Punta Culebra is a park on the first islands of the Causeway, that is operated by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI).
Opening Hours Tuesday-Friday
– 9am-4pm Dec – mid March
– 1pm 4pm mid March – Nov
Although it is very small, staff say there are 20-30 resident sloths, so you are almost guaranteed to see one, even if it will probably be curled up in a ball, asleep.
There are some short nature trails through a patch of dry forest, and also a flat path along the outside of the park. All of them end up in an area containing touching pools with sea cucumbers and starfish, as well as turtle and shark pools.
As you walk through the trees, keep an eye out for huge iguanas lazing on the branches above.
On the end of the point there is a small six-sided building which was built by Manual Noriega for intimate gatherings. Inside are some aquariums, and outside there are sweeping views of the Panama Canal and the ships waiting to transit.
There are some signs with English and Spanish, and STRI staff on hand for questions. Don’t miss the frog exhibit inside one of the old bunkers.
There are lots of information signs around the park, describing the nature and history:
Punta Culebra and its neighbouring islands of Naos, Perico, and Flamenco have a rich history. They have served as a port for Panama City, a refuge for pirates, a quarantine station, forts to defend the Panama Canal, a Boy Scout camp, and now a site for scientific research and education.
Large tides and wide mudflats prevent large ships from landing at Panama City. During the colonial period, ships anchored near these islands and loaded their cargo onto smaller boats for transfer to the mainland.
The riches that passed through Panama from Peru on their way to Spain during the colonial era made Panama a tempting target for pirates. In 1680 a force of Englisha nd French buccaneers captured eight Spanish ships near Perico Island after a ferocious battle.
In 1913 the islands were connected to the mainland by a causeway built from material excavated from the Panama Canal. The causeway also serves as a breakwater for the Canal’s entrance to provide protection from waves and prevent sediment from accumulating.
Dry forests, also known as tropical deciduous forests, are found along Panama’s Pacific side. This region has lower annual rainfall and a longer dry season than the rest of Panama. To conserve water, many trees here lose their leaves during the dry season between December and April. They put on new leaves when the rains start again in May.
Dry forests once lines Central America’s Pacific coast. Most have now been cleared for agriculture, cattle ranching, and development. The forest you see south of the Bridge of the Americas is one of the largest areas of dry forest remaining in Central America.
The bunkers and tracks you see here are part of the fortifications built by the United States to protect the Panama Canal. Between 1913 and World War II Culebra and its neighbouring islands were one of the most powerful defense complexes in the world.
Together, the islands of Flamenco, Pericao, Naos, and Culebra were known as Fort Grant.
Seven large guns, some with a range of up to 22 kilometers, were emplaced on the islands along with smaller weapons.
Two enormous Railroad Guns, with ranges of up to 44 kilometers, were part of the defenses of the Canal. They were mounted on railway carriages so they could be moved across the Isthmus to defend either entrance of the Canal.
The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 showed that aircraft carriers could launch attacks from far beyond the range of artillery. Suddenly obsolete, many of the big guns were retired from service even before the end of World War II.
During the construction of the Panama Canal deseases like marlaria and yellow fever, carried by mosquitoes, killed thousands of workers. In 1908 the Canal administration established a quarantine station here to prevent infected individuals from spreading disease to others. (You can see) the pilings for one of the buildings. The station was demolished in 1914.
The local bus stops close at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute buildings, and then it is a short walk to to Punta Culebra.
If you are on a cruise ship, you can walk from the tender dock in about 25 minutes.
Entry cost is $7, and just $2 for retirees.
Check out their website.