Located inside the Panama Canal, Monkey Island is a round little patch of land floating in the middle of Gatun Lake located north of the Miraflores Lockes. It’s a tiny little island covered in wildlife, foliage and best of all – wild monkeys of course!
What makes Monkey Island in Panama such a perfect activity is that you get the chance to actually be on the Panama Canal! You’ll learn the history of Panama, how the landscape and the water changed with building the canal, and how wildlife evolved around it.
Then play with monkeys.
Monkey Island in Panama is an absolute treat and something you don’t want to miss, especially if you have little ones! It is definitely one of the best activities we did in Panama and one of the highlights of our trip!
In this article, we’re going to share with you all the best insider secrets to Monkey Island in Panama. How to get there, how to secure the best price, what to expect when you go and how to prepare to have the best time!
Best Insider Secrets to Monkey Island in Panama
► Ranking: #cleandiaper
Monkey Island Panama
30 minutes from Gamboa Public Docks
When the twins were just babies we bought a book on a trip to Walt Disney World called Over in the Jungle: A Rainforest Rhyme. It is a darling little nursery rhyme that counts from 1 – 10 all the animals you can find in the rainforest.
I had no idea that this book was based off of Panama! Okay, probably not actually, but we nearly saw everything this cute little jungle book sings about.
Over in the jungle wearing wings of shiny blue, lived a morpho butterfly and her little morphos two! We saw, touched, and learned all about the morpho butterflies in El Valle at Mariposa Haven in the volcano!
Over in the jungle on a rainforest floor, lived a leaf cutter ant and her little ants four. The jungle of mangrove trees next to the beach were covered in leaf cutter ants marching through the forest with giant green leaves hoisted on their backs!
Over in the jungle, on a leafy canopy lived a noisy mother parrot and her little parrots three. We saw and listed to the beautiful music of parrots in the rainforest as we went ziplining over the canopy of dense trees.
And of course we saw monkeys! Over in the jungle, where the trees greet the sun lived a mother marmoset and her marmoset one. Over in the junble in their rainforest den, lived a father howler monkey and his little howlers ten. We saw Howler Monkeys and Marmosets and Owl Monkeys, plus more!
Monkey Island in Panama is a monkey retreat and the best way to see and participate in authentic wild life activities in Panama.
When Should You Go?
There is no best time of day, or best day of the week to head to Monkey Island in Panama. However, it is best to have already toured the Miraflores Lockes beforehand.
When we went to Boston we took a DUWK tour before walking the Freedom Trail, because it gave us the opportunity to get bearings of the city and the historical landmarks before seeing them in person and touring them.
In much the same way, it’s best to go to the Miraflores Lockes before taking a boat onto the Panama Canal. You’ll learn how the Lockes work, how they built them, what it takes to navigate them, how and why the lake, river and dam were created, the history and mechanics to make the canal, and so much more!
Then, when you get the chance to actually be on the Panama Canal you’ll ride alongside the massive boats, ride in their wake, see the Panama Canal boat captain board the rigs, wave to the cruise passengers, see the dam, and of course everything that grew up in the largest man made lake in the world in 1913.
Where is Monkey Island?
The island is about 30 minutes upriver from the Gamboa Public Dock towards the Atlantic Ocean. Yes, it’s located inside the famous Panama Canal!
How Do you Get to Monkey Island in Panama?
The only way to get to Monkey Island is by boat. But, you cannot actually step foot on Monkey Island. You can get as close as the shore, but a trip to Monkey Island in Panama is all done via motorized water vehicle.
The island isn’t big enough for human kind, and there is no sure footing to walk around. The trees grow outward from the island itself, and it’s nearly impossible to see where the ground begins.
Not to mention, Monkey Island in Panama is filled with monkeys! The distinction is that this Monkey Island, not a zoo. This swath of land grew up from the still waters created by the dam, and the monkeys ran it over.
Types of Monkeys on Monkey Island in Panama?
There are 5 known types of primates that reside on Monkey Island in Panama.
- Howler Monkey
- Marmoset Monkey
- White Faced Capuchin
- Owl Monkey
Are the Monkeys on Monkey Island in Panama Friendly? Are They Safe?
Yes, to both!
When we first approached the island we saw several White Faced Capuchin climbing on the outer branches of the island that extend over the water.
This little guy was scoping us out.
He quickly jumped down into our boat and snatched Widmore’s apple straight out of his hand and just as quickly jumped back into the tree to start munching on it.
Our new Capuchin friend of Monkey Island in Panama was satisfied for a minute,… until he spotted a can of Coca Cola in the boat next to ours. He threw away the apple and jumped onto the next boat.
He grabbed the coke can and he knew exactly what he was doing.
He jumped back up into the branches of the tree and climbed up super high away from anyone who might be able to stop him.
Then he drank the coke straight from the can.
This little White Faced Capuchin monkey was not messing around. He knew exactly what was in that aluminum can and he was addicted.
The other boat captain did everything he could to get the Coke can back. He tempted the monkey with a bread sandwich, and a banana, but it wasn’t until the can was empty that the monkey dropped it and took the sandwich instead.
It was so fun to watch this little monkey behaving like a little bossy toddler.
What to Expect at Monkey Island?
You will see monkeys and have the chance to interact with them and even feed them.
We took a private boat with a captain and our family of 6. We saw a few other smaller sized personal boats on the water, but when we approached Monkey Island there was only one other boat viewing the monkeys.
We’ve heard it can definitely get crowded, but our captain took his time going around the island and taking every opportunity to interact with the monkeys.
I was grateful the other boat was there. While we still would have had our own interactions with the monkeys, it was fun to see a different dynamic brought about by other personalities and food options.
On the other hand, two small boats isn’t exactly a crowd. On the contrary, we definitely would have missed out on a lot had it been busier.
Can You Touch the Monkeys?
Once the White Faced Capuchin took the bribe of the sandwich, he settled on the front of the boat and ate for a while. Both our boats drifted a bit away from the island and our new little friend couldn’t make his way back to the island immediately.
Instead, he looked around and decided I was the safest solution and hopped on my back.
He crawled around in circles for a minute and then decided to say hello to Baby Molasses. He nibbled on her hands for a bit, and kissed me on the cheek, and by then we were close enough to the island so he said goodbye and made his way home.
After this encounter we went around to another part of the island and met the Marmoset Monkey and Owl Monkeys. This little things could fit in the palm of my hand!
They loved the bananas! Both Widmore and Eclair sat still in the front of the boat with pieces of banana in their hands and the monkeys gingerly took piece by piece and enjoyed an epic feast!
But as for petting, no.
A visit to Monkey Island is whatever the monkeys make of it. You are at their whim, but if you go with the expectation that you are an observer of their environment and habitat, the natural course will be that you’ll have a great adventure.
How to Book a Trip to Monkey Island?
- Trip Advisor
- Magnolia Inn
- Lonely Planet
- Etc. Etc. Etc.
- Keep Reading…
How Much Does it Cost to Go to Monkey Island?
$100 average per person!!! But hang on – we found a way to go for less than $100 for our entire family!
- Trip Advisor quoted us $300 for our family with no charge for the two little girls, and sharing a boat with up to 30 other people
- Viator quoted us $695 for our family for a private boat
- Magnolia Inn is a swanky beautiful resort on the lake bed of the canal and requires special reservations and stipulations
- Lonely Planet books tours through affiliate links to Viator for $700
Cheapest Way to Get to Monkey Island in Panama?
We figured there was no way that a trip to a tiny strip of land called Monkey Island in Panama was worth $300-$600. Especially when we couldn’t even step foot on the island itself!
So we scrapped the idea of going, and instead made our way to the Gamboa Rainforest to explore.
We went hiking and explored the rainforest for several hours before we just happened to stumble upon the entrance to the docks. So, we decided to take a look around.
That’s when we were approached by a local who offered us a boat ride for just $90 for our entire family.
We had no idea what we were in for! We just knew that we were taking the opportunity to take a boat out onto the Panama Canal, floating next to giant cruise ships, and see everything that was created as a result of this marvel of the world.
But then, we found ourselves at Monkey Island in Panama!
What Else Should You Know?
The Panama Canal is infested with crocodiles. I did not know that at the time, but now that I do, I feel it my duty to advise you of this fact before you venture out in a dinky boat without a cage surrounding the hull.
I mean, I don’t know if a crocodile can outswim the boat we were on, and maybe it’s wishful thinking to hope they probably stay more towards the shallower end of the canal, but safe to say I’m not an expert.
I do know that we went to a crocodile farm in Australia – in fact it was Crocodile Dundee’s Crocodile farm, and if I learned anything, I learned how agile these creatures are. They can jump, hunt, and eat you whole.
So, fair warning.
And if you wear a dead chicken head on your hand like a puppet, taunting a crocodile mercilessly, that crocodile will literally go insane trying to pry it off of your cold dead appendage. Because you’ll be dead. I don’t know how that crazy lunatic who worked at that farm is still alive.
Just for reference a crocodile can swim 15 km per hour, and a private boat can reach speeds of 40 km.
► For Kids: If you have aspiring veterinarians or little animal lovers, this encounter is a great experience. Our guide stayed as long as we wanted and was remarkable at getting the monkeys on our boat and interacting with them. Our kids loved the experience and spending time with their new little friends!
Does your family love animals as much as we do?
► What We Learned: Monkey’s like Coca Cola!
What’s your favorite soda? What would you try and tempt a monkey with it if you were on the Panama Canal?
► Nap-Time Version: Our family adventure to Monkey Island in Panama for less than $100 for a family of 6!
Our Panamanian adventure included celebrating Christmas the Panama way and discovering how much fun it’s not being stranded on the side of the Panama freeway for 5 hours!