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: $6,030 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 Bellot

8 days from $6,030

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

Activity Level 3: Moderate / Active

Ocean-going ship requires using smaller boat conveyances to get to shore for excursions, although the ship may also pull into a pier for embarkation and disembarkation. This is an expedition-type cruise that involves excursions by small boats and wet shore landings by rubber Zodiac boats (i.e. step from the Zodiac directly into ankle-high water). Travelers must be able to negotiate a steep gangway and get in and out of the Zodiacs with minimal assistance. Excursions will be at an active pace during the mornings and afternoons. Some standing and walking for periods of time (up to one and a half hours) during outdoor activities and tours and nature walks. Walking two to three miles will be over sometimes difficult terrain, such as uneven/slippery walking trails in rain forests. Opportunities for swimming and snorkeling are offered during the cruise. Be aware that you will experience hot temperatures (over 80 degrees), high humidity, and strong sun due to the proximity to the equator. Wildlife observation requires time spent on small excursion boats that do not provide shade or protection from the strong tropical sun.   

Appropriate for: Travelers who are physically fit, lead active lives, are comfortable participating in long days of activities, and expect some physical exertion. 

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 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. 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 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. After lunch, you may choose to continue to the charming colonial district of Casco Antiguo for a guided walking tour that highlights the multicultural history of Panama, or alternatively, you may 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. 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 — Quepos, Costa Rica

Our final port of call in Costa Rica is Quepos, gateway to the spectacular Manuel Antonio National Park, where you will encounter myriad tropical flora and fantastic fauna, including sloths, the noisy howler moneky, the white-faced capuchin, and the tiny squirrel monkey. The combination of forest and ocean also provides a special opportunity to observe both terrestrial and sea birds - toucans, pelicans, hummingbirds, terns, and more. (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)

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