Omar Torrijos National Park, Panama
Known to most Panamanians simply as El Copé, The Omar Torrijos National Park extends along both the Pacific and Caribbean slopes of the Continental Divide in central Panama. The park is somewhat difficult to reach, but has well preserved forests and wildlife, partially due to its remote location.
The park is named in honor of Omar Torrijos, a military dictator who died in a plane crash here in 1981. El Copé spreads across 61,775 acres (25,000 hectares) and covers primary forests and misty highlands. Rubber trees are plentiful here, and there are several important watersheds running through the park. During some times of the year, El Copé is nearly always shrouded in fog.
El Copé protects all five of Panama’s big cats, including the jaguar, puma, ocelot, jaguarundi, and margay. Baird’s tapirs and white-lipped peccaries also live here, but it’s unlikely that you’ll see either. Avian species include the bare-necked umbrellabird, golden-olive woodpecker, redheaded barbet, red-fronted parrotlet, green thorntail, and the white-throated shrike-tanager. There are a good variety of amphibians, and some venomous snakes as well.
There are several trails that begin near the park’s small ranger station. One trail leads to the top of a mountain where on clear days you can see both the Caribbean and Pacific oceans. Another dips down the Caribbean slope of the Continental Divide and runs through seriously thick forests—this trail is windy, rocky and muddy, and it isn’t recommended hike it without a guide. There is also a short interpretative trail by the ranger station that introduces visitors to native trees and plants.
The Omar Torrijos National Park is 33 miles (53 km) west of Penonomé. The trip can take over an hour and requires a vehicle with four-wheel drive.