Keel-billed toucan in Panama
Land-Based Expeditions

Panama: Path Between the Seas

Keel-billed toucan in Panama

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Panama: Path Between the Seas

IE's Panama tour is an experience of deep contrasts, where just moments from a modern city thick jungle shrouds a centuries old culture and the remains of forts sacked by history’s most famed pirates. Featuring an in-depth and comprehensive itinerary, International Expeditions’ Panama adventure combines local wildlife, cuisine and culture. As part of your Panama adventure, tour the rainforests that blanket the country from the Pacific to the Caribbean. Along the way, enjoy a passage by ship through the most interesting part of the Panama Canal, and see the behind-the-scenes operation of the canal. Plus, travel on the Panama Railroad, which dates all the way back to 1850.

Travel to Panama & Discover Dazzling Nature

This isthmus of mountains, rainforests and tropical coastlines is the crossroads for wildlife from both North and South America, and at this crossroads we find some of the greatest biodiversity on Earth. Geoffroy’s (red-naped) tamarins and colorful tropical birds and a riot of orchid are just a few highlights included in International Expeditions’ Panama tour.

Panama Adventure Pioneers

Your Panama tour is led by accomplished local guides who are true ecotourism pioneers in Panama - having led nature-focused tours all over Panama during their decades of guiding!

 

Daily Itinerary

Panama: Path Between the Seas Itinerary

  • Day
    1

    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

    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

    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

    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)

  • Day
    5

    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

    Fort San Lorenzo National Park

    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, return to the hotel where you have the included option of kayaking or relaxing by the pool. (B,L,D)

  • Day
    7

    Agua Clara Locks / Galeta Marine Laboratory

    Take a mid-morning drive to the Panama Canal Agua Clara Locks visitors’ center and observation deck. Experience history in the making as the project to expand the canal has just been completed. The US$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. The new locks began operations in 2016. 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

    Panama Canal / Panama City

    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. Return to the hotel to freshen up. Late this afternoon head to colonial Casco Viejo for a short walking tour along the cobblestone streets of this historic section of Panama City and to enjoy a festive farewell dinner at a local restaurant. (B,L,D)

  • Day
    9

    Depart Panama City

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

Things to Know

What is included in the price of this Panama trip?

Included in the price of your trip are the following.

Accommodations, excursions, meals and transportation as listed in the itinerary
Services of a private IE Expedition Leader
Arrival and departure transfers between the group hotel and airport no matter what day or time
One soft drink or local beer per person per included lunch and dinner
Bottled water on excursions, group transfers, at included lunches and dinners and in rooms daily
All park and entrance fees
All gratuities to group service staff except your IE Expedition Leader

What is the activity level for this trip to Panama?

A trip to Panama requires good health and mobility. While we have time scheduled for rest and recuperation, your itinerary has a moderate pace, involving wildlife activities and transportation from place to place to ensure that you have maximized opportunity to interact with the wildlife and local culture.

Excursions in Panama all involve walking and standing.  Guests need to be able to walk unassisted for distances of up to two miles per excursion, though most excursions are not that long.  Terrain can be flat to rocky and involve hiking uphill and downhill, though we have thoroughly researched your excursions and have selected paths that offer the best experience with the least amount of uneven terrain.  Walking at Barro Colorado can be strenuous and pose a serious challenge for anyone with real walking problems. Rain and wind can make the ground muddy and slick. 

Travel in Panama is by road, boat and train. The main highways are excellent but once you get into the small towns and parks the roads deteriorate rapidly, requiring slow driving and navigation of deeply pot-holed and bumpy roads. You will travel by motorcoach, mini-coach, and/or minivan, depending on the number of guests and terrain you will be crossing.

What is the weather like in Panama?

Panama lies between 7 degrees and 9 degrees above the equator, which places it firmly within the Tropics. Accordingly, average year-round temperatures are a balmy 75°F to 85°F (24°C-29°C), varying only with altitude. The average temperature in the Chiriquí Highlands, for example, is 60°F (16°C), and is the only area in Panama where you will likely feel cold.

Humidity is always high in Panama, and rainfall varies noticeably between the Pacific and Caribbean sides of the country, with some areas in the Caribbean receiving almost twice the yearly rainfall of Panama City. The best time to visit Panama is during the summer dry season from mid-December to mid-April. Caribbean destinations such as Bocas del Toro have a shorter dry season, usually September/October and February/March, but really showers can occur on any day

The Chiriquí Highlands experiences a variety of microclimates that can change drastically, sometimes even within a few miles. In Boquete, high winds and a peculiar misting rain called “bajareque” are common from mid-December to mid-February; January sees the occasional thunderstorm, and March to May is the sunniest time.

Is this trip to Panama a "birding" trip?

This is not a birding-only trip. Our expedition is designed to provide opportunities to view as many types of wildlife as possible, from amphibians and reptiles to mammals and insects.  However, birds are ubiquitous and prolific, as well as beautiful and interesting, in the places you will be visiting.  As such, birds are a highlight and you can expect to enjoy seeing as many species as possible while still enjoying the other wildlife the region has to offer.

Do you offer any optional extensions to this trip to Panama?

We do offer optional extensions to other wonderful places in the region to enhance and complete your experience, should you choose to do so. Information on these extensions is listed on the webpage for this program and feel free to contact our office for more info. 

Are you able to customize a trip to Panama to feature destinations and activities of my choice?

Yes! If our Panama itinerary does not suit your desires please contact our Custom Department where a specialist can craft the kind of experience that will make your adventure the trip of a lifetime.

Accommodations

Gamboa Rainforest Resort

Gamboa Rainforest Resort

Located within Soberanía National Park along the shores of the Panama Canal, 166-room Gamboa Rainforest Resort features a variety of amenities that provide both educational and adventurous experiences, including a swimming pool, spa, plant nursery, orchid garden and butterfly exhibit. A rainforest aerial tram provides you with a bird’s-eye-view of wildlife in the canopy. All rooms are air-conditioned with private baths and hot showers. Rooms also feature free Wi-Fi, private balcony with hammock, mini-bar, coffee maker, and safe.

Melia Panama Canal

Melia Panama Canal

The old Antigua Escuela de las Americas (School of the Ancient Americas) has been transformed into the 5-star Hotel Meliá Panamá Canal, providing elegant and comfortable facilities. The hotel is located on the banks of Lake Gatun and only 10 minutes from the Colón Free Trade Zone. 85 spacious and tastefully decorated rooms with view of Gatún Lake are fully equipped with hair dryer, AC, cable TV, mini-bar, safe and free W-Fi.

The Bristol Hotel, Panama City

The Bristol Hotel

The Bristol is regularly recognized as the “Best Hotel in Panama” and among the “Top 10 Hotels in Latin America” by Condé Nast Traveler. Dramatic views of the city’s architectural treasures set this intimate 119-room hotel as a refined retreat for the discerning world traveler, positioning guests at the epicenter of Panamanian culture, shopping, dining and the headquarters of international finance and trade. A short walk brings you to fashionable Balboa Avenue and notable Panama City, Panama attractions that include the Panama Canal, Casco Viejo, Panama Viejo, Metropolitan National Park, and the Bio-Museum designed by Frank Gehry. Deluxe rooms feature one king or two double beds and marble bathrooms with separate shower and tub. All rooms have 42” LCD cable TVs with pay-per-view movies, fully-stocked mini-bar and refreshment center, in-room coffeemaker, alarm/clock radios, in-room safe, three direct-dial telephones, individually-controlled air-conditioning unit, iron/ironing board and hairdryer.

Field Leaders

Ivan Hoyos

Ivan Hoyos

Expedition Leader

Search for the definition of a worldly citizen and you’ll find Ivan. Born and raised in Panama, Ivan attended high school in New York City, college in Europe and went to graduate school in Seattle Washington. Ivan eagerly returned to his native Panama and began his work in the field of nature tourism, where he quickly became one of Panama's most recognized naturalist guides. He leads tours throughout the whole country and has also led several expeditions in the Darien region of Panama. Accompanying his passion for Panama's natural beauty is an addiction to travel, which has taken him around the globe to 60 countries in 6 continents. Some of his most memorable experiences have been trekking for gorillas in Uganda’s cloud forests, summiting Mt Kilimanjaro and navigating into the heart of Borneo in search of orangutans. Ivan is half Colombian and visits his family there every year.  He knows the country, the wildlife and the culture well.  His worldly experience, skills as a naturalist, first-hand knowledge of Colombia's culture and wildlife, and his wonderful personality make him the perfect leader for our Colombia tour.  Ivan’s eclectic bag of interests and hobbies include urban planning, architecture, eating tropical fruits and learning of their origins, photography and mountain biking. More recently, he has participated in several environmental movements through local watchdog groups and community organizations. Ivan is an extremely enthusiastic, charismatic and well-traveled naturalist who specializes in natural history and wildlife.

Panama Guide Richard Cahill

Richard Cahill

Expedition Leader

Richard was born in Panama City to American parents. He is a seasoned naturalist guide as well as an extraordinary Expedition Leader. Educated in Business Administration, he pioneered the development of organized ecotourism in Panama more than 15 years ago. His passion for learning, his attention to detail, his enthusiasm and his ability for sharing his vast knowledge on varied subjects of the natural sciences, history and culture, have led Richard to become one of Panama's top guides. With ample knowledge of the Panama Canal watershed gained by over 400 nature tours of the area, multiple ocean to ocean Trans Darien Expeditions and Camino Real Treks, he still finds time to scuba dive in the bountiful waters of Panama's Caribbean Sea and to search for splendid avian rarities in the cloud forests of Chiriquí. Richard's experience transcends his native land and he can be found guiding on trails in Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands.

From: $4,498 per person
Duration
9 Days, 8 Nights
Departs From
Panama City, Panama
Guest Capacity
18 Guests
Trip Type
Travel Style
Expedition Destinations

Trip Highlights

  • Discover the astounding biodiversity of the Canal Zone.
  • Explore Barro Colorado & Galeta Marine Laboratory, both Smithsonian Institute research centers.
  • Enjoy a partial transit of the Panama Canal's dramatic Gaillard Cut & Pedro Miguel & Miraflores Locks.
  • See the inner-workings of the Panama Canal.
  • Learn from our local Expedition Leaders, pioneers in Panama ecotravel.