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Signature Panama: Canal, wildlife and beach

10 days from £1679pp

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Signature Panama: Canal, wildlife and beach:
Trip Dossier

Your first thoughts about Panama may envisage hats (actually from Ecuador); a large, strategic canal; a fallen dictator and maybe some refugees from justice. But that would be underestimating the unexpected charms and variety of this hilly Central American republic. This holiday addresses that: in addition to introducing you to the extraordinary history of a country linking oceans, spanning cultures and hosting pathways for smuggled gold, we take you to visit some of nature’s most fecund forests, laden with ebullient wildlife and luscious plants.

The capital city is one of the world’s most cosmopolitan, an eclectic mix of American, European and Asian influences forged by centuries of immigration, while the palm-defined, pearl white beaches are undeveloped. The Panamanian people, relaxed and welcoming, will ensure you have an enriching holiday.

For an even more comprehensive experience of what Panama has to offer the visitor, we recommend you take one or other of our extensions to this holiday, to San Blas, Contadora beach or  or the Azuero peninsula, Panama's cultural heartland. 

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Panama City and transfer to your hotel.

Day 2

Partial transit of the Panama Canal.

Day 3

Guided excursion in Panama City

Day 4

Fly to David and transfer to highland Boquete.

Day 5

At leisure in Boquete.

Day 6

By air and water taxi to Bocas del Toro islands.

Days 7-8

At leisure in Bocas del Toro.

Day 9

Fly back to the mainland and transfer to Gamboa.

Day 10

Boat tour on Lake Gatún. Transfer to Panama City airport for international flight home.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Panama City and transfer to your 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

Partial transit of the Panama Canal.

Today you have a partial transit of that most astonishing feat of engineering, the Panama Canal. It’s a short drive to the Port of Balboa and Miraflores Locks, where the boat is raised 17m above sea level. The next set of locks is even higher; you will be 26m above sea level before entering the Gaillard Cut where the Chagres river flows into the Canal.

The canal’s construction involved the creation of the largest man-made lake in the world - Gatún - which is where you will disembark before returning to Balboa by bus.  

Panama Canal

Day 3

Guided excursion in Panama City

You’ll have a guided tour of the ruins of Old Panama City (Panama Viejo), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was the first city founded by Europeans on the Pacific coast of the Americas and the starting point of the Spanish trails which crossed the isthmus to the Caribbean.

The city was attacked and looted by English pirate Henry Morgan in 1671. Visit the Old Panama Museum, climb up the Cathedral tower, and stroll among the stone walls and the remnants of what was once considered the richest city in the Americas. Continue to Casco Viejo where you will visit the Inter-oceanic Canal museum, housed in the former headquarters of the French canal-building effort in the 1880s. The restored museum displays the historical development of Panama from its Spanish colonial days to the completion of the canal in 1913.

This is followed by a walking tour of Casco Viejo, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to the Presidential Palace, the cathedral, the National Theatre, the French plaza and other landmarks which are a testimony to the city's rich history, culture and heritage.  From the top of old city's wall you can enjoy views of the Pacific Ocean dotted with fishing boats and the massive ships lined up waiting to cross the Panama Canal, with a backdrop of the skyline of modern Panama City.   

Panama Viejo

Day 4

Fly to David and transfer to highland Boquete.

Boquete is a small provincial town set in a valley within the craggy, verdant Chiriquí Highlands. It enjoys a pleasant mountain climate and the surrounding area is both very beautiful and extremely fertile: benefiting from rich volcanic soils crops such as citrus fruit, strawberries coffee, flowers and vegetables thrive in a European style system of small-scale farming. The town itself has a few quaint old buildings and some good restaurants.

A highlights holiday in Panama wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a coffee farm. Boquete is to coffee what Bordeaux is to wine. Over several years, Panama's coffee has been rated the best coffee in the world. Finca La Milagrosa is a small (5ha) 100% organic farm. The family-run operation was started using a roasting machine cobbled together spare parts from an old Mitsubishi car, but its produce is award-winning, hence the name, Milagrosa. The coffee is destined for Europe and the US but you’ll have a chance to try some.

The Chiriquí Highlands

Day 5

At leisure in Boquete.

There are several activities available from your accommodation, including cycling and water rafting. Not far away from Boquete is the starting point of the Sendero Los Quetzales from where you can walk (7-8hrs) over the mountains to Cerro Punta, the best area to spot the resplendent quetzal -  the colourful bird which is a Central American icon. 

You can also hike or be driven up the slopes of Panama’s only (extinct) volcano, Barú, or luxuriate in the nearby hot springs.

white water rafting

Day 6

By air and water taxi to Bocas del Toro islands.

Your holiday will be rounded off with some beach-time. Off the northwest coast of Panama close to the border with Costa Rica lies the archipelago of Bocas del Toro.

The undeveloped islets of white sand beaches fringed by palms and reeds, with rocky outcrops and reefs ideal for snorkelling and diving, provide a marvellously laid-back hang-out for a few days. The islands shelter profuse wildlife - especially tropical birds, frogs and butterflies - and are blessed with splendiferous sunsets.

Bocas del Toro dock Panama

Days 7-8

At leisure in Bocas del Toro.

At leisure on the islands.

You can sunbathe, snorkel, stroll along dazzling snow-white beaches, sip a cool drink and survey a scene of unbridled tranquillity.
Bocas del Toro

Day 9

Fly back to the mainland and transfer to Gamboa.

Set on the edge of Gatún Lake, the small town of Gamboa was formerly an American Canal Zone residential area for canal workers. Today, it is best known for its surrounding rainforest scenery and magnificent bird-watching.

Take a short drive to the rainforested Soberanía National Park and walk the Pipeline Road - built during World War II as a precaution to transport fuel from one ocean to the other in case the Panama Canal was attacked. Fortunately the pipeline never had to be used, while the roads built at that time have opened up opportunities for spectacular bird and wildlife spotting, with 525 species of bird living in the area.

Day 10

Boat tour on Lake Gatún. Transfer to Panama City airport for international flight home.
You'll board an expedition boat at Gamboa Resort's marina for an adventure on Lake Gatún. A naturalist guide is on hand to help make the most of the wildlife - amongst which are three-toed sloths, crocodiles, ospreys, snail kites and keel-billed toucans. Getting up close to the foliage as it meets the waterline there is a good chance of seeing white faced capuchins, mantled howler monkeys and spider monkeys. You'll be able to watch, almost within touching distance it seems, mighty Panamax freighters glide past, towering above the jungle canopy.

Transfer to Panama City airport for international flight home.

Essential information


3 flights (light aircraft Cessna or similar), 3 road journeys, 1 boat transfer.


This trip combines small, friendly mid-range hotels with well-equipped rooms with private bathroom and comfortable but not luxurious wildlife and beach lodges. Accommodation throughout Panama is of a high standard.


Breakfast daily.


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.

Included excursions

  • Panama Canal partial transit.
  • Guided tour of Panama City
  • Coffee farm tour in Boquete.
  • Panama Canal and rainforest boat adventure.

Summary of nights

10 days, 9 nights: Panama City 3, Boquete 2, Bocas del Toro 3, Panama City 1.

Included in the journey price

  • Services of our team of experts in our London office.
  • Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides.
  • All land and air transport.
  • Accommodation as specified.
  • Meals as specified.
  • Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

  • Tips and gratuities.
  • Meals other than specified.
  • Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket.
  • Optional excursions.


The unit of currency in Panama the US dollar known locally as the balboa.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$40 per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more.

How to take it

The national currency in Panama is at parity with the US dollar, and only US banknotes are used (there are some local coins equivalent to US cents. There are ATMs in most towns where you can use a UK credit or debit card. You may have to ask your bank to authorise withdrawals before you leave the UK and amounts may be limited, and vary from bank to bank. Notes can be obtained from exchange houses and also from banks which will supply and advance on credit or debit card. We also  recommend you take a supply of clean dollar bills.


Tips are welcomed and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income.

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our briefing dossier.


Insurance is essential. Details of our recommend 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

Generally this holiday is suitable for all able, reasonably fit visitors, including families with children.


The trip covers climates ranging from tropical lowland to more temperate zones in the highlands. Those travelling between May and October journeys should encounter high temperatures (around 35°C) and high humidity in the lowlands. The ‘official’ rainy (green) season is May to November. December to April visitors will still encounter high temperatures in lowland areas, but cool evenings around Boquete with temperatures falling to around 5°C. Rainfall and humidity will be much lower at this time.

Clothing and special equipment

Bring plenty of light cotton clothing and good, comfortable walking shoes.  A waterproof jacket and/or umbrella is also advisable. We suggest that you plan to ‘layer’ your clothing; it is easier and more efficient to put on a couple of light layers than one thick jumper, and sensible to have long sleeves for areas where mosquitos may be lurking. Sandals are a good informal option for evenings. Protection against the sun (sunblock, sun hat) and mosquito repellent are essential and you should bring swimwear. A daypack is useful for carrying around sunblock, guidebook, water and any extra layers. Note that baggage weight on some domestic flights may be restricted


Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following; typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. For specific requirements you must consult your GP. You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel health website.


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.  Visitors with different nationality should refer to our Briefing Dossier and check with the Panamanian consulate.

Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:
ESTA - if flying to, or via, the USA, you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online. This costs $14 per person, and must be done by you personally.
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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