pool graces the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, with a gazebo for special occasions.

Jungle Exploration Activities

Gamboa Rainforest Resort’s biggest plus is the number of activities that they have available for people of all ages. There is the Aerial Tram which we loved, and is free for guests. A sloth was resting in a tree just 4 feet from our tram seats!

Aerial rainforest canopy tram at Gamboa, Panama

A guide introduces visitors to the rainforest canopy environment on the aerial tram.

There is a tower to climb to get an even better view of the rainforest. If you are interested in the canal, there’s a boat tour than includes the canal and Lake Gatun. In addition, you can partake in a tour of a nearby indigenous village.

Rowboat on the Chagres River in Gamboa, Panama

A rowboat rests onshore in the Embera Village along the Chagres River at Gamboa, Panama

Also, the hotel has its own amazing exhibits with species from the surrounding habitats. These include a butterfly garden, an orchid garden, an amphibian habitat, and a reptile house (sadly closed when we were there.)

Collage of jaguar, poison dart frog and orchid.

Panama’s rainforest supports jaguars, strawberry poison dart frogs and orchids

Tour of the Rainforest at Night

Another experience that was included in the price of our stay was a nighttime nature tour. This experience didn’t yield much in the way of wildlife sighting, but had a lot of other excitement. About 15 of us piled into an open sided African safari-type vehicle with slippery bench seats. There was a driver and a “guide” present. The guide stood behind the cab with a large handheld spotlight.

Taking off at about 40 miles per hour, the guide would whip her light from road to tree and yell in passing, “There’s an agouti!” “See the rabbit?” (What Panamanians call a rabbit is actually a paca, relative of agoutis and guinea pigs.)  The truck never slowed down and you could never see the sight, but you did get to know the other passengers on an intimate basis lurching from side to side on the seats as the truck careened around town. It was a hoot!

Safari style truck

Open safari-style truck with slippery benches used for guided tours at Gamboa Rainforest Resort in Panama.

My Gamboa Rainforest Resort Dream

 As I said before, I’ve never had any desire to own a large hotel or even a small one. This place captured me. Here are some of my ideas for the place. (Hotel owners, please feel free to run with these.)

  • Make GRR the Premier science-based rainforest destination in the world. Heck, the Smithsonian Tropical Rainforest Institute is right there in Lake Gatun. The scientific community and bird lovers, forest lovers and others could be the center of this business.

    Green snake in rainforest

    A harmless rainforest snake slithers along the canopy tower at Gamboa Rainforest Resort.

  • Bring in the best chefs from Panama City, extend the restaurant hours and make it a food and drink destination.

  • Provide state of the art technology for meeting rooms and the library. Meetings and classes on the rainforest could be held there year round.

  • Emphasize the view. Increase seating, cocktail service, and food to areas with the breathtaking view of the Chagres.

    Confluence of Chagres River and the Panama Canal

    Chagres River where it runs into the Panama Canal in Gamboa, Panama.

  • Increase the nature and wildlife rescue emphasis. There is already a good foundation with the evening programs presented by the Asociacion Panamericana para la Conservacion.

    Woman holds a three-toed sloth.

    Yiscel is the beloved mother of many sloths who are being raised or rehabilitated at the wildlife facilities of the Asociacion Panamericana para la Conservacion.  They have a rehab center on site at Gamboa Rainforest Resort.

  • Use the beautiful pool area to its fullest. Put in a full service bar and outdoor eating venue. Provide great snacks and fun around the pool at a price.

    Pool at Gamboa Rainforest Resort

    View from our room over the Gamboa Rainforest Resort pool, the Chagres River and jungle hills beyond.

Gamboa Rainforest Resort in a Nutshell

I love this place. Can’t wait to see it again…

Stay Tuned for More From Panama

We had so much fun in the mountains, jungles and beaches of Panama, we’ll be sharing a lot more.  So come on back next week for more stories from our arsenal of fun!

Join our email list in the right sidebar above in one simple step to be notified when a post is published.  It’s just one less thing you’ll have to remember, right? 

No spam.  We PROMISE.

Gamboa Rainforest Resort

Pipeline Road

Don’t Drive in Panama City, Panama!

With no street names or numbers, and 24 hour traffic jams, don’t drive in Panama City, Panama. Walk, take a cab, a bus, a train, or bike instead! Listen to our funny experience and enjoy the beautiful photos.

Gamboa Rainforest Resort

Where the Chagres River meets the Panama Canal, the Gamboa Rainforest Resort nestles in a tropical rainforest filled with wildlife, culture, & relaxation-ahhhh. We especially recommend Gamboa, Panama for nature lovers.

Magical, Mystical Bali

A traveler’s introduction to the magical, mystical Hindu island of Bali, Indonesia.

8 Delicacies of Mexico’s Yucatan

Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula has great food sourced in the Mayan culture. We encourage you to be gastronomically adventurous on your visit to this magical region. Two main ingredients are sour orange juice and a specialty spice paste called recado.

3 Perfect Days in Cozumel, Mexico

There is something exceptional about the island of Cozumel, Mexico. The energy, the peace, the people, the ocean. Sea turtles nest here in counterbalance to huge cruiseships. Somehow, the synergy of her Mayan goddess Ix Chel prevails.

Cozumel, Mexico

The Mayan “island of swallows” known as Cozumel basks in the warm Caribbean Sea off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Famous for idyllic beaches, water sports, diving on the Meso-American Coral Reef with its rich underwater flora and fauna, the isle is a warm, welcoming immersive experience into Mexican and Mayan culture.

Vibrant San Miguel de Allende # 2

Countless travelers have come to San Miguel de Allende for a few weeks’ vacation, and never made it back home. So charmed were they by the hip, colonial, old-Mexico modern vibe that they purchased homes on the spot and had their worldly goods shipped south from the USA or Canada.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico #1

Traditional, eclectic, historic, vibrant, artsy. All these words have been used to describe the village of San Miguel de Allende located in Mexico’s heartland state of Guanajuato. With an energetic nightlife, outdoorsy focus, international ex-pat community and welcoming local residents, anything and everything that interests you is here in a temperate mountain environment.

Top 7 Things to Do on Staycation

Sometimes a great choice for time off is to catch up on tasks that are stressing us, establish practices to feel more relaxed and less harried, and just explore and enjoy where we live and spending time with family and friends.

Chichen Itza, Mayan Metropolis

A visit to Chichen Itza is awe inspiring, BUT there are key travel tips you need to know to fully appreciate and enjoy your visit, avoiding the throngs of vendors. Read our Best Travel Advice section to hone in on the best options. You’ll be glad you did.

Idyllic Paamul Beach and RV Community on the Mexican Riviera

Projecting a 1960’s style hippie beach commune vibe, the hidden gem of Paamul on the Mexican Riviera has remained a pristine paradise. The offshore coral reef is breathtaking and in good condition. Scenery here boasts the whitest of beaches caressed by a turquoise sea, alive with coral and tropical fish. Also an RV Community, it’s a Baby-Boomer’s dream of tropical bliss.

Yal-Ku Lagoon on the Riviera Maya

Yal-Ku is a protected lagoon where freshwater from the cenote empties into the salty ocean. Rich in fish and wildlife, it’s a safe and easy snorkel for all abilities. It Is also a wonderful outdoor sculpture exhibit and provides a café for snacks. Adjacent to Akumal, this place has it all!

Akumal on the Riviera Maya

Akumal on the Riviera Maya is a complex of five beautiful beaches known for easy to find sea turtles and rays. It is an ex-pat hangout and gets busy in the middle of the day. Best relaxation and snorkeling is early morning and late. Great beach restaurants make this an ideal chill spot.

Xcaret Park, Riviera Maya

Xcaret Eco-Archaeological Park is a must-see on the Riviera Maya of Mexico. Plan two days if possible because there is so much to see and do: wildlife, Mayan culture including the famously difficult ball game, geology, swimming, Mexican heritage, orchids, great food and drink. There are beautiful evening shows to enjoy as well.

Swim with Whale Sharks

From June to September each year, lovers of fish and wildlife can snorkel or dive with the largest fishes in the ocean – whale sharks. These mammoth filter feeders feast on zooplankton off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. They are truly gentle giants.

The Town and Beaches of Tulum

Tulum is a fascinating mix of Mayan archaeology, Mexican history and international boutique beach hotels. The beaches are all idyllic Caribbean white sand and turquoise waters. Visit now, before planned government developments attract the huge tourist crowds of Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

Tankah Tres Beach & Cenote Manatee

This beach and cenote go by multiple names. By any measure, Tankah Tres Beach and Cenote Manatee are a mellow, uncrowded spot to relax for a day, or an entire vacation. Snorkel, swim, dive, birdwatch, sunbathe, relax. Close enough to Tulum to access fancy restaurants and nightlife, this is an ideal spot on the Riviera Maya.

Great Eats by Arenal Volcano

The restaurant Chifa La Familia Feliz is operated by a classically trained Peruvian chef in La Fortuna, Costa Rica near Arenal Volcano. Chifa is a synthesis of Chinese and Peruvian cuisine very popular in Peru, and Lima in particular. Chef Martin cooks behind a glass wall, so you can watch your meal taking shape in the immaculate kitchen of this 6-table delight. Eat here. Definitely.

Aktun Chen on Riviera Maya

Beautiful dry cave, cenote, zoo and zipline experience. Aktun-Chen is Mayan for cave (Aktun) and underground river (Chen). They emphasize the importance of protecting endangered species and maintaining jungle habitats. We support their efforts.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Playa del Carmen, Mexico is a touristy beach town on the Caribbean. It’s quite laid back compared to Cancun. A great central location for exploration of Riviera Maya and the Yucatan Peninsula, it has everything for a relaxing or energizing vacation.

Gelaterias in Panama

Gelato and Italian food is everywhere in Panama due to a 1966 immigration agreement. What a treat for tourists and residents! The gelato is made with the freshest Panamanian fruits and It’s totally delicious.

Riviera Maya Overview, Mexico

On Mexico’s Riviera Maya, you can have any vacation experience you desire: chill-out, luxury, budget, wildlife, adrenalin adventure, educational, historical, geological, archaeological, shop-till-you-drop or party all night. What a fabulous place. We can’t stop going back.

Shake Your Booty, Agouti

Our original fresh tropical fruit drink recipe created with overproof Jamaican rum and Caribbean Guavaberry Liquor – very potent. After one of these you’ll want to “Shake Your Booty, Agouti”!

The Relationship Between Arts & Culture

The arts are an expression of prevailing culture, both the positives and negatives. Arts are shaped by culture. Personal expression holds a mirror to society and shapes culture in turn. This creates a rich on-going dialog.