What do monkeys, orchids and modern art have in common? You’ll find them all on Ancon Hill. At 654 feet high, Ancon is an island of natural beauty in the western part of Panama City. Formerly part of the Canal Zone, it’s now a protected area of secondary forest. Flowering Bird of paradise grows on the roadside and tawny-eared neque (think a rabbit crossed with a squirrel) hop into the undergrowth as you approach. Orange butterflies, blue dragon flies, sloths, capuchin and Tamarin monkeys…they’re all here, just minutes from the city proper.
Go in the morning and you’ll have the best chance of seeing the resident wildlife. But at any time of day the views from the very top are unparalleled.
You have the full sweep of the city’s coastline below you, from the high-rises of Punta Paitilla to the church steeples and colonial mansions of the historic Casco Viejo district. Walk back downhill a little and you’ll find a viewing platform from where you can see the goings on in the port of Balboa on the Panama Canal.
There are homes on the hill. Old houses nestled in the jungle foliage from the days when U.S. southern command was based here. And at the bottom of the hill you’ll find the canal Administration Building. You can take a tour and check out the impressionistic murals inside celebrating the canal’s construction.
At the base of Ancon, the museum of modern art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo) is not a grand building, but it houses interesting works by the likes of Alfredo Sinclair and is worth the $5 entry fee. A grand piano in the center of the exhibition hall testifies to the frequent concerts held here. (A new home for the museum is under construction in Casco Viejo and judging by the plans on display it will be well worth a visit.)
The next most obvious step might be to head into the city for brunch, but tucked away on Ancon Blvd, close to the canal Administration Building you’ll find the Country Store, serving a splendid and wide-ranging menu. As with many of the buildings on the hill, the jungle encroaches protectively around it, and sitting on the patio under a roof of Perspex glass you have a good chance of catching sight of curious monkeys while you sip on a cup of strong local coffee.
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