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