Panamainfo’s Blog

Canopy Lodge, Panama’s #1 Ecolodge Celebrates 10 Years: Congrats to Raul Arias de Para!

Congrats to Canopy Tower proprietor Raul Arias de Para for putting Panama on the map for ecotourism and world-class birding. Selected again and again as one of the top ecolodges in the world, and praised in the New York Times, National Geographic, the Wall Street Journal and Travel and Leisure,  Canopy Tower is celebrating it’s 10th anniversary.

Canopy Tower has to be the easiest-to-get-to top ecolodge-   just over an hour by car from Panama’s international airport. If you love nature, I highly recommend a stay. Even if you’re a local- Canopy Tower will transform the way you think about the attractions of Panama.

Below are Raul’s own words about his groundbreaking work for the last 10 years.

It is often said that time flies. Indeed, it does! We are close to the end of 2009 and my memory goes back to those days in January of 1999, more than ten years ago, when the first guests arrived at the Canopy Tower. I remember the thrill of seeing the visitors walk up to the Observation Deck for the first time to observe the virgin rainforests of Soberanía National Park, extending for miles in every direction around the Tower. “WOW! Incredible! Amazing!” were the first sounds and words visitors exclaimed. They still do. Nothing has changed in this regard. I remember the immense satisfaction, pride and gratitude I felt when pictures of the Canopy Tower appeared in the National Geographic Magazine (April 2000) and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (January 11, 2000), including a “dot” picture of me with my red Tilley hat—the only Panamanian, other than the infamous General Noriega, to have received such a distinction! My wife, Denise, was at the Paris airport that day waiting for a flight to Panama, and you can imagine her surprise when she picked up the newspaper and saw my picture on the front page!

I also remember the curious combination of exhaustion and exhilaration I felt after the first birders, a VENT group led by Dr. Robert S. Ridgely, departed the Canopy Tower on January 20, 1999, after a hugely successful 7-night tour. I had done everything for that group, from going to the airport and helping in the kitchen, to carrying a scope on the outings, checking the towels in the bathrooms, having breakfast, lunch and dinner with the guests and answering the increasing number of emails coming through that wonderful invention, the internet. I had slept on the living room couch that entire week, as the Tower only had seven bedrooms at the time and all were occupied. Thus, I was the last to retire and the first to be up in the kitchen helping with breakfast. Then, I went immediately up to the Observation Deck, identifying birds with the guests and listening to the “dawn chorus.” When the group finally departed, I fell in bed with a bad cold and slept for 2 0 hours straight—this time in my own bed!

It has been a wonderful decade, in many more ways than one! The Canopy Tower has become an icon in the birding world, a “mecca for bird enthusiasts” (New York Times, April 21, 2002). It is now the core of an ecotourism organization, comprising two very different experiences at two unique eco-lodges (The Canopy Tower and The Canopy Lodge, with a tree-top adventure adjacent)—both employing 47 Panamanians. Additionally, a third lodge is in the dream stage! The wonderful birding at these locales has drawn many thousands of birders to Panama, providing much-needed job opportunities to other ventures. And, most importantly, it has given me the time and resources to invest in conservation causes throughout Panama. In short, it has been a rousing success, thanks to the Almighty God who directs all our actions, to our staff of loyal and dedicated employees and to you, our friends and customers who have chosen the Canopy Tower for your birding vacation.

Come to Panama. We will all be on the lookout for you.

All the best,

Contact Raul:

P.S. The birds are all over the place!