2015 Panama Tour Itinerary

Day 1 – Saturday

Arrive Panama City, Panama

Fly independently to Panama City and proceed to Gamboa Rainforest Resort, our home for the first four nights of our Panama tour. Relax in the hammock on your private balcony as you enjoy views of the Chagres River and rainforest. (Meals Aloft)

Day 2 – Sunday

Soberania National Park / Pipeline Road / Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Explore Soberanía National Park, including the Rainforest Discovery Center. From the top of a 100-foot observation tower, enjoy spectacular views across Soberania. Standing above the canopy, watch as keel-billed toucans and red-lored Amazons take to the air, and possibly observe silent, stealthy mantled howler monkeys. Hike the network of trails surrounding the Discovery Center and enjoy close views of 10 species of hummingbirds at the center’s feeders! Explore Soberanía National Park, including the Pipeline Road, one of the world’s top birding sites where more than 500 species have been observed in one day. While walking along Pipeline Road, your naturalist will point out species such as golden-collared manakin, slaty-tailed trogon and tiny Southern bentbill. This afternoon, visit the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s site in Gamboa, where scientists have received permission to construct temporary aviaries, insectaries and plant-growing houses that now cover nearly 20% of the site. Scientifically, the primary rationale for bringing these facilities together is to provide a large outdoor laboratory capable of supporting a wide array of experimental studies that require controlled (or ambient) conditions, high replication and dependable security. Visit the Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Center, dedicated to researching endangered frog species. (B,L,D)

Day 3 – Monday

Emberá Village

We venture on the upper Chagres River for encounters with the Emberá Indians, learning about their rich traditions. The unique Emberá people still live much as they did when the Spanish first arrived in the 1500s. During our visit we’ll be immersed in this rich culture through dance and music. Enjoy demonstrations of traditional wood carving and learn about how they use medicinal plants. Emberá women are known as some of the world’s finest basket makers, and we observe as they create beautiful baskets from local palm leaves and natural dyes. Have your body painted with a natural fruit dye called jagua before sharing a traditional meal of fresh fish and plantains. While heading back to Gamboa through the Chagres National Park, search for trogons, tanagers, toucans, hawks and hummingbirds as well as mammals along the river. (B,L,D)

Day 4 – Tuesday

Barro Colorado Island

This morning take a boat to Barro Colorado Nature Monument, the world famous Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s station located in the middle of the Canal in Lake Gatún. Barro Colorado became an island when the Chagres river basin was flooded to create Lake Gatún during the construction of the Panama Canal. Established in 1923, Barro Colorado became one of the first biological reserves in the Neotropics. Explore the rainforest here and keep a look out for a variety of tropical wildlife, including three-toed sloths, leaf-cutter ants, howler monkeys, agoutis, brilliant blue morpho butterflies, and tanagers. Stop at the visitor center to learn more about the history of Barro Colorado. Vintage photographs and other artifacts bring to life a history of nearly a century of field research in the Neotropics. Marvel at the inner-workings of the Canal during a tour of the Miraflores Locks. Dinner tonight will be at the fine International Miraflores Restaurant at the Miraflores Locks. Named one of Panama’s "Top Five" dining experiences, from the terrace and dining room we watch ships navigate on their way through the Panama Canal. (B,L,D)

Day 5 – Wednesday

Portobello

Travel to the forts of Portobelo, Spain’s most important New World port. As we stroll through the ruins, it is easy to imagine the fortifications being used to defend the town from pirates, who roamed the Caribbean, attacking Europe-bound ships as they left Portobelo carrying the South American gold looted by the Conquistadors. In this historic town, visit the Church of the Black Christ. Within the church is a statue that sank in the bay when being shipped from Spain to the Viceroy of Peru. Portobeloans rescued the statue, which is said to have miraculous powers. Check into Melia Panama Canal Hotel, our home for two nights. (B,L,D)

Day 6 – Thursday

Fort San Lorenzo National Park / Gatun Locks

Explore Fort San Lorenzo, a stone fortress that overlooks the mouth of the Chagres River. The face of Fort San Lorenzo has undergone many changes since it was first built by the Spanish in the late 16th century. First captured then razed by pirates, including the infamous Henry Morgan, the fort was rebuilt in its current location on higher ground. On a naturalist-guided hike along the “Trogon Trail,” search for both white-tailed and black-throated trogon, as well as chestnut-backed and ocellated ant bird. After lunch at Shelter Bay Marina, travel to Panama’s famed canal. On an afternoon tour of Gatun Locks, see ships being raised and lowered in the locks chambers as they navigate from one ocean to the other. (B,L,D)

Day 7 – Friday

Panama Canal / Galeta Marine Laboratory

Enjoy a first-hand look at history as we drive to the Panama Canal to see the nearly-completed expansion project. Once completed, this $5.25 billion project will more than double the existing canal’s capacity to move cargo and passengers efficiently from one ocean to the other. Much as it did when the Panama Canal first opened, the new canal will have an immediate impact in shaping the world economy. Spend our afternoon at Smithsonian’s Galeta Marine Laboratory. On tours guided by a Smithsonian scientist, walk along mangrove boardwalk, visit the touching pools and marine turtle exhibit, and see the northern entrance of the Panama Canal. Late this afternoon, return to Panama City on the famed Panama Railroad. During the California Gold Rush, thousands of American settlers traveled on the rail to stake their claims out West. Spend the next two nights at the Bristol Hotel. (B,L,D)

Day 8 – Saturday

Panama Canal

Board a ship for our half-day transit of the Panama Canal. Since Balboa crossed the isthmus in 1513, becoming the first European to see the Pacific Ocean, men dreamed of a canal to connect the Pacific and Caribbean. In 1904, the U.S. began construction of the Panama Canal. This modern marvel is now such an integral part of shipping that ships are measured in terms of their ability to travel through the Canal’s locks. Our dramatic partial passage of the Panama Canal included the Gaillard Cut and Pedro Miguel and Miraflores Locks. This is the Canal’s narrowest portion, with the Gaillard or “Culebra” Cut, taking us through an eight mile channel cut through solid rock. Tour the Biodiversity Museum. Housed in a Frank O. Gehry designed building with a series of impressive exhibitions conceived by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the University of Panama depicting Panama’s rich biological diversity. Enjoy a festive farewell dinner with traditional Panamanian food and folk music and dancing at Tinajas Restaurant. (B,L,D)

Day 9 – Sunday

Depart Panama City

Depart Panama City on your independent flight home. (B)