Uninhabited, Untamed, and Untouched

Outside of the city and beyond the canal zone, Panama presents a visitor with surprisingly unspoiled nature. So be sure to hone your listening skills and practice watching for the rustling of trees in the canopy above.

The rain forest in Panama covers 63 percent of the country and sequesters 160 tons of carbon per hectare. Offshore, the small country boasts 1,000-plus islands across two oceans, providing critical foundations for coral-reef ecosystems and serving sailors and oceanographers alike as sea-level indicators. 

“Uninhabited” refers only to us, the humans. The rain forest in Panama has a plethora of furry inhabitants. Monkeys of at least six species can be found in the dense rain forest, islands, and around the city — Panama City skyline to your right and monkeys to your left. If you are one of the lucky, you can catch a show from above in the canopy around the city. 

Yes, yes, there are those adorable sloths — pygmy three-toed, brown, and two-toed species found in Panama. Cute they are, but they don’t put on a show like the monkeys. Take photos of the sloths and switch to a video for the monkey show. (And don’t forget to watch where you are walking as there are colorful but poisonous frogs in Panama.)

“Untamed” is the howler monkey. Imagine a horror flick with the loudest guttural sound you have ever heard. That might be the scariest sound you will hear in Panama, or anywhere. You won’t believe it when you see it’s from a monkey that weighs only 17.6 pounds. Scary in sound but cute enough to want to cuddle. 

They are wise to humans, though, and usually try to ignore us. But don’t fret, because they can be up to 3 miles away and still be heard. You tell yourself that as they begin, while you’re either backing away from that sound at the tree line, or enjoying sundowners at a city café. 

 “Untouched beauty” may or may not be true of the spider monkey in Panama. A particular inhabitant in the San Blas Islands has been known to interact with guests on his island; we will assume he is in charge. That’s Mobly, the spider monkey. (Please don’t quote me on his name, though, as there is a language barrier with the indigenous Gun Yala Indians who inhabit the islands and speak their own language.) 

Despite the language barrier, the Gun Yala are very inviting and pleased to share their piece of paradise with you. So, imagine walking along the most beautiful white sand, palm tree-lined beach, and up walks a monkey. Mobly grabs your hand to continue strolling with you. 

That’s right, the monkey who.… 

By Michelle Shultz


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