Marking the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal is the Biomuseo, undoubtedly the city’s best museum for kids in the capital and most likely the country. Designed by the renowned architect, Frank Gehry, the museum is housed in a colourful, origami-like building and showcases Panama’s incredible biodiversity. For a country with roughly the same land mass as Ireland, it’s staggering to think it has more species of birds and animals (insects included) than the United States and Canada combined.
The reason for its abundance of wildlife (10,444 different type of plant species including 1200 orchid varieties, 1500 tree species according to Panama’s National Society for Protection of Nature) is Panama’s geographic position. Separating the Pacific from the Atlantic, and North America from South America, the Panama isthmus serves as a land-bridge between the two oceans and two continents, allowing land and freshwater species to migrate across the two lands.Visiting #Panama's incredible @biomuseo with Kids #TBIN #FamilyTravel Click To Tweet
The museum took 10 years to build and was officially opened in 2014. Since then, it has fast become an iconic landmark in Panama City. Illuminating the skyline like a beam from a lighthouse, it serves as a welcome beacon for container ships that have seen nothing but endless horizons for weeks on end.
Jane Goodall, the British primatologist, visited the museum three times before the opening saying she was ‘very, very impressed’ and calling it a “wonderful place for learning about Panama’s fascinating geology, natural history and diverse cultures”.
We would agree with you, Jane.
The Biomuseo contains eight permanent exhibition galleries arranged over two levels as well as an atrium space for temporary exhibits. In addition to informing visitors about Panama’s profound impact on the world, it also aims to elicit discovery and wonder in our surrounding natural habitats.
1. The Gallery of Biodiversity
At the entrance to this gallery, in the museum’s atrium is a huge multicoloured stained glass floor (which doubles up as a ceiling in the gallery beneath it). Reflecting the bold colours in Gehry’s roof above it, this striking palette represents the explosion of life in Panama.
Lining the walls of the gallery are hundreds of cards, each representing an animal species found in Panama – another visual reminder of the country’s staggering biodiversity. The cards are colour coded according to their endangered status; not threatened, near threatened, vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, and extinct.
Hands down the kids’ favourite, The Panamarama gallery is a projection space with 10 screens that line ceilings, walls and floor. A short film takes the viewer on a fast-paced, virtual-tour of Panama’s natural wonders, from deep within the ocean to high above the rainforest canopy. A thrilling soundtrack accompanies the visual spectacle and includes sounds such as the delicate sound of bird song and dolphin clicks to the first drops of rain water as they hit the ground before crescendoing into an almighty rainstorm. Listen to the roar of Howler monkeys and the sound of waves crashing onto shore as images of Humpback whales glide beneath your feet and pelicans soar across the ceiling above. It’s an amazing sensory experience and kids love it!
3. Building The Bridge
This gallery explains the creation of the isthmus. Three million years ago Panama emerged from the sea and became a ‘living bridge’, joining North and South America. This section focuses on the geology and is full of rocks and fossils. If your kids are anything like my son (with pockets full of rocks and “rare gemstones”) they’ll love this gallery! Expect microscopes, rocks that sparkle from certain angles and lots of buttons to punch.
4. World’s Collide
Another kids’ favourite is the World’s Collide room that recreates the exchange of animals across the continents in the form of a dramatic sculptural animal stampede.
Animals adapted to their new environments, creating a new evolutionary tact. Furthermore the land bridge, which served as a barrier between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, changed wind patterns and water currents. This meant that marine evolution changed course as well.
Interestingly, southern species found it hard to adapt to colder climes in the north. Although 60% of animals in South America have origins in the north, only three species from the south have survived in the north – the opossum, armadillo and hedgehog. Some species, such as the capybara, are still heading north today.
Interactive touch screens provide more information on the far-reaching consequences of this movement, and #selfiebiomuseo footprints mark the best spots for taking photographs. Don’t forget to tag us @globetotting!
5. The Human Path
This gallery downstairs focuses on the impact that humans have had on the isthmus with exhibits spread over sixteen colourful columns. From the first settlers and the Spanish conquistadors to the construction of the Panama canal and present-day Panama – a period stretching some 15,000 years.
6. Oceans Divided (not yet completed)
When this gallery opens, it will contain two, 10-metre high semi-cylindrical aquariums that will show how the Pacific and Caribbean evolved in significantly different ways after the creation of the land bridge.
7. The Living Web (not yet completed)
This gallery will contain a giant sculpture – equal parts plant, animal, insect, and microorganism – to demonstrate how all living things need and compete with each other.
8. Panama is the Museum
The Biodiversity Park outside is an extension of the museum with quiet spots where visitors can sit and watch the ships glide into the canal. The views from the park are also impressive and on a clear day take in the skyline of skyscrapers in the financial district to Ancon hill and the Bridge of the Americas which spans the entrance of the canal.
“Who’s Frank Gehry, Mum?”
Well kids, for starters he’s the American-Canadian architect behind The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. If that doesn’t spark their curiosity, then the striking lego-like construction of the Biomuseo will undoubtedly grab their attention. Gehry’s fascination for architecture began as a child when he started building miniature cities with his grandmother out of scraps of wood. Having done similar projects at school as part of their unit on ‘The Community’, both my children found his unconventional design more accessible with this knowledge in mind. After all, they could have done something similar (or so they believed!) with discarded cereal boxes and loo rolls.
Since the 1980s, Gehry’s work has used shiny metallic surfaces with an emphasis on undulating forms that twist and curve. Other examples of his work include The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris, France.
A wonderful children’s book that explores this concept of creativity and design is Young Frank Architect by Frank Viva. The story is about a little boy and aspiring architect, Young Frank and his architect grandfather, Old Frank. Together they make objects and buildings out of various scrap materials but Old Frank is always dismissive of Young Frank’s abstract designs. One day they visit The Museum of Modern Art in New York to study ‘real’ architecture. After learning about the work of Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright, Old Frank has a rethink! Inspired by contemporary design, they go home and create an amazing city together with buildings of all different shapes and sizes, and some even made out of chocolate chip cookies! As Frank Gehry said himself, “Young Frank is going to be a great architect one day”.
Rates & Visiting Hours
Tuesday – Friday: 10am – 4pm
Saturday & Sunday: 10am – 5pm
November: 3, 4, 10, 28.
December : 8, 24, 25, 31.
January: 1, 2, 9.
February: 27, 28.
Non resident adults: $22
Non resident children under 18: $11
Resident Adults $12
Resident Children under 18: $6
Non resident Family Ticket: $49
Resident Family Ticket: $29
*Family Ticket = 2 adults & 2 children
Temporary exhibits only:
Children under 18: $2.50
The Biomuseo is located on Amador Causeway in Panama City, right after the Plaza de las Banderas (Flags Plaza). It’s position also marks the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal. The parking lot is facing the former Officers Club.
The Biomuseo Website: http://www.biomuseopanama.org/en
Visiting #Panama's incredible @biomuseo with Kids #TBIN #FamilyTravel Click To Tweet
Family Guide to Panama
For more information on family travel in Panama see my guide to Panama with Kids.
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