Imagine walking across a series of gently rolling hills. Imagine seeing the steep ascent of majestic mountains rising beyond and above those hills. Imagine a low bank of clouds drifting across the horizon to settle on the tops of those hills and the crests of those mountains. Imagine, for a minute, that you are walking through the Cloud Forest of Chiriqui, where scenes like this are a common occurrence.
The Cloud Forest is certainly a sight to see, and no trip to Chiriqui would be complete without a visit to it.
The Composition of a Cloud Forest
Cloud forests are extremely rare and are located almost exclusively in the tropical and subtropical climates of Central and South America. They are sometimes known as fog forests, evergreen montane forests, or moist forests, and they are characterized by their low-level cloud cover. Banks of heavy, gray clouds hover at or above the canopy of the cloud forest, and they provide the flora and fauna of the forest with a constant supply of cool moisture.
Cloud forests are usually located in mountainous areas, where rocky terrain surrounds the forest and retains a great deal of the moisture introduced into the environment.
The cloud forest of Chiriqui is one such forest—many mosses and lichens cover its trees and envelop its stony topography.
The Particulars of Chiriqui’s Cloud Forest
The soil in the Panamanian highlands, where the cloud forest is located, is unusually rich and fertile, thanks, in large part, to the sizable deposits of volcanic ash that come courtesy of Volcan Baru, the nearby dormant volcano. The air in the area is unusually moist, due to the influence of the nearby Atlantic and Pacific Oceans on the narrow isthmus that is Panama. On top of that, the elevation makes the temperature in the Highlands much cooler than the temperature in the rest of Panama, and, as a result, the plants and animals that come to call this part of Chiriqui home have many distinct and unusual features that set them apart from the rest of the wildlife in Panama.
Tourists often travel to Panama’s Chiriqui Highlands—and to the cloud forest that dominates those Highlands—for trekking, canopy zip line tours, or simply to appreciate the surrounding flora and fauna of the area. The forest itself is composed of some of the largest trees in the western hemisphere, and many rare species of flowers and plants can be found growing between the roots of these enormous trees. Rare breeds of animals and insects can also be found underneath the forest canopy: industrious leaf-cutter ants, toddling tapirs, and Red-Faced Spinetail birds are just a few of the species that call the cloud forest home.
But the cloud forest is more than just a collection of plants and animals. It is a carefully balanced eco-system, and a beautiful example of the richness of outdoor life. From its foggy canopy to its moss-covered forest floor, the cloud forest of Chiriqui is truly stunning, and every visitor should add it to his or her must-see list.