Panamania Day 4: Monkey Islands

Panamania Day 4: Monkey Islands

November 11, 2019 2 By Audrey

For something different, we scheduled a Monkey Island Tour on our fourth day in Panama. We weren’t sure what to expect, this was another tour we’d scheduled months in advance, and the guide was set to pick us up early in the morning from the hotel. This was the first morning we were able to take advantage of the tasty complimentary breakfast at the hotel.


Adam, a young college student and our tour guide for the day picked us up right on schedule and drove us the 40 min to the Gamboa public boat docks.

It was stated there is a minimum number of participants for the tour to run, and that number must be one, because it was just my mom and I boarding the small tour boat with our guide and boat operator. This was a big plus of visiting during the off season.

We boated along the Chagres River in the Panama Canal heading west to the Monkey Islands.

We idled slowly, waited a bit, but no monkeys. Until our boat driver whistled and then tiny Geoffroy’s Tamarin monkeys, or “titi”monkeys, appeared out of the trees.

They have tiny hands, little old man faces, and white mohawks. They eat only fruit and insects, they are non-agressive, and they are ADORABLE.

We may have fed these monkeys (we fed the monkeys!), and I struggle with the ethics of feeding wildlife in this setting (no touch monkey!) and in retrospect, I’d probably ask that we just view them from the boat. But it was really an amazing experience. I could get deep into it, but I’m not going to, so, inspired by the monkeys we saw on our trip, I made a donation to the Gamboa Sloth Sanctuary and Wildlife Rescue Center.

The trip was so worth it. And we still had many more monkeys to meet. We boated over to another part of the island where it was quiet, our guide whistled, then more monkeys came out!

These were Capuchin Monkeys, slightly larger than tamarins.

Hola, mi amigo

Just like Panamanian turtles, they come in all sizes, small, medium, and large.

The third and largest species we saw on the tour were Mantled Howler Monkeys. These are not monkeys you want with you in the boat.

Mantled Howler Monkey

We were happy to admire from afar while it grunted and groaned in response to the boat engine noise.

Of course we saw more than monkeys on this tour. One of the coolest and most surprising experiences happened as we went along, all of a sudden, Snail Kite coming in hot!

The photos are blurry, but my memory is clear, my first time seeing a Snail Kite and it’s grabbing a snail?! What could be more perfect. Maybe if there were several more Snail Kites in the vicinity?

There were, and in all kinds of varieties.

Snail Kite
Snail Kite
Also a Snail Kite

Once vagrants to the area, Snail Kites are doing well since apple snails were introduced into Gatun Lake in the 80’s as a way to control Hydrilla (an aquatic plant) that was clogging waterways for boats. I can’t help but wonder what other unintended consequences adding those snails to the ecosystem had? Difficult to know, but another bird benefiting from the snails are Limpkins!


One of my absolute favorites. The boat guide noticed my interest in the birds and he aimed the boat at a few others.

Common Gallinule (with apple snail eggs on the stump)
Greater Ani
Yellow-headed Caracara

And Black-bellied Whistling Ducks flying right by us.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

The guide also pointed out a small bonus Caiman on the bank.


It was really a fun trip! A wonderful way to experience the canal and Panama’s primates. Special thanks to our tour guide and boat captain!