Before the events of our last night at Gamboa Rainforest Resort, I was prepared to write a critical review. However, I was very pleased with the management's response to the bat flying around our room, which rescued one night of restful sleep for a family of five.
The resort: At the junction of the Chagres River and Gatun Lake as it narrows into the Culebra/Gaillard Cut of the Panama Canal. If you have read David McCullough's "Path Between the Seas," there is something special about being at that place. The fact that there is a tourist resort there at all is remarkable. In terms of design and layout, they did a great job incorporating Canal construction era housing with the new buildings in the Victorian/Georgian colonial style while infusing nature and wildlife into every aspect of the resort. Our room was the junior suite with a downstairs Queen size bed and full bath, and a loft up a circular staircase to two twin beds and a bath. An incredible large balcony overlooked the Chagres with a hammock and a table with chairs. We sat every morning and evening watching the many varieties of birds and the herd of capybara that roamed the grounds. The pool was large and clean, although it was hard to figure out when the bar would be staffed or not. Nice, though. We saw iguanas and basilisk lizards basking in the trees around the pool.
Actvities: We did the Monkey Island tour, which was great, Capuchin monkeys on the boat and everything. We also saw baby caymans, Howler monkeys, and a sloth. Boating around gigantic oceanic cargo ships on a lake was surreal. We also did the canopy tour, which included the gondola up the highest hill in the resort to a canopy tower with incredible views, particulary in appreciating the topography of the canal design. The guide did a great job of showing us, both in English and Spanish, birds, insects and lizards. She also identified animals based on the distant sounds they were making. We also went to the exhibits (Butterfly, Orchid, Snake houses, and Aquarium). By this time our 7 year old was a bit tired and these were not spectacular if you have seen similar exhibits elsewhere. It amazed us how something as impressive as a large Blue Morpho butterfly can be so stunning the first time you see it (looks like it came from the movie Avatar) then become commonplace after a few days. We did the free night bus tour twice and saw different things each time. Great!
Food: Here we go. We were not expecting much based on the previous reviews. Our bottom line was yes, European and American foods are bland, overpriced, and sub-Chef Boyardee level. However, at every meal, there were local Panamanian options that were as close to great (in my case Colombian) home cooking as I've had in a restaurant anywhere. So go for the local stuff: fish, plantains, rice, pork, sausage. Sancocho! A chicken soup that could be eaten for every meal. Yes expensive, yes few choices. We were not on the all inclusive buffet plan so sometimes we had dinner up at the Monkey Bar to mix it up a little. They did have a different bar menu and good service. It would have been nice if they had a coffee/sandwich shop if you did not want to have a full sit down meal.
Service: Same as elsewhere in the reviews. To put it kindly, unintrusive.
Access: Our biggest beef was how difficult it was to get in and out of this place. We had a car for the second part of our stay, but decided not to get it until after Gamboa since I figured we could get a cab if we needed to. A cab into the city is about 30 dollars each way. What I was not counting on was that a cab ANYWHERE is 30 dollars each way, including the Summit Zoo, which was about two miles down the road from the entrance of the resort. We had a relatively open afternoon and were not in the mood for the pool. It was close enough to the closing time of the zoo that walking there would have eliminated the time we would have to look around. There was a taxi parked by the lobby waiting for fares. He was flagged down by the doorman, we piled into the car and he drove off. By the time he told us it was 30 dollars one way, we were fortunately not out of the parking lot. We got out and walked back to the lobby. He parked the taxi right back in the spot where we found him and went back to reading his newspaper. They really need a local shuttle for guests. Alternatively, I would just rent the car just to have the option for freedom.
The Bat: Later that night...We were basically done with the buffet, with the pool, had seen all the animals three times and ready to move on with our trip (stay 2 nights, MAXIMUM 3). We had a 3.5 hour drive to Pedasi the next day (which ended up being 7 due to construction) and were ready for rest. At about 11 p.m. my wife and daughter woke me up to tell me about a bat flying around. We turned on all the lights and the bat disappeared up into the loft. Two of three kids huddled in our bed while the third was still out upstairs. I looked around, found a large moth I was able to catch in a cap and took it outside, assuming this was the alleged bat. Problem solved. At 1 a.m. more bat noises, I was then able to see it more clearly (yes, it was a bat) and that it was coming in and out of a space in the wood paneling of the loft. No, we were not surprised that there might be a bat at the Rainforest Resort, but also did not want it flapping around our room all night. I called the reception area, there was no answer. We decided it was probably harmless but it continued to make noise and bang around until 3:00 a.m. At this point, we were finally able to reach someone at the front desk. At first, she told us not to worry, it is a fruit bat and won't hurt you. I told her I was not worried about getting hurt, I just wanted some sleep. At this point, the clouds parted and the Gamboa sprung into action. Two guys came to our room, one to look for the bat, and one to show us to an adjacent room, where we were able to sleep through the rest of the night in peace without having to transfer all our belongings. ("How come this room has a coffee maker and our's did not?" I wondered as I carried our 9 year old in.) We slept in, had a delicious local breakfast, and hit the road for the rest of our Panama adventure. Gamboa redeemed.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Deep in the heart of the Panamanian rainforest lies the completely unique Gamboa Rainforest Resort. This magnificent destination rests where the scenic Chagres River meets the Panama Canal and is the only resort property in the area. Few places on earth offer such an amazing natural experience while providing an unsurpassed level of luxury. Escape the noise and hectic pace of everyday life and surround yourself with the tranquility of the mystical Soberania National Forest. Here, just a short 30-minute ride from Panama City, on 340 acres overlooking the stunning Panama Canal, you can commune with nature in a pristine environment where explorers and pirates once tread. Our Panama Tours offer an exhilarating variety of jungle adventures such as an aerial tram, guided boat tours, fishing expeditions, and much more. Our tours are designed to show you wildlife in its natural setting amidst the colorful splendor of the jungle flora. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- Gamboa Rainforest Hotel Gamboa
- Gamboa Rain Forest Resort