Big, breathtaking Playa Palenque made me want to run – to discover where that seemingly-endless stretch of sand would lead me. But on another of Isla Palenque’s beaches, I found reason to linger. I’m talking about Playa Cala Este, the “East Cove” beach sheltered by palms and mangroves – and the jungle hike to reach Cala Este is worth taking your time on, too.
The route I followed is fairly simple. (It’s the same route used for Isla Palenque’s Tide Pools, Lagoons & Mangroves tour, so guests of the Panama resort have the benefit of a knowledgeable local guide to point out the wealth in flora and fauna they’ll encounter along this trail.) The key is taking it slow — not a problem for a biologist like me. I found lots of things to examine more closely, and document in photos, videos, and audio recording — so you can share my journey through sound and sense. Enjoy!
Known locally as “cedro espino”, or “spiny cedar”, Pachira quinata is a flowering tree of the mallow family that boasts delicious leaves – as well as spiky growths intended to deter hungry monkeys. As the tree matures and the trunk expands, the points become less pronounced.
(Cedro espino grows in many places around the island; you are certain to see some during your guided island tour to explore Isla Palenque’s tide pool, mangrove, and lagoon ecosystems.)
There are a number of places along this hike where the jungle opens onto different ecosystems (such as rock-lined beaches, mangrove wetlands, or the lagoon) and these natural clearings make for excellent birdwatching.
On top of the ones I was able to photograph and identify, you’ll also see plenty of parrots, egrets, and the odd toucan.
Playa Cala Este is lined by low-hanging palms, three different species of mangrove, and rocky outcroppings. On the latter you will occasionally come across one of the highlights of Isla Palenque’s scent menu: the Lady of the Night orchid. This elegant white orchid opens after dark, releasing its seductive citrus fragrance and attracting bats and moths for pollination purposes. In the rays of a full moon, its petals almost glow.
Most orchids are epiphytes (meaning they live on other plants) but this particular species has taken it a step further and found a home in rocky crevices – the Lady of the Night is a lithophyte, much tougher than her cousins. Her hardy character makes her a favorite for household cultivation.
Other treats for your nose along the trail include frangipanis, a beautiful coastal tree overhanging the shoreline all around the island, and the fragrant bark of the sigua trees (it smells like Christmas) you’ll encounter on sections of the trail leading up to the road.
You’ll hear birdcalls, the roar of the ocean as you pass Playa Perdida… and then something really weird that sounds like the air squeaking out of a balloon, or a sci-fi movie laser. These are the cute vocalizations of Isla Palenque’s tiny lagoon-loving frogs, of the family Leptodactylidae and cousins to the bigger bullfrogs who croak their basso songs through the jungle.
Listen to this most adorable of jungle sounds here:
(Or listen on Soundcloud.)
The Trail Home
After you’ve had enough of hanging out with hermit crabs, sampling green coconuts, and climbing around inside the massive root structures of the red mangroves at Cala Este, it’s time to wend your way back to the Estate. The wildlife changes yet again on this section of your trek. The road home will present opportunities to spot monkeys in the trees overhead, as well as some of the island’s beautiful predatory birds, like Swainson’s hawk and the mangrove blackhawk. Feel free to maintain your slow and steady pace to fully enjoy more birding and wildlife-spotting on the journey home.
Experience it Firsthand
If you’re interested in getting to know these ecosystems with your own five senses, take the Tide Pools, Mangroves & Lagoons tour during your stay at Isla Palenque. It’s an easy hiking option and chock-full of wild rewards. Only 90 minutes from the time you set out, you’ll have passed through several of Isla Palenque’s remarkable aquatic ecotones (zones where two divergent ecologies meet), and probably spotted a number of fascinating species along the way.