A Visit to the Amazing Barro Colorado Island

Barro Colorado Island.
Barrigon tree (Pseudobombax septenatum), is approximately 160 years old

Barro Colorado is an island dedicated to the study of tropical forests and is possibly the most studied piece of land in the world.

Located in Panama Oeste, it was previously a Hill, called Palanquilla, but when the Panama Canal was built, the waters of the Chagres river were dammed, the limits of the hill were flooded, isolating it and became an island.

A bit of history

Thanks to the U.S entomologist James Zetek (first director of Barro Colorado), it became a Protected Area in 1923.

Since 1946 it has been administered by the Smithsonian Institute, by 1977, the Bohio, Buena Vista and Frijoles peninsulas in Colon and Peña Blanca and Gigante in Panama Oeste were added, and it was declared a Barro Colorado Natural Monument, with 5,400 has.

The ship makes a trip through the Panama Canal, it will not pass through the locks, but you will be able to see several of the Panamax and Neopanamax ships up close. The trip takes 30 minutes.

STRI Dock.
STRI Dock.

When arriving and walking between the facilities, we were greeted by a ñeque (dasyprocta fuliginosa) that was prowling around the areas, but it quickly entered to the forest, followed by a very beautiful blue morpho butterfly.

When you arrive you can finish getting settled, put on repellent, go to the restroom.

In this visit, it is the second one that I did, they offered me tea, coffee and banana, I do not know if they have added it to the tour or they do it from time to time, yet after having breakfast so early, a snack on arrival I really enjoy it.

The guide, Lili, took us to the video room, where she explained a little about the island, its history, its importance and some of what we can see in it.

It was a good introduction before the trail. Lili is not just a guide, she is a scientist and knows the island.


Before starting on the trail, we went through some areas, such as the future exhibition center, which has a terrace overlooking the Panama Canal.

We saw the old facilities and some studies of the place, as one that is being done to determine what would happen if the floor of a humid tropical forest is heated.


The 28 trails have names of people who contributed to this place, most are scientists, only has the name of a woman, Nemesia, wife of one of the scientists and a cook.

Another trail is Donato, the man who made the trails, carrying the blocks and some have names of the benchmarks that were used previously.

There are countless investigations and cameras everywhere, thanks to technology and GPS, allow scientists to revisit their projects from anywhere in the world.

So, be careful, you can be in some camera and then you will appear in some meme, hahaha.

There will see many flags or tapes, which mark or signal some investigation, also some plates and cages.

Tree Measurement in  Barro Colorado Island.
Tree Measurement.

In the island, there is a 50-hectare plot, the growth of the trees is measured (from 1cm onwards) and the forest is monitored, with this the bases for future projects and experiments can be determined.

This is the first plot created for this purpose, today there are 60 plots in the world.

Hiking in the trail

We start the tour on the trail, Snyder Molino and continue on Thomas Barbour, they are quite easy to navigate.

Although there are ups and downs, we are going at a slow step and Lili explains many things, she showed us a plant that lives in the leaf of another plant, yes on a leaf, is like those movies in which there is a world inside a flower or in a closet.

We listened to toucans and howler monkeys, we saw birds and insects.

Starting the Snyder Molino trail in 
Barro Colorado Island.
Starting the Snyder Molino trail.

Did you know that some animals get to Barro Colorado Island by swimming?

Yes, the puma and the jaguar swim to the island, I would love to see them.

Why do they do it?

Barro Colorado Island belongs to the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, this means that it is a place of migration and is the smallest crossing point for these animals.

The lunch

Lunch is on schedule, so we shorten our way along the Donato trail so as not to miss it.

The route is 2km long and takes approximately 2:30 pm.

In the dining room they offered us a buffet meal: chicken, rice with peas, beans, plantain in temptation, 4 salads, sweets and fruits.

Everything was very good, from there we left almost rolled.

Lili told us that when she has stayed for several months, she returns home with extra weight and her friends and families always ask her if she was on vacation or working hahaha.

Plant that lives inside the leaf of another plant.
Plant that lives inside the leaf of another plant.

We returned to the video room to see a movie of the place.

As we still had a few minutes before leaving, we went to the heliport to see if we could find any of the crocodiles that usually appear in the place, we were not lucky, although on the way back we saw ñeques.

It is important to be attentive and not miss the boat, because if that happens you will have to wait until the next day, without food or bed.


This is a forest dedicated to research, it is forbidden to take the minimum leaf and you should not leave anything, however organic it is, the minimum you can make changes in the forest, example: some tree that does not belong to the area can grow or change the feeding of any animal.

One of the trails covered by the leaves of the trees in Barro Colorado Island
One of the trails covered by the leaves of the trees.

Interesting facts

  • Barro Colorado Island is recognized as a global research model,
  • It is the first research station of the Smithsonian Institute outside the USA,
  • It is the first place where research plots are created.

If you are a scientist and you are interested in doing some research, there are bedrooms, a recreation area, cooks, a high-tech laboratory, a dining room.

Species in Barro Colorado Island

  • 1,369 species of,
  • 335 species of birds,
  • 35 species of amphibians,
  • 71 species of reptiles,
  • 110 species of mammals,
  • 1,600 species of insects (100 of them are butterflies).
Panama Canal.


  • Arrive at least 30 minutes before the departure time of the water transport,
  • Bring water, repellent, rain cape and camera,
  • Binoculars, especially if you like bird watching,
  • A small snack: fruits, nuts, cookies,
  • Booking: make it several months in advance (you cannot go without a booking).

What to wear?

With a sneaker or hiking boot, long pants (not jeans), long socks, shirt with sleeves, preferably colors wear forest colors.

When to go to Barro Colorado Island?

  • January to April: little chance of rain and of seeing animals (because they go further in search of food).
  • May to December: chances of rain, of seeing animals and blooming orchids. They recommended me November.
Dining room in Barro Colorado Island.
Dining room.

The visit includes

  • Guide,
  • Aquatic transport,
  • Explanation of the island,
  • Hike on 2 trails,
  • Lunch.


  • From Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday: 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Saturdays and Sundays: 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.


  • $50.00 Panamanian and resident adult.
  • $100.00 non-resident adult.
  • $25.00 local student.
  • $70.00 non-local student.
  • $40.00 Panamanian retiree.

You can pay by cash, check or credit card.

Each guide can have to 10 people, there is one guide for English and one for Spanish.

If you go alone, it will be easy for you to get a date close, but if you form a group, like, 5 people, perhaps you will not be able to make a booking, even for about 7 months, because they have to see when you can and there are 5 tickets available.

Tours are not private, unless you reserve the guide’s 10 tickets.

How to get to Barro Colorado Island?

Take Omar Torrijos Herrera street, it is the one that goes towards Gamboa, you will pass through the Miraflores locks, Pedro Miguel Locks.

Then, take the street that goes to Summit Park (it is signposted) and continue towards Gamboa.

After passing through the bridge you will see a fork, take the street on the left, then the street will be stone (at least when I went it was like this) continue.

A few meters later you will see on your left the STRI dock, there you will have to park and report, since They have a list with the visitors of the day.

From there you will continue by boat (included in the tour).

I only recommend going by car, because you have to be around 30 minutes before the boat leaves and if you go by bus, especially on the weekend, you may not be able to get a ride or be late (the boat is on time, it doesn’t wait for anyone).

More information and booking: Smithsonian Institute for Tropical Research.

Other places you may like

Some of the Barro Colorado facilities.

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