The Pipeline Road (Camino del Oleoducto) is a 6 kilometer stretch of disused road cut through the Panamanian rain-forest close to the Panama Canal and one of the most renowned places in the world for bird watching. In fact, it was here that in 1985 the Audubon Society set a record for 385 bird species identified in the same place in 24 hours.
The Pipeline Road was cut through the forest to allow easy maintenance of an oil pipeline that was to run parallel with the Panama Canal and be used to transport oil in the case of destruction of the canal during the Cold War. The road is now disused and provides fantastic access to wildlife – the forest around the Pipeline Road is home to 525 species of birds, 105 species of mammals and 79 species of reptile.
The park is home to two species of monkey – the Howler monkey and the white-throated Capuchin Monkey. Unfortunately the Central Squirrel Monkey is now thought to be extinct in Panama (though it is making a comeback in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica). Despite the presence of cars transiting the first 2km of the road between the entrance and the Rainforest Discovery Centre (situated half way down), there is plenty of wildlife visible from the very start. If you are lucky you will hear Howler Monkeys – the loudest animal in the Americas – way before you see them.
The road is situated in Soberania National Park about half an hour from Panama City and is easily accessible by car. Parking at the entrance by the disused ticket booth you can hike 2km along a relatively well maintained road towards the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center. This is a fee paying facility with 1.2 km of trails and a canopy viewing platform. Entrance is $30 for tourists before 10am (25 visitors maximum in total) or $20 after 10am (50 visitors maximum in total). It isn’t necessary to enter the Rainforest Discovery Center, however. You can continue past the entrance along the Pipeline Road for a further 4km before you reach a protected section and only authorised visitors are able to proceed.
To get there: follow the road from Panama City alongside the Panama Canal to Gamboa. Cross the bridge at Gamoa over the Chagres River and follow the signs to the Camino del Oleoducto. Guides are not available at the location, but there are several available online.