Panama’s Monkey Island on Lake Gatun is home to four monkey species—mantled howler, white-faced capuchin, Geoffroy’s tamarin, and lemurine owl monkeys)—as well as crocodiles, toucans, sloths, iguanas, and numerous exotic birds. Riverboat tours to the island offer visitors the chance to observe the monkeys and other wildlife.
A trip to Monkey Island represents one of the most popular excursions from Panama City. Many guided boat tours also include a chance to see transiting ships from water level in the Panama Canal, as well as visits to the Rainforest Discovery Center and Embera Village, depending on the option chosen.
It’s also possible to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific in a single day trip via the Panama Canal, with a stop at Monkey Island and San Lorenzo National Park along the way.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Monkey Island is a must-see for animal lovers and families traveling with kids.
- Don’t forget to bring rain gear; showers are frequent even during the dry season.
- Bring along sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat, and bug repellent to protect yourself from the tropical conditions.
- Remember to refrain from feeding or harassing the monkeys and other animals.
How to Get There
Monkey Island is accessible via boat, typically departing from the Gamboa Marina 22 miles (35 kilometers) north of Panama City. The boat ride along the Chagres River takes about 30 minutes each way. The easiest way to get there is to join a guided day trip from the Panama capital.
When to Get There
Thanks to a year-round tropical climate due to its location near the equator, there’s not really a bad time to visit Panama City and its outdoor attractions, such as Monkey Island. If possible, visit from mid-December to mid-April, the area’s dry season, for the least chance of rain.
History of Monkey Island
Monkey Island is, in fact, a series of small islands. When the expansion of the Panama Canal necessitated the relocation of monkey populations to a large island, some of the animals weren’t coexisting well. They were ultimately separated into smaller populations, each on their own island. Habitat encroachment continues to be a problem for these monkey populations, as well as other indigenous species.