Welcome to Panama! Panama reminds us of a promising actress. There's no denying she has the potential to hit the big time: rain forest, mountains, historical sites, palm trees, beaches, coral reefs, deep-sea fishing, Spanish-colonial architecture and unusual Amerindian cultures. And she has the Panama Canal, a one-of-a-kind tourist attraction for cruise-ship passengers and those who opt for smaller boat tours. With a few breaks, Panama could be a star.
Panama is a narrow country of mountains and rain forests - it's only 50 mi/80 km across at the narrowest point (along the canal) and 120 mi/193 km at its' widest. It forms a land bridge between the two American continents, but it does not lie north-south. It actually stretches east and west in an S shape. That is why, in Panama, it's possible to see the sun rise over the Pacific and set in the Caribbean. The country's shape also means that a boat moving from the Caribbean to the Pacific leaves the canal farther to the east than it enters.
DAY 01- PANAMA CITY, PANAMA - SOBERANIA NATIONAL PARK
Your journey begins today as you board your flight for Panama. The Isthmus of Panama is the umbilical cord joining South and Central America and borders Costa Rica to the west and connects to South America at the Colombian border to the east. The emergence of the Isthmus of Panama over 300 million years ago remains one of the most significant events in the evolutionary history of the Western hemisphere. This integral land bridge has allowed thousands of different species to migrate between North and South America, and has become home to a staggering array of unique wildlife with a biodiversity paralleled by few places on earth. Unlike many Latin American tourist areas, Panama's lush rainforests, vibrant highlands and pristine beaches remain pure and unspoiled, making it the areas best kept secret.
Upon arrival at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, you will be met and escorted to your home for the next four nights- the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. This 340-acre deluxe resort is located just 30 minutes from downtown Panama City, in the vicinity of the historic Chagres River, near the Panama Canal and the scenic town of Gamboa. The resort lies in the heart of Panama's 55,000-acre Soberania National Park, and is surrounded by large tracts of lowland tropical rainforests that nourish thriving plant and animal populations. Each of the resort's large, air-conditioned luxury guestrooms offers a balcony overlooking the hotel gardens and picturesque views of the river and forest. You will enjoy well-appointed bathrooms and many other modern features including direct-dial telephones, satellite television, mini-bars and safes. There are three restaurants on the grounds that cater to many international tastes offering both casual and elegant dining, and wonderful views of ships passing through the Panama Canal. A sparkling swimming pool, tennis courts, children's playground, butterfly exhibit, rainforest aerial tram, nearby golf courses and state of the art spa are just some of the many amenities available.
This evening you will be treated to a cocktail as you meet with your naturalist guide for a briefing before your journey begins.
Dinner is on your own this evening.
Gamboa Rainforest Resort
DAY 02 - SOBERANIA NATIONAL PARK- EMBERA VILLAGE
Awake to the sounds of the birds and the music of the rainforest. After breakfast, a day of adventure in the wilderness begins with a ride on the aerial tram. The aerial tram traverses a mile-long tract of forest that lays within the resorts boundaries. Your guide will explain the flora and fauna as you pass slowly through the rainforest canopy. At the summit you will take a gentle walk to the observation tower and be rewarded with great views of the canal, the Chagres River as well as the surrounding forested areas of Soberania National Park and the town of Gamboa.
Enjoy a visit of the Panama Rainforest Discovery center. This brand new ecotourism and educational facility is located on Pipeline Road and it was created and administered by the Avifauna Eugene Eisenmann Foundation. From here you will enjoy going from the Rainforest Ground Level by a rounded stair until you get to the Emergent Rainforest Level. You will be accompanied by a naturalist guide that will explain the wildlife you observe during the trip.
Panama isn't only a natural treasure destination. The country also prides itself on its various cultures and their history.
Today you are fortunate enough to be a guest in a village of one of Panama's native tribes. The Embera are a unique and beautiful people, who live much as they did when Columbus came through Panama in 1502. You will soon forget the outside world as you are immersed in their cultural dance and music. You are encouraged to explore the area's abundant variety of birds and wildlife during a jungle trek that includes a visit to local waterfalls, and you are welcome to paint your bodies as the Embera do, with a natural fruit dye called Jagua. You will have the opportunity to view famed Embera handicrafts and will also see that the Embera possess amazing botanical knowledge- most will be surprised to learn of their contributions to modern pharmaceuticals.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Gamboa Rainforest Resort
DAY 03 -GATUN LAKE
Awake to the sounds of the birds and the music of the rainforest. After breakfast, a day of adventure in the wilderness begins with a ride on the aerial tram. The aerial tram ride traverses a mile-long tract of forest that lies within the resort boundaries. Your guide will explain the flora and fauna as you pass slowly through the rainforest canopy. At the summit you will take a gentle walk to the observation tower and be rewarded with great views of the canal, the Chagres River as well as the surrounding forested areas of Soberania National Park and the town of Gamboa.
Return to Gamboa for lunch and some siesta time at the resort before continuing on to your next activity of the day. Embark on a small expedition boat for an adventure that will include a voyage across Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal. You will pass by gigantic cargo ships transiting the waterway, creating an interesting contrast with the natural surroundings. Along the way you may have the opportunity to spot green iguana and three-toed sloth resting on tree branches, crocodile, osprey in the hunt for peacock bass, Snail Kite and Keel-billed Toucan among other species. Your expedition boat will allow for close approximations to rainforest covered islands in Gatun Lake to search for local primates species such as the white-faced capuchin, howler monkey, spider monkey and the endemic red-napped tamarin.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Gamboa Rainforest Lodge
DAY 04 - TRANS-ISTHMIAN ROUTE
Today you travel across the Isthmus of Panama to the Caribbean side of the canal for an exciting day of flora and fauna viewing. This is one of the few places in Panama to see the White-headed and Stripe-breasted Wrens, Montezuma Oropendola and rarities such as Gray-Checked Nunlet. In addition, the area is excellent for White Hawk, Spot-Crowned barbet and Pied Puffbird.
You will also visit Fort San Lorenzo, along with the fortifications of Portobelo, which were Spanish storehouses for the riches being looted from the Incan Empire. This accumulation of wealth made them favorite targets for pirates like Sir Francis Drake, who met his demise in the waters nearby. Perched on a cliff at the mouth of the Chagres River, the fort was also used as the port of entry for gold diggers on their way to California during the 1840's Gold Rush. You will have the opportunity to explore the dungeons, moat and other features of the fort, but don't neglect to stare out at the infinite-seeming Caribbean Sea; it's quite an awe-inspiring sight.
Next, visit the Gatun Locks, located at the Caribbean end of the canal. The first attempt to build the canal was made by a French company, but the attempt ended in failure in 1889. The American government eventually bought out the French for $40 million, and their attempt to build the canal started in 1904. The project ended in triumph, with the canal opening in 1914, and is now a vital artery of international trade, with nearly 14,000 ships traveling though it every year.
Continue to El Corotu on the shores of Madden Lake, the main reservoir of drinking water for both Panama City and Colon. Additionally, Madden Lake supplies 40% of the water required for the operation of the Panama Canal.
Here, the adventure begins with a one-hour "piragua" (dugout canoe) transfer up the Chagres River. Along the way, you will negotiate rapids and discover the jungles many splendors. This journey takes you through the rainforest of the 300,000-acre Chagres National Park, the largest of the national parks protecting the Panama Canal Watershed. Along the river many birds abound for birders watchful eyes to delight with, including the Little Blue and Green Heron, Great Egret, anhinga, cormorants, Amazon Ringed and Green Kingfishers.
Return to Gamboa on the famous Panama Canal Railway Train. Your one hour ride across the Isthmus takes you from the Caribbean port city of Colon to the Pacific side, passing rainforest, the canal and local villages along the way.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Gamboa Rainforest Resort
DAY 05 - SAN BLAS ISLANDS
Very early this morning board your small plane to the San Blas Islands, located off the Caribbean Coast of Panama, There are over 350 islands and islets, only 60 of which are inhabited. The palm-lined beaches, coral-ringed islands and jungle-cloaked mountains make San Blas look a lot like paradise, but the highlight of your visit will be spending time with the friendly inhabitants of these tiny islands, the Kuna Indians, who have managed to protect their unique culture.
The Kuna Indians are one of the few remaining pure races in the world, a people of great simplicity and charm, who conserve their tradition, beliefs, myths and their gods. More than 20,000 Indians live in these idyllic islands, in small palm tree leaf huts (bohios) forming villages on the seashore. Essentially, the Kuna are fishermen; however, they also cultivate coconut, corn, rice, cocoa and yucca. Mother Nature has provided generously for the Kuna Indians and during your stay you will feast on delicious fresh seafood.
They are determined to protect their heritage and the environment and are virtually self-governing. The Panamanian government gave the Kuna the authority to form a "comarca" (Autonomous Territory) of San Blas, where an indigenous, independent congress still rules. They have sovereignty over their territory and the exclusive right to control tourism and agriculture. The Kuna women stand out on the beautiful landscape, due to their picturesque dress and beautiful blouses, handmade from the world famous "Mola" of different colors. Kuna women spend countless hours stitching the colorful reverse appliqué cotton "molas" which are the basis for their dress. The Kuna women also highlight her native beauty with large earrings, rings in her nose and a significant amount of pure gold ornaments.
Your day is spent here getting to know the Kuna culture and traditional ceremonies. Visit the communal house of sahilas (Kuna Chiefs) to meet the chiefs responsible for enforcing the law of the community as well as offering advice on other aspects of life, including marital problems. Learn about the construction of the typical Kuna house, Kuna economy, traditional "mola" and the processing of sugar cane into the local drink.
Your home for tonight is the newly opened Akwadup Lodge and Resort on a coral island in the heartland of Kuna Yala, built by Kuna builders in traditional style but with modern amenities. The seven cabanas of Akwadup Lodge are built over the sparkling Caribbean Sea, linked to the dock and the mainland by short, wood planks. Solar panels provide the lighting source; there is ceramic tiling in the bathrooms and showers, mosquito netting, ceiling fans and each cabin has its own sitting area with balcony and hammocks. The lodge has its own restaurant offering fresh lobster, crab and fish in season. The cabins are built over the Caribbean Sea.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
DAY 06 - PANAMA CITY
Early this morning you will fly back to Panama City and continue with your visit to the small zoo at Summit Gardens, known for its Baird's tapir and Harpy Eagle natural exhibits. The zoo is located just twenty minutes from Panama City, offering visitors the opportunity to view many of the animal species found in Panama, as well as others found in the Central and South American region. Although the facilities name would have you believe that Botanical Gardens are the attraction here, this is not the case. The facility has a small portion allocated for plants and orchids with the majority of the grounds being dedicated to the animals and for recreation. Jaguars, scarlet macaws, tapirs, monkeys, and numerous other animal species are all represented here, dispersed throughout the park.
Enjoy the tapir exhibit and then indulge in the main draw of the park, without a doubt, the Harpy Eagle exhibit, with film footage of nesting and feeding, as well as many artifacts which trace the importance of the Harpy Eagle in Panama's history and culture, dating back to pre-Columbian times. In addition, there are a couple of Harpy's on display, which can be observed throughout the day. Panama's National bird, the Harpy Eagle, is one of the largest eagles in the world and is its most powerful bird of prey. Limited to Central and South American rainforests, these magnificent birds are carnivores, with their diets consisting of sloths, monkeys, birds, rodents and reptiles, among other animals. Currently an endangered species, Harpy Eagles mate for life, can weigh up to 20 pounds and have a wingspan of nearly 7 feet. The female can weigh up to 50 percent more than the male. Its talons, ideally suited for capturing prey while in flight, are curved and can reach lengths of 5 inches, about the same as the claws on a grizzly bear!
Continue to the Miraflores Locks in time for lunch and to also learn about the operation of the Panama Canal. The canal has three sets of locks, two situated near the Pacific Coast (Miraflores and Pedro Miguel), and the third along the Atlantic (Gatun), which you will have already visited. Miraflores Locks, the most southern of the locks, are the tallest of the three, which is due to the extreme tidal variation that takes place in the Pacific Ocean. Miraflores Locks are slightly over one mile long, from beginning to end. Depending on the size of each vessel, one can see anywhere from one to three vessels make the transit simultaneously. From the minute the vessels enter the locks, it takes approximately 10 minutes for the process to be complete. Watch the ships crossing the canal as you enjoy lunch.
After lunch, venture off to Casco Viejo, the colonial section of Panama City. After the original Panama City was burned during the attack by the pirate Henry Morgan, the city itself was relocated to safer harbor. This time around the Spanish government decided to build a massive wall and a stronger fortress for its protection, as well as for the protection of the enormous wealth in gold and silver that passed through it. This fortress survives perfectly, and houses several important cultural and historical buildings and monuments. A monument to the French entrepreneurs who began the Panama Canal stands at the bayside end of the Casco Viejo and the French Embassy is located in front of the monument. There is also an adjacent art museum in the converted strong house, known as Las Bovedas, once used for storing gold. Other points of interest are the famed flat arch or Santo Domingo Church, the beautiful gold-plated altar of the San Jose Church, the National Theater, the National Cathedral, the Presidential Palace and
the Panama Canal Museum, dedicated to panama's history as an Inter-Oceanic route, is found in front of Central Park. Exhibits trace Panama's importance as a shipping route from pre-Hispanic times to the colonial era, to the building of the transcontinental railroad, to the construction of the Panama Canal.
Your hotel is located in the best area, in the center of the financial and commercial district of the city of Panama. The hotel provides an attractive and comfortable environment, a variety of services which include an elegant and spacious casino, coffee shop, swimming pool, gym, Jacuzzi, a gourmet restaurant, a lobby bar and rooms service, all open 24-hours. All rooms are provided with telephones, broadband Internet connection, mini-bar, electronic safety box, color television, coffee pot, iron and ironing board.
Riande Continental Hotel
DAY 07 - PANAMA CITY- CANAL CROSSING
Early this morning you will transfer to Flamenco Pier where you will begin a journey of a lifetime! Experience the incredible historic passage through the Panama Canal on this half-day tour with a professional guide to explain the trials and tribulations of this engineering feat. The ship will be raised 55 feet above sea level in two steps and enter Miraflores Lake, which is about a mile long. A transition from salt water in the Pacific Ocean to fresh water in the locks chambers and lake take place here. Navigate in the lake until reaching the Pedro Miguel locks, which are not entered. At this point the vessel turns around and exits in the Pacific Ocean, where you will have the opportunity to admire the view of beautiful Panama Bay and the entrance to the Canal. After your tour you will have some time to do your last minute shopping.
Tonight, enjoy a farewell dinner at Manolo Caracol, a modern restaurant in a French-styled building dating to the 1800's, featuring an open kitchen, local art on the walls, and very tasty wine. The food is served tapas-style, with dishes like pulpo al roja (octopus in red sauce), langostinos al ajillo (jumbo prawns in garlic sauce), hongos silvestres (mushrooms in butter-garlic sauce), and arroz tay (rice with plantains). There are no menus- simply the most delightful cuisine made of fresh produce procured on that day by Manolo and his staff, and prepared to tantalize the most discriminating of tastes.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Riande Continental Hotel
DAY 08 - DEPART PANAMA CITY
Time to return home. Today you will be transferred to the airport for your return flight home. Sadly, it is now time to say "adios" to beautiful Panama.
Depart any day! Contact an iExplore Adventure Consultant for details.
January 1 to April 15:
$4,529 per person double occupancy.
$3,779 per person double occupancy, based on four people traveling together.
$6,729 solo traveler.
$1,199 single room supplemnt.
April 16 to December 19:
$4,119 per person double occupancy.
$3,649 per person double occupancy, based on four people traveling together.
$6,449 solo traveler.
$1,199 single room supplemnt.
Prices for your dates of travel may vary- please contact iExplore for an exact quote. Quoted prices are based on current rates of exchange, tariffs and taxes as of March, 2011. iExplore reserves the right to increase tour prices to cover increased costs, tariffs and taxes received after prices are published, and to reflect fluctuations in foreign exchange rates. iExplore is under no obligation to give breakdown costs involved in any package.
· All ground transfers in air-conditioned motor coach.
· Superior Accommodations throughout as indicated or similar.
· Services of English-speaking local guides.
· All meals as specified in the program.
· All entry fees to stated sites.
· All applicable hotel and lodge taxes and gratuities for baggage handling.
· Flights within Panama as described in the itinerary.
· International Airfare and associated costs.
· U.S. and foreign airport taxes.
· Passport and visa costs.
· $20 per person departure tax in Panama.
· Meals and beverages other than those specified.
· Gratuities to driver/guides, specialist-guide and other conveyance attendants.
· Items of a personal nature such as alcohol, laundry, phone calls, room service, etc.
· Anything not specifically mentioned in the itinerary.
· Travel Insurance.
All prices are in US dollars and do not include international airfare, unless otherwise noted.
Prices displayed are based on the lowest season base price and assume double occupancy. Prices are shown in U.S. dollars and may or may not include administrative fees, taxes, meals, airfare (where applicable) and Single Supplements. Cancellation penalties, blackout dates and other restrictions may apply.
Options and Extras
Things you need to know
Participants must be able to climb in and out of minibuses, small aircraft and boats unassisted. You should be able to tolerate nature walks at an easy pace on uneven terrain, sometimes uphill, for three or four hours at a time in heat and humidity. You should be in good physical health to enjoy this destination to its fullest.
General: True adventures in travel can sometimes be accompanied by unexpected changes in conditions, itineraries and occasionally your accommodations. Participants should travel with a spirit of adventure and flexibility. Remember to pack your patience and sense of humor! Be willing to look past self-imposed ideals of Western amenities and do not compare these new experiences with your life back home. Travel often includes visiting destinations with modest infrastructures and a bending definition of comfort. That being said, some locations are nestled in absolute luxury where pampering is the norm. Participants should generally be in good health and prepared to travel in locations without medical facilities.
Air Schedules: The start and end city for this program is Panama City, Panama. Please make sure your flights are booked accordingly.
Upon registration, you must provide your iExplore Adventure Consultant with a copy of the informational pages of your passport so your tickets for the flights within Panama are issued correctly. In the event an airline ticket is issued with incorrect information you have provided, you will be responsible for the charges associated with reissuing the ticket.