Today, back in the Pacific Ocean you reach the sparkly aquamarine waters lapping the Pearl Islands. The 200 island-strong archipelago, mostly uninhabited, owes its name to the abundance of pearl oysters which supported a substantial fishery in the early 1900s. Nowadays the sun-baked archipelago is famed for its squeaky-clean soft-sand beaches and gently waving palm trees.
Survival shows have been filmed here, adding a colourful contemporary page to the story of pirate refuge. Today, armed with your binoculars, you are offered a skiff tour of Bartolome Island’s bird sanctuary where you may spot, frigate birds, pelicans and yellow warblers. Later you can explore on your won – take out a kayak, paddle board or snorkel and discover the islands’ magic.
In the 1880s a French company began the construction of a canal to link the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans for shipping but the project suffered engineering problems and tropical disease. In 1903 the United States took over, completing it in 1914. It took over 75,000 workers to build and it will take you about eight hours to transit the 78km. The Canal was handed back to Panama at the turn of the 21st century and now the bio-diverse jungle fastness along its banks is being protected and developed for eco-tourism.
Today the Safari Voyager ship will pass through it. She will negotiate three massive sets of locks, (each 350m long, 33.5m wide and 34m deep) which raise ships to the level of the vast artificial Lake Gatún, 26m above sea level, and then lower them again to sea level on the other side. It’s an extraordinary experience, one you are unlikely to enjoy anywhere else in your life