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


Post-Cruise Program4 Days, 3 Nights

Extend your experience of Central America from the coastline to the mountains on this specially designed program.

Day 1 – Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica | Monteverde Cloud Forest

Disembark your ship and meet your guide for a scenic drive to the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, part of the world famous Monteverde Cloud Forest.

You may choose between two ways of experiencing this unique ecosystem: a 2-hour traditional hike along trails through the forest, or a mile and a half 'Sky Walk' through the treetops on a trail including six hanging bridges. In either case, you will enjoy the refreshingly cool air at this altitude while looking out for the fascinating animals that roam here: howler and white-faced monkeys, the three-wattled bellbird, keel-billed toucan, bare-necked umbrellabird, and the gorgeous quetzal.

After your adventure among the clouds, enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before continuing to the El Establo Hotel, where you stay the night. Dinner at the hotel is included.

El Establo Hotel

Day 2 – Monteverde Cloud Forest | Arenal Volcano Area

After breakfast at the hotel, continue your exploration of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve on a 2-hour guided walk through one of the most biodiverse regions of Costa Rica, habitat for over 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, and 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles.

Lunch at a local restaurant is followed by a scenic drive down the mountains to the Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa inLa Fortuna, site of Arenal Volcano National Park, and your home for the next two nights. 

Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa 

Day 3 – Arenal Volcano Area

Depart after breakfast on an hour and a half drive through the Northern plains to Los Chiles, very near the Nicaraguan border, where you will board a boat for a floating safari along the Rio Frio through the rain forest of Caño Negro—a birder's paradise, home to the anhinga, the roseate spoonbill, wood storks, and the jabiru, the largest bird in Central America. Along the shore, you may catch sight of howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and white-faced monkeys, as well as the three-toed sloth and reptiles like caimans, Jesus Christ lizards, and turtles. Return to your hotel for some time at leisure before dinner.

Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa 

Day 4 – Arenal Volcano Area | Homeward

After breakfast at the hotel, transfer to the Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José for flights homeward.

Your hotels:

Hotel El Establo is set on a private 150-acre farm adjacent to the Monteverde and Santa Elena reserves. It houses 155 rooms, two restaurants, a swimming pool, spa, and hiking trails.  

Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa is a hotel dedicated to sustainable practices set on 900 acres of lush tropical reserve near Arenal Volcano National Park. The hotel features 42 rooms, a natural thermal mineral river, waterfalls and pools, a full spa, two restaurants, and four bars.

Your program includes:

  • Transfers and luggage handling from the ship, through the program as described, and on to the airport on Day 4
  • 1 night at the Hotel El Establo, including dinner and breakfast
  • 2 nights at Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, including 2 dinners and 2 breakfasts
  • Lunches on Days 1, 2, and 3
  • Sightseeing and programming as noted in the itinerary
  • Local English-speaking guides
  • Gratuities for guides, drivers, porters, and waiters for included meals

Your program does not include:

  • Transfer from the hotel to the airport on any day other than the scheduled program departure day
  • Personal expenses and other services and meals not mentioned as included in the program

Please note:

  • It is imperative that your flight departure details are communicated at least 30 days prior to the beginning of your cruise in order to secure your transfer from the hotel to the airport.
  • The Juan Santamaria International Airport in San José is a 2 ½ hour drive from the hotel, and check in for flights is a minimum of 3 hours before departure; schedule your return flights to depart at 2pm or later
  • This post-cruise program is offered as a package. There will be no refunds for unused accommodations, meals, or excursions.
  • Program is offered on a space available basis and is subject to change without notice.

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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