The Panama Canal is one of the world's most famous 'short cuts' and a marvel of engineering all to its own! It also hides one of the world's best kept secrets - an untouched swarth of paradise with unspoiled natural beauty and deep jungle! Often overshadowed by its famous Northern Costa Rican neighbor, Panama and the area around the Panama Canal Zone continues to be a treasure trove of off-the-beaten track rainforest, mountains and secluded beaches. It's also chock full of some of the coolest and most prolific wildlife across the Central Americas. Despite the famous man-made Panama Canal itself much of the countryside has not yet been touched by the mass tourist commercialization of many of its neighbors.
Panama is uniquely tucked away bordered by the Southwestern Caribbean Sea on the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West and by Costa Rica and Colombia to the North and South - a strategic location between two hemispheres & two continents!
It's because of this unique location that led the United States to fund and construct the Panama Canal in 1914, allowing ships to travel between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans without having to travel around the bottom of South America! The Panama Canal consists of an amazing array of artificially created lakes, channels and waterways. There is also a famous series of locks, or water-filled chambers, that raise and lower ships through the mountainous terrain of central Panama along the Panama Canal passageway.
The entire trip through the Panama Canal takes between eight and 10 hours. About 14,000 ships, 400,000 crewmembers, and 300,000 passengers traveled through the Panama Canal in 1995. Each ship that travels through the Panama Canal pays a toll based on its capacity. One exception is Richard Halliburton, who paid 36 cents for swimming the canal in 1928.
One advantage of a cruise on the Panama Canal is its proximity to so many countries. Ships often stop in South America, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico, so cruisers often have opportunities to embark upon fascinating shore excursions in diverse regions.
Getting lost is a problem in itself, but getting lost amidst Central America's mountains, caves, volcanoes and jungles is more than possible - which is why guides on a Panama Canal cruise are indispensable.
Resourceful cruisers might be comfortable roaming within a city and visiting sights that don't require extensive travel. However, even cultural attractions and shopping districts are located in unfamiliar outskirts, and any escapade that takes a reasonable distance away from the docked ship should involve a guide.
Optimise your Panama Canal cruise
- Learn to snorkel on the waters of La Entrega beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in Santa Cruz Huatulco, Mexico.
- Deep-sea fish for exotic catches of dorado, marlin and sailfish off the coast of Guatemala.
- Be one of the first to discover Panama's hot new surfing answer to Oahu's Sunset Beach Left and Right breaks at Santa Catalina Beach.
- For serious trekkers check out Panama's off-the-beaten-path Parque Internacional La Amistad or perhaps trek Panama's Parque Nacional Volcan Baru high above the distant Panama Canal.
- Horseback ride along rugged beaches and off-the beaten path trails on the Isla de Margarita, Venezuela. A romantic Panama Canal Must do excursion (on selected itineraries)
- Hike through Aruba's Guadirikiri Caves, mysterious caverns that contain stalactites and ancient drawings.
- Board an all-terrain 4x4 and trek to remote fishing communities in Macanao, Venezuela.
- Explore Costa Rica's Carara, a biological reserve with rich vegetation and astounding wildlife, including monkeys, macaws, toucans, sloths, butterflies and reptiles.
- Birders should not miss an excursion to Parque Nacional Soberania - a Panama Canal selected cruise itinerary must do!
- Navigate the Isla de Margarita's Tropical Labyrinth, a fascinating garden of tropical plants arranged in unique naturally appearing patterns.
- Witness Venezuela's Angel Falls, the highest waterfall in the world (3,212 feet), and view the surrounding Tepuys Table Mountains, the oldest geological formations on the planet.
- Visit the Murano Glass Factory in Caracas, Venezuela and see artisans craft molten glass into imaginative figures.
- On some Panama Canal cruises you may visit the land of the modern Maya near Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, and pass through villages of great heritage and witness the inhabitants' contemporary lifestyle.
- Journey to Puerto Quetzal's Ingenio Santa Ana, one of the largest sugar cane mills in Guatemala, and learn how cane is sown, grown and harvested.
- Experience Cartagena, Columbia, a preferred target for pirates until a constructed fortress made it the most impenetrable city of the Spanish Main.
- Encounter the famed Mayan ruins of Tikal in Guatemala, including the Great Plaza, the Central Acropolis and the North Acropolis.
- Discover Granada's elegant Spanish churches, which have survived centuries of wars, invasions and erosion.
- While on your Panama Canal cruise check out an excursion to Panama's crown jewel of National Parks for wildlife (flora and fauna) Parque Nacional Darien.
- Observe an equestrian show performed by the Spanish Pureblood Horse School in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua.
- Embark on a bird watching eco-tour through the trails of the Copalita River in Mexico and view orioles, woodpeckers, egrets, falcons, hummingbirds, seagulls and hawks.
- Tour Willemstad, Curacao's unique ostrich farm and encounter the world's largest bird.
- Purchase ceramics, leather, carvings, paints, textiles, art and other mementos at the Indian Market in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua.
- Uncover artistic treasures in Masaya, known as the birthplace of Nicaragua's best painters, artists and craftspeople.
- Shop in Bocagrande, Columbia, a residential area famous for emerald, handicraft and leather shops.