Wildlife in Panama

Dolphins swam around our boat in Bocas del Toro Panama

The wildlife in Panama is amazing. In our travels around the country, we saw many monkeys, slews of sloths, and a lot of birds and marine life. Saw? We got close to lots of cool animals. Here’s what we saw and where we saw them.

Monkeys Everywhere

We saw – and heard – monkeys all over the Caribbean side of Panama. Even in populated areas, we communed with monkeys, like in Bocas del Toro when the howlers were hanging in the trees right next to the road.

Howler Monkeys hanging together in Bocas del Toro Panama

We spotted monkeys in Linton Bay, Shelter Bay, in Bocas del Toro and the Chagres River. The most common by far are the howler monkeys. They roar, but they are tiny and cute, very different than they sound! I miss the sound of these animals. Howlers were so common on the Caribbean side: at Shelter, Linton, and Rio Chagres, their monkey roars almost became the soundtrack to our lives there.

monkey Rio Chagres Panama
We saw this monkey hanging out over the Rio Chagres

If you’re at Shelter Bay, hike up the hill past the boatyard and look for monkeys around the old buildings. We saw capuchins, the white faced monkeys, a couple of times when we walked up there.

Capuchin monkey in Panama
Capuchin monkey in Panama

Isla Linton, the small island in Linton Bay, is known as Monkey Island. But be forewarned, they are territorial and will attack! Do not exit your boat near this island. We dinghied over and took photos but the monkeys approached – looking for food, probably. These monkeys were the biggest we’ve seen, most likely the spider monkeys.

big monkey in tree Panama
I thought this big monkey would jump in our dinghy in Linton bay!

Sloths

I love sloths! They’re so cute, with their smiling faces and cool moves. They look like they do nothing but they are always moving, just slowly. Our exposure to sloths in Bocas del Toro at Red Frog was a highlight of our Panama wildlife encounters!

Sloth in tree Panama
Sloth at Red Frog marina

How happy was I when we found more sloths near Playita on the Pacific side of Panama.

Sloth licking rain off the fence near Marina Playita

Just because they are so cute, here are more photos of the sloths from Bocas del Toro, mama and baby.

sloth in a tree Panama
Sloth in Bocas del Toro Panama
Mama and Baby Sloth
Mama and Baby Sloth
Baby sloth in the wild Panama
Baby sloth

Dolphins

Bocas del Toro was the the best spot in Panama for us to spot dolphins. They swam around our anchorage and even the marina at Red Frog so often that tour boats were usually there looking for them.

dolphins Red Frog marina
Dolphins at the marina at Red Frog

Plus, visiting dolphins were one of the few bright spots on our passage back to Shelter Bay. Any sane people love dolphins so please do what you can to protect them!

Dolphins in blue Caribbean water in Panama
Dolphins in Bocas del Toro Panama

Rays

One of our most memorable recent experiences in Panama was when we sailed back from Las Perlas and encountered massive schools of southern sting rays. They were leaping out of the water all around us!

southern sting rays floating in the ocean
Southern sting rays floating by our boat in Las Perlas

Thousands of rays alternated flying out of the sea, and slapping back down. We heard those slaps over and over and enjoyed every minute watching these beautiful animals!

Southern sting rays in the sea outside Panama city and Las Perlas

Panama Wildlife: Agoutis and Coatis

Panama is known for sloths and monkeys, but it’s home to other wild creatures you may not have heard of before. We saw coatis and agoutis, two different rodents, near roads and in jungle on the Caribbean side of the country.

Agoutis are like big rats. They didn’t approach us; nor did they appear scared of us. They just stayed in the brush foraging food. I would say they were more timid than coatis because I couldn’t get a good photo of them.

Coatis are more like raccoons or possums with big thick tails and long snouts. We saw them in the jungle and crossing the road near Shelter Bay.

Agouti in Panama
Coati in Panama
Coati crossing the road in Panama
A coati crossing the road in Panama

Armadillo

On one of our walks in Shelter Bay, we spotted an armadillo digging alongside the road. It was cool to see one of these weird looking animals in the wild! You can see it’s striped tail in the video and I got a better shot below.

Armadillo in Panama
Armadillo
A better shot of the armadillo’s distinctive tail

Wildlife in Panama: Red Frog

I can’t ignore the tiny but beautiful – and deadly – red frog of Bocas del Toro. I thought this frog was going to be much bigger than it was. We often found them lying in tiny wet spots on leaves after it rained.

red frog in the tree
A red frog in Isla Bastimentos, Bocas del Toro
red frog in Panama
Red frog in Panama

So Many Birds

Panama is a paradise for bird watchers, and even amateurs like us who don’t know the names of the birds. The diversity is pretty impressive, with seabirds and toucans and yes, even Canadian geese.

birds in the san blas

We saw a toucan in the San Blas and will never forget getting so close to one these colorful tropical birds.

Toucan in a tree Rio Diablo, Panama
The toucan sitting in a tree on the shore of Rio Diablo
Blue bird blue beak Panama
Heron in San Blas
A red bird in the San Blas

birds in las perlas, panama

Outside of the San Blas, the best places we visited for spotting bird life were Rio Chagres and Las Perlas/Pearl Islands. We saw many huge flocks flying in the air, roosting in trees, and feeding in the waters around the Pearl Islands.

Pelican soaring through the air in Las Perlas
Bird soaring through the air in Las Perlas
flock of pelicans Las Perlas Panama
Pelicans flying in Las Perlas, Panama
Oyster catchers - birds-  in Las Perlas
Oyster catcher in Las Perlas, Panama

rio chagres bird life

I don’t have a lot to say about these birds, except that they were a nice part about anchoring in Panama. We were away from towns and people and just got to soak up nature and the outdoors and commune with birds.

Bird on a branch
Bird in Rio Chagres
Two Mangrove swallows on dinghy engine Panama
Mangrove swallows visited us in Rio Chagres

We are lucky to live on our boat in tropical climates and have wild animals approach and even visit. Plus, to snorkel or hike and get close to these creatures in their natural habitats is wonderful. Interacting with wildlife in Panama, from sloths to dolphins to coatis, is a highlight of this life!

We Call them Trash Pandas in Toronto

Yes, raccoons live in Panama, at least on the Pacific side near Panama City. They loiter around the common areas of the marina, and jump in the garbage just like back home. These guys are quite a bit smaller than their North American counterparts. They still get way too close for comfort though, coming right up to the table where people are eating. No thank you!

raccoon
Raccoon at Playita marina Panama City
begging raccoons
More raccoons begging

Panama is a wild place with a lot of diversity. Being the bridge between North and South America means a variety of animals of all sorts. We’re glad we got to experience so much of Panama’s beauty and wildlife.

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Author: Mel

Living aboard a sailboat, blogging about the places we visit and the adventures we have. Love hiking, cycling, scuba, animals and adventure.

6 thoughts on “Wildlife in Panama”

  1. So cool! I love the dolphins and sloths. Those raccoons are so cute too, but I get that they can be menaces to garbage and recycling!

  2. Oh, those sloths are just adorable!!! I can see why they were a trip highlight. Great pictures and content, thanks for sharing.

  3. Squeee you must have had so much fun seeing all these!! I would LOVE to see the sloth and the coati with their cute fuzzy faces! The red frog is really cool too!

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