Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo
The Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo (off Gaillard Highway, tel. 232-4854, www.summitpanama.org, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, US$1) are worth a quick side trip on the way to or from Gamboa. They were created by the Panama Canal Company in 1923 for the study of tropical plants and turned over to the Panama government in 1985.
The place has deteriorated in recent years, but some efforts are being made to fix it up. At last count there were 4,000 plants representing 366 species still growing in the gardens.
Summit Gardens also has a small zoo that contains tapirs, caimans, jaguars, and other large animals. Many of their cages are tiny and antiquated, which will disturb many visitors.
The harpy eagle compound, Summit’s showcase, is more encouraging. The harpy eagle is the world’s most powerful bird of prey; it can grow up to a meter long from bill to tail. Sadly, it’s also endangered.
The bird is indigenous to Panama, and a major purpose of the compound is to try to get the birds to reproduce in captivity. The specimens here are magnificent, with thick plumage, fearsome hooked bills, and steely talons. They look like stoic high chiefs.
Getting to Summit Botanical Gardens and Zoo
Summit Gardens is just off Gaillard Highway, a few kilometers before the town of Gamboa.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition