The Best of Panama – 9 days
(This sample itinerary will be customized to suit your interests and budget.)
HIGHLIGHTS: Discover the Panama Canal’s natural attributes and experience a Partial Canal Transit; visit the new Agua Clara Locks of the recently inaugurated Panama Canal Expansion; share a unique experience with indigenous people; admire Frank Gehry’s Biodiversity Museum and bike along the scenic Amador Causeway, explore tropical cloud forests in the Chiriqui Highlands known for the best outdoor adventures and coffee in the country, take a swim in the beautiful Pacific waters and get the chance for humpback whale watching (July through October) while staying at unique jungle ocean lodge in the Gulf of Chiriqui.
Day 1 ~ Arrive to Panama
On arrival to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, you will be met by local representative and transferred to your hotel near Soberania National Park.
Spend 2 nights at the GAMBOA RAINFOREST RESORT
Day 2 ~ Jungle Boat Exploration & Partial Panama Canal Transit
Early in the morning you will be picked up at the lobby of the hotel by your Naturalist Guide. Nearby you will board a small 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 262 Km2 (164 Mi2), 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 locks system. Nearly 200 million Liters (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.
Later this morning you will board a 250 passenger ferry for the Partial Transit of the Panama Canal. You will be sailing at 26m (85 feet) above sea level. Shortly after departure, the ship will enter Gaillard Cut, the narrowest section of the Panama Canal. The 13.7Km (8.5 Miles) long portion of the Continental Divide was carved through rock and shale at beginning of last century when the canal began operating (1914). You will have the opportunity to look at the progress on this extraordinary engineering venture. The ship will reach Pedro Miguel locks, where the vessel will be lowered 9.4 meters (30.8 feet) into Miraflores Lake. After traveling nearly 2 kilometers you arrive to Miraflores locks, where the transition from fresh water to salt water takes place in the locks chambers. Due to the Pacific Ocean’s extreme tidal variations, Miraflores locks miter gates are the tallest of the locks system. In two steps, the vessel will be lowered 16.6 meters (54.5 feet) onto the Pacific Ocean. You will then sail under the bridge of the Americas, which reunites the land divided by the Panama Canal as part of the Pan-American Highway. After disembarking at Flamenco Island, you will be taken back on an approx. 45-60-minute ride to the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. Enjoy dinner at the resort (included).
Overnight at the GAMBOA RAINFOREST RESORT
Day 3 ~ Embera Indigenous People – Agua Clara Locks – Chiriqui Highlands
This morning you will be picked up at your hotel by your professional guide for an approx. 1.5 hour transfer across the Isthmus to Gatun River near Colon. You will have the opportunity to visit an Embera indigenous village on the shores of the Gatun River. Board a motorized piragua (dugout canoe) and travel up through lush forest to the community. Along the river you may be able to spot Little Blue and Green Heron, Great Egret, Anhingas, Neotropical Cormorant, Amazon, Ringed, and Green Kingfishers, along with Keel-billed Toucans and Ospreys flying above. At the Embera village you will be greeted with dancing and music. and learn about Embera customs and their relationship with nature. There will be handcrafts available for sale and you will have a chance to be painted with the traditional jagua, a natural dye the Embera use to adorn their bodies. After a traditional Embera lunch you will head to the Agua Clara Locks of the Panama Canal Expansion just outside Colon.
Unlike the viewpoints at Gatun and Miraflores, this new visitor center has a more ecological design, being built in the middle of the jungle area next to the new Agua Clara Locks on the Atlantic side, inaugurated on June 26, 2016. The $5.25 billion project consisted of many tasks including 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, was 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 the largest size vessels that can cross the old locks). The new locks accommodate Neopanamax ships that can carry up to 14,000 containers. A ship with this capacity pays approximately US$850,000 in toll fees to cross the Panama Canal. The new locks were designed to reuse up to 60% of the fresh water that would flow into the ocean by using recycling water basins.
In the afternoon, return back to Panama City’s domestic airport to catch a 50-minute flight to David, capital of the Chiriqui province, in western Panama. Chiriqui is the country’s “breadbasket” containing some of the most breathtaking highland scenery in Central America. After arrival to David Airport, you continue to the Western side of the Volcano, where you will spend the next three days at a mountain lodge.
2 nights at CASA GRANDE BAMBITO
Day 4 ~ Finca Ceriana Nature Experience & Sugar Cane Mill
Strategically located between the highlands and lowlands of Chiriqui, Finca Ceriana forms part of a privately protected area for the conservation of flora and fauna in the region. One of its unique characteristics is the number of bird species and other animals from the upper and lower mountain areas. The property is part of the biological corridor that hosts the famous volcano lagoons and a large variety of animal and plant species. The total area counts 10 hectares of protected land and nearly 2 kilometers of nature trails, in addition to one of the most beautiful views to Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce, or sweet golf, and Osa pensinsula as well as to Punta Burica in Panama.
This morning, you will walk through 3 km of beautiful trails while your expert guide explains the beautiful and rare birds of the 180+ species that live in this forest. Next, you will go up a nice Canopy Tower, where you will enjoy a local coffee and savor our famous butter cookies, while you admire the cloud forest and relax for as long as you wish. When you are ready, your tour continues through the trails up a hill where you will see a magnificent view of the lowlands of Chiriquí, and weather permitting, The Pacific Ocean and Punta burica in Panama in addition to the Osa peninsula and Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica. By noon, you will start your descent to the lower part of the farm, where we will be expecting you for a gourmet picnic under beautiful Cedar trees. Enjoy your homemade lunch with a nice glass of wine and, again, relax and enjoy the view for as long as you desire. When you are ready, we walk some meters towards the sugar cane mill, where your guide will explain the sugar cane process and taste fresh sugar cane juice, and other sugar cane products. Return back to your hotel late afternoon.
Overnight at CASA GRANDE BAMBITO
Day 5 ~ Coffee Tour & Canopy Zipline Adventure
This morning, the Janson’ Coffee estate owners invite you for a comprehensive tour at their farm in the mountain range of Baru Volcano and surrounding valley. You will learn about planting, harvesting, processing, roasting and packaging of the world class coffee Del Fino and Geisha, grown on the Janson´s coffee farm. This coffee is grown at the perfect altitude in rich volcanic soil and processed by utilizing the best that tradition and technology have to offer. Janson Coffee has a unique aroma and brilliant flavors and has won many prizes.
Then proceed to the Eastern side of Baru Volcano for lunch in the charming mountain town Boquete, situated on the Caldera river. In the afternoon get ready for an exciting canopy zipline tour that that allows you to contemplate the rainforest from fourteen different canopy platforms while smoothly soaring in the heights of the cloud forest from one treetop to another. You will glide through the trees and encounter a world unknown. You will discover a fascinating perspective of wildlife that you had never appreciated. Native species of flora and fauna can be observed. You will marvel at the sight of a great variety of orchids, trees and wildflowers that are found throughout the area.
Late afternoon descends for approx. 1 hour to Boca Chica where you head out by boat through the Parque Nacional Marino Golfo de Chiriquí, an over 36,000-acre marine park encompassing two dozen islands, their surrounding open waters, and estuaries. The refuge is home to marine and land wildlife, including howler monkeys, leatherback and hawksbill turtles, and Tiger-Herons.
Your home for the next two nights is on one of the larger islands at the edge of the park, Boca Brava. Approximately 10 miles long and four miles wide, its topography is as rich as its flora and fauna, with a grassy interior sloping to a coast composed of idyllic and empty beaches, estuaries, and mangrove wetlands. Upon checking in at your seaside boutique hotel you have some time to take a dip in the warm waters of the Pacific or enjoy the calm bay by kayak during sunset hours.
2 nights at CALA MIA BOUTIQUE HOTEL
Awakening just yards from a white sand beach and the tranquil waters of the bay in your private bungalow, you will enjoy your breakfast with panoramic views over the bay. Get ready for your day tour venturing to a neighboring island, a day of beach relaxation and snorkeling. This Pacific Gulf is home to thousands of pristine islands and unspoiled beaches and is also nearby world renowned sport fishing grounds (Coiba’s Hannibal Bank or Islas Las Seca) and scuba diving (Islas Los Ladrones).
In the months from late June through early October, you will also have the opportunity to be part of the magical whale season when thousands of Humpbacks migrate northwards from their summer feeding grounds around Antarctica, arriving in this Pacific region of Panama where they breed and give birth to their calves in the warm, shallow and safe waters near Cala Mia!
After a picnic lunch on one of the white sand beaches around Boca Brava Island, return back to the lodge. In the afternoon enjoy a guided nature hike on Boca Brava Island which consists of 7,500 acres of rolling hills, pastures and nature that invites for a true nature experience and excellent bird watching opportunities.
Overnight at CALA MIA BOUTIQUE HOTEL
Day 7 ~ Casco Viejo, the French Quarter of Panama City
Today you can relax on the island’s private beach, make use of the complementary kayaks or enjoy the fresh-water swimming pool at the lodge. You can also opt for optional activities such as horseback riding, bird watching, deep sea fishing or relaxing Spa treatments with stunning vies over the Pacific Ocean.
In the afternoon, you’ll take a domestic flight from David back to Panama City. Before returning to your hotel downtown, enjoy a historical sunset walking tour through Casco Viejo, a, UNESCO World Heritage site with its colonial landmarks and charming cobblestone streets. Here you also enjoy dinner at a local restaurant before being dropped off at your fine hotel in the modern city center.
Spend 2 nights at a boutique business style hotel in the heart of the financial district.
Day 8 ~ Panama City Highlights by bicycle – Biodiversity Museum – Metro subway
This morning you will start out with a scenic bicycle ride along the Amador Causeway, a six-kilometer long coastal way that connects four islands to the Amador neighborhood: Naos Island, Culebra Island, Perico Island and Flamenco Island at the end. Its history dates back to the Spanish colonial time, Spanish used the islands to land the treasures they brought from Peru that were stolen from the Incas. Later on, the Causeway became part of the Grant Fort, utilize to guard the entrance of the canal from any possible attach. On this route you’ll enjoy views of the modern city skyline, the entrance of the Panama Canal, the Bridge of the Americas and Panama Bay.
Enroute stop for a tour at 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. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant nearby.
Continue in our tour through the former Canal Zone, by the Panama Canal Administration Building and Ancon Hill for more spectacular views over the Panama port, nearby Metropolitan Nature Park and Panama City bay area. On return to the downtown area, you may experience a short ride on the Panama subway line, the first one of its kind in the region which was completed in May 2014 providing a fast, comfortable and frequent public transportation on a nearly 14 kilometer stretch in the city center including seven underground stations and five elevated stations.
Tonight you will enjoy a folkloric dinner show including traditional Panamanian cuisine accompanied by a dance and music presentation where you will learn about the local Pollera dress and its cultural value, the musicians and their instruments, songs, clothing and singing.
Overnight downtown Panama City.
Day 9 – Depart Panama
Today you will be picked up at the hotel and transferred to Tocumen International Airport in time for your return flights home.