Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo in Panama

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If you’re in Panama and looking for things to do in Panama City, consider visiting Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo. We think it is a fabulous animal attraction not just for families, but all tourists. We think it’s one of the best ways to get familiar with the plants and wildlife that exist in Panama.

Summit is a microcosm of the native flora and fauna of Panama and a safe haven for those animals that are fast becoming extinct.

Places to stay

Getting there

Getting to the Summit Botanical Gardens is easiest done by taxi or Uber because the bus takes forever. The Gardens are only 18km outside of Panama City, en route to Gamboa. Depending on traffic and the location of your hotel, it should take you about 20 minutes to a half hour to get there.

summit botanical gardens Panama, Central America, Destinations, Experiences

Visiting details

Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo is open daily from 9 am to 4 pm, though they stop selling tickets at 3 pm. Tickets are $2 for adults and $1 for children and pensioners.

How Summit began

The Summit Gardens were established in 1923 as an experimental farm by the same company that managed the canals. It was created in order to test how plants from other locations dealt with Panama’s climate. They added the zoo in the 1960’s to help preserve endangered local species.

Tip: If you’re an animal lover and want to see more indigenous creatures, you can also take a day trip to El Valle de Anton. El Nispero is the only other zoo in Panama that we are aware of and just 2 hours from Panama City.

Summit gardens

The Summit Botanical Gardens stretch across 250 hectares and is criss-crossed with a number of walking trails to follow. The gardens also have a number of beautifully decorated bridges and turtle-filled lakes to add to the landscaping.

Beautifully decorated bridge over a small section of a turtle filled lake adds to the ambiance of Summit Botanical Gardens

Slip into the arboretums to view coveted tree species such as teak and mahogany. You can also marvel at the massive bamboo forests that peak to create shaded avenues.

A bamboo-lined pathway through the Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo.

The Gardens have plants and trees from all over the world, not just Panama. Many of the plants and trees have information plaques which you can stop and read. And if you keep your eyes peeled, you may see the long hanging nests of the black and yellow birds known as Oropendola.

The long hanging nests of the black and yellow Oropendola hang from a palm tree.

The Botanical Gardens also boast shaded picnic areas and comfortable lawns for you to lounge on and escape the Panama heat. This is particularly ideal for children who want to run and explore.

It’s also great for teaching kids about conservation and wildlife. We saw many school groups doing just that while we were there.

Children from a local school preparing to enter Summit Botanical Gardens & Zoo for education and lunch.

Summit zoo

The ‘zoo’ at the Summit Botanical Gardens is actually a rescue and rehabilitation centre for endangered or mistreated wildlife. There is a wide selection of animals on display but the most popular are the monkeys, tapirs, jaguars, caiman and, of course, the harpy eagle.

Just what I want to do... Sleep like this Gorilla.
Up close and personal with the largest rodent in the world, a Tapir.

Up close and personal with the largest rodent in the world, a Tapir.

This Gibbon loved having his photo taken here at Summit.

This Gibbon loved having his photo taken here at Summit.

Not only is the harpy eagle Panama’s national bird, it is one of the largest and most powerful birds of prey. Sadly, it is endangered and the government is now trying to breed it in captivity to keep numbers from dipping too low. The harpy eagle display is very popular and he is often seen washing his wings in the water.

closeuo of harpy eagle head

The Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo is a wonderful place to explore for a day and learn about the indigenous animals and vegetation of Panama.

It may not be the most state-of-the-art establishment but it gives you an exotic taste of the jungle which sticks with you long after you leave.

Stare down with a beautiful White Umbrella Cockatoo.
Birds everywhere so keep your eyes open while at Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo.

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Written by Dan

Professional photographer specializing in street, food and travel shots.

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18 thoughts on “Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo in Panama”

  1. I still cant get over how cheap the entry to the zoo is!! One of our sons is the biggest animal lover and he would love to see the zoo in Panama – and the botanical gardens is something I would love. Great pictures xx

    • Hi Lisa,

      Thank you for the kind words. We too have one of those “nature lovers” and the zoos, along with other nature parks, are a great place to see animals from the local area. This allows you to learn habits to make them easier to spot in the wild. Our nature boy just visited us here in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and enjoyed the KL Bird Park and the KL Aquarium. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to get him out into nature to spot animals in the wild. Maybe next time. Let us know if you make it to Panama and Summit Zoo, as we’d love to see your photos.

  2. Beautiful photos. Those hanging nests are so interesting. I love tapirs. How did you get so close to that one? I find them to be very shy animals.

    • Thanks for the compliment on the photos, Karen. Dan has a blast when a camera is in his hand.

      He didn’t use a telephoto lens with the tapir. Maybe it was luck that we were near it at the right time, that our viewing platform was near its favorite spot, or that it is used to seeing people. Whatever, the tapir completely ignored us.

  3. Sweet pictures. I just love botanical gardens – so full of interesting local plants and peace. My favorite has been in Rio where you can escape the city to explore a few graceful acres.

    • Thanks for the comment on the photos. Zoos are so much fun. I wish we could have taken Luke and Leia there.

      We really enjoy botanical gardens, as well. You’re right, Elaine, they are very relaxing.

  4. Oh wow! I didn’t know about this place. Actually, I missed it when I visited Panama. Do you know if this is a relatively new place? I am always ready to see animals. As a matter of facts, I saw more wildlife in Panama than in other Central American countries.

    • I’m sorry you missed it, Ruth. Actually, it’s up the road from Miraflores Locks. If you visited Soberania National Park you drove right by it. It’s been there since the 1960s but the signage is minimal.

      Totally agree with you about animals: It’s easy to see them in Panama.

  5. Thanks for sharing the animals of Panama. I’ve never seen a Tapir before – they are very unusual, although we have more than our share of strange animals here in Australia! Love the little video 🙂

    • You certainly DO have your share of unusual critters in Oz! We’ve never seen a wild tapir but we have seen tons of sloths, monkeys and coatimundis. Most people have never heard of that one, so here’s a photo Dan took of a coatimundi. They’re cute, fuzzy little guys and I’ve even fed a couple of them in our travels!

      We couldn’t bring the grandkids to Panama so I thought that Luke and Leia would like to see a video of Summit.

      Thanks for linking up to #TheWeeklyPostcard.

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