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Rainforest Discovery Center

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Just off Pipeline Road and bordering Soberanía National Park — approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) from the park entrance — is the Rainforest Discovery Center.

If you're a birder or just looking for a bird's-eye view of the rainforest canopy, the Rainforest Discovery Center is a great place to visit. The facility offers visitors a 105 ft. (32 m) birdwatching observation tower, hummingbird feeders, and a circuit of trails, making it well worth the price of admission. Get there as early as possible because that's when the viewing is best.

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The Observation Tower

A short walk from the visitor center—an open structure surrounded by lush, verdant rainforest — is the observation tower, which clears the canopy and provides panoramic views of the surrounding forest. Home to an impressive collection of birds and animal species, it is ideal for birders and nature lovers and is best enjoyed early morning or late afternoon.

Unfortunately, the tower is not as sturdy as I expected and, as a result, is not well suited for videography, time-lapses, telescopes, etc. For still photographs or general viewing purposes, you shouldn't be bothered. The structure is very safe, so you need not be concerned for your safety. It's a design flaw. While visually attractive, the tower is surprisingly narrow and consists of a spiral staircase with 174 stairs, and even the slightest movement causes it to shake or sway. Even a single person walking up the stairs or moving from one side of the platform to another is enough to sway the tower. The more people, the more noticeable it becomes. Honestly, it can be frustrating at times.

A good pair of binoculars is necessary. If you're taking pictures, I recommend a lens longer than 300mm; 400+mm is best. Sometimes, the animals get close enough to shoot with a 70-200mm, but birds, not so often.

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Hummingbirds Galore!

Along the open edge are hummingbird feeders, so you're guaranteed to get a good look at various species. Stools and a wooden handrail run along the perimeter, so there's plenty of room to relax and observe flora and fauna.

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Getting to the Rainforest Discovery Center

Google Map - Rainforest Discovery Center

There are no public buses that reach the entrance of Pipeline Road. Metro buses only go as far as Summit Gardens. However, small, private mini-vans service Gamboa from the Albrook Bus Terminal. They depart five times daily from behind the food eatery; you will need to look for the "PIO PIO" chicken fast-food restaurant. Walk to the right, and then turn left at the first entrance; you will see buses in front of you. To pass through the turnstiles, you will need a RAPI>PASS bus card, which you can purchase for $2.00 at the machine along the wall before reaching the turnstiles. In addition to the card, you will need to add $1.00 to cover the terminal entrance fee, which is $0.10. The bus trip costs $2.00 per person (each way) and takes approximately 45 minutes, depending on traffic.

Get off the bus at the last stop along the main road before turning right; before reaching Gamboa, you will cross over the Chagres River. There is an abandoned basketball court on the left side of the road.

From here, continue walking straight along the cement road, and shortly, you'll pass a Smithsonian Institute Scientific Research Station to your right. A few minutes later, the left side of the road opens up, and you'll see the canal and the many maintenance installations. Continue walking until you reach the intersection. From the bus stop, it shouldn't take more than 10 minutes.

At the intersection, stay left and continue along the asphalt road. There is a sign pointing to the Rainforest Discovery Center (2.4 Km).

After 4-5 minutes, the road turns to gravel and bends to the right. On the right side is a steel guard rail, and on the left is a railroad crossing. As you walk around the bend, there's a noticeable incline.

Follow this road for another 4-5 minutes, staying left until reaching a yellow security gate. Before the gate, turn right. There is another sign pointing to the Center (2.2 Km).

Further ahead (2-3 minutes) is the entrance to Pipeline Road, where you'll find an abandoned ranger station. If you are arriving by car, there is space off to the right where you can park; the road is not well suited for automobiles. Passenger vans, pick-ups, and SUVs are needed.

The trail is well-maintained and composed primarily of dirt and stones. Thick forest lines both sides of the trail, so there are no expansive views; the area directly overhead is usually open. The road is mostly flat, with gradual inclines and declines. I'd say it's easy, low-impact walking. After a hard rain, there might be areas with large, deep puddles and mud, so I highly recommend hiking shoes — not sandals.

From the ranger station, it shouldn't take more than 25-30 minutes to reach the turnoff for the Rainforest Discovery Center. It all depends on how quickly you walk and if you're birding/animal viewing along the way. It could take hours!

There is a faded sign at the turnoff, but you should not have any problem finding it; it is the only intersection along Pipeline Road. Turn left, and immediately off to the right, is the welcome office, which also sells refreshments and snacks. From there, it's a short walk to the viewing tower.

The staff is helpful, knowledgeable, and bilingual (Español and English). They can answer any question you have.

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