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Panama: Canal 100th Celebrations

The world marveled at the engineering feat with the opening of the Panama Canal in August 1914.

Since the SS Ancon made the first ocean to ocean transit through the Panama Canal on August 15, 1914 more than a million vessels have transited through the waterway bringing commerce, cultures and people from all corners of the world closer together. In 2014, the Panama Canal celebrated its 100th anniversary ~ this program celebrates that landmark date and takes you to the most important and influential areas related to this man-made wonder.

Although many travelers come to cruise the "path between the seas", a number of other rich Panamanian experiences delight visitors on this journey. These include a visit to Soberania National Park, the historic town of Portobelo, San Lorenzo National Parkand, and Casco Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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2019 Departure Dates & Costs

November 12-19;  December 10-17
Tour cost: $2,515 USD per person from Panama City including 7% Panama tax
Single supplement: $750 USD 


Day 1 Arrive to Panama
On arrival to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, you will be met and transferred to your hotel located approximately 45 minutes driving from Panama City in the buffer zone of Camino de Cruces National Park and next to Soberania National Park. Night at RADISSON SUMMIT HOTEL

Day 2 Chagres River and the Embera Indigenous People (BLD)
Depart for a one hour drive to El Corotu on the shores of Madden Lake. The main reservoir of drinking water for the cities of Panama and Colon, Madden also supplies 40% of the water required for the operation of the Panama Canal. Here you will board a motorized piragua to travel up the Chagres River. The dugout canoe journey will take you through the rainforests of the 320,000-acre Chagres National Park, the largest of the national parks protecting the Panama Canal Watershed. Along the Chagres River, you may be able to spot Little Blue and Green Heron, Great Egret, Anhinga, Neo-tropical Cormorant, Amazon, Ringed, and Green Kingfisher, along with Red-lored Amazon Parrot and Keel-billed Toucan flying above. You will reach the Embera village where you will be greeted with dancing, music and a sumptuous lunch made up of fresh fish, plantains and tropical fruits prepared by your hosts. Learn about Embera customs and their relationship with nature while visiting the village. The Embera are famous for their basketry and wood carving skills. There will be handcrafts available for sale and you will have a chance to be painted with the traditional jagua, a natural dye used by the Embera to adorn their bodies. Early in the afternoon you will return to El Corotu for the drive back to your hotel. Night at RADISSON SUMMIT HOTEL

Day 3 Soberania National Park & Jungle Boat tour on the Panama Canal (BLD)
Depart the hotel lobby for a short transfer to the Soberania National Park in the Panama Canal Watershed. Soon after you cross the Chagres River, you reach Pipeline Road, where Audubon Society held its world Christmas bird count record for 19 years straight, with 357 species of birds identified in a period of 24 hours. Your first stop will be at the Rainforest Discovery Center where you enjoy spectacular views of Soberania's vastness and canopy bird species from the 32 meters (100 feet) observation tower. Standing above the canopy, we witness the morning flight of Keel-billed Toucans, Red-lored Amazons and the silent and stealthy movement of Mantled Howler Monkeys. You continue to explore the network of trails surrounding the Discovery Center and enjoy the hummingbird feeders that provide up close and personal views of 10 species of hummingbirds! During World War II a pipeline was built along the Panama Canal to transport fuel from one ocean to the other in the event the waterway was attacked. Fortunately, it was never used. The now abandoned gravel road built to maintain the pipeline provides excellent walking access to Soberania's 22,000 hectares (55,000 acres) of tropical rainforest. The park boasts an impressive list of 525 species of birds including the Black Hawk-eagle, Black-cheeked woodpecker, Black-breasted Puffbird, Broad-billed Motmot, Blue Cotinga, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Masked Tytira, Violaceous Trogon, Fasciated Antshrike, Shining honeycreeper, and a great array of North American migrants.  Soberania is also home to 105 species of mammals including large felines, Tamandua, Two and Three-toed Sloth, 4 species of monkeys, Agouti, some of which are listed under CITES (endangered species) and 59 endemic plant species in 4 life zones. By late morning you will enjoy a rainforest picnic lunch, giving you opportunities to further explore the healthy and productive habitats of the Panama Canal Watershed. 

Continue with a short ride to the marina at Gamboa where the Chagres River meets the Panama Canal. Here you board an expedition boat and depart on an adventure that will include a voyage across Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal passing by gigantic cargo ships transiting the waterway, making contrast with the natural surroundings. Along the way, you will 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 wildlife. Gatun Lake was formed to give way to the Panama Canal in 1914.  With a surface of 423 square-kilometers, at the time of its creation was the largest man-made lake in the world.  The flow of all the rivers within the Panama Canal Watershed is contained in Gatun Lake to provide water for the operation of the lock system.  More than 52 million gallons of fresh water are used for every ship that transits through the Panama Canal from one ocean to another. Your expedition boat will allow for close approximations to rainforest covered islands (former hill tops) in Gatun Lake to search for White-faced Capuchin, Mantled Howler Monkey, Central American spider monkey, and Geoffrey’s Tamarin. Night at RADISSON SUMMIT HOTEL

Day 4 The Spanish Main in Portobelo & Panama Canal Expansion Site Gatun (BLD)
Depart the hotel lobby, be checked out and with your bags ready. You will enjoy a across the Isthmus of Panama to the Caribbean province of Colon. Once in Colon you continue on an approximately 1 hour transfer further East along the Caribbean to the historic town of Portobelo.  Famous for its trade fairs during the 17th century, Portobelo is a World Heritage Site. During colonial times it was one of the most important strongholds of the Spanish Main in the Americas. You will visit Forts San Geronimo and Santiago de la Gloria as well as the Church of San Felipe. You will return to Colon for lunch and visit at the current Panama Canal Expansion project on the Atlantic which can be admired from the observation deck of the Gatun Observation center. You will have the opportunity of viewing the assembly of one the new sets of locks being built as part of the project.  The US$5.25 billion project includes, among other tasks, dredging works on both ends of the canal and the route itself in order to increase water depth and the straightening of bends along the route that will allow larger ships to transit through the canal. The most important aspect of the project, however, is the building of two new sets of locks, one at each terminus of the canal, which will increase the waterway’s capacity to move cargo from one ocean to the other by 50% within the next 15 years and will allow the passage of bigger ships (almost 3 times the capacity of Panamax, the largest size vessels currently transiting through the canal).  An astonishing 4.2 billion cubic meters of structural concrete are currently being poured in the excavations where the new locks will be operating soon.  You will experience history in the making as the Panama Canal projections call for another 100 years of successful operation using the new technology that will be implemented. Visit the Gatun Locks to observe the transiting ships before checking in at the Melia Panama Canal on the shores of Gatun Lake. Night at MELIA PANAMA CANAL

Day 5 San Lorenzo National Park & Panama Railway (BLD)
This morning you will be crossing the Gatun Locks and visit the Castle of San Lorenzo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built at the mouth of the Chagres River, this Spanish bastion served to fortify and protect the river entrance to Las Cruces Trail that led to Panama City on the Pacific Ocean and was later also used as the port of entry for gold diggers on their way to California during the second half of the 19th century. You will be traveling through lush rainforest within San Lorenzo National Park, where you might have the opportunity to see monkeys, Two and Three-toed sloths, Coatimundi, toucans and other wildlife. On the return back to the hotel, drive by the former military bases. Lunch will be served back at the hotel.

The return to Panama City will be aboard the Panama Canal Railroad. The railway follows a similar route as the original train built to transport gold prospectors, the 49ers, in the mid to late 1800s coming from the east coast of the United States across the Isthmus of Panama to continue their journey by steamboat to California. The route was diverted when Gatun Lake was formed to give way to the Panama Canal. The train will take you along the magnificent waterway, flanked by the exuberant rainforests of Soberania National Park. After a 1-hour train ride you will arrive at Corozal Station in Panama City and transferred to your hotel. Dinner will be held at the Balboa Yacht Club, within walking distance from the hotel. Night at the COUNTRY INN & SUITES AMADOR

Day 6 Panama City & Canal Zone (BLD)
This morning you will visit the Casco Viejo, and enjoy a historical walking tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Casco Viejo is home to the Presidential Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Theater, the French Plaza and several other iconic landmarks that offer testament to the city’s rich history, culture and heritage.  From the top of old city’s wall enjoy spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean dotted with local fishing boats near port and massive ships lined up waiting to cross the Panama Canal as well as the impressive skyline of modern Panama City.  You will then continue with a visit the Biodiversity Museum, designed by the world renowned architect Frank Gehry. As a Smithsonian Affiliate museum, the Biodiversity Museum serves as a gateway to new information about the biodiversity and natural history of the Isthmus of Panama. Scientific experts from both the Smithsonian Institute and the University of Panama oversee the contents of the museum and aim at teaching visitors about eco-awareness, conservation and Panama’s extraordinary natural treasures in various unique exhibition galleries. Did you know that the Isthmus of Panama has more bird, mammal, reptile and plant species than the US and Canada together in just 75,990 Km2 (approx. 29,000 square miles)? In fact, 3 million years ago, the emergence of the Isthmus of Panama changed both the climate and the biodiversity in the planet and played a key role in the creation of the world we know today.

After lunch at a local restaurant on Causeway Amador with Panamanian cuisine and views over the Panama Canal bay area and city skyline you will be visiting the Punta Culebra Nature Center (PCNC) is a non-profit initiative of STRI that relies on the support of the Smithsonian Foundation of Panama and international entities. It offers visitors an open-air museum focusing mainly on marine science and education, conservation and interpretation of marine coastal environments. Return to your hotel to freshen up and relax before your dinner tonight. This evening you will be taken to a special dinner venue, located right above the Panama Canal! After a short drive through the former Panama Canal Zone, including the town of Balboa and the old US Amador Army Base you will reach Miraflores Locks where you enjoy a buffet dinner with close-up views over the locks´ operation. Marvel at the workings of this feat of human engineering and be transferred back to your hotel after dinner. Night at the COUNTRY INN & SUITES AMADOR

Day 7 Ocean to Ocean Panama Canal Transit (BLD)
The Panama Canal tour starts with an early morning pick up at your hotel in Panama City After a short transfer to Flamenco Island on Causeway Amador you will embark a 250 passenger ferry. You will first sail under the bridge of the Americas, which raises over 100 meters above sea level and reunites the land divided during construction of the canal forming another link in the Pan-American Highway. Breakfast is served buffet style. The Panama Canal is 80 kilometers long from deep waters in the Pacific Ocean to deep waters in the Caribbean Sea. It was cut through the lowest and one of the narrowest saddles of the long mountainous Isthmus that joins North and South America. The original elevation was 95 meters above sea level where it crosses the Continental Divide.

Northbound on the Panama Canal, the first stop is at Miraflores locks, which are the tallest in the locks system due to the extreme tidal variation of the Pacific Ocean. The boat will be raised 17 meters above sea level in two steps to enter Miraflores Lake which is almost 2 kilometers long. A transition from salt water in the Pacific Ocean to fresh water in the locks chambers and lake take place here.  Next the ship is raised in one step, this time an additional 9 meters, at the Pedro Miguel locks. At this point the ship will be sailing in Gatun Lake at 26 meters above sea level and entering Gaillard Cut, the narrowest section of the Panama Canal. The 13.7-kilometer long portion of the waterway was carved through rock and shale and it is flanked by the backbones of the Continental Divide. The original width of Gaillard Cut was 92 meters and was increased to 152 meters in the early 1970s. In order to accommodate to the demands of today's transit needs, the Panama Canal Authority recently completed the monumental task of widening the Cut to 192 meters in straight sections and up to 222 meters in curves. This allows for unrestricted two-way traffic of Panamax vessels, the largest ships that fit in the Panama Canal locks. Gaillard Cut opens up into Gatun Lake where the Chagres River flows into the waterway near the town of Gamboa, site of the Panama Canal's Dredging Division. The Chagres River has the distinction of being the only river in the world that flows into two oceans and it is the main source of fresh water which guarantees the operation of the waterway.

Lunch is served buffet style, while enjoying views of the giant cranes and dredging equipment near Gamboa, Half way through the voyage in Gatun Lake you will pass by Barro Colorado Island where the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has been carrying out research on rainforest biodiversity since soon after this area was flooded and the lake was formed. Gatun Lake covers an area of 423 square kilometers and the islands in it are actually the tops of hills and mountains that were not flooded. Gatun Lake was once the largest man-made lake in the world. Just before reaching the Gatun locks on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal you will see Gatun Dam. The locks at Gatun will lower the ship 26 meters to sea level in three steps and the ship will continue along a channel to the Port of Cristobal. You will disembark in Cristobal and board a coach bus that will take you back to Flamenco Island on a 1:30-hour comfortable ride. At Flamenco Island, you will return to the hotel. Tonight you will enjoy a farewell dinner with a folkloric pollera dance presentation and bid farewell to these past exciting days and your Ancon Expeditions guide. Night at the COUNTRY INN & SUITES AMADOR

Day 8 Depart Panama

Be transferred to Tocumen Airport and return back home with fascinating memories about Panama and its 100th year anniversary of the Panama Canal!

NOTE: Optional pre-tour and post-tour extensions are available to Bocas del Toro, San Blas & the Guna Indians, and the Chiriqui Highlands

Additional Information

Hotel accommodation, all land, air and boat transfers within Panama meals (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner) as indicated in itinerary, all land, water and air transportation within Panama as indicated, park & related entrance fees, private group guide services

International airfare, meals not specified in the itinerary, alcoholic beverages, personal equipment, gratuities for drivers, guides, boat captains and local staff, extras at hotel