I don’t know of a ship tour that goes to the Canopy Tower in Panama, perhaps because people on cruise ships take the elevator from Deck 5 to Deck 6, but I’m sure you can find a taxi driver that will take you out to visit. It is about an hour drive from Colon or Panama City, kind of midway between the two. .
Canopy Tower was originally built in 1965 as a radar tower used by the United States Air Force in defense of the Panama Canal; it was later employed for air-traffic control and for the detection of planes suspected of running drugs from South America. In 1997 a prominent Panamanian businessman and conservationist named Raúl Arias de Para bought the abandoned property and embarked upon what he calls “the ultimate recycling project” of a structure that has been lovingly compared to a giant beer can. Today, a stay at the Canopy Tower is one of the premier ecotourism experiences in the world.
NEWSWEEK has a story “Going To The Birds”, all about this ecological attraction next to the Panama Canal.
With its old radar dome looming overhead like an enormous bubble, the tower looks from the outside much like the military installation it once was. This is intentional; Arias de Para wants guests to see that swords can be made into plowshares. “To take down the dome,” he says, “would be like taking the head off a statue.” Inside, every feature of the tower is designed with the birder in mind. Two floors of guest rooms fit together around the cylindrical structure like pieces of pie, giving each window an equally strategic view into the trees; this way, retiring to your room doesn’t have to mean missing a keel-billed toucan. The third floor doubles as dining room and natural-history library, complete with hammocks and couches near the windows so you can read with binoculars in your lap.
But the focal point of the tower lies at the top of its last flight of stairs. Climb these, and you emerge through a hatch onto the observation deck, a dazzling 360-degree open-air walkway around the dome that provides a panoramic view of the rainforest canopy. Birder, bird watcher, nonbirder—on that deck it doesn’t matter, because the birds are all there, right in front of you at eye level. It is impossible not to be drawn in. My mom and I saw scores of avian species, but also howler monkeys, sloths, tamarins, all kinds of bats and butterflies—as well as freight ships making their way through the Panama Canal—without taking more than a few steps one way or another.
If you are embarking or disembarking your cruise in Panama you can stay at Canopy Tower. Day visits are available, and you can check their Web site and see if you can work one into your visit.