Spotlight on Panama

While Panama is known mostly for its famous canal, the country's natural attractions offer an irresistible lure to travelers. This country offers some of the finest birding, snorkeling and deep-sea fishing in the Americas. It is a proud nation that offers astounding wildlife adventures, that respects its seven indigenous peoples and that celebrates its Spanish heritage with frequent colorful festivals. Rafters can ride 20 sets of rapids in a single day, wildlife abounds in scarcely-visited national parks, and a person can snorkel in the Caribbean Sea and swim in the Pacific Ocean on the same day!

Panama Canal - Linking the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Panama Canal provides one of cruising's most unforgettable experiences. Over 10 years were needed to complete the canal's 51 miles in 1914 - so avoiding the lengthy and often dangerous voyage around Cape Horn. 'The Big Ditch' lifts vessels by a fascinating feat of mechanics aided by on-shore 'mule' locomotives through three great locks, traversing man-made lakes, channels blasted through rock, and the dense jungle. Two other special highlights of the canal are Gatun Lake and the Gaillard Cut. Gatun Lake is one of the world's largest man-made lakes covering 163 square miles. Gaillard Cut is an 8 mile channel built through solid rock which was the most difficult excavation in the canal construction.

Colon – There’s more to Panama than the canal. Panama’s ethnic mix is reflected in its arts. This is a proud nation that honors its many Indian tribes and its rich Spanish legacy. And with some of the finest deep-sea fishing, snorkeling and birding, once you embrace Panama, you’ll find it hard to leave. Colon is an important Caribbean port, being found at the northern end of the Panama Canal on the country's central, north coast. Cruises to Panama often feature a stop at Colon, where a nice, modern port awaits, and if you like shopping, the city is known as having one of the largest duty-free zones in Western Hemisphere.

San Blas Islands (Archipelago) is a chain of 365 islands off the Caribbean coast east of Colon. The islands are home to the Cuna, the most sophisticated, independent and politically organized of Panama's three main indigenous groups. The Cunas have their own language and economic system and the women wear traditional dress decorated with molas, intricately stitched appliquéd textiles which attract buyers from all over the world. Several airlines (Ansa, Aerotaxi and Transpasa) make the 30-minute flight from Paitilla airport in Panama City to El Porvenir, the principal airport for the islands. It's cheaper to take a merchant ship from Colon but they leave at midnight and the trip takes about eight hours. 

Panama City - The sights of Panama City are many, but much of it can be seen on foot. The Plaza de Francia is dedicated to the 22,000 workers who perished while building the Panama Canal. The ruins of the Church of Santo Domingo feature an arch that has stood unsupported for hundreds of years. The golden altar of the Church of San Jose is the only original piece of architecture completely intact after the Pirate Henry Morgan destroyed the city. There are many museums to explore in Panama City including: the newly restored Museum of Religious Art; the Museum of the History of Panama; the Anthropology Museum; and the Museum of Natural Science. At Panama Viejo, view all the remains of the city’s original site.  

Gatun Lake - This small family recreational area is used by residents of the Atlantic community and employees of the Panama Canal Commission. While ashore experience folk dances and entertainment, marvel at excellent handicrafts or just relax. Nature walks are available from the club every hour and last from 30 to 40 minutes. The small lagoon is reputed to be home to an alligator. A local expert who will point out the flora and fauna of the area will accompany you. Gatun Lake abounds with fresh water peacock bass - avid fisherman may wish to join the fishing excursion. Go on wildlife watching expedition by boat and sail along the shore in search of the area's myriad species of birds, caiman, howler monkeys, and sloths. Visit Mono Island with its three capuchin monkeys. Another outstanding opportunity is to see Gatun Locks and the ships passing through. Visit Fort San Lorenzo, the Chagres River and surrounding rain forest. 

Barro Colorado Island -  Barro Colorado, the largest forested island in the Panama Canal waterway, is part of the Barro Colorado Nature Monument and is the site of an internationally recognized biological research station. Only a limited number of visitors may visit the island with a guide making this a very unique experience for any traveler. As you tour the island through thick jungle, you may see white-faced and tamarin monkeys, anteaters, tropical birds, exotic plants and flowers, and you will occasionally encounter scientists from around the world doing their research.


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