Archive for the ‘Central America’ Category

Panama: Five Things

Monday, September 6th, 2010

When most of us consider Panama, the Panama Canal immediately comes to mind. However, there’s a lot more to Panama than this marvel of civil engineering. Here are a few things you might not know about Panama:

A brilliantly-colored morpho butterfly, one of many unique creatures that can be found in Panama.

1)  Smithsonian scientists are using radio telemetry  to track the routes and interactions of animals around—and across—the Panama Canal. They’ve also discovered that sloths aren’t as lazy as we thought. Click to read more from Smithsonian Magazine.

2) The indigenous Cuna people of Panama have almost complete sovereignty over their lands and affairs, one of the most positive relationships between government and indigenous people in the world. Click here to hear some of their music, thanks to Smithsonian Folkways.

3) The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute maintains an underwater reef webcam at the Galeta Marine Laboratory in Panama.

4) Panama’s Barro Colorado Island is home to 74 species of bats. Thanks to the Smithsonian Channel, you can meet the women who study them.

5) Blue-footed boobies don’t just live in the Galápagos—they can also be found on islets in the Gulf of Panama.

Packed yet? Right now, we’re featuring a sale on our expedition cruise, The Panama Canal and the Wonders of Costa Rica. Book by September 20th and save $740 per person. Tour departs January 8, 2011.

Where are you going on your next adventure? Please share.

Q&A on Costa Rica

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Dr. Suzann Murray is the Chief Veterinarian at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. She oversees the health care of the zoo’s entire animal collection, as well as conservation, research, and training programs. Here, she takes a few minutes out of her busy schedule to talk about the biodiversity of Costa Rica, where she leads our Costa Rica’s Natural Heritage tours.


A tree frog in Costa Rica

Q. As Chief Veterinarian at the National Zoo, how do you integrate your diverse knowledge of animals to create a memorable learning experience on Smithsonian Journeys tours?

A. I have the opportunity to work with a diverse range of species, from fish to mammals and birds to reptiles. Each species, and in some cases, each animal, has its own adaptations to its natural environment. I enjoy using my medical knowledge of animals as a way to provide some “inside” knowledge to tour members. To me, the diversity of animal life is just fascinating. Having the opportunity to share my knowledge of animal adaptations is a great joy.

Q. Costa Rica  is nestled between Nicaragua and Panama in Central America and borders both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. How does this geographic location contribute to the rich biodiversity found in Costa Rica?

A. Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, largely due to its two coasts and mountainous ranges that provide a wide range of topography and microclimates for a huge variety of species. From flatlands close to sea level up to the cloud forests of the volcanoes, the varying habitats are suitable for incredible animal diversity. The abundance of rivers and the access to the ocean and the Caribbean Sea also make it possible for endangered species such as dolphins and sea turtles  to call Costa Rica home. Finally, by being so close to the equator, the temperature is in an ideal range to support almost any kind of plant or animal life.


The Arenal Volcano. Photo: Costa Rica Tourism Bureau

Q. Our trip will visit the Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica’s most well-known volcano, which is considered one of the most active volcanoes in the world. How has the Arenal’s presence impacted the surrounding environment?

A. Arenal produces frequent and moderate eruptions. The course of the lava flow has also changed over the years. In areas of previous eruptions, we will be able to observe the re-growth of secondary forest and compare that terrain to the more lava-covered areas of recent eruptions. The south side of the Volcano is known for its unique cloud forest, and it is also known as a region in which world-class coffee is grown.

Q. What types of animals can Smithsonian travelers look forward to seeing in the rainforest: mammals, birds, reptiles, insects? Are there any endemic species that participants may encounter on this trip?

A. If you are a bird enthusiast, Costa Rica is the place to go. If you are not yet interested in birds, be prepared to join the growing ranks of birders! The sheer numbers and types of birds we will see are truly astounding–from colorful smaller birds such as hummingbirds, flycatchers, and toucans, to larger birds of prey and storks. Some of these birds are found only in Costa Rica. For those who are truly wild about mammals or reptiles, we will look for the impressive howler and spider monkeys, unique sloths, sea turtles, caiman crocodiles, and possibly even the rare dolphin. Whether we are searching in the land, sea, or air–we will be seeing an abundance of wildlife.

What’s your favorite tropical animal? Share below.

Click here for educational travel opportunities in Costa Rica for you and your family.


Los Uros of Peru

Monday, August 30th, 2010

The hand-built island of Los Uros, floating on Lake Titicaca, in Peru.

One of the more interesting features of the Peruvian landscape are tiny islets floating on Lake Titicaca, fashioned from reeds by Los Uros, people who lived in the area even before the Incas arrived. Most of the Los Uros people have moved off the islets, but a community of 200 remains today, still practicing their traditional methods of construction while adapting some aspects of modern technology; Uros use motorboats, watch TV, and have their own radio station.

Travel to see the Uros for yourself on our Legendary Peru tour.

What’s the most interesting structure you’ve ever used? Please share.

Costa Rica’s Natural Heritage

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010


The red-eyed tree frog makes its home in Costa Rica’s protected jungles. Photo: Lauren Wentz-Middleton

Costa Rica is growing more popular as a travel destination for it’s beaches, wildlife, and eco-tourism opportunities. Tiny Costa Rica has 5% of Earth’s biodiversity, but only 0.1% of the world’s land. In fact, there are about 800 different species of birds in Costa Rica. It’s the greenest country in the world, with the number one spot on the Happy Planet Index. One reason for this is that Costa Rica’s government and its people have made environmental stewardship a top priority. In fact, 25% of the country’s land is protected in national parks and conservation areas.

Our new Costa Rica’s Natural Heritage tour embraces this environmental spirit by treating travelers to eco-friendly accommodations designed to blend into Costa Rica’s beautiful setting and embrace its native cuisine while making less of an impact on natural resources. Our adventure also includes visits to Poas and Arenal volcanoes and the Monteverde Cloud Forest, a chance to visit with children at a local elementary school, and much, much  more.

What are you doing to help the environment? Please share.

Morning in Costa Rica

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Tiny Costa Rica has 5% of Earth’s  biodiversity, but only 0.1% of the world’s land. In fact, fully 25% of Costa Rica’s land is in protected areas, like national parks and conservation areas. With about 800 different species of birds in Costa Rica, it’s a bird-watcher’s paradise and any nature lover’s dream getaway. Start your week right with this video of early morning in Costa Rica, which showcases the incredible beauty of the country’s coastline.

Packed yet? Travel to Costa Rica with Smithsonian Journeys on any of these educational tours.

What’s your favorite way to spend a free morning alone? Please share.