Gatun Lake and the Chagres River are ideal destinations for any fishing enthusiast looking to catch peacock bass, tarpon or snook, as well as other less popular fresh water fish. With a countless number of small bays, inlets and channels, Panama provides for terrific fishing opportunities, whether you're using live bait or lures. Furthermore, its lined with lush, verdant rainforest, so the setting couldn't be better. Common sightings include howler and white-faced capuchin monkeys, iguanas, and an endless number of aquatic bird species. There are two primary points of entry, Gamboa and Arenosa.
The small, quaint town of Gamboa, a 30-40 minute drive from Panama City, resides right along the Panama Canal and is home to the Panama Canal Dredging Division. Just prior to reaching Gamboa, and before crossing over the Chagres River bridge, you'll find the Gamboa public boat ramp off to the right, which is open daily from 5:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. The dock lacks public bathroom facilities and running water, nor are there any stores near by - the nearest store is in the town of Gamboa, a 15-20 minute walk. Along the road, just outside the gate, is a large, public parking lot where you can leave your car. The facility is used by locals for personal use (fishing, jet skis, etc.), and by commercial outfitters that offer fishing and sightseeing tours.
Fishing tours can be organized at the Gamboa public dock, but it would be best to do so prior to arriving. Most fishing boats require a minimum of 4 passengers, so unless you arrive in a group you'll find it very expensive. Normally, fishing gear can be rented along with live bait (minnows). The most popular fishing spots tend to be in the area surrounding Barro Colorado Island, which resides just off to the west side of the Panama Canal - it takes approximately 35-35 to get there by boat, depending on motor, weather, etc. The fishing in and around the Chagres River is also very good.
The picturesque town of Arenosa is located on the far western shore of Gatun Lake, approximately 1.5 hours drive from Panama City. The town has a few modest restaurants overlooking the lake, as well as a few stores where you can purchase soft drinks and other food items. The area surrounding Arenosa is very flat and open, thus more susceptible to the wind. The fishing spots aren't nearly as secluded and sheltered as they are near Gamboa, but they're no less beautiful and peaceful - just different. Fishing rods and live bait are also available upon request, but we recommend you organize your visit prior to arriving. Arenosa is a very small town, and while there are several locals with private boats for hire, finding them on short notice could prove difficult.
Regardless of your destination, fresh water fishing in Gatun Lake is a memorable experience and a wonderful way to spend a day during your visit to Panama. You won't be disappointed, the lake is well stocked and nobody comes back with an empty bucket.
Chiriqui, Panama's Northwestern province hosts Panama's growing sport of whitewater rafting. Due to its mountainous topography and abundance of rainfall, Chiriqui's rivers offer class III and IV commercial whitewater runs. A limited number of companies provide a variety of excursions modeled to fit the season and level of experience.
The following is a list and brief explanation of some day trips.
Bajo Mendez Section (3.5 hours) - Class III & III+; Considered to be the forgiving river to its counterpart, the Palon, this section involves big water with plenty of room for maneuvering. Long wave trains and wild scenery make this river a perfect starting point for the first-time rafter.
Barrigona Section (2.5 hours) - Class III; Perfect for beginners and families, this section offers a glimpse of what whitewater can look and feel like. The Barrigona features a few exciting class III rapids while the rest of the stretch is filled with continuously moving water that will keep you on your toes. A shorter trip, the Barrigona gives the rafter 2.5 hours of milder rafting and vistas of Chiriqui's pretty stretches of plains and gentle rolling hills.
CHIRIQUI VIEJO RIVER
Palon Section (4 hours) - Class IV; Perhaps some of the most beautiful and classic rapids in all of Central America, this section is only run during the low water months of December through April. Intrepid first-timers and seasoned rafters will undoubtedly hail this river as a world class run with it's non stop rapids, technical maneuvers, deep canyon gorges and it's spectacular tropical jungle scenery.
Sabo Section (2.5 hours) - Class III; Lush and verdant forest borders along this lower section of the Chiriqui Viejo River. Big rapids dominate the first half of the Sabo section while the second half levels out to allow participants a chance to enjoy the surrounding wildlife and scenery. Feast your eyes Cormorants, Kingfishers and Iguanas abound!