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Panama Canal: A Journey Between the Seas

Day 1

Arrive Panama City, transfer to hotel.
Panama City

This thriving cosmopolitan metropolis sits at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal.

The city dates back to 1519 when it was a settlement base for transporting Peruvian gold back to Imperial Spain. Its subsequent wealth made it a frequent target for pirate raids.

These days, soaring skyscrapers, sparkling banks and smart modern offices overshadow forts, Spanish convents and sumptuous French-style mansions, reminders of its colonial heyday.

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Panama City

Day 2

Guided tour of Casco Viejo and the Biodiversity Museum.

Begin with your adventure with a guided exploration of the UNESCO World heritage Site Casco Viejo. Work on this neighbourhood started in 1673 following the destruction by pirates of the original city. You’ll be able to stroll around the atmospheric former city-centre with its restored colonial houses, churches and squares embodying the Spanish colonial architecture of the 17th century.

Following a visit to the Inter-Oceanic Canal Museum you’ll continue to the Biodiversity Museum where eight galleries tell the story of human development  on  the Panamanian isthmus and its impact on the area’s biodiversity.

In the afternoon, you’ll embark the MV Discovery anchored at Flamenco Island. Set sail in the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean heading towards Contadora in the Pearl Islands where the ship will spend the first night before navigating to the Darien jungle. Meet your expedition leaders, the crew and fellow guests while you savour regionally-inspired cuisine.

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Day 3

Visit the Darien jungle and the Embera indians

Now you really head off into the unknown. The shores of Darien Province are hemmed by a curtain of dark, tangled rainforest which has kept out explorers and potential settlers for centuries.

Perhaps because of this lack of human interference, this environment is one of the most bio-diverse in the world, as well as among the most exotic. Brightly feathered birds flit through the trees while monkeys chatter and swing from branch to branch.

Here, you’ll head inland to meet members of a community of Embera indians. These people, the original inhabitants, have managed not only to maintain their identity and traditional crafts – they excel at basket work and wood carvings – but have also adopted a sustainable economy to conserve the delicate balance in the forest, with a little help from low-key tourism. The Embera are proud of their long-established mythology, and practice natural medicine using forest products they harvest themselves.

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Day 4

Swim and snorkel among the palm-fringed Pearl Islands.
Contadora beach

Today, back out along the coast, you can swim and snorkel in the sparkly aquamarine waters lapping the Pearl Islands. The 200 island-strong archipelago 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.  Just a few of the islands are inhabited, and many are tiny. Survival shows have been filmed here, adding a colourful contemporary page to the story of pirate refuge; and you have a shipwrecked submarine to explore.

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Contadora beach

Day 5

Transit the Panama Canal to Lake Gatun.
MV Discovery
The excitement mounts as you finally enter the Panama Canal. In the 1880s the construction of a waterway to link the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans began, and the ambitious project was completed in 1914. Fortunately, since the Canal was handed back to Panama in 1999 the twisted jungle along its banks has been protected and developed for eco-tourism.

Wake up at the Pacific entrance and join the morning’s ship convoy for the northbound canal passage traversing Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks. The Discovery will be raised 26m above sea level to Gatún Lake, where the ship will spend the night, before she is taken down again.  This is no easy task: a skilled pilot is required on board to guide the vessel through the massive sets of locks.
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MV Discovery

Day 6

Explore Gatún Lake and exit the Canal at the Caribbean end.
Lake Gatun
Before the Panama Canal, the vast jungle area that is now the Gatún Lake was teeming with a huge abundance of wildlife. As the region was flooded to create the lake, many creatures took refuge in the mountain peaks which now constitute the many islands which rise above the surface of the lake.

Explore Gatún Lake and kayak in Panama Canal waters. Your expedition leader will take you on board small crafts past lush rainforest to secluded areas of the lake to witness first-hand the splendor and excitement of the jungle.

Exotic birds, monkeys, sloths, iguanas, and crocodiles are just a few of the animals that you may see in their natural surroundings. The sights, sounds and scents which compose this tropical jungle will engulf you. Cameras should be at hand as this is considered one of the the world’s premier locations for viewing monkeys and other animals in the wild. The Discovery will exit the Panama Canal in the afternoon on its way to the mouth of the Chagres River. 

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Lake Gatun

Day 7

Explore the Chagres river and fort at San Lorenzo.

The Chagres river was used by the Spanish conquistadors to move their gold across the Isthmus of Panama en route from Peru to Spain, then by the gold prospectors who attempted a ‘short cut’ from the east coast of the USA to the gold fields of California.

These colourful characters are long gone but the river is now the lifeline of the Panama Canal, still heaving with wildlife and fringed by tropical jungle. Explore Fort San Lorenzo, on a cliff at the mouth of the river on the Atlantic side. The fort here was built by the Spaniards in the 16th century to defend the gold trail.


You have now reached the Caribbean Sea! Later that evening, the Discovery will reposition to Colón, where it will spend the night before you disembark the next day. 


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Day 8

Disembark. Guided tour of Portobelo, transfer to hotel in Panama City.
Railroad from Colon to Panama City

Leave the ship in the morning and travel by road to Portobelo,  founded by Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage to the Americas in 1597. This quaint town was the site of many sea and land battles between the Spanish colonials and the pirates and corsairs who relentlessly raided the Spanish Main. Explore the fortifications built by the Spaniards to protect their treasures and visit the Church of San Felipe, the sanctuary of the Black Christ.


Later in the afternoon, board the train which runs along the Panama Canal Railway back to Panama City, a journey of just one hour. The line flanks the Panama Canal passing through the rainforest, cruising alongside the Canal’s locks, through the Gaillard Cut and gliding over slender causeways in Lake Gatún.  Arrive in Panama City in the early evening and settle in to your hotel.  

(Note that the itinerary is subject to variation according to weather and other local conditions).

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Railroad from Colon to Panama City

Day 9

Transfer to Panama City airport for your international flight.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today.

Tailor-made holiday

Our specialists have been expertly crafting award-winning tailor-made holidays to Latin America for over 37 years.
We would be delighted to create a truly personalised trip which perfectly matches your wishes and requirements.

97% of our clients rated their experience with us as Excellent or Good.

Speak to an expert Travel Consultant or send us your enquiry today. Panama Canal: A Journey Between the Seas

  • Panama's Cultural Heartland - The Azuero Peninsula 4 days from £1,031pp

    Panama’s cultural heartland, the Azuero Peninsula, has a heady mix of indigenous heritage, contemporary Spanish-inspired culture and cattle-raising. The region certainly sits slap bang in the centre of the country, on the Pacific side. The Azuero Peninsula has a rich history dating back to pre-Columbian indigenous groups, with many artefacts and ceremonial sites uncovered by archaeologists. The indians did not survive the Spanish invasion though, and nowadays there is a distinctly Hispanic tradition, best observed in the region’s festivals and colonial architecture.

    Day 1: It’s a 4hr shared road transfer from Panama City to Chitre, capital of the Herrera province.

    Day 2: On today’s guided excursion you will be introduced to the cultural traditions of the Azuero Peninsula. Visit a family house where grotesque devil masks are made; a local drum maker who uses razor sharp chisels to hollow out cylindrical cuts of wood and call in on a potter who has been spinning his wheel manually for decades. At the home of a maker of pollera dresses - introduced by the colonial Spanish - sometimes it is a man who was does the sewing. In each place you have the chance at trying your hand at the craft yourself.

    Day 3: Urracá, 'the Lord of the Wind, Rain and Thunder', was a chieftain who resisted the invasion of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, defeating them on several occasions. Exploring  Urracá's territory you visit his statue before continuing towards San Francisco de la Montaña where you visit the church, a 1727 jewel of baroque art with hundreds of hand-carved altar pieces demonstrating a fusion between Spanish Catholicism and indigenous culture. Continue to the San Juan river canyon and La Yeguada lagoon for a short hike through the forest and a swim in the waterfall.

    Day 4: Return to Panama City to continue your holiday or to the city’s airport for your international flight.

    UK clients arrive home the following day.

    Breakfast daily.

  • San Blas and the Kuna Indians 3 days from £670pp

    Spend a few days combining relaxing beach-time with an insight into one of Panama’s most distinctive cultures, that of the semi-autonomous Kuna (also known nowadays as Guna) indians.

    San Blas is a necklet of hundreds of coral islands lying off the Caribbean coast and stretching 200km to the border with Colombia, ranging from tiny islets with a cluster of palms to larger, inhabited islands. The Kuna, farmers, fishermen and traders, are notably spiritual and maintain a deeply traditional lifestyle here. The Kuna, famous for their  are famous for their bright molas, a colorful textile art form used in the blouses of the Kuna women's national dress, which is worn daily by many Kuna women. It’s a fascinating lifestyle with which you will have the privilege of getting acquainted.

    Day 1: Take an early morning 50min flight by light aircraft to Playón Chico airstrip. You’ll be staying at Yandup Lodge, with simple, understated but comfortable bamboo-constructed beds with bright fabrics, a ceiling fan, private bathrooms (no hot water - this is the tropics) ,and a hammock on the veranda. The dining room overlooks the Caribbean, as almost everything does, and all meals are served en famille.

    Day 2: Spend time alongside the Kuna and enjoy relaxing on the pearly white beaches, where the glass-clear water invites you to snorkel out to the coral reef.

    Day 3: Return by canoe to the airstrip and fly back to Panama City to connect with your flight home or continue your holiday.

    UK clients arrive home the following day.

    Lunch and dinner day 1, full board day 2, breakfast day 3.


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Panama Canal: A Journey Between the Seas

9 days from £4,607pp

Price excludes international flights at the beginning and end of the trip


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