Welcome to Panama! Tucked in between Mexico and South America are the small cluster of countries known as Central America. Actually a part of North America, this region comprises Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. The Isthmus of Panama is the umbilical cord joining South and Central America. It 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. Visit the famed Pipeline Road, considered one of the best birding spots in the world... embark on an expedition boat for and adventure across Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal... learn about the history and workings of the canal and watch the ships crossing the canal as you enjoy lunch... visit Soberiana National Park- one of the best birding spots in the world. Participate in a reforestation project... be a guest in a village of one of Panama's native tribes as you forget the outside world and immerse yourself in their culture... explore the beautiful forests for easily seen highland bird species and visit the offices of an association that protects children from the necessity of working.. hike the most gorgeous paths in Central America and "hunt down" one of the splendorous birds that gives its name to the path... visit one of Latin America's finest orchid farms and take a whitewater rafting adventure on one of the best rivers in Central America. Visit a local charitable foundation that feeds school children and visit Panama la Vieja with an historical guide.
DAY 01- PANAMA CITY, PANAMA
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 - PIPELINE ROAD- SOBERIANA NATIONAL PARK- RAINFOREST DISCOVERY CENTER- GATUN LAKE
Wake up early this morning for a fun-filled day of exploration. First stop is the famed Pipeline Road, in the heart of the virgin lowland rainforest of Soberiana National Park, considered one of the best birding spots in the world because of its easy accessibility and amazing variety of nearby bird species. During the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count more than 300 species were spotted here in a single day. During World War II, a pipeline was built to transport fuel from one ocean to the other in the event the Panama Canal was obstructed. Fortunately it was never used. Today the road built to maintain the pipeline provides excellent access to primary forest within Soberiana National Park. Vital to the Panama Canal, this protected watershed area boasts outstanding biodiversity. Nearly 400 species of birds including the Black Hawk Eagle, black-cheeked woodpecker, black-breasted puff bird broad-billed and rufous motmot, blue cotinga, purple-throated fruitcrow, masked tytira, cinnamon becard, fascinated antshrike, shining honeycreeper, and a great array of migrants (during the North American winter months). Soberania also contains 150 species of mammals including 14 endangered species and 59 endemic plant species in four zones.
A 45-minute ride along the scenic Gamboa Road to Pipeline Road takes you to the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center. This brand new ecotourism and educational facility is located in Pipeline Road and it was created and administered by Avifauna Eugene Eisenmann Foundation. Avifauna began their operations in 2003, with a concession of 50 acres at the famous Pipeline Road to construct the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center. From here you will enjoy going from the Rainforest Ground Lawyer by a rounded stair until you get to the Emergent Rainforest Lawyer where you will be able to watch the amazing green top of the forest.
You will be participating in a reforestation project at Pipeline Road.
Afterwards, 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.
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.
Gamboa Rainforest Resort
DAY 03 - CHAGRES NATIONAL PARK- EMBERA VILLAGE
Your journey today 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 the birders watchful eyes to delight with, including Little Blue and Green heron, Great Egret, Anhingas, cormorants, Amazon, Ringed and Green Kingfishers.
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.
During your visit you will have a short workshop with the members of the community to learn some handcrafts.
Gamboa Rainforest Resort
DAY 04 - PANAMA CITY/DAVID/CHIRQUI HIGHLANDS
Fly to David, the capital of the Chirqui Province, the westernmost province on Panama's Pacific coast. Primeval rainforests bedecked with clouds, noisy, clattering birds flash brilliant iridescent colors as they dart about their daily chores, flowering epiphytes bloom en masse high above the forest floor while gurgling streams glisten and tumble hurriedly over great boulders in their dance towards the sea. This enchanted land is the Chirqui Highlands, a beautiful landscape of cloud forests, volcanic peaks, coffee plantations and home to most of Panama's Guaymi Indians.
Upon arrival you will be met and escorted to your accommodations, Finca Lerida Ecolodge, nestled in the middle of coffee plantations and surrounded by a private natural forest. The lodge has 11 very comfortable double rooms with private bath, each with its own porch overlooking the pristine forest and a small coffee plantation. Their award winning coffee is produced in keeping with their commitment to preserve the environment and is an important element in sustaining the surrounding forests.
You will spend the morning exploring this beautiful forest for easily seen highland species such as Resplendent Quetzal, Emerald Toucanet, Three-wattled Bellbird, Black Guan, Sulphur-winged and barred Parakeet, Collared Trogon, Long-tailed Silky Flycatcher, Black-faced Solitaire, and Flame-throated Tanager. You will hike through a magical old cloud forest trail of ancient Persea Trees and epiphyte laden Bambitos, reaching a beautiful mountain retreat where flowers are visited by an array of hummingbirds such as Magenta-throated Woodstar, Green Violetear, and Magnificent Hummingbird.
In the afternoon following lunch, you will be visiting one of the offices of Casa Experanza in Chirqui. This non-governmental association protects children from the necessity of working due to their poor economic conditions. Year round the association benefits more than 3,500 children from different communities in the country and they have different projects that support these efforts. The original and biggest program is the network of seven Integral Attention Centers. These facilities, generally located in converted houses, support the nutritional, educational, health, sporting and personal and social developmental needs of kids who would otherwise be scrounging for a living and missing out on those parts of their lives. The street kids whom Casa Esperanza serves are not referred to them by the government, but instead sought out and attracted in by educators who work for Casa Esperanza.
You will be asked to bring donations such as dry food and clothing that can be given to the association during your visit.
Finca Lerida Lodge
DAY 05 - LOS QUETZALES HIKING TOUR
Considered one of the most gorgeous paths in Central America, the Quetzals Trail is without any doubt the most popular hike in Panama's western highlands. Located within the Volcan Baru National park, the "Sendero de los Quetzales" links the towns of Guadalupe, which is near Cerro Punta on the west side of the volcano, with the town of Boquete which is on the east side. Hiking the total distance of 6 miles of this path may take from 4 to 7 hours. Fluctuations in timing come from differences in hiking speeds, direction chosen to complete the hike (uphill or downhill), time spent contemplating the scenery and time invested in "hunting down" one of the splendorous birds that gives its name to this path: the Resplendent Quetzal.
Continue on with your visit to one of Latin America's finest orchid farms, Dracula Farm, with more than 2,000 different types of orchids from around the world.
Finca Lerida Lodge
Day 06 - WHITE WATER RIVER RAFTING- VISIT TO LOCAL PROJECTS
Following an early breakfast this morning, start your rafting adventure at Rio Chiriqui Viejo, one of the best rivers for rafting in Central America, thanks to its voluminous torrents. The Rio Chirqui Viejo flows through the Panama and Costa Rican border. Considered one of the best rivers in the world in the arena of whitewater rafting, Rio Chiriqui Viejo is renowned for the amazing rapids it offers all along its course. Measuring up to a length of about 80 miles, the river after emerging from its source in Cerro Picacho meanders towards the northwestern section of Volcan Baru. Even though the river is just perfect for conducting rafting expeditions year round, however the water body remains at its best condition during the rainy seasons, especially from June to December. During this time, the Rio Chiriqui Viejo offers a spectacular voyage along the watercourse. As you raft higher and higher in the river, you can catch a glimpse of the splendid pristine forests and breathtaking natural views. Surrounded by wild and dense forest blankets, Rio Chiriqui Viejo is certainly a superb rafting destination. The class III and IV rapids of the river have teamed up with spectacular waterfalls and magnificent canyons, adding to the overall splendor of this remarkable waterway.
In the afternoon you will visit Rotario Club, another local association that helps the community. Amigos de Boquete is a charitable foundation formed by a group of Panamanians and non-Panamanians to assist the school children of Chiriqui Province. The Boquete area has a large, generally poor, indigenous population in which malnutrition is a problem. Amigos have found that when food is provided to a school, attendance often grows by 30%. The first two schools to which Amigos provided food were Palo Alto and Jaramillo Arriba. By 2006, the number of schools served by Amigos had increased to five. In addition, during 2007 Amigos began providing food to Medalla Milagrosa and Hogar Trisker orphanages, to Casa Esperanza, and to Buenos vecinos which aids Boquete residents who are elderly or infirm. In the school year beginning March 2008, Amigos began supporting five additional schools, bringing the total to 12 schools serviced by Amigos. Amigos are now feeding over 1,100 children each school day.
Finca Lerida Lodge
DAY 07 - PANAMA CITY/OLD SPANIARD FORTRESS
Fly back to Panama City this morning where you will be met by your Historical Guide and visit Panama la Vieja, the first city established by the Spanish and then conquered by pirate Henry Morgan in 1671. The architecture is a combination of ruins from the days of Spanish Explorers and Pirates, and French Colonial from the first attempt made on the Panama Canal by the French. To walk through Casco Viejo is definitely to walk through history. Buildings sitting side by side can be over three hundred years apart in age. Balconies are filled with flowers such as geraniums and bougainvillea wrapped around sculpted wrought iron crafted in another century. The streets are brick, and no matter which way they run, they run to the sea, because Casco Viejo is surrounded by sea.
You will have the opportunity to climb the newly restored cathedral tower. Then continue with your visit to the colonial Casso Antiguo, which was built in 1673. After the original Panama City was burned during the attack by the pirate Henry Morgan, the city itself was relocated to a 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.
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.
Your home for tonight is the Crowne Plaza Hotel, a full service luxury hotel located in the financial and banking area just two miles from Panama City and about 4 miles from the canal. All rooms are air-conditioned, have mini-bars, hair dryers and internet access.
Crowne Plaza 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:
$4,329 per person double occupancy.
$4,259 per person double occupancy, based on 4 people traveling together.
$7,139 solo traveler.
$1,069 single room supplement.
April 16 to December 19:
$4,259 per person double occupancy.
$4,189 per person double occupancy, based on 4 people traveling together.
$6,999 solo traveler.
$1,069 single room supplement.
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 by air-conditioned vehicle.
· Superior Accommodations throughout as indicated or similar.
· Services of a naturalist and historical English-speaking guide throughout the tour.
· All meals as specified in the program.
· All park and entry fees as per the program.
· All applicable hotel and lodge taxes and gratuities.
· Flight to David on Day 4.
· Flight to Panama City on Day 7.
· 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 boasts 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 adventure 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 a 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 so please book your flights accordingly.
Upon registration, you must provide a copy of the information pages of your passport to your iExplore Adventure Consultant for your airline ticket for flights within Panama which are included. In the event an airline ticket is issued with incorrect information you provided, you will be responsible for charges with associated with reissuing the ticket.