A new 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: $4,650 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

From Colón to Puerto Caldera Aboard the 184-guest Le Champlain

8 days from $4,650

A new 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


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. 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 visit Darién National Park before cruising to Costa Rica to explore the tropical habitats of Herradura. 

The Smithsonian Journeys / PONANT ExperienceEach 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 subject areas of interest.  

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. 
  • Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute: 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 scientists, hear about the latest studies, observe marine species up close, and explore the unique flora and fauna of the tropical dry forest.   
  • Darién National Park: Within this World Heritage-listed park, ride Zodiacs to a traditional village of the indigenous Emberà people, who have maintained their timeless lifestyle. Learn about their rich culture from their excellent craftwork to their music and dance traditions. 
  • Costa Rica: Discover magnificent flora and fauna in the parks that surround Herradura, with your choice of a guided nature walk in Carara National Park or a cruise through the thick mangroves of Tárcoles River.  


Day 1 — Colón, Panama

Arrive in Colón, Panama’s second largest city, located at the Caribbean entrance of the Panama Canal. Embark Le Champlain 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 a cay 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. Our full-day excursion begins at the Biomuseo, designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry. Join a tour of 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. Continue to the charming colonial district of Casco Antiguo for lunch and a guided walking tour that highlights the multicultural history of Panama. Next, 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 scientists, 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. (B,L,D)

Day 5 — Playa Muerto/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. Visit the park, and 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 — Herradura, Costa Rica

Our port of call in Costa Rica is Herradura, which takes its name in Spanish from the horseshoe form of its bay, sheltered by hills covered in lush tropical vegetation. This small town is surrounded by national parks that are remarkable for the rich variety of fauna and flora they protect. You’ll have the opportunity to explore nearby Carara National Park and learn about the complex ecosystem of a tropical rainforest on a guided nature walk. Over 10,000 species of plants, 300 bird species, and some 200 species of butterflies live in this transitional zone, where less dense undergrowth makes it easier to spot wildlife. Scarlet macaws, howler monkeys, white-collared monkeys, coatimundis, peccaries, crocodiles and toucans are just a few of the animals that call this area home. Or choose to glide along the Tárcoles River in a small covered boat, spotting wildlife in the thick mangrove forests along the banks. Hummingbirds, herons, egrets, ospreys, pelicans, and storks, are some of the 250 bird species found here, and the estuary is also prime habitat for crocodiles, lizards, and iguanas, which are often seen foraging along the shore. (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)