These days, the term "ecolodge" is used so frequently that it has come to mean anything from a converted research station with no electricity to a "sustainable luxury" lodge. Ecolodges, by definition, should employ environmentally sound practices such as proper waste management, and contribute back to the local economy through jobs and an incentive to protect the environment for tourism. Ecolodges should also offer guided nature tours and provide in-depth information. The Gamboa Resort is the least "eco" of the following lodges, but its location, guided tours, and wildlife displays still place it in this category.
- Canopy Lodge & Canopy Tower (El Valle de Antón & Soberanía National Park; tel. 264-5720; www.canopytower.com): Birders flock to these two ecolodges for their focus on bird watching and their location in habitats friendly to a wide range of species. The Canopy Tower, a remodeled military radar station in thick jungle, is a cross between a stylish B&B and a scientific research center. It's just 25 minutes from Panama City but feels worlds away, and the 360-degree observation deck here provides stunning views and a platform with scopes. The Canopy Lodge is more luxurious, with minimalist design that blends into the forested surroundings. Outstanding birding guides, a well-stocked library, day trips, and chats are a part of the stay.
- Gamboa Rainforest Resort (Gamboa; tel. 314-5000; www.gamboaresort.com): They bill themselves as an eco-resort, but the Gamboa is better called a "destination megaresort" that appeals equally to travelers seeking contact with nature to those who just want to be surrounded by nature while kicking back at the pool. Guided nature tours include jungle boat cruises, an aerial tram ride through the rainforest, and a minizoo of reptile, butterfly, and marine species exhibits. There's also a full-service spa.
- La Loma Jungle Lodge & Chocolate Farm (Bocas del Toro; tel. 6592-5162; www.thejunglelodge.com): No other lodge envelops you more in nature than this one -- it's like playing Tarzan and Jane for a night. Sleeping in an open-air, thatched-roof bungalow, of course, is not for everyone, but the cabins are stylish, and two sit high in the forest canopy, with sweeping views and wildlife sightings. There are guided nature and cultural visits with Ngobe-Buglé Indians, organic meals, and an on-site butterfly farm.
- Cana Field Station (Darién National Park; tel. 269-9415; www.anconexpeditions.com): Originally a research facility, this rustic lodge is nestled in the Darién, the wildest and most remote region of Panama and renowned as one of the best birding sites in the world. Ancon Expeditions owns and runs the lodge, but birding specialty tour operators book here, too. Rooms are basic, with shared bathrooms, and meals are shared communally. You can even book an overnight stay at the Pirre Tent Camp in the cloud forest.
- Punta Patiño Lodge (Darién Province, Gulf of San Miguel; tel. 269-9415; www.anconexpeditions.com): This hilltop lodge looks out over the Pacific, and though it's rustic, it is a step up in comfort compared to the Cana Field Station, with air-conditioning and private bathrooms. It's also owned by Ancon Expeditions, but international tour outfitters book here, too. The lodge puts travelers close to wetlands, Emberá indigenous communities, sightings of the harpy eagle, and adventurous jungle rides up rivers in dugout canoes.
- Finca Lerida Bed and Breakfast (Boquete, Chiriqui; tel. 720-1111; www.fincalerida.com): This 100 year old converted farmhouse isn't particularly luxurious, but its three suites and two standard rooms are chock-full of character, and most of the original decorations and appliances have been left intact. Best of all, the B&B is surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery on one of Panama's best known coffee farms. The entire farmhouse can be reserved for large groups or families.
- Tranquilo Bay (Bocas del Toro; tel. 838-0021; www.tranquilobay.com): Embraced by lush, vibrant jungle and fronted by a thicket of mangroves, this resort, a haven for adventurers, is the most upscale lodging option in Bocas del Toro. The idea here is to provide activities that go where no other tour operator goes, including river kayaking on the mainland, snorkeling in remote areas, jungle hikes, and visits to isolated beaches. The cabins, though simply designed, offer plush interiors with high-quality beds and spacious bathrooms.
- Los Quetzales Lodge & Spa (Guadalupe; tel. 771-2182; www.losquetzales.com): Although the main lodge is in town, there are several rustic wooden cabins set deep in lush rainforest that swarm with colorful birds. The cabins are large enough for groups, and they provide travelers with the wildest independent lodging option in the country. The cabins can be self-catering, or they'll send a chef up to cook for you. Walking trails and horseback-riding trips are options for those who stay here.
- Cala Mia Island Resort (Isla Boca Brava; tel. 851-0025; https://calamiaresort.com/): This new hotel is environmentally-friendly in every sense of the word. Entirely solar-powered, the hotel grows many of its own fruits and vegetables, and there are even plans for a cheese farm. A honeymooners' dream come true, Calamia offers two private beaches and a host of activities. Everything from the charming bungalows to the attentive service to the delectable, top-notch cuisine is right on. Fussier travelers should note however, that environmentally-friendly means no air-conditioning. But this shouldn't be too much of a problem as temperatures cool at night.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.