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Signature Panama: Canal, wildlife and beach

Day 1

Arrive in Panama City and transfer to your hotel.
 

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.

Day 2

Partial transit of the Panama Canal.
 
Panama Canal

Today you have a partial transit of that most astonishing feat of engineering, the Panama Canal. It’s a short drive to the Port of Balboa and Miraflores Locks, where the boat is raised 17m above sea level. The next set of locks is even higher; you will be 26m above sea level before entering the Gaillard Cut where the Chagres river flows into the Canal.

The canal’s construction involved the creation of the largest man-made lake in the world - Gatún - which is where you will disembark before returning to Balboa by bus.  

In the afternoon there is the option of visiting the Emberá indians who live on the Chagres River. The people of these indigenous communities have maintained their traditional way of life and are famed for their basket weaving.

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Panama Canal

Day 3

Guided excursion in Panama City
 
Panama Viejo

You’ll have a guided tour of the ruins of Old Panama City (Panama Viejo), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was the first city founded by Europeans on the Pacific coast of the Americas and the starting point of the Spanish trails which crossed the isthmus to the Caribbean.

The city was attacked and looted by English pirate Henry Morgan in 1671. Visit the Old Panama Museum, climb up the Cathedral tower, and stroll among the stone walls and the remnants of what was once considered the richest city in the Americas. Continue to Casco Viejo where you will visit the Inter-oceanic Canal museum, housed in the former headquarters of the French canal-building effort in the 1880s. The restored museum displays the historical development of Panama from its Spanish colonial days to the completion of the canal in 1913.

This is followed by a walking tour of Casco Viejo, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to the Presidential Palace, the cathedral, the National Theatre, the French plaza and other landmarks which are a testimony to the city's rich history, culture and heritage.  From the top of old city's wall you can enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean dotted with fishing boats and the massive ships lined up waiting to cross the Panama Canal, with a backdrop of the skyline of modern Panama City.   

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Panama Viejo

Day 4

Fly to David and transfer to highland Boquete.
 
The Chiriquí Highlands

Boquete is a small provincial town set in a valley within the craggy, verdant Chiriquí Highlands. It enjoys a pleasant mountain climate and the surrounding area is both very beautiful and extremely fertile: benefiting from rich volcanic soils crops such as citrus fruit, strawberries coffee, flowers and vegetables thrive in a European style system of small-scale farming. The town itself has a few quaint old buildings and some good restaurants.

A highlights holiday in Panama wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a coffee farm. Boquete is to coffee what Bordeaux is to wine. Over several years, Panama's coffee has been rated the best coffee in the world. Finca La Milagrosa is a small (5ha) 100% organic farm. The family-run operation was started using a roasting machine cobbled together spare parts from an old Mitsubishi car, but its produce is award-winning, hence the name, Milagrosa. The coffee is destined for Europe and the US but you’ll have a chance to try some.

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The Chiriquí Highlands

Day 5

At leisure in Boquete.
 
white water rafting

There are several activities available from your accommodation, including cycling and water rafting. Not far away from Boquete is the starting point of the Sendero Los Quetzales from where you can walk (7-8hrs) over the mountains to Cerro Punta, the best area to spot the resplendent quetzal -  the colourful bird which is a Central American icon. 

You can also hike or be driven up the slopes of Panama’s only (extinct) volcano, Barú, or luxuriate in the nearby hot springs.

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white water rafting

Day 6

By air and water taxi to Bocas del Toro islands.
 
Bocas del Toro dock Panama

Your holiday will be rounded off with some beach-time. Off the northwest coast of Panama close to the border with Costa Rica lies the archipelago of Bocas del Toro.

The undeveloped islets of white sand beaches fringed by palms and reeds, with rocky outcrops and reefs ideal for snorkelling and diving, provide a marvellously laid-back hang-out for a few days. The islands shelter profuse wildlife - especially tropical birds, frogs and butterflies - and are blessed with splendiferous sunsets.

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Bocas del Toro dock Panama

Days 7-8

At leisure in Bocas del Toro.
 
Bocas del Toro

At leisure on the islands.

You can sunbathe, snorkel, stroll along dazzling snow-white beaches, sip a cool drink and survey a scene of unbridled tranquillity.
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Bocas del Toro

Day 9

Fly back to the mainland and transfer to Gamboa.
 
Blue butterfly mariposa

Set on the edge of Gatún Lake, the small town of Gamboa was formerly an American Canal Zone residential area for canal workers. Today, it is best known for its surrounding rainforest scenery and magnificent bird-watching.

Take a short drive to the rainforested Soberanía National Park and walk the Pipeline Road - built during World War II as a precaution to transport fuel from one ocean to the other in case the Panama Canal was attacked. Fortunately the pipeline never had to be used, while the roads built at that time have opened up opportunities for spectacular bird and wildlife spotting, with 525 species of bird living in the area.

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Blue butterfly mariposa

Day 10

Boat tour on Lake Gatún. Transfer to Panama City airport for international flight home.
 
You'll board an expedition boat at Gamboa Resort's marina for an adventure on Lake Gatún. A naturalist guide is on hand to help make the most of the wildlife - amongst which are three-toed sloths, crocodiles, ospreys, snail kites and keel-billed toucans. Getting up close to the foliage as it meets the waterline there is a good chance of seeing white faced capuchins, mantled howler monkeys and spider monkeys. You'll be able to watch, almost within touching distance it seems, mighty Panamax freighters glide past, towering above the jungle canopy.

Transfer to Panama City airport for international flight home.

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. Signature Panama: Canal, wildlife and beach

  • Contadora beach 4 days from £387pp

    Contadora is the most notable of the Pearl Islands with a current population of around 250 inhabitants. This was where the Spanish counted the pearls which were harvested from the other islands in the archipelago; hence the name of the island, which means 'counter' or 'book-keeper' in Spanish.

    The islands produced pearls of many colours and sizes, and during the many years when pearls were harvested from the waters around the islands, the indigenous population would converge on Contadora to count their pearls and sell them to the Spaniards.

    Today, Contadora is home to several small hotels, a clutch of restaurants, eight beautiful beaches and many luxurious holiday homes. The island´s roads area paved and most visitors and inhabitants travel around in golf carts (if not walking) and private planes. You will be met at the ferry terminal by a representative of your guesthouse and escorted to the accommodation.

    Gerald´s Bed & Breakfast has just eight well-appointed guest rooms.  The restaurant is one of the best on the island (there are currently 5) with a varied menu including German specialties – the proprietor is German. The roof top terrace has a small swimming pool and offers views of the Pacific Ocean. Playa Larga, one of the island´s most beautiful beaches is just 3 minutes' walk away and it is also within walking distance of the ferry´s usual landing place.

    Day 1: Your ferry ride to Contadora island takes about two hours.

    Days 2,3: Enjoy days at leisure on the island's white sand beaches or book optional tours such as trips round the island, snorkelling, dolphin and humpback whale-watching (July – Oct), deep sea fishing, diving, and early morning nature walks. The island is indented with pretty sandy bays, while inland you'll find verdant woodland. The island's tiny airstrip runs down across spine.

    Day 4: Continue your holiday or transfer to the airport for your international flight.

    UK clients arrive home the following day.

    Breakfast daily.

  • 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.

  • Bogota 3 days from £383pp

    Founded in 1598, the effervescent capital Bogotá sits on an upland Andean plateau. It’s a city of striking contrasts; skyscrapers and colonial single-storey houses, fast highways and cobbled lanes with chaotic traffic and the occasional mule cart.

    There are humble homes clinging to the mountain-sides and affluent tree-lined residential boulevards; crowded alleys and green, wide and shady parks; a cultured middle class jostling with workers and their families from all over Colombia.

    The night scene is lively with music clubs, bars and cafés spilling out on to the pavements.  You can’t really understand Colombia without a visit to this agreeable city.

    Day 1:  Plaza de Bolivar is a good starting point for your guided city tour, with its statue or the Liberator, baroque cathedral and a clutch of  government buildings. It’s in the heart of the Candalaria district which is the literary and artistic heart of Bogotá with theatres, libraries and universities. Here, many of the the original Spanish colonial buildings with their heavy tiled rooves, wrought iron grills and carved wooden doors have been restored. It’s a pleasure to stroll through the cobbled lanes.  On the fringe of this district is the Museo de Oro, one of the best collections of gold artefacts on the continent, beautifully displayed.

    Day 2: Just 90mins' drive from Bogotá the little town Zipaquirá’s fame lies in the subterranean salt cathedral - an enormous church built within a mountain at site of a salt mine. This unique place of worship has a magical feel, with high ceilings, carved pillars and huge stone statues. After your visit, you continue to the crater lake Guatavita, was a sacred place for the Muisca indians and is steeped the mythology of El Dorado. The excursion lasts about eight hours.

    Day 3: Continue your holiday or transfer to Bogotá airport for your international flight.

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Signature Panama: Canal, wildlife and beach

10 days from £1,924pp

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

 

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