A cruise offering from Smithsonian Journeys and PONANT

Delve into the tropical forests of Panama and Costa Rica and cross the legendary Panama Canal on an 8-day cruise, learning about Smithsonian’s scientific studies in the region as you explore a range of pristine ecosystems and meet the indigenous people that call them home. 

Starting at: $5,625 Make a Reservation Ask Us A Question or Call 855-330-1542
 Ships moving through a lock in the Panama Canal. Credit: Hemis/Alamy
 The scarlet macaw. Credit: Harvey Abernathey
 Squirrel Monkey
 Exotic Poison Dart Frog
 Coati found in Panama
 Metal Mark butterfly
 One of the many locks of the Panama Canal
 STRI scientist at work in lab
 Flora found in Panama
 The delightful beaches of the San Blas Islands
 Traditional <i>mola</i> art work of the San Blas Islands Credit: Danita Delimont/Alamy
 Display of traditional <i>molas</i> on the San Blas Islands Credit: Hemis/Alamy

Panama and Costa Rica by Sea: The Natural Wonders of Central America

Aboard the 184-guest Le Bellot or Dumont-d’Urville

8 days from $5,625

A cruise offering from Smithsonian Journeys and PONANT

Delve into the tropical forests of Panama and Costa Rica and cross the legendary Panama Canal on an 8-day cruise, learning about Smithsonian’s scientific studies in the region as you explore a range of pristine ecosystems and meet the indigenous people that call them home. 

or Call 855-330-1542

Overview

Discover the rare tropical ecosystems of Panama and Costa Rica on a voyage that features a full daylight transit of the Panama Canal. Venture to Panama’s pristine Caribbean islands then cross the historic canal to the Pacific Coast. Visit Darién National Park before calling at Fuerte Amador. Smithsonian’s scientists have conducted research on tropical ecology in Panama since 1910, in part to prepare for the opening of the canal. Gain insight from today’s scientists on an exclusive visit to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Punta Culebra Nature Center. Then cruise to Costa Rica to explore Quepos and nearby Manuel Antonio National Park.

The Smithsonian Journeys / PONANT Experience: Each cruise will be accompanied by two Smithsonian Journeys Experts. An excursion or activity is included in each port of call. You may have a choice of excursions in many ports, so that you can delve more deeply into subjects that interest you.  

Highlights Include

  • San Blas Islands: Go snorkeling among coral reefs, walk white-sand beaches, and meet the indigenous Kuna people in this remote archipelago.  
  • Panama Canal and Panama City: Make a full daylight transit of the Panama Canal, one of the greatest wonders of engineering in history. Then take a guided tour of the Biomuseo, designed by architect Frank Gehry. The museum’s interactive biodiversity exhibitions were created by scientists from the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Panama. Enjoy lunch and a walking tour in the charming colonial center of Casco Antiguo or learn about the history, biodiversity, and operation of the Panama Canal at the Miraflores Visitor Center.
  • Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI): On a specially arranged tour of the Smithsonian’s Punta Culebra Nature Center guided by STRI staff, hear about the latest studies, observe marine species up close, and explore the unique flora and fauna of the tropical dry forest. Also visit the new Biomuseo, designed by Frank Gehry and dedicated to the ecological importance of Panama’s wilderness areas.   
  • Darién National Park: Within this World Heritage-listed park, ride Zodiacs to a traditional village of the indigenous Emberá people, who have maintained their timeless lifestyle. Learn about their rich culture, from their excellent craftwork to their music and dance traditions. 
  • Costa Rica: Dock in Quepos and choose from a guided nature walk in Manuel Antonio National Park, a wildlife cruise through the thick mangroves, or a rafting adventure on the Savegre River.

2023 Itinerary

Map - Panama and Costa Rica by Sea: The Natural Wonders of Central America

Day 1 — Colón, Panama

Arrive in Colón, Panama’s second largest city, located at the Caribbean entrance of the Panama Canal. Embark Le Bellot this evening and sail east along Panama’s coast. (D)

Day 2 — San Blas Islands

Just off the Caribbean shores of Panama, the San Blas Islands are a string of more than 300 islands and cays. Anchor at Holandes Cayes, sheltered behind a long coral reef, and enjoy a day to explore the treasures of the archipelago. Long white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters invite you to swim and snorkel amid an incredible array of marine life. We may be welcomed by the indigenous people of the San Blas, the Kuna, who govern the islands as an autonomous province with minimal interference from Panama’s national government. Learn about the Kuna’s traditions, from their distinctive dress to handicrafts and music. (B,L,D)

Day 3 — Panama Canal

Today, set off on a journey that inspired the imagination of many 20th-century adventurers: a daytime transit of the Panama Canal. This critical passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific allowed ships to avoid rounding South America’s Cape Horn. The canal’s construction started in 1880 under the direction of French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps, who had previously built the Suez Canal. Abandoned then resumed, this marvel of engineering was completed by the United States in 1887 and opened in 1914. Delve into the dramatic history of its construction—and its intricate engineering—as you pass through three levels of locks. Arrive at Fuerte Amador, part of a causeway at the Pacific entrance to the canal. (B,L,D)

Day 4 — Panama City

One of Central America's most attractive capitals, Panama City was founded in 1519 by Spanish explorers and rebuilt in the late 17th century by the French. On a full-day excursion, tour the Biomuseo, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. Explore the museum’s interactive exhibition—executed by scientists from the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Panama—which showcases the ecological significance of Panama’s exotic flora and fauna. Also visit the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Punta Culebra Nature Center, an open-air museum dedicated to marine science and conservation. On a specially arranged tour guided by Smithsonian staff, hear about the latest research in tropical ecology, observe marine species up close and explore the unique flora and fauna of the tropical dry forest.  Choose to discover to the charming colonial district of Casco Antiguo for a guided walking tour and lunch,  or visit the Miraflores Visitor Center at the Miraflores Lock of the Panama Canal, where you can learn about the canal's history, biodiversity, and operation. (B,L,D)

Day 5 — Playa Muerto and Darién National Park

The most remote and least developed region of Panama, the province of Darién is home to extremely rich biodiversity. A World Heritage site since the 1980s, Darién National Park offers extraordinary landscapes of rocky coastlines, mountains, mangroves, rivers, and creeks. Darién also serves as home to about 30,000 indigenous peoples, mostly from the Emberá tribe. Ride Zodiacs to Playa Muerto, a small coastal village where we’ll meet with men and women who have maintained their lifestyle much as it was before Spain colonized the region. The chief will welcome us with traditional Emberá hospitality, introduce us to their customs, and invite us to witness traditional dances. Before returning to the ship, you may wish to take a short hike to a nearby waterfall. (B,L,D)

Day 6 — At Sea

As we make our way along the length of southern Panama towards Costa Rica, enjoy a day to relax at sea, taking advantage of the ship’s superb amenities. Opt for a treatment in the spa or get a work out at the fitness center. Go for a swim in the pool or read a book on the sundeck. Our Smithsonian Journeys experts will present lectures on the region. Visit the ship’s upper deck to take in views of the open sea and perhaps spot seabirds or marine species. (B,L,D)

Day 7 — Quepos, Costa Rica

Our final port of call in Costa Rica is Quepos, gateway to the spectacular Manuel Antonio National Park, where thick rain forests are edged by stunning beaches. Venture into this park with a naturalist to encounter tropical flora and fauna, including sloths; several species of monkey; and both terrestrial and sea birds, such as toucans, pelicans, hummingbirds, terns, and more. The trail emerges from the trees at Espadilla Beach, where you’ll have the opportunity to swim and relax in the sand. Alternatively, choose a riverboat cruise on the Damas Island estuary among coastal mangroves that teem with waterfowl, caimans, and monkeys; or go for a rafting adventure on the pristine Savegre River.  (B,L,D)

Day 8 — Puerto Caldera/Return Home

After breakfast, disembark in Puerto Caldera, at the mouth of the Gulf of Nicoya. From here, transfer to San José for your flight home, or continue to explore Costa Rica. (B)

Included meals are denoted as follows: Breakfast (B), Lunch (L), Reception (R), Dinner (D)

2024 Itinerary

Map - Panama and Costa Rica by Sea: The Natural Wonders of Central America

Day 1 — Colón, Panama

Arrive in Colón, Panama’s second largest city, located at the Caribbean entrance of the Panama Canal. Embark Le Bellot this evening and sail east along Panama’s coast. (D)

Day 2 — San Blas Islands

Just off the Caribbean shores of Panama, the San Blas Islands are a string of more than 300 islands and cays. Anchor at Holandes Cayes, sheltered behind a long coral reef, and enjoy a day to explore the treasures of the archipelago. Long white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters invite you to swim and snorkel amid an incredible array of marine life. We may be welcomed by the indigenous people of the San Blas, the Kuna, who govern the islands as an autonomous province with minimal interference from Panama’s national government. Learn about the Kuna’s traditions, from their distinctive dress to handicrafts and music. (B,L,D)

Day 3 — Panama Canal

Today, set off on a journey that inspired the imagination of many 20th-century adventurers: a daytime transit of the Panama Canal. This critical passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific allowed ships to avoid rounding South America’s Cape Horn. The canal’s construction started in 1880 under the direction of French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps, who had previously built the Suez Canal. Abandoned then resumed, this marvel of engineering was completed by the United States in 1887 and opened in 1914. Delve into the dramatic history of its construction—and its intricate engineering—as you pass through three levels of locks. (B,L,D)

Day 4 — Playa Muerto and Darién National Park

The most remote and least developed region of Panama, the province of Darién is home to extremely rich biodiversity. A World Heritage site since the 1980s, Darién National Park offers extraordinary landscapes of rocky coastlines, mountains, mangroves, rivers, and creeks. Darién also serves as home to about 30,000 indigenous peoples, mostly from the Emberá tribe. Ride Zodiacs to Playa Muerto, a small coastal village where we’ll meet with men and women who have maintained their lifestyle much as it was before Spain colonized the region. The chief will welcome us with traditional Emberá hospitality, introduce us to their customs, and invite us to witness traditional dances. Before returning to the ship, you may wish to take a short hike to a nearby waterfall. (B,L,D)

Day 5 — Panama City

One of Central America's most attractive capitals, Panama City was founded in 1519 by Spanish explorers and rebuilt in the late 17th century by the French. On a full-day excursion from Fuerte Amador, part of a causeway at the Pacific entrance to the canal, tour the Biomuseo, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. Explore the museum’s interactive exhibition—executed by scientists from the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Panama—which showcases the ecological significance of Panama’s exotic flora and fauna. Also visit the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Punta Culebra Nature Center, an open-air museum dedicated to marine science and conservation. On a specially arranged tour guided by Smithsonian staff, hear about the latest research in tropical ecology, observe marine species up close and explore the unique flora and fauna of the tropical dry forest.  Choose to discover to the charming colonial district of Casco Antiguo for a guided walking tour and lunch,  or visit the Miraflores Visitor Center at the Miraflores Lock of the Panama Canal, where you can learn about the canal's history, biodiversity, and operation. (B,L,D)

Day 6 — At Sea

As we make our way along the length of southern Panama towards Costa Rica, enjoy a day to relax at sea, taking advantage of the ship’s superb amenities. Opt for a treatment in the spa or get a work out at the fitness center. Go for a swim in the pool or read a book on the sundeck. Our Smithsonian Journeys experts will present lectures on the region. Visit the ship’s upper deck to take in views of the open sea and perhaps spot seabirds or marine species. (B,L,D)

Day 7 — Quepos, Costa Rica

Our final port of call in Costa Rica is Quepos, gateway to the spectacular Manuel Antonio National Park, where thick rain forests are edged by stunning beaches. Venture into this park with a naturalist to encounter tropical flora and fauna, including sloths; several species of monkey; and both terrestrial and sea birds, such as toucans, pelicans, hummingbirds, terns, and more. The trail emerges from the trees at Espadilla Beach, where you’ll have the opportunity to swim and relax in the sand. Alternatively, choose a riverboat cruise on the Damas Island estuary among coastal mangroves that teem with waterfowl, caimans, and monkeys; or go for a rafting adventure on the pristine Savegre River.  (B,L,D)

Day 8 — Puntarenas / Return Home

After breakfast, disembark in Puerto Caldera, at the mouth of the Gulf of Nicoya. From here, transfer to San José for your flight home, or continue to explore Costa Rica. (B)

Included meals are denoted as follows: Breakfast (B), Lunch (L), Reception (R), Dinner (D)

Related Tours