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Journey between the seas

9 days from £4,713pp

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Journey between the seas:
Trip Dossier

Panama is a strategically vital country uniting two oceans, but its potential interest to the leisure visitor has perhaps been underplayed.  Most have heard of its history, chequered with the movement of plundered gold, dodgy dictators, straw hats (these actually come from Ecuador) and, of course, the monumental feat of engineering which is the Panama Canal.

Fewer are aware of the abundant and diverse wildlife populating unsullied tropical rainforest and the intact, even flourishing, indigenous cultures which have survived the switchback ride of its history.

Much of the country’s interior is almost impenetrable, which makes an expedition cruise which passes both through the canal itself and along the little republic’s jungle-stifled shores the best way to discover its hidden charms. On this holiday, you spend a couple of days discovering the highlights at either end of the canal before setting sail to traverse it.

(Some departures travel southwards through the Canal from Colon to Panama City. The holiday is effectively the same as the one here, but in reverse).

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive Panama City, transfer to hotel.

Day 2

Guided tour of Casco Viejo and the Biodiversity Museum.

Day 3

Visit the Darien jungle and the Embera indians

Day 4

Swim and snorkel among the palm-fringed Pearl Islands.

Day 5

Transit the Panama Canal to Lake Gatun.

Day 6

Explore Gatún Lake and exit the Canal at the Caribbean end.

Day 7

Explore the Chagres river and fort at San Lorenzo.

Day 8

Disembark. Guided tour of Portobelo, transfer to hotel in Panama City.

Day 9

Transfer to Panama City airport for your international flight.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive Panama City, transfer to hotel.
 

This thriving cosmopolitan metropolis sits at the Pacific end of the Panama Canal.

The city dates back to 1519 when it was a settlement base for transporting Peruvian gold back to Imperial Spain. Its subsequent wealth made it a frequent target for pirate raids.

These days, soaring skyscrapers, sparkling banks and smart modern offices overshadow forts, Spanish convents and sumptuous French-style mansions, reminders of its colonial heyday.

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Panama City

Day 2

Guided tour of Casco Viejo and the Biodiversity Museum.
 

Begin with your adventure with a guided exploration of the UNESCO World heritage Site Casco Viejo. Work on this neighbourhood started in 1673 following the destruction by pirates of the original city. You’ll be able to stroll around the atmospheric former city-centre with its restored colonial houses, churches and squares embodying the Spanish colonial architecture of the 17th century.

Following a visit to the Inter-Oceanic Canal Museum you’ll continue to the Biodiversity Museum where eight galleries tell the story of human development  on  the Panamanian isthmus and its impact on the area’s biodiversity.

In the afternoon, you’ll embark the MV Discovery anchored at Flamenco Island. Set sail in the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean heading towards Contadora in the Pearl Islands where the ship will spend the first night before navigating to the Darien jungle. Meet your expedition leaders, the crew and fellow guests while you savour regionally-inspired cuisine.

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CASCO VIEJO PANAMA CITY

Day 3

Visit the Darien jungle and the Embera indians
 

Now you really head off into the unknown. The shores of Darien Province are hemmed by a curtain of dark, tangled rainforest which has kept out explorers and potential settlers for centuries.

Perhaps because of this lack of human interference, this environment is one of the most bio-diverse in the world, as well as among the most exotic. Brightly feathered birds flit through the trees while monkeys chatter and swing from branch to branch.

Here, you’ll head inland to meet members of a community of Embera indians. These people, the original inhabitants, have managed not only to maintain their identity and traditional crafts – they excel at basket work and wood carvings – but have also adopted a sustainable economy to conserve the delicate balance in the forest, with a little help from low-key tourism. The Embera are proud of their long-established mythology, and practice natural medicine using forest products they harvest themselves.

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Tucan

Day 4

Swim and snorkel among the palm-fringed Pearl Islands.
 

Today, back out along the coast, you can swim and snorkel in the sparkly aquamarine waters lapping the Pearl Islands. The 200 island-strong archipelago owes its name to the abundance of pearl oysters which supported a substantial fishery in the early 1900s.

Nowadays the sun-baked archipelago is famed for its squeaky-clean soft-sand beaches and gently waving palm trees.  Just a few of the islands are inhabited, and many are tiny. Survival shows have been filmed here, adding a colourful contemporary page to the story of pirate refuge; and you have a shipwrecked submarine to explore.

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Contadora beach

Day 5

Transit the Panama Canal to Lake Gatun.
 
The excitement mounts as you finally enter the Panama Canal. In the 1880s the construction of a waterway to link the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans began, and the ambitious project was completed in 1914. Fortunately, since the Canal was handed back to Panama in 1999 the twisted jungle along its banks has been protected and developed for eco-tourism.

Wake up at the Pacific entrance and join the morning’s ship convoy for the northbound canal passage traversing Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks. The Discovery will be raised 26m above sea level to Gatún Lake, where the ship will spend the night, before she is taken down again.  This is no easy task: a skilled pilot is required on board to guide the vessel through the massive sets of locks.
 
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MV Discovery

Day 6

Explore Gatún Lake and exit the Canal at the Caribbean end.
 
Before the Panama Canal, the vast jungle area that is now the Gatún Lake was teeming with a huge abundance of wildlife. As the region was flooded to create the lake, many creatures took refuge in the mountain peaks which now constitute the many islands which rise above the surface of the lake.

Explore Gatún Lake and kayak in Panama Canal waters. Your expedition leader will take you on board small crafts past lush rainforest to secluded areas of the lake to witness first-hand the splendor and excitement of the jungle.

Exotic birds, monkeys, sloths, iguanas, and crocodiles are just a few of the animals that you may see in their natural surroundings. The sights, sounds and scents which compose this tropical jungle will engulf you. Cameras should be at hand as this is considered one of the the world’s premier locations for viewing monkeys and other animals in the wild. The Discovery will exit the Panama Canal in the afternoon on its way to the mouth of the Chagres River. 

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Lake Gatun

Day 7

Explore the Chagres river and fort at San Lorenzo.
 

The Chagres river was used by the Spanish conquistadors to move their gold across the Isthmus of Panama en route from Peru to Spain, then by the gold prospectors who attempted a ‘short cut’ from the east coast of the USA to the gold fields of California.

These colourful characters are long gone but the river is now the lifeline of the Panama Canal, still heaving with wildlife and fringed by tropical jungle. Explore Fort San Lorenzo, on a cliff at the mouth of the river on the Atlantic side. The fort here was built by the Spaniards in the 16th century to defend the gold trail.

 

You have now reached the Caribbean Sea! Later that evening, the Discovery will reposition to Colón, where it will spend the night before you disembark the next day. 

 

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Kayaking

Day 8

Disembark. Guided tour of Portobelo, transfer to hotel in Panama City.
 

Leave the ship in the morning and travel by road to Portobelo,  founded by Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage to the Americas in 1597. This quaint town was the site of many sea and land battles between the Spanish colonials and the pirates and corsairs who relentlessly raided the Spanish Main. Explore the fortifications built by the Spaniards to protect their treasures and visit the Church of San Felipe, the sanctuary of the Black Christ.

 

Later in the afternoon, board the train which runs along the Panama Canal Railway back to Panama City, a journey of just one hour. The line flanks the Panama Canal passing through the rainforest, cruising alongside the Canal’s locks, through the Gaillard Cut and gliding over slender causeways in Lake Gatún.  Arrive in Panama City in the early evening and settle in to your hotel.  


(Note that the itinerary is subject to variation according to weather and other local conditions).

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Railroad from Colon to Panama City

Day 9

Transfer to Panama City airport for your international flight.

Essential information

Transport

8 day expedition cruise from Panama City to Colon, Panama. Rail journey from Colon to Panama City.

Accommodation

This holiday incorporates a cruise on board an intimate, comfortable motor cruiser, MV Discovery, accommodating 24 guests and 11 staff and crew.  

The accommodation in Panama City, Hotel Bristol, is a first class contemporary property.

Meals

Breakfast daily, full board on the cruise ship.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return. Guides, lecturers and presenters on the cruise ship are all qualified in a field of expertise relevant to the cruise.

Included excursions

• Tour of old Panama and Biodiversity Museum.
• Passage through the Panama Canal.  
• Land and sea-based excursions and activities on the expedition cruise.
• Guided tour of Portobello.

Summary of nights

9 nights: Panama City 1 night, 7 night cruise, Panama City 1 night.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office.
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives on the mainland..
• All land transport within Latin America
• Passage through the Panama Canal.
• All inclusive cruise as specified, including land and sea excursions, activities and lectures. 
• Accommodation as specified.
• Meals as specified.
• Excursions as specified. 

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities.
• Meals other than specified.
• International flights to Latin America
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket.
• Excursions designated optional.

Currency

The unit of currency in Panama is the Balboa, equivalent in value to the US dollar. US dollars also circulate in Panama. ATMs are available in Panama City. Notes can be withdrawn from the many ATMs in larger towns and cities using a UK credit or debit card.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$50 per day should cover the cost of good quality meals, drinks and the odd souvenir on those days in the holiday itinerary or extension outside the cruise. Eat at the very best restaurants and you will pay considerably more. On the cruise, excursions, some drinks and meals are included.

How to take it

Outside the cruise period, cash machines are available in major cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds. 

We recommend that additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can spend where the dollar is the local currency. Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

 Acquiring some local currency for tips for services provided by local people on the mainland and purchases from markets is advisable.

Tipping

The cruise staff and  local guides onshore will welcome a gratuity: they often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. Most service industry workers will hope for a tip so it is useful to have spare change for waiters, hotel porters, taxi drivers etc. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential.  Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page. 

Airport taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

This holiday is suitable for all able, reasonably fit visitors. If you have doubts about your fitness for the cruise, we will send you a medical questionnaire. 

Children are accepted, but must be over 6 years old to participate in excursions. There is no special entertainment programme on board for children. Children and and teenagers who are interested in the wildlife and nature should enjoy the cruise and if there is a number of children/teenagers on board, the expedition team might dedicate a team member to lead the group and explain things to them.

Climate

Situated well within the tropics, Panama City has high temperatures (over 30°C) all year round. May-Nov is the rainy season. The city lies outside the main hurricane belt.

Temperatures in Darien are similar, but the climate is weather, with 3,000mm falling throughout the year.

Clothing and special equipment

Pack for hot weather with summer-weight loose, comfortable clothing including shorts and trousers (bear in mind that you have to get in and out of small boats). Brings sun-protective headgear, swimwear, smart casual for the evening, fleece, light sweater or jacket for cool evenings, wet weather gear: umbrella for tropical downpours, rain-cape or coat, comfortable non-slip footwear including stout walking boots or shoes and consider bringing aqua socks for snorkelling etc. Long sleeved shirts and long trousers are advisable for on shore excursions as you may encounter insects including mosquitoes.  

Sun block and insect repellant are essential. Don’t forget your sun-glasses, binoculars, camera, charger and memory cards. Remember to pack any personal medication (carry it in cabin luggage on the flights). A small first aid kit with blister pads, aspirin etc may come in handy.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements such as malaria prophylactics.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins. Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/esta.html

This costs $14 per person, and must be applied for by you personally.

UK Passport holders must present an e-passport with a built in chip. Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.


APIS - many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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