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panama travel and tourism

Sloth Sanctuary - Gamboa Resort

the sloth sanctuary and aerial tram at gamboa resort in panama city, panama

The sloth sanctuary is one of four exhibits at Gamboa Rainforest Resort. It is the first and nearest to the hotel, followed by a butterfly farm, plant nursery, and amphibian/frog exhibit. They are adjacent to one another and connected by a narrow trail. The exhibits lie along the Chagres River and within walking distance of the hotel, though I believe transportation is available for guests. The price of entry includes a visit to all four enclosures; you can not pay just to see the sloths.

a sloth at the gamboa resort sloth sanctuary
a sloth being hand-fet at the Gamboa Resort Sloth Sanctuary
Sloths Up Close & Personal

The sloth sanctuary is anything but a sanctuary. It is, plain and simple, a zoo. There are three exhibits: a large one situated in the center and two smaller ones further back against the wall. Surrounding each is a four-foot-high cement wall, with no cage wire or netting to obstruct your view. On both sides of the center enclosure are bilingual signs offering information about sloths.

Each enclosure consists of a web/network of intersecting tree branches and a few potted plants placed near the corners along the floor. While open and airy, there isn't much for the animals; the exhibits are sparsely decorated. Between 5-10 sloths reside inside the enclosures, and the sloths are never more than 5-7 ft. from the perimeter. So, you can get quite close to them. The staff can bring them even closer when handling them. While it's common to see sloths in the wild hanging motionless, they can move surprisingly fast, and this is especially true during feeding times; the sloths slide along the branches rather quickly.

A large, steel roof leaves the exhibits permanently in the shade. Even when sunny, it is dark. Only the enclosure on the far right and against the back wall receives a marginal amount of sunlight. Therefore, if you are taking pictures, make sure to bring a flash or be prepared to bump up the ISO. A cell phone or lightweight DSRL/mirrorless camera mounted on a gimbal is probably the best way to photograph/video them.

The animals appear to be healthy and well-fed, and the staff seems genuinely interested in their welfare, but like in most zoos, the animals are deprived. I saw several sloths curled up on the floor near the plant pots, exhibiting behavior one would normally associate with house cats, which I found concerning and disheartening. They are certainly not wild animals.

To sum things up. If you've never seen a sloth and are desperate to see one, or have young children begging to visit, then it might be worth your while, but in my opinion, it's falsely advertised. If 100% of the profit is channeled into conservation efforts like animal reproduction/re-introduction, habitat restoration, etc., then I’m all for it. But, if it’s solely serving as a cash cow for individuals or private concerns, then I'm not. Everybody loves to see animals, but it shouldn’t come at their expense. Overall, the sloth sanctuary was a disappointment.

Butteryfly Farm

The butterfly farm that follows is encased in a thin, black mesh fabric, which permits rain and sunlight to enter and the free flow of air. (This is the type of enclosure I was expecting to see when visiting the sloths. More open, spacious, and resembling their natural habitat.)

There is a narrow, well-defined gravel trail that leads you through the enclosure, which is small and includes a small pond. I saw a few blue-morpho butterflies but not much else.

If you are staying at the Gamboa Resort, a casual walk around the hotel grounds or on one of their many trails will likely net you the same results. Overall, there wasn't much to see.

butterfly in panama
a butterfly in panama
Plant Nursery

On to the plant nursery, which, like the butterfly farm, is partially enclosed in the same mesh; the remaining portion is open-aired. The nursery serves as a repository for the resort, so I don't think you'll find any/many plant species that aren't endemic to the region. Unfortunately, there weren't many plants flowering during my visit, but that could be normal this time of year (January). My bad luck!

As with the butterfly farm, I'm inclined to think that a leisurely walk around the resort will deliver equal or better results. If you've paid to enter, then it's worth a visit, but there isn't much to see. All of these pictures were taken elsewhere.

Plant Nursery, Gamboa Resort, Panama
Plant Nursery, Gamboa Resort, Panama
Plant Nursery, Gamboa Resort, Panama
Amphibian/Frog Exhibit

And finally, the amphibian/frog exhibit. Like the sloth sanctuary, the frog enclosure has a four-foot-high wall around its perimeter. It is in the shape of a circle, measuring approximately 15-20 feet across. Around the rim are a few marred signs with information relating to the frogs. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a single frog during my visit. Overall, the exhibition appeared neglected, like the two exhibits that preceded it.

In summary, despite costing only $23.00, I left dissatisfied. With that said, we are slowly emerging from two extraordinarily difficult years when the hotel was probably unable or unwilling to allocate the resources necessary to maintain the desired level of upkeep, which has to be taken into consideration. I plan to revisit the exhibits in a few months to see if the conditions have improved, and I'll update this page after doing so.

Preceding the sloth sanctuary is a gift shop where you'll find t-shirts, hats, bags, stuffed sloths, etc., for sale. While there are products of other interests, the store understandably focuses on sloths. Before the gift shop is the entrance and reception desk, where you can organize and pay for your tour(s). Several other tours, including the Aerial Tram, depart and return here. The entrance fee is $23.00 per person and includes a visit to all four exhibits.

Getting to Gamboa Resort

Google Map - Albrook Bus TerminalGoogle Map - Gamboa Resort

There is no Metro bus service to Gamboa, only to Summit Gardens. However, there are small, privately owned mini-buses that service Gamboa Resort and will drop you off/pick you up just a few feet from the entrance to the sloth sanctuary. These buses depart from the far end of the bus terminal, to the right of Niko's Cafe. You'll need to pass Pio Pio chicken and then turn right. It costs approximately $2-3 each way per person, and the trip lasts 35-45 minutes, depending on traffic. They only depart four times a day: 6:00 am, 8:00 am, 12:00, and 2:00 pm., and return from Gamboa one hour later.

the sloth sanctuary and aerial tram at gamboa resort in panama city, panama

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