Costa Rica and Panama Canal AE Expeditions

Dates & Prices

Year:
  1. Date 18 April 2024 From £8,141

Itinerary

Departure port San José, Costa Rica
Flights Delta Air Lines 18 Apr - 01 May
Hotel DoubleTree by Hilton Cariari San Jose 19 Apr - 1 night
Cruise ship Greg Mortimer 20 Apr - 12 nights View ship
Arrival port Cartagena, Colombia
13 nights Cruise package FROM £8,141 per person
  • 1
    San José, Costa Rica

    This morning, your luggage will be collected from the hotel and transferred directly to the port for sanitisation, clearance and delivered to your cabin ahead of your arrival on board. There is time to settle into your cabin before attending important safety briefings. Enjoy the thrill of departure as we ‘throw the lines’ and set sail for an exciting tropical adventure.

  • 2
    Curú Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica

    Curú National Wildlife Refuge is a privately-owned nature reserve offering visitors outstanding eco-tourism experiences. The refuge is the first privately-owned refuge in Costa Rica, encompassing more than 3,700 acres of tropical forests, mangroves, and well-marked paths. 17 hiking trails wind through the varied terrain within the reserve, where you may see white-tail deer, armadillos and iguanas. Various monkey species are prolific within refuge including native capuchin, spider, and howler monkeys. Located on the southern Nicoya Peninsula of north-western Costa Rica, the refuge is brimming with wildlife and hosts one of the most beautiful beaches and protected bays on the Nicoya Peninsula, a great place to enjoy water activities.

    Located on the southeast tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, the Curu Wildlife Refuge is known for its pristine, white-sand beaches and impressive variety of species ranging from monkeys to sand crabs. In total the refuge covers 3,707 total acres and 656 feet of coastline. Travelers to the Curu Wildlife Refuge will quickly notice that they are in the minority at the site, with only a few people in the area among the abundance of animals and sea creatures. All of your senses will be captivated by this overwhelming amount of wildlife at the reserve, which offers some of the best eco-tourism in Costa Rica. Curu officially received support from the Costa Rican government to protect its wildlife in 1981 and the area officially became known as the Curu Wildlife Refuge in 1983. Today, the refuge is privately owned, extremely-well cared for and even more exclusive than many of the national parks in the country. If you're looking to participate in some of the vast eco-tourism opportunities in Costa Rica, the refuge should be a top priority because of its exclusivity and the ability of visitors to personally interact with the diverse animal population. The refuge also features 17 peaceful trails, where travellers can check out this abundant wildlife in a number of different ecosystems, including mangrove swamps and both dry and wet tropical forests.

  • 3
    Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

    Boasting over 100 species of mammals, 184 species of birds and an impressive variety flora, Manuel Antonio National Park understandably attracts wildlife enthusiasts from all over the world. Costa Rica’s star attractions - two and three toed sloths, as well as white-faced monkeys, toucans, agoutis, armadillos and coatis are a few of the exciting animals that you may encounter within the park. We explore the park in the cool, early hours of the morning before returning to the vessel for lunch. In the afternoon, you have the option to explore Quepos town or enjoy some water activities.

  • 4
    Punta Rio Claro National Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica

    The untamed Osa Peninsula is considered by National Geographic to be ‘one of the most biologically intense places on earth’. We plan to hike the trails at Rio Claro Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary that encompasses 500 hectares of tropical rainforests, making it one of the most important natural preserves in Central America. Rio Claro is one of the last refuges for pumas, ocelot, jaguarundis, tapirs, white-lipped peccaries and a host of other rainforest animals. The high plateau forests, with trees towering over 43 m (140 ft), supports hundreds of species of ferns, bromeliads and orchids, and creates a biological corridor between palm swamps and mangroves. It is an extension of Corcovado National Park, the country's largest and one of the most remote parks in Costa Rica.

  • 5
    Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica

    Golfo Dulce, or Sweet Gulf, is a large bay that hugs pristine beaches, rivers and tall evergreen forests - a protected area known as the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve. As one of the wettest places on Earth with over 5,000 millimetres (200 inches) of rainfall per year, the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve features some of the world’s tallest trees. The warm tropical waters in the gulf are a great place to enjoy aquatic activities, where spinner dolphins are often seen frolicking in the bay. There are ancient coral reefs to explore, where you can see enormous coral gardens and the creatures that inhabit them. On land, there are more pristine rainforest trails for you to explore, where you can marvel at the extraordinary flora and fauna that contributes to Costa Rica’s biodiversity. By Zodiac, we shuttle ashore to Saladero Ecolodge and explore the gardens and walking trails filled with flowering plants. Keep a watch for birds including toucans, scarlet macaw, caracara and woodpeckers. In Golfo Dulce we exit Costa Rica and continue our journey as we sail to Panama.

    Wild, scenic and incredibly bio-diverse, Golfo Dulce is not on most tourists itineraries. The name, says it all, Golfo Dulce or sweet gulf, in English. After a well justified visit to the Golfo Dulce, located in the South Pacific region of Costa Rica, and adjacent to the Osa Peninsula, visitors will be delighted and perplexed, wondering why they would ever leave this wonderland. Several coastal hamlets reside along this enchanting gulf, namely Puerto Jiménez, Golfito, Zancudo and Pavones, as well as the Piedras Blancas National Park. This is one stop on the itinerary that won’t soon be forgotten. Easily one of the wettest and most humid sections in the country, Golfo Dulce and the southwest can receive more than 200 inches (500 cm) of rainfall per year. This assures the surrounding area will be thriving with wild and plant life, perfect for aspiring adventurers. Surrounded by Corcovado National Park to the southwest, and Costa Rica’s mainland to the northeast, Golfo Dulce serves up a large platter of entertainment for all who visit. Sprouting along the edges of the Golfo Dulce are mangroves and estuaries full of wildlife. Explore these ecosystems crowded with crocodiles, river otters, waterfowl, monkeys and much more. Fed by the Coto Colorado River, the Coto River Swamps are an excellent choice for discovering these uncanny wetlands and the secrets that lay within.

  • 6
    Coiba Island, Panama

    We continue to Coiba Island, a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site, located off the southwest coast of Panama. The national park includes the main island of Coiba and 38 smaller islands in the surrounding marine areas within the Gulf of Chiriquí. Protected from the cold winds and the effects of El Niño, the Pacific tropical forest if Coiba Island features exceptionally high levels of endemic mammals, birds and plants. It is the last refuge for a number of threatened animals including the crested eagle. On Coiba Island, we spend the morning in the area of Granito de Oro islet, a unique place that allows snorkellers to encounter a diversity and volume of marine life that is usually reserved for scuba divers. This is one of the world’s most sought-after diving destinations. The local ranger will provide guidance on the optimal places where we can enjoy water activities.

  • 7
    Coiba Island, Panama

    The following morning, we plan to land at Punta Clara, which served as a penal colony from 1919 to 1996, where Panama’s most notorious criminals and political prisoners were incarcerated. At the peak of its operations, the prison housed up to approximately 3,000 inmates in about 30 camps spread around the islands. You can visit the dilapidated penitentiary buildings or walk along the beach looking for scarlet macaws, yellow caracara and various seabirds. Back on board, enjoy lunch as we set towards the Pearl Islands.

  • 8
    Pearl Islands, Panama

    The Pearl Islands of Panama is an archipelago located in the North Pacific Ocean in the Gulf of Panama, covering around 250 small islands. The Spanish Conquistadors discovered the islands in 1503 and gave the Islands its name due to the great amounts of pearls found on them. The Pearl Islands were originally named by the Spanish explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa due to the bountiful pearls that were harvested off the islands’ shores. The Pearl Islands are most famous for their spectacular and tranquil white sand beaches, untouched forests, and colourful coral reefs offshore – ideal for diving, snorkelling and kayaking. We plan to visit Bartolome Island to enjoy some paddle boarding, kayaking and snorkelling in the warm, turquoise waters. We might also visit nearby Pacheca and Pachequilla islands to enjoy some birdwatching.

  • 9
    Panama City, Panama

    Three million years ago, the Isthmus of Panama emerged from the sea and changed the world forever. It divided an ocean and joined two continents together, triggering one of the most important natural evolution events in the history of the world. Today, this narrow land bridge in Central America is home to more species of birds and trees than the whole of North America. Panama is of course world-famous for its 77 km (48 mi) canal that connects the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean. Panama’s history has been formed by a rich pre-Columbian era for more than 12,000 years. Early cultures in Panama were the Monagrillo, the Cueva and the Conte, particularly famous for their pottery, which was the first in the Americas. The first European claiming the territory of today’s Panama was Rodrigo de Bastidas, coming from Colombia’s Atlantic coast in 1501. In 1513 Vasco Nuñez de Balboa became the first Spaniard to see the Pacific Ocean from the top of a hill. Four days later he and his men stood at the shores of the Pacific Ocean. In 1519, Panama City was founded and became an important hub for seized goods making its way from Peru to Spain. We visit an Emberá village, an indigenous tribe who have inhabited this region for centuries. There are about 33,000 Emberá living in the Darién, Panama, and 50,000 in Colombia. On our visit to one of the Emberá villages near Panama City, you will be warmly welcomed by the local villagers and enjoy a presentation to learn about their history, culture and way of life. On a guided walk through their village, you will meet more villagers who may show you inside their home, sample local snacks and learn about their medicinal plants. The Emberá are renowned for their exquisite handmade jewellery and woven handicrafts, and you will have the chance to appreciate and to purchase their work. In the afternoon, we stop at the Miraflores Visitor Centre overlooking the Miraflores lock of the Panama Canal. Four exhibition halls portray the canal's history and biodiversity, while three terraces and observation decks are ideal places for observing the canal's operation and the passage of ships through the locks.

    Expect incredible morning views as you arrive into the port for Panama City. Tinged with a silver pre-dawn light, the city will metamorphosise into a golden glow as the sun rises above it. And from then on expect one stunning view after another. Very interesting in its own right, Fuerte Amador is obviously overshadowed by its proximity to Panama City. So should the Miraflores museum of the Canal, which offers a comprehensive and immersive tour of the Canal including a 3-D experience, four exhibition halls, an observation deck, and a surprisingly good restaurant not interest you then there is always the option of lovely Casco Viejo – literally the old quartier of Panama. The grand old colonial houses, cobbled streets, independent boutiques and buzzing street scene make this a must stop on your itinerary. And if you like seafood, you will not want miss the many restaurants and market stalls serving different variations of so-fresh-it’s-still-practically-swimming ceviche. Best eaten like the Panamanians do, with salty crackers and a cold beer on the beach. And if money is no object, a cup of geisha coffee – supposedly the world’s best and definitely the world’s most expensive at $7 a shot is definitely a pick me up! Cool cosmopolitan capital aside, Panama has a skyscraper filled skyline that is worthy of some of its North American counterparts. But if urban utopia is not your scene then fear not, the sandy beaches and lush rainforests are never more than a short cab ride away.

  • 10
    Panama City, Panama

    The following day, we visit Gatun Lake, a large artificial lake with a unique ecosystem that forms a major part of the Panama Canal, carrying ships for 33 km (20 miles) on their transit across the Isthmus of Panama. At the time it was created, Gatun Lake was the largest artificial lake in the world. The vegetation at Gatun Lake offers ideal habitats for a large number of bird species. The excursion starts with boat trip that heads north on the canal for 25 minutes where we may get close to some of the larger ships that transit the canal daily. Enjoy a leisurely cruise along the forested banks of Gatun Lake looking for wildlife such as capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, three-toed sloth, various kinds of toucans and other bird life. This is a place to observe the raw regenerative power of the forest as it struggles to claim what was once wild. Enjoy lunch at a resort located in the shores of the Gatun Lake. Afterwards, head to Casco Viejo, Panama’s historic old quarter. Inscribed on the list of World Heritage Sites in 1997, Casco Viejo is a compact treasure trove of 16th and 17th century colonial architecture. The oldest continuously occupied European city in the Americas on the Pacific coast, also known as Panama Viejo, was founded in 1519. The excursion includes visits to two exceptional sites as well as a guided walk around the historic quarter and the cobblestone streets for a leisurely look at many historic landmarks including: Plaza Herrera, San José Church, Plaza Francia, Plaza Bolívar with the San Francisco de Asis Church, Plaza Mayor (where the Metropolitan Cathedral is located). After the tour, you have the option of exploring Casco Viejo at your own pace or return to the ship. A shuttle service will be available to transfer you to the ship.

    Expect incredible morning views as you arrive into the port for Panama City. Tinged with a silver pre-dawn light, the city will metamorphosise into a golden glow as the sun rises above it. And from then on expect one stunning view after another. Very interesting in its own right, Fuerte Amador is obviously overshadowed by its proximity to Panama City. So should the Miraflores museum of the Canal, which offers a comprehensive and immersive tour of the Canal including a 3-D experience, four exhibition halls, an observation deck, and a surprisingly good restaurant not interest you then there is always the option of lovely Casco Viejo – literally the old quartier of Panama. The grand old colonial houses, cobbled streets, independent boutiques and buzzing street scene make this a must stop on your itinerary. And if you like seafood, you will not want miss the many restaurants and market stalls serving different variations of so-fresh-it’s-still-practically-swimming ceviche. Best eaten like the Panamanians do, with salty crackers and a cold beer on the beach. And if money is no object, a cup of geisha coffee – supposedly the world’s best and definitely the world’s most expensive at $7 a shot is definitely a pick me up! Cool cosmopolitan capital aside, Panama has a skyscraper filled skyline that is worthy of some of its North American counterparts. But if urban utopia is not your scene then fear not, the sandy beaches and lush rainforests are never more than a short cab ride away.

  • 11
    Panama Canal Transit

    Crossing the Panama Canal will surely be a highlight for many travellers. Each year, over a million people visit the canal to witness this engineering marvel at work. Starting in the Pacific Ocean, you will be able to admire the Bay of Panama and Panama City’s splendid skyline before passing under the ‘Bridge of the Americas’. The vessel will then transit through the first set of locks, the Miraflores Locks, where it will be lifted 16 metres (52 foot) in two distinct steps. Next, your ship will enter Miraflores Lake, which is a small artificial body of fresh water that separates Pedro Miguel Locks from Miraflores Locks. The vessel will transit through Pedro Miguel Locks, which is one of the two sets of locks on the Pacific side, and here the vessel is lifted 9 metres (29 foot) in one step. After exiting Pedro Miguel locks, your boat will travel through the Gaillard Cut, where the Chagres River flows into the canal. The Gaillard Cut (also known as Culebra Cut because its curves resemble a snake) is one of the main points of interest for visitors because it was carved through the Continental Divide and this section of the canal is full of history and geological value. As you transit the cut you will see dredging occurring to control the sediments entering the canal because of the terrain’s susceptibility to landslides. Sail through Gatun Lake, which was formed by erecting the Gatun Dam across the Chagres River, and during your transit through the lake, you will pass the Smithsonian Research Station at Barro Colorado. The last of the three locks is the Gatun Locks, the only set of locks in the Atlantic sector of the canal. At Gatun Locks, the vessel will be lowered a total of 26 (85 foot) metres in three distinct chambers. The complete crossing from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean takes approximately 10 hours, a journey that once took almost two weeks to complete, when vessels were forced to sail around the notoriously rough seas around Cape Horn at the bottom of South America to reach the Pacific coast.

  • 12
    At sea
  • 13
    Cartagena, Colombia

    Disembark in Cartagena de Indias, inscribed by UNESCO as a site of Outstanding Universal Heritage. The city’s rich history, diverse culture and energy captivates visitors with its vibrancy, Afro-Caribbean character, indigenous influences and some of the best-preserved colonial architecture in all of South America. Founded in 1533 by Pedro de Heredia, Cartagena was formerly one of the gateways to the Caribbean for the Spanish. It was here they would store the riches plundered from South America before they were transported back to the old world. It is not surprising, therefore, that the city drew the attention of buccaneers and pirates, who attempted on many occasions, to seize the city. Most notable was the attack by Francis Drake, who in 1586, "mercifully" agreed not to destroy the city in return for 10 million pesos. It was after the attack by Drake that plans were made to fortify the city and work on the defensive fort walls began. These walls still stand today and mark the boundary between the old and new parts of the city. The walls and fort, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, took a total of 200 years to build and complete, and the Spanish finished them just 25 years before Colombia gained Independence. After disembarkation, enjoy a guided introductory tour of Cartagena’s old town. Your local guide will tell stories of the myths and legends of Cartagena from ancient times right up to the present. From the Plaza San Pedro Claver with its stunning Church to the Plaza Bolivar with its shady areas, where you can watch the world go by. During the walk you will visit the Inquisition Palace, built in the 17th century and considered to be one of the most elegant and characteristic colonial constructions in its time. A short walk away and your final stop is a visit to San Pedro Claver Cloister, monastery and museum built in homage to San Pedro - the protector of slaves. The cloister where Pedro Claver lived and died has become a special place of silence, and reflection – a shrine to his life's work. Here, visitors will find examples of pre-Colombian ceramics and a museum filled with religious art. Adjoining the monastery is a baroque church designed by German and Dutch architects, where the remains of Saint Pedro Claver is enshrined. Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before transferring to our group hotel for an overnight stay. The remainder of the day is at leisure. (Breakfast and lunch included)

    Cartagena's magnificent city walls and fortresses, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, enclose a well-restored historic center (the Cuidad Amurallada, or walled city) with plazas, churches, museums, and shops that have made it a lively coastal vacation spot for South Americans and others. New hotels and restaurants make the walled city a desirable place to stay, and the formerly down-at-the-heels Getsemaní neighborhood attracts those seeking a bohemian buzz. The historic center is a small section of Cartagena; many hotels are in the Bocagrande district, an elongated peninsula where high-rise hotels overlook a long, gray-sand beach.When it was founded in 1533 by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Heredia, Cartagena was the only port on the South American mainland. Gold and silver looted from indigenous peoples passed through here en route to Spain and attracted pirates, including Sir Francis Drake, who in 1586 torched 200 buildings. Cartagena's walls protected the city's riches as well as the New World's most important African slave market.

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