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“Meihoukai! Get over here, now! The toucan has landed!” Anders hissed at me before slinking back to his lookout, binoculars pressed to his face. No, we weren’t rehearsing for our stage debut in the roles of secret service agents (though, I will say that if someone made a Broadway show out of , I’d be there on opening night.) We were birding.

We were perched in the open air lobby of the of El Valle, a member of Canopy Family — a group of four lodgings and one zipline that lead the pack for ecotourism and birding in Panama. Yup, birding. While I’ve never really thought of myself as much of a fowl fan, our hummingbird hunting in Mindo suggested otherwise. So when Canopy Lodge invited us to come stay for a night, we figured why not? It would, at the very least, break up what would otherwise be a ten-hour, three-bus journey between Panama and our next major destination of Santa Catalina.

We caught a direct mini-bus from Panama City into the dusty mountain town center of El Valle, where we waved down a passing pickup truck to drop us at the lodge. In the distance loomed the jagged ridge of the volcanic crater El Valle is settled into, while on every street corner signs pointed to nearby waterfalls, hot springs, and hiking routes. It was easy to see why El Valle is a popular getaway for Panama City residents in need of a little fresh air.

We arrived at Canopy Lodge just in time for lunch — perfect timing since, due to the remoteness of the lodge, all meals are included. Over a beautiful buffet-style meal we got to know our fellow guests, who hailed from Brazil, the UK and Canada, and were primarily in Panama due to a certain aviary obsession. Above all else, I love people with a passion — and birders have it in spades. While I couldn’t relate to their search for the keel-billed ramphastos sulfuratus, I started to understand it when I replaced those rare birds with creatures like whale shark or manta ray.

After lunch we checked into our room, a minimalist-chic hideaway featuring locally sourced crafts and natural materials native to the area. It was a nice complement to the laid back vibe of the lodge.

But with far too little time to explore, we didn’t spend long in the room. We quickly laced up our shoes and made our way to privately maintained zipline, trails and waterfall a short hike from the lodge. While typically there is an entrance fee into , as hotel guests we were waved right in. We chose to forgo the zipline considering how fresh our last zip-based thrills were, and simply enjoy clamoring along the lush paths and jiggling suspension bridges.

We didn’t linger too long at the waterfall — there were feathered friends to be spotted, after all. Back at the lodge, we joined the birding brigade in the lookout deck, from which there were prime time views of the banana-enhanced feeders. The hardcore among the group looked on at us with pity when they realized we had no binoculars, though I assured them the view through my was a pretty decent one.

When our birding mentors assured us that the toucans always showed up at 5pm on the dot, we took that as a free license to explore the lodge’s all natural swimming pool. Fed by the nearby Guayabo River, the water was, to put it mildly, chilly. Naturally, Anders was the first to take the plunge.

As you can see, I took his exhibition of grace and athleticism and really showed him how it’s done. You know, like, super duper elegantly.

And again…

Ahem. So maybe rope swinging isn’t one of my top skills. And, unfortunately for our friends back at the lodge, I’m pretty sure Anders laughed loudly enough to startle birds in the adjacent seven or so counties.

But then we discovered a rope swing with a bit more oomph — one that originated from the tree house arcing above the pool. This time, I pulled out all the stops. I acquired stops just so I could pull them out.

Boom! Of course, Anders had to go and top me once again, but I think we can all agree that he’s a total show off that he’s the better rope swinger and I am a really good sport about it.

Anyway, after calling it a tie and warming back up, we made our way back to the observation deck. My attention span wasn’t made for birding, so I soon found myself migrating towards the wifi area. Which brings us back to our opening scene — Anders rushing to alert me to the presence of the toucan we’d been waiting for, me flinging my laptop to the side to see it.

Was our time in El Valle short? Indeed. Far too short. But we’d managed to spot the beautiful bird we’d been crossing our fingers for, a find we toasted to over dinner with our new birding buddies. If only for one night — and, well, I don’t think I’d last for much more — we were in the club.

Note: While we greatly enjoyed our time in El Valle, it actually made our transit to Santa Catalina longer and more difficult — not exactly the pit stop we expected! Public transportation in Panama is kind of a mess, and so whileΒ  Google Maps estimated the driving time between El Valle to Santa Catalina to be four hours, it took us from sun up to sun down — and four different buses — to make it. This lodge is certainly best visited via car or other private transportation.

Are you a birder? If not, would you play one for a day?

Many thanks to Canopy Lodge for their hospitality. As always, you receive my thorough and honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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34 Comments...
  • Joella J (J in Beijing)
    March 25 2014

    It looks lovely! I’m not much of a bird watcher either, but it all looks so lush and also fun with all the rope swings- I wouldn’t mind a pit stop there.
    Joella J (J in Beijing) recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 25 2014

      It was like a grown up playground — well, come to think of it, probably a kids playground to!

  • Janice Stringer
    March 25 2014

    What a fabulous looking place to stay! Loved your Gif – thank you for that. Made me smile πŸ™‚
    Janice Stringer recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 25 2014

      Haha, I’m always up for giving someone a laugh at my expense!

  • Meihoukai
    March 25 2014

    Love the Tucan and the squirel, very nice pic! If you’re back some day in Asia, a friend of mine has created in Laos, with the benediction of a national park, lodges and paths IN the canopy, high above the ground in the trees. You can stay there with the midlevel ecosystem for days. Ok, less confy and no swimming pool, but I guess it’s worth the try!

    • Meihoukai
      March 25 2014

      Wow, that sounds awesome! I will absolutely be asking for some more info when I get back to Laos someday!

  • seriously you are the worst rope swinger I’ve seen =D hahah but I haven’t done it since I was a kid so I’m probably no better! that gif was SO funny!!
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 26 2014

      Haha, glad I could give you a laugh πŸ™‚ Clearly, I need to hit the gym. My upper body strength is pathetic!

  • Andi
    March 25 2014

    OMG this is literally my heaven on earth! You know I broke my ankle swinging on a rope like that!!!
    Andi recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 26 2014

      Now that you say it that does strike a chord! You poor thing. That would be awful! Glad it hasn’t scared you off rope swings for life πŸ™‚

  • Jen
    March 26 2014

    What a really cool place to stay Meihoukai. I have a mild fear of birds due to a terrifying (yes I’m a drama queen) experience as a kid. But I never let fear stop me from experiences like this. I would definitely be up for this one day.
    Jen recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 26 2014

      Luckily these ones keep their distance… I think you’d be safe from behind the binoculars!

  • Lisa - Wee Wanders
    March 26 2014

    This looks so much fun! I don’t think I have ever tried rope swinging but your GIF has definitely made we want to give it a try πŸ™‚
    Lisa – Wee Wanders recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 26 2014

      Haha… I hope you have better luck than I did!

  • Katie
    March 26 2014

    I KNOW I would totally fail at the rope swing. I have the upper body strength of a newborn. Loved all the pics! We got to see a Toucan in CR, but it was WAY further away than that. I have to agree that I’m not a birder… but could pretend for a day.
    Katie recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 26 2014

      “The upper body strength of a newborn” — LOL.

  • tammyonthemove
    March 26 2014

    Ha ha, love your rope swinging action. I have given up trying to compete with anything to do with athletics against Chris. I always loose that fight. πŸ™‚
    tammyonthemove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 26 2014

      What can I say — hope springs eternal πŸ™‚

  • I’m SURE that I looked exactly the same rope swinging in Costa Rica and I wish I had it on camera so I could have seen it myself! Its those boys with the strong upper bodies – makes me want to do some push-ups…Love the gifs!
    Emily from Let’s Roam Wild recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 27 2014

      Ha yes, lucky me that Anders was right there with the camera — and could hold it through his laughter!

  • Taylor
    March 27 2014

    I really laughed out loud at seeing your attempt on the rope swing.. don’t worry, my talent of rope swinging is even less than yours! I managed to sprain my pinky when I attempted it.

    On another note, glad you got to see the little toucan πŸ™‚ not sure birding is for me unless it is one pretty amazing looking bird.
    Taylor recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 28 2014

      Agreed… they have to be fairly technicolor to get my attention!

  • Emily in Chile
    March 29 2014

    I would never have said that birding sounded interesting, but this hotel looks fabulous, and those birds are beautiful! Looks like it paid off to try something new this time.
    Emily in Chile recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 31 2014

      I just think people with passion are fascinating, even if I don’t share their particular obsession. It’s still amazing to see them light up! And the colorful birds weren’t a bad bonus πŸ™‚

  • Sasha
    April 2 2014

    Meihoukai you made me laugh in a very unladylike way at the office! Hope you didnt get waterburn:)

  • Amy
    April 22 2014

    LOL. Your post made me giggle and laugh out loud. You are so cute!!!
    Amy recently posted..

  • Kristin McNeil
    September 3 2014

    We are going to Panama this winter! I am so glad I found your blog! Do you have to stay at the Canopy Lodge to use the swimming hole and rope swing? I checked their website and they have a 3 night minimum. We are staying with friends in Panama City so will only be in El Valle for a night.

    • Meihoukai
      September 3 2014

      I’m pretty sure you’d have to be a guest to use them :/ Maybe try writing and asking for an exemption to the three night minimum?

  • This looked like an awesome trip! Really embracing the environment during a romantic getaway! I want to try swinging from a rope and letting go into the water. Seems like a fun and memorable experience!
    Jesse Richheimer @ Green Global Travel recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 7 2016

      It’s a paradise for bird watchers for sure! Thanks for reading!

  • Grant Williams
    September 12 2017

    Pretty cool. I’ve been to the Bocas del Toro, David/Penonome, and some other little islands in Panama where the indiginous indians still live and sell a fish dinner to tourists.

    Pretty neat and you can relax in a hammock between palm trees. The water was beautiful.

    Red Frog Island had tiny little red frogs with black dots. I remember a boy showing us some he caught in a large leaf.

    • Meihoukai
      September 22 2017

      I don’t know if I saw any of the red frogs at Red Frog Beach — I can’t quite remember! Sounds like you had an awesome trip!