Photo of the Chagres River in the Gamboa rain forest in Panama | Photo by Randy Gener
Photo of the Chagres River in the Gamboa rain forest in Panama | Photo by Randy Gener

GPS | CENTRAL AMERICA | GAMBOA, PANAMA:  The Chagres River, pictured above, is considered the most important river of Panama. Why? Because this river is the primary source of fresh water to operate the Panama Canal. It also supplies the main cities of Central Panama in the Pacific with electricity and fresh water. The Chagres River flows east to west. That directional flow makes it different from all the other rivers in the isthmus. Because of that east-west flow, the river feeds many tributaries (such as San Juan, Indio, Esperanza, Chico, and Boqueron).

This photo was taken above the Gamboa Rainforest. Here the river turns north toward the Atlantic Ocean. More precisely, the river becomes part of the Panama Canal from Gamboa where it meets Gatun Lake to Gatun Dam where it continues flowing toward the Atlantic Ocean. At the time it was made, Gatun Lake was the largest man-made lake in the world (why it provides hydroelectricity).

This photo was not taken from a hotel room; it was not taken from the top of a mountain or a hill. I took this photo as I was moving up a cable car. The cable-car excursion was quite decadent, if you consider that every room in the superb hotel I stayed in, Gamboa Resort, already overlooked the Chagres River. I made a dizzying journey of 1.2 km on the only cable car of Panama through the rainforest; it was a heart-stopping feast of wonderful flora and fauna. (Don’t go if you have vertigo.)

After about 20 minutes of ascent from the first station, I reached the summit of Cerro Pelado where I walked a small path that led me to the Observation Tower, which has 10 levels on a spiral ramp. As the cable car climbed the air, I saw more of the rainforest and more of the Chagres River. There was also an Embera Indian village nearby. Gamboa is surrounded by lush vegetation and stunning scenery that frames the clear-blue sky. After the cable-car ride, I visited ecological exhibits that include an aquarium, butterflies, snakes and orchids.

Because of the proximity of the Gamboa to Panama City, this upper section of the Chagres River Basin (protected by Chagres National Park, founded in 1985) is quickly becoming a family-fun adventure and ecotourist destination. Did I forget to say that Monkey Island is a boat ride away?

If you haven’t been, I can tell you that the Panama Canal does not disappoint. –RG

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