While travelers have flocked to this modern country for the history and geography of the Panama Canal, Panama also forms a bridge between the wildlife of North and South America funneling millions of birds along their migratory path. Our 9-day Panama tour includes Panama City, Barro Colorado Island, Gamboa, Panama Railroad, Las Cruces Trail and a Panama Canal cruise.
U.S. / Panama City / Gamboa
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)
Pipeline Road / Las Cruces Trail
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 explore Las Cruces Trail, a cobblestone path used by colonial Conquistadors as they hauled Inca gold on horseback from the Pacific to the Caribbean before shipping it to Spain. On nature hikes you are likely to encounter brilliantly colored poison arrow frogs, glass-winged butterflies and swarms of army ants. If we spot the ants, be sure to watch for the birds that typically follow them — spotted antbird and ocellated antbird. Scan the ponds we pass, looking for Amazon, green and ringed kingfishers and nesting boat-billed herons. Return to Gamboa for the night. (B,L,D)
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. (B,L,D)
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)
Gamboa / Colon
Depart Gamboa en route to the Caribbean coast. Along the way we visit the Madden Dam. Completed in 1935, Madden Dam created Lake Alajuela, a reservoir that is an essential part of the watershed in the Canal Zone. Stop to explore the secondary rainforests along the Canal Zone, protected for the environmental function they provide to the watershed and to the operations of the Panama Canal. Before arriving in Colon, we also discover two former American military bases — Fort Espinar and Fort Davis. Later, check into the Four Points Sheraton, our accommodations for the next two nights. (B,L,D)
Fort San Lorenzo
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. (B,L,D)
Punta Galeta / Portobelo / Panama Railroad
Spend a morning 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. 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. Late this evening, 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 Le Meridien Hotel. (B,L,D)
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. Enjoy a festive farewell dinner with traditional Panamanian food and folk music and dancing at Tinajas Restaurant. (B,L,D)
Panama City / U.S.
Depart Panama City on your independent flight to the U.S.