Panama Summit Zoo

Panama Summit Zoo is a great place to take your children. For some reason it gets short thrift in all the guidebooks we have on Panama. I just cannot understand why. OK, it doesn’t have the largest collection of animals in the world. What it does have is a lot of native Central American species, including an ocelot (very growly), a maygar (very playful, just like a super-glamorous pet cat) and Geoffroy’s tamarin, a tiny species of ‘so ugly it’s cute’ monkey.

Geoffroy's Tamarin is just hand-sized

It also has a fabulous plant nursery where you can pick up small trees for less than $2, as well as lots of food and drink stalls – not the kind of levels of cleanliness you would get in Europe or the US, but decent, cheap fare. If you don’t want to brave the food, take your own and eat at one of the many picnic tables. The in-the-know locals were all doing this. For the more adventurously-minded there is a zip-slide from the top of the summit.

I took this extreme close-up of a crocodile at Summit Zoo. There was just one level of cage protection between people and animals meaning the animals were (mostly) extremely friendly towards their visitors. I am used to seeing tropical animals shivering in zoos in the UK – it seemed to me that they were more relaxed and happy in this tropical, less regimented zoo.

Close up croc

There were also areas of fencing that were broken, cordoned off with just yellow crime-scene tape. The danger! So, yes, I suppose it is all a bit ramshackle, but with huge play area provision for children, including an old train as well as more conventional slides and climbing frames, I would definitely recommend it to any parents out there. It is all quite a refreshing change after the UK ‘Health and Safety’ culture. Oh, and did I mention? Admission charges $1 for adults, free for children.

Graffiti Train, Summit Zoo


5 thoughts on “Panama Summit Zoo

  1. Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you can do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is wonderful blog. A great read. I will definitely be back.

  2. Hi Michelle, thanks for your comment! I go to Summit Zoo quite a lot and love the way the animals are so inquisitive about humans – they are much friendlier than at any other zoo I have been to.

    We have used the playparks and picnic areas – Summit is just full of them as you say. There is also a very good plant nursery to the left after the entrance where you can pick up a nice palm for just $3.


  3. I have been to the zoo twice in as many weeks. I love it! I have been to many Wold class zoos and animal parks in many different countries. Although it’s clear that Summit does not have the budget of some of the larger establishments (there are no escalators, the cages are made of wire vs plexiglass -I like the wire better-, the bathrooms don’t have AC, there are fewer gift stores) it’s also clear that the staff care about the animals and everything looks well maintained and clean. From my experience it seemed obvious that most of the inhabitants were not “wild” in a sense that they were taken from the forest and are afraid for people. On the contrary, I spent a couple of hours with the monkeys who were just as interested in me.
    Of course I would like to see the cages 10x larger and all filled with plants and waterfalls but more goes into designing an enclosure than aesthetics. It has to be safe, easy to clean and economically feasible (that’s just to start with). The first two are easier said than done.
    I love that the animals are ALL NATIVE. In a perfect World (or more accurately, a fantasy World) there would be no need for zoos. If we want our grandchildren to have the opportunity to see animals in the wild our children need to appreciate them. This is a perfect place to watch local animals, you might see the same in the National Parks but most likely you won’t.

    I didn’t even mention that the park is actually much bigger than it looks. There are HUGE playing areas all over with grass fields and jungle gyms as well as hidden picnic spots. The forest next door spills over into the park too so that palm trees look decorated with weaver nests.

    If travelers are short on time I recommend starting the day early at the forest next door (it’s a national park, great for hiking) then coming to the zoo for the afternoon. It’s cool and has food/drinks and great areas to relax.

    Morning/evening are best for viewing wildlife


  4. Well, the ocelot was certainly not happy, I would say it was extremely frustrated. All the other animals looked happy to me and the monkeys had a lot of space compared with some zoos I have seen. I always have mixed feelings visiting zoos – in my heart I know it is wrong to keep animals in cages for our amusement, but at the same time I love to see the animals…. I don’t believe predators should be kept in confinement as they have a physical need to hunt and it is cruel to supress this.

  5. I went to Panama Zoo, and although there are a lot of great animals to see I thought that their enclosures were horrendously small. I remember an ocelot pacing and growling… and monkeys attacking the walls of the cages… not cool. I hope that things have changed a bit since then.

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