Private Journeys

Panama Canal: A Journey Between the Seas

9 days from £4,860pp



map marker Map

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 Lake Gatún, 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. A staggering 52 million gallons of fresh water is used in each transit. It is not surprising that the biggest ships have to pay a fee of over one million dollars for each crossing. 

Before the Panama Canal, the vast jungle area that is now Lake Gatún 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.

ShutterStock ©

Day 6

Explore Soberania National Park, the Pipeline Road and Panama Rainforest Discovery Centre.

You’ll be driven into Soberania national Park along a gravel road built by the US military during World War 2 when they constructed the oil pipeline to alleviate traffic jams of ships travelling through the canal during the conflict. This was renamed the pipeline road and is now celebrated and one of the most interesting eco-trails in the country, especially recognised for its prolific wildlife. Arrive at the Panama Rainforest Discovery Centre, run by a not-for-profit conservation organisation. Climb a 32m observation tower for panoramic views over the jungle, and walk one or both of the two forest trails (1,2km), where you have the opportunity to look out for toucans and hummingbirds,  monkeys, crocodiles, coatis, butterflies and sloths.

The Discovery will exit the Panama Canal in the afternoon on its way to the mouth of the Chagres river. 

ShutterStock ©

Day 7

San Lorenzo National Park- UNESCO World Heritage Site

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.

In the afternoon, walk along the Pavon Trail to a lookout tower on a cliff overlooking the river, where you will be met by member of the crew for a Sunset Wine and Cheese picnic.


Day 8

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

Explore the Chagres river in a small boat, The river was used by the Spanish conquistadores to transport gold across the isthmus of Panama en route between Peru and Spain and also by gold prospectors who attempted a short cut to the US east coast from the gold fields of California. Now it is a tranquil haven for tropical wildlife. 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. The cruise can be taken in the opposite direction - please enquire).

Panamanian Tourist Board CATA©

Day 9

Transfer to Panama City airport for your international flight.

Inspired by this trip

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.


Your edit for Latin American inspiration

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.

View Extraordinary Inspiration

Real Latin America Experts

  • Paul Winrow Giffen
    Paul Winrow-Giffin - Travel Consultant

    After graduating in Computer Science, Paul spent seven months travelling from Colombia to Argentina and came home hooked on Latin America.

  • Sophie Barber
    Sophie Barber - Travel Consultant

    Sophie lived in Chile before joining us and has travelled extensively across Latin America, from Mexico to the furthest tip of Patagonia.

  • Hannah Waterhouse
    Hannah Waterhouse - Travel Consultant

    Hannah had an early introduction to Latin America when her family moved to Ecuador and she returned to study in Buenos Aires for a year before backpacking across the continent.

  • Mary Anne Nelson
    Mary Anne Nelson - Travel Consultant

    Born in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, Mary’s insider knowledge and dry sense of humour make her a highly valued member of the Tailor-made team.

  • Ben Line
    Ben Line - Travel Consultant

    Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Manager of the Tailor-made Department.

  • Hannah Donaldson
    Hannah Donaldson - Travel Consultant

    Having spent part of her childhood in Colombia and worked in Brazil and Costa Rica, Hannah's ties to Latin America run deep. Hannah is an invaluable part of our Group Tours team.

Meet the team