FULL DAY CITY TOUR OF PANAMA CITY
Early morning departure from your hotel with your bilingual guide to visit the sites of "Old Panama" and "the Casco Viejo," which date from the late 1600’s. Casco Viejo is home to monuments to Ferdinand de Lesseps and other Frenchmen instrumental in the ill-fated attempt of the French to construct a canal through Panama.
Lunch will be at a typical Panamanian restaurant. Afterward, tour the Canal Area, including the town of Balboa, which formerly was known as the Panama Canal Zone, stopping at folk art market at Stevens Circle. The tour ends with a visit to the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal where the operation of the Canal is explained and large ships can be seen transiting the Canal. Return to your hotel in the late afternoon.
HALF DAY CITY TOUR OF PANAMA CITY
You'll visit the ruins of Old Panama which was sacked by the British Buccaneer, Henry Morgan in 1671. It was later abandoned in favor of "Casco Viejo," the "Old City Compound," which dates from 1672. The Casco Viejo is the location of several buildings and churches which were important during the Spanish Colonial Period, and the Plaza Francia contains a series of monuments to Ferdinand De Lesseps and other Frenchmen who were instrumental in the ill fated attempt by the French to build a Canal in Panama in the late 1800's.
PARTIAL PANAMA CANAL TRANSIT
You will be picked-up at your hotel this morning (approximately 6:45A) and transferred to Balboa, Pier 18, on the Pacific side of the Canal, where you will board the boat taking you partially through this engineering marvel. Cruise through the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks, which will elevate the boat to 85 feet above sea level before arriving at the Gaillard Cut, the narrowest part of the Canal. After stopping at Gamboa on Gatun Lake, you will return to Panama City by van. Lunch in included.
PANAMA CANAL RAINFOREST BOAT ADVENTURE
Early in the morning you will be picked up at at your hotel by your naturalist guide for a 45-minute drive to the town of Gamboa, where the Chagres meets the Panama Canal. Here you will board an expedition boat and depart on an adventure that will include a voyage across Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal passing by gigantic cargo ships transiting the waterway, making contrast with the natural surroundings. Along the way, you will have the opportunity to spot green iguanas and three-toed sloths resting on tree branches, crocodiles, osprey in the hunt for peacock bass, snail kite and keel-billed toucan among other wildlife.
Gatun Lake was formed to give way to the Panama Canal in 1914. With a surface of 423 km², it was the largest man-made lake in the word at the time of its creation. The flow of all rivers within the Panama Canal watershed is contained in Gatun Lake to provide water for the operation of the lock system. More than 52 million gallons of fresh water are used for every ship that transits through the Panama Canal from one ocean to the other.
Our expedition boat will allow for close approximations to rainforest covered islands (former hill tops) in Gatun Lake to search for White-faced capuchin, Mantled howler monkey, Central American spider monkey, and Geoffrey's tamarin. You will enjoy a picnic lunch on a small island with extraordinary views of the Panama Canal and the natural surroundings.
OCEAN-TO-OCEAN PANAMA CANAL TRANSIT
On August 15, 1914 the SS Ancon made the first official ocean-to ocean-transit through the Panama Canal. This event, that soon proved to have changed the world forever, was possible thanks to the labor of more than 75,000 men and women who worked for 10 years facing unprecedented challenges. Since 1914, more than 900,000 vessels have transited through the waterway bringing commerce, cultures and people from all corners of the world closer together.
The Panama Canal tour starts with an early morning pick up at your Panama City hotel and a 15-minute drive to the Port of Balboa in the Pacific side of the canal. You will first sail under the bridge of the Americas, which raises over 100 meters above sea level and reunites the land divided during construction of the canal forming another link in the Pan-American Highway.
The Panama Canal is 80 kilometers long from deep waters in the Pacific Ocean to deep waters in the Caribbean Sea. It was cut through the lowest and one of the narrowest saddles of the long mountainous Isthmus that joins North and South America. The original elevation was 95 meters above sea level where it crosses the Continental Divide.
Northbound on the Panama Canal, the first stop is at Miraflores locks, which are the tallest in the locks system due to the extreme tidal variation of the Pacific Ocean. The tour boat will be raised 17 meters above sea level in two steps and enter Miraflores lake which is almost 2 kilometers long. A transition from salt water in the Pacific Ocean to fresh water in the locks chambers and lake take place here.
Next the ship is raised in one step, this time an additional 9 meters, at the Pedro Miguel locks. At this point the ship will be sailing in Gatun lake at 26 meters above sea level and entering Gaillard Cut, the narrowest section of the Panama Canal. The 13.7-kilometer long portion of the waterway was carved through rock and shale and it is flanked by the backbones of the Continental Dive. The original width of Gaillard cut was 92 meters and was increased to 152 meters in the early 1970s. In order to accommodate to the demands of today's transit needs, the Panama Canal Authority recently completed the monumental task of widening the cut to 192 meters in straight sections and up to 222 meters in curves. This allows for unrestricted two-way traffic of Panamax vessels, the largest ships that fit in the Panama Canal locks.
Gaillard cut opens up into Gatun lake where the Chagres River flows into the waterway near the town of Gamboa, site of the Panama Canal's dredging division.
The Chagres River has the distinction of being the only river in the world that flows into two oceans and it is the main source of fresh water which guarantees the operation of the waterway.
Lunch is served aboard the ship while you enjoy views of the giant cranes and dredging equipment near Gamboa, ships traveling southbound carrying cargo or passengers and the islands that dot Gatun lake. Half way through the voyage in Gatun lake you will pass by Barro Colorado island where the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has been carrying out research on rainforest biodiversity since soon after this area was flooded and the lake was formed. Gatun lake covers an area of 423 square kilometers and the islands in it are actually the tops of hills and mountains that were not flooded. Gatun lake was once the largest man-made lake in the world. Just before reaching the Gatun locks on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal you will see Gatun Dam. The locks at Gatun will lower the ship 26 meters to sea level in three steps and the ship will continue along a channel to the Port of Cristobal. You will disembark here and board a coach bus that will take you back to Balboa on a comfortable 1½-hour ride. In Balboa your driver will be waiting to take you back to your hotel.
CANOPY CRANE, METROPOLITAN NATURAL PARK
Hotel pickup by your naturalist guide and transfer to Metropolitan Natural Park, a 15-minute drive from downtown Panama City. Here, you will climb aboard the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) canopy crane for a bird's-eye-view of the rainforest.
In 1990, the STRI pioneered the use of construction cranes to access the forest canopy in Panama's Metropolitan Natural Park. The rainforest canopy crane provides a spectacular view of the forest canopy, the city skyline and the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal. The crane is 42m tall with a 51m long arm. The gondola has a maximum lift height of 34m, a working radius (from center of tower) of 48m and can access 0.85 hectares of forest. The comfortable gondola can easily accommodate up to four visitors and guide standing up. The crane lifts nature enthusiasts above the forest and then lowers them at the desired observation sites within the canopy. In this way, the crane allows safe, easy and three-dimensional access to the forest. The naturalist guide, who has been trained by STRI in safety and operational procedures, will instruct the crane operator by radio where to position the gondola. More than 60 species of trees and lianas can be reached within the crane perimeter.
Metropolitan Natural Park, located within Panama City limits, protects 265 hectares of semi-deciduous Pacific dry forest and it is contiguous with Camino de Cruces National Park, which in turn is linked to the Soberania National Park. The dominant tree species in the forest is Anacardium excelsum. These forests represent some of the few remaining dry coastal Pacific forests in Central and South America. A total of 284 species of trees, 45 species of mammals and 254 species of nesting birds have been recorded in the park. BirdLife International and the Panama Audubon Society have declared this forest to be an area of global importance for birds, because of its value for migratory raptors. It also protects several nationally threatened birds, including the Sepia-capped Flycatcher. In addition, several other endangered species are also present, including Geoffrey's tamarin (endemic to Panama), jaguarundi, margay and peregrine falcon. The upper rainforest canopy at Metropolitan Natural Park is 25-35 m high with emergent trees reaching 40m. Annual rainfall averages 1740 mm with a distinct dry season from December through April, when rainfall is usually less than 100mm per month.
THE CHAGRES RIVER AND EMBERA PEOPLE
Early this morning you are picked up at the lobby of your hotel by your naturalist guide for a one hour drive to El Corotu on the shores of Madden Lake. The main reservoir of drinking water for the cities of Panama and Colon, Madden also supplies 40% of the water required for the operation of the Panama Canal. Here you will board a motorized piragua to travel up the Chagres River.
The dugout canoe journey will take you through the rainforests of the 320,000-acre Chagres National Park, the largest of the national parks protecting the Panama Canal Watershed. Along the Chagres River, you may be able to spot Little Blue and Green heron, Great egret, Anhinga, Neo-tropical cormorant, Amazon, Ringed, and Green kingfisher, along with Red-lored Amazon parrot and Keel-billed toucan flying above. Time and conditions allowing you will visit a waterfall where you can take a dip in the crystal-clear waters to cool down.
You will reach the Embera village where you will be greeted with dancing, music and a sumptuous lunch made up of fresh fish, plantains and tropical fruits prepared by your hosts. Learn about Embera customs and their relationship with nature while visiting the village. The Embera are famous for their basketry and wood carving skills. There will be handcrafts available for sale and you will have a chance to be painted with the traditional jagua, a natural dye used by the Embera to adorn their bodies. Early in the afternoon you will return to El Corotu for the drive back to Panama City.
THE TRANS-ISTHMIAN ROUTE
After breakfast you will board the van for your trip across the Isthmus of Panama, the narrowest part of the country. Along the way you will stop at Las Cruces Trail and walk a small portion of the trail that was used by the Spanish conquistadors to bring their cargo to and from the city of Panama. From there you will continue to the port town of Portobelo famous for its trade fairs during the 17th century. A picnic lunch will be served at Fort San Lorenzo. Built at the mouth of the Chagres River to fortify and protect the river entrance to Las Cruces Trail and also used as the port of entry for the gold diggers on their way to California during the Gold Rush period. You will be traveling along lush rainforest where you might have the opportunity to see more Monkeys, Sloths, Toucans and other wildlife. This afternoon you will return to the city by train, on board the Panama Canal Railway and reminisce on those adventurous travelers in search of fortune and fame. This hour ride will take you alongside the Panama Canal with spectacular views, transfer to the hotel.
Early this morning you are picked up at the lobby of your hotel by an Ancon Expeditions of Panama Naturalist guide for the approx. 45-minute drive to Camino de Cruces (Las Cruces Trail). This historic stone trail was built by the Spanish in the early years of the colony to join Panama City, located on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, with Fort San Lorenzo, by the mouth of the mighty Chagres River on the Caribbean Sea. You hike a 9.5 Km (6 miles) stretch of the trail (approx. 5 hours) that has been protected within Soberania National Park. The mostly flat trail takes you through magnificent rainforests teeming with exotic wildlife and historic landmarks. Be prepared for uneven, muddy and slippery terrain and to get your shoes wet when crossing little creeks along the way.
TREKKING LAS CRUCES TRAIL & JUNGLE BOAT
You will reach the ruins of the town of Venta de Cruces, by the Chagres River, where you board a comfortable expedition boat. After enjoying a picnic lunch on a small island, you depart on an adventure that will include a voyage across Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal, where you pass gigantic cargo ships in sharp contrast with the natural surroundings. Along the way, you will have the opportunity to spot Green iguana and Three-toed sloth resting on tree branches, Crocodile, Osprey in the hunt for Peacock bass, Snail kite and Keel-billed toucan among other wildlife.
Gatun Lake was formed to give way to the Panama Canal in 1914. With a surface of 423 Km2 (163 sq mi), at the time of its creation was the largest man-made lake in the world. The flow of all the rivers within the Panama Canal Watershed is contained in Gatun Lake to provide water for the operation of the lock system. Nearly 200 million liters (52 million gallons) of fresh water are used for every ship that transits through the Panama Canal from one ocean to another. Our expedition boat will allow a close experience with rainforest covered islands (former hill tops) in Gatun Lake to search for White-faced capuchin, Mantled howler monkey, Spider monkey, and Geoffrey’s tamarin.
HIGHLIGHTS OF SOBERANIA NATIONAL PARK
Early in the morning you are picked up at the lobby of your hotel by your Naturalist Guide and transferred to Soberania National Park in the Panama Canal Watershed. Soon after you cross the Chagres River, you reach Pipeline Road, where Audubon Society held its world Christmas bird count record for 19 years straight, with 357 species of birds identified in a period of 24 hours. Your first stop will be at the Rainforest Discovery Center where you enjoy spectacular views of Soberania's vastness and canopy bird species from the 100 feet observation tower. Standing above the canopy, we witness the morning flight of Keel-billed Toucans, Red-lored Amazons and the silent and stealthy movement of Mantled Howler Monkeys. You continue to explore the network of trails surrounding the Discovery Center and enjoy the hummingbird feeders that provide up close and personal views of 10 species of hummingbirds!
During World War II a pipeline was built along the Panama Canal to transport fuel from one ocean to the other in the event the waterway was attacked. Fortunately, it was never used. The now abandoned gravel road built to maintain the pipeline provides excellent walking access to Soberania's 55,000 acres of tropical rainforest. The park boasts an impressive list of 525 species of birds including the Black Hawk-eagle, Black-cheeked woodpecker, Black-breasted Puffbird, Broad-billed Motmot, Blue Cotinga, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Masked Tytira, Violaceous Trogon, Fasciated Antshrike, Shining honeycreeper, and a great array of North American migrants. Soberania is also home to 105 species of mammals including large felines, Tamandua, Two and Three-toed Sloth, 4 species of monkeys, Agouti, some of which are listed under CITES (endangered species) and 59 endemic plant species in 4 life zones.
By late morning you will enjoy a rainforest picnic lunch, giving you opportunities to further explore the healthy and productive habitats of the Panama Canal Watershed. Early afternoon you will be transferred back to your hotel.
PATH BETWEEN THE SEAS
This morning you will be picked up at your hotel lobby by your guide. You will start the day with an introduction to the Panama Canal from the top of Ancon Hill from where you will enjoy impressive views of the Pacific Ocean entrance to the canal, the mega port of Balboa, Miraflores locks and Panama City.
Next you will drive to the Panama Canal visitors’ center at Miraflores locks for an up-close view of the locks operation. Here you will see how ships in transit are raised and lowered in a system of locks chambers which has been operating in pretty much the same way for 100 years since the canal was inaugurated on August 15, 1914. The visitors’ center has a state of the art museum with exhibits depicting aspects related to the Panama Canal’s history, its engineering, its contribution to world commerce and communication and about the waterway’s current expansion project which is due to be completed in the first half of 2015.
After lunch at Miraflores locks drive across the isthmus of Panama to the Caribbean province of Colon. The drive is 80 kilometers long. In about 1 hour you will have crossed the continent, from ocean to ocean, for a tour of the Panama Canal’s expansion works in Gatun.
From the vantage point of an observation deck you will have the opportunity of viewing the assembly of one the new sets of locks being built as part of the project. The US$5.25 billion project includes, among other tasks, dredging works on both ends of the canal and the route itself in order to increase water depth and the straightening of bends along the route that will allow larger ships to transit through the canal. The most important aspect of the project, however, is the building of two new sets of locks, one at each terminus of the canal, which will increase the waterway’s capacity to move cargo from one ocean to the other by 50% within the next 15 years and will allow the passage of bigger ships (almost 3 times the capacity of Panamax, the largest size vessels currently transiting through the canal). An astonishing 4.2 billion cubic meters of structural concrete are currently being poured in the excavations where the new locks will be operating soon. You will experience history in the making as the Panama Canal projections call for another 100 years of successful operation using the new technology that will be implemented.
Time allowing this afternoon you will visit the Gatun earthen dam which contains the water that gives way to Gatun Lake, once the largest manmade lake, essential for the operation of the Panama Canal.
The return to Panama City will be aboard the Panama Canal Railroad train. The railway follows a similar route as the original train built to transport gold prospectors, the 49ers, in the mid to late 1800s coming from the east coast of the United States across the Isthmus of Panama to continue their journey by steamboat to California. The route was diverted when Gatun Lake was formed to give way to the Panama Canal. The train will take you along the magnificent waterway, flanked by the exuberant rainforests of Soberania National Park. After an approximately one hour train ride you will arrive at Corozal Station in Panama City and will then be transferred to your hotel.
WHALE & DOLPHIN WATCHING LAS PERLAS
Don´t miss the humpback whale and dolphin season between July and October and join them during their short visit in Panama in the Archipelago of the Pearl Islands. Your bilingual guide helps you to connect, communicate and interpret the behavior of the whales and dolphins you will encounter on this excursion. You depart Panama City by ferry early morning and pass by numerous ships that are waiting for their passage through the Panama Canal on the Southern entrance, in the Pacific. You may already spot some dolphins and whales. In Contadora you board the whale watching boat for a 3-hour guided tour, including a beach and snorkeling stop and some leisure time for lunch (not included) before returning late afternoon by ferry back to Panama City.