Gatún Lake, Panama City
Monkey Island trips are a top tourism activity in Panama City, Panama – you’ll see them advertised everywhere and every tour company offering them. While most tourist traps can be somewhat overhyped, this trip will not let you down, provided you follow our golden rules.
Most tour companies offer a pickup service from your hotel, if you’re just visiting the city, and will drive you to and from the boat dock in Gamboa. This is a great option if you’re not familiar with the city, or comfortable driving somewhere and leaving your car unattended for the day. Alternatively, if you’re ok with driving in the city and exploring then you can drive yourself to Gamboa and there is a small carpark near the dock where you can leave your car.
The trip to Monkey Island takes you through Lake Gatun which means you get to ride alongside the giant ships that pass through the Panama Canal; pretty awesome, right!? It’s about 15 minutes or so to get from Gamboa Marina to the ‘island’. Full disclosure here, the name is a little misleading, it’s not actually an island. You’ll actually be looking for monkeys in the trees along the edges of Lake Gatun, but as you go along it does have the feel of islands. Most tours spend around 90 minutes with the monkeys, so you’re looking at around 2 hours for the tour itself with the boat travel. Then with travel to and from Gamboa you’ll want to factor in about 4 hours for this trip. So it’s a great half day filler that allows you to tag on something else, like maybe a visit to the Miraflores Locks.
On the Monkey Island trip you have the opportunity to see White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys, Howler Monkeys (if you don’t see them, you’ll hear ‘em), and Geoffrey’s Tamarind Monkeys.
Now let’s get to those all important rules so that you have the BEST time…
And we mean early, like 7am. It’s the best time of day for the monkeys to be out. If you go later in the day, there’s a chance you will see very few or no monkeys at all. Also, if you go at this time, the monkeys are hungry and will come down and eat from your hands. If you go later, other tourists will have fed them, they’ll be full, and they won’t come down to the boat.
Buy a bunch because these are not always provided with tours. Chop some into small chunks, these can be fed to the White Capuchin monkeys. Mash some right down as if you’re making a banana cake and these can be fed to the smaller Geoffrey’s Tamarind monkeys. No bananas – no monkeys, they’ll go find another boat that does have them.
Have someone on hand with a camera so you don’t miss the magical moment that a monkey eats from your hand!
Be prepared for any weather!
This is Panama and the weather these days can be a little unpredictable. If it’s the dry season you’re pretty much guaranteed a dry day, but better to be safe than sorry. We would have a raincoat or poncho on hand just in case. Also make sure you have sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and plenty of water.
Watch your hair and your hat!
These monkeys can be mischievous little fellas and sometimes they have been known to take a hat, or a mouthful of hair, so just keep an eye on them.
Follow these tips and you’re sure to have an awesome time!
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