10 of the best things to do in Panama

By Maelle Denoule

For the past 10 years, tourism in Panama has grown considerably, attracting more and more visitors around the world for its canal, but also for its marvelous environment. Located in Central America between Costa Rica and Colombia, and bordered on the north by the Caribbean Sea and on the south by the Pacific Ocean, the isthmus is a land bridge for an important number of mammals and bird’s species.

Nevertheless, the number of travelers to Panama is still relatively small compared with Costa Rica. But contrary to his neighbor, Panama still have plenty of treasures under-explored to discover. In fact, due to its unique geographical position, Panama provides paradisiac places, a variety of landscapes and an incredible biodiversity which offer travelers, an access to incredible adventures and sustainable experiences.

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Home of an amazing ecosystem, Panama gives you the opportunity to discover a rich culture and unique nature.   Our 10 best things to do in Panama:

Encounters with an indigenous community

With 7 indigenous communities around the country, Panama offers you the unique opportunity to share a cultural experience.  Their traditional lifestyle and their close relationship with nature will impact your life forever.

This authentic experience that everyone should live once in Panama, contributes at the same time to the conservation of these communities and their culture.

Embera

See the pygmy three-toed sloth in Escudo Island 

Another reason why Panama should be your next destination is to see the pygmy three-toed sloth, also known as the monk sloth or dwarf sloth. This sloth can only be found in only one place in the world: National park Escudo Island, a small island off the coast of Panama, situated in the province of Veraguas.

With no official permanent residents on the island, you can have the incredible chance to see lots of them, but it remains very important to not feed them. Indeed, wild animals who depend on people for food can cause injuries or spread disease, but also increase the chances of fighting and injury among animals.

Snorkel or scuba dive in Gulf of Chiriqui

Humpback whales, sea turtles, dolphins, manta rays, orcas, whale sharks, tiger sharks, and many more marine mammals and animals can be seen while swimming there. With around 760 species of fish, the Gulf of Chiriqui is becoming one of the favorite places for scuba divers and snorkelers in Panama.

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White Tips sharks

Panama Canal Transit

Impossible to miss one of the world’s greatest human-made marvels, the Panama Canal. To learn about this fantastic engineering, nothing better than experience a transit. During the transit aboard the Pacific Queen, enjoy the splendorous Bay of Panama and pass by the Miraflores Locks where you can watch the locks operate. Discover at the same time its history while following the most enormous cargos and cruise ships of the world!

Panama Canal Transit
Panama Canal

Volcan Baru’s summit

Located in the highlands of Chiriquí, the impressive Baru Volcano’s worth the detour. Down from its 3 474 meters, this dormant volcano is the highest mountain of Panama and one of the only places in the world from where you can see at the same time, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Apart from the breath-taking panoramic views at the top of the volcano, this one is also surrounded by lush jungle, offering the chance, during your summit, to see different birds of Central America, and if you’re lucky, the resplendent quetzal. Adrenaline guaranteed for this extremely challenging trail.

Visit a coffee plantation in Boquete

Did you know the country is world famous for the Geisha Coffee? Actually, one of the rarest and most expensive coffees in the world comes from Panama. So, if you love coffee, Boquete must be one of the stops of your itinerary. Thanks to the volcanic ash situated in the soil of the region, local farms have found the best place for the coffee to grow up and make it so special. Visit one of the coffee plantations and learn about its process. There, you will maybe have the privilege to taste one of the most exquisite coffee in the world!

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Surf in the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean

Although, if the Caribbean Sea or Pacific Coast is famed for its relaxing long white sand beaches with palm trees, it’s also the best place to surf and have fun with the waves. Unlike Costa Rica, Panama is still virgin and only a few people know about Panama’s surfing potential. El Palmar, Santa Catalina, Playa Vaneo, and many other beaches can provide you the best surfing spots of Central America. Surfers? You will love it!

Try on traditional Panamanian clothing: the Pollera

Panama is also the land of a rich culture. To not lose a crumb of Panama, we invite you to discover in Pedasi, the traditional Panamanian clothing: the Pollera. National dress of Panama worn by women for festivals or celebrations is also one of the most admired national costumes of the Americas. Handmade and very colorful, this traditional dress with Spanish colonial influences is the pride of all Panamanians. Men are well, have their own traditional costume they wear during festivities. Why not try it on to make you feel, for a moment, like a real Panamanian?!

Panamanian Pollera
a girl with Pollera in Pedasi, Azuero Peninsula, Panama

Whale watching while migration season

Have you always dreamt to see whales? It is possible in Panama! In fact, humpback whales come to Panama every year, between July and October, to migrate and give birth, making the isthmus, one of the few places in the planet where you can see these majestic mammals. Many species of whales and dolphins can be found in Panama’s water during that period of the year, especially in the archipelago of the Pearl Islands, on the Pacific Coast.

whale watching

Taste 5 typical dishes of Panama

Even if Panama is not known internationally for its cuisine, the food is however very tasty and diverse. Made with local and fresh ingredients, Panamanian cuisine is a mix of traditional cooking methods from diverse regions of Panama. Consequently, it’s very common to find dishes made from coconut, seafood, root vegetables, and tropical fruits along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, but also root vegetables, starchy fruits, livestock, chicken, beans and rice, eaten everywhere in the country. Enough ingredients to make a variety of delicious typical Panamanian dishes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Panama Canal Transits schedule

transits
Please note that Canal Transits both partial and full are regulated by the Panamanian Canal Authority. They are in charge of the Panama Canal and all of its functions. Also the direction (southbound or northbound) can change and they decide the transit times. We have no control over this.  Transit times are determined one day in advance and can change.  It is important that clients remain flexible, if you have clients that are not flexible and not patient, this may not be the tour for them.
 
Duration of the Transits also very, this depends on the traffic in the Canal. Once clients are on the boat they cannot get off. The includes a bilingual guide/narrator not a private guide.
 
After the Transits end, clients will return to the pier by motor coach with the rest of people who are on the Transit.  If you would like for your clients to have a private transfer back to the pier, this will have an extra cost and should be pre-arranged.
For more information please contact us info@ecocircuitos.com or click the  description of the transit here.
For full description on Partial Canal Transit, please click here.
Partial Northbound Transit.
Check in starts at 7:00 am and the tour departs at 7:30 am
Partial and Full Northbound Transit.
Check in starts at 7:00 am and the tour departs at 7:30 am
Partial Southbound Transit
Check in time will be confirmed on the day before of the tour.
Full Northbound Transit.
Check in starts at 7:00 am and the tour departs at 7:30 am
The duration of the tour is subject to the Panama Canal Schedule.
2018 – 2019 Transit Schedule with Pacific Queen
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Celebrating the 100 years of the Panama Canal

By Marc Vedder

If I had to describe the wonder of mankind in one word it would be “unbelievable”.

Almost finishing the high season, I had the chance to take part in the Panama Canal Transit. I was really excited to see the Canal, because I have heard so much about it but I have never seen it before. After the trip I really wonder why the Panama Canal is not listed up in the modern wonders of the world!

The Panama Canal is a ship canal and connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. In total the canal is 77, 1 km long and was official opened in August 1914. Actual maintenance extends the canal to carry larger and much bigger ships.

Amber and I started our trip at Causeway Marina and drove with a bus to Gamboa where a ship waited for us. Thus the unforgettable trip began. Surrounded by curious elderly travelers from all over the world we found us in the position of the young chickens. Nevertheless it was a nice and relaxing atmosphere. The boat drove very slowly and calm through the canal, so we could totally indulge in the environment and atmosphere the canal creates. It is just amazing to pass huge ships which are 500 times bigger than you.

We were so lucky at that day because of the perfect sunny weather, which created the perfect condition for the canal transit and a sun bath on top of it. The fabulous guides were very informative. I would call it “informative entertaining”. They knew all the details about the canal and explained to us in Spanish, English, French and even in German. On top of it they were very authentic and entertaining at the same time, which generated a perfect trip for us. With much gratitude to the guides I gained a lot of new information about the canal and its history. I have learned for example that the docks in the canal just work with physics with regard to the water level and letting ships trough the docks. Furthermore before the trip I had no idea about the amount of money a company pays for a canal transit. Due to the guides I have learned that companies have to pay around $500.000!

Whilst passing through the docks, I tried to imagine how the people have built this canal but I could not. I was so impressed and astonished. Therefore I continued listen to the great guides, absorbed as many information as I could and enjoyed my lunch provided by the crew. Moreover it so striking being part of a boat that raised and lowered with the water level in the docks.

After a fantastic 5 hour trip we arrived at Causeway Marina and departed home.  I do not want to forestall too much, you have to experience it.

I can highly recommend the Panama Canal Transit Tour. It is informative, entertaining, marvelous and will stay in your memory forever.

For more information about the Canal Tour please do not hesitate to contact us directly www.ecocircuitos.com! We are more than happy to organize a trip and experience something unforgettable.

Come and discover Panama and experience an unforgettable adventure in 2014 only. The Panama Canal celebrates its 100th anniversary and we invite you to join this amazing event with a program that takes you to the most important and influential areas related to this man-made wonder.  For our Panama Canal Centennial adventure, click here.

The Journey between the Seas: Panama Exploration Cruise

Discover some of Panama’s greatest wonders on this unique marine adventure. The journey on the Discovery will take you from cosmopolitan Panama City to the remote jungles of the Darien, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. During seven days you will get to experience the true spirit of our amazing country, the secrets of the tropics, the rich and different forms of life these coasts harbor.

The Journey on the Discovery is the perfect way to explore this diversity: Passenger numbers are limited to just 24, ensuring everyone can enjoy serenity and privacy together with the excitement and closeness of a true exploration cruise.

The purpose-built catamaran is comfortably appointed with fully equipped cabins, an all-glass restaurant and lounge, as well as a barbecue and sun deck on the topmost observation area.

To get even closer up to this amazing country and its natural wonders, the Discovery carries a number of Kayaks, and is equipped with a special platform for easy boarding of those.

Suggested Itinerary

Day 1 – Arrival to Panama – Today at the appropriate time an EcoCircuitos representative will meet you at the Tocumen International Airport to assist and transfer you to your hotel located in Panama City. At this time you will also receive an EcoCircuitos information kit that will provide you with all the details for your stay in Panama. Once you arrive to your hotel, please check-in. MARRIOTT EXECUTIVE. Welcome dinner at the hotel. Other hotel options includes American Trade Hotel in Casco Viejo for a supplement.

Day 2 – Panama City – Flamenco Marina – Pick up around 2:00 p.m. at the hotel for transfer to Flamenco marina where you embark the boat. Sail the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean towards Contadora, where the M/V Discovery will stay the first night before navigating to the Darien Jungle. Take this opportunity to meet your expedition leaders, the crew and your fellow travelers while you savor our tempting native cuisine. (D)

Day 3-  Darien Jungle – Step aboard a time machine and travel back more than 600 years to a place that not many have had the privilege of experiencing. More than an excursion, this is a journey into the lives of the Embera Indians. A proud people who have been able to maintain their traditions and lifestyle as they were before the Spaniards colonized the region. These natives are also master crafters of cocobolo wood carvings and basketry. After motoring up river you will see the village emerging from the jungle, as if by magic. Keep your eyes open along the way as the region offers abundant wildlife that is particularly active along the river’s edge. (B,L,D)

Day 4 – Pearl Islands – San Telmo & Mogo Mogo – Snorkel and swim in the waters of the Pearl Islands. The archipelago owes its name to the abundance of pearl oysters which supported a substantial fishery in the early 1900’s. On the outer portion of the archipelago, the islands of San Telmo and Mogo Mogo are home to some pristine beaches and fertile fishing grounds. View the remains of the submarine Explorer built in 1865 during the Civil War and which sunk off the coast of San Telmo during the oyster fishery of the late 1800´s. (B,L,D)

Day 5 – Panama Canal Transit – Gatun Lake – Wake up at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal and join the morning’s ship convoy for our northbound canal passage traversing Miraflores Locks and Pedro Miguel Locks. The Discovery will be raised 85 feet above sea level to Gatun Lake. You will have a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience up close the history and operation of this engineering marvel. Navigate the Gaillard Cut, the narrowest section of the Panama Canal, bisecting the Continental Divide. This section of the canal is full of history and geological value and you will be able to appreciate the continuous maintenance that this area requires, because it is very susceptible to landslides. Spend the night in Gatun Lake on Panama Canal waters. (B,L,D)

Day 6 – Panama Canal – Barro Colorado – Prior to the construction of the Panama Canal, the vast jungle area that is now the Gatun Lake was teeming with an overwhelming abundance of wildlife. As the region was flooded to create the lake, animals took refuge in the mountain peaks, which are now the many islands that dot the renowned lake. Explore Barro Colorado Island where the Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Center is located. Your expedition leader will take you on board small crafts past lush rainforests 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 could see in  their native surroundings. The sights, sounds and scents that make up this beautiful, tropical jungle will engulf you. Cameras are a must as this is considered the world’s premier location 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. (B,L,D)

Day 7 – Chagres River – Fort San Lorenzo – Experience the magnificent Chagres River which was used by the conquistadors to move their gold across the Isthmus of Panama en-route from Peru to Spain and by the gold prospectors who attempted a “short cut” from the US East coast to the gold fields of California. The river was the center piece of the colonial inter-oceanic route and is now the lifeline of the Panama Canal full of wildlife and tropical jungle. Explore Fort San Lorenzo which is located on a cliff at the mouth of the Chagres on the Atlantic side where your leader will offer details of the immense amount of history found on this area. The fort was built by the Spaniards in the 16th century to defend their well known gold trail. Later that evening, the Discovery will reposition to Colon, where it will spend the night before disembarking the next day. (B,L,D)

 Day 8 – Portobelo – Caribbean – Wake up to a farewell breakfast before you disembark the Discovery. Travel by motor coach to Portobelo and enjoy this town located on Caribbean waters which was founded by Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage to the new continent in 1597. This quaint town is rich in history as it was the site of many sea and land battles between the Spanish colonials and the pirates and corsairs raiding 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 Panama Canal Railway train back to Panama City. This one hour railroad trip will allow you to traverse the picturesque trans-isthmian route from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. The line flanks the Panama Canal passing through lush rainforests, cruising alongside the Canal’s locks, through the historic Gaillard Cut and gliding over slender causeways in Gatun Lake. Arrive to Panama City with the train around 6:15 p.m. and be transferred to your hotel in the City. (B,L)

Day 9 – Depart Panama – At the appropriate time you will be transferred to the Tocumen International Airport for your outbound flight. They will arrive to the airport approximately 3 hours before their departure time. End of services. (B)

 **NOTE: THE SOUTHBOUND JOURNEY FOLLOWS THE SAME EXPLORATION ROUTE IN REVERSE

Contact us for complete itinerary, schedule and prices at info@ecocircuitos.com

 

Panama with Canal Transit January 17-21 and March 6-10, 2013

Join one of our small group tours on January 17-21 and March 6-10, 2013 that we are doing in partnership with a U.S. Tour Operator in Charlotte, NC.  The tour includes a full range of activities to take you through five centuries of Panamanian history as an international trade crossroad.  View details at:

Unforgetable Transit the Panama Canal

By Etienne Kaya – French intern

I would like to say thanks to EcoCircuitos Panama and Panama Marine Adventures for this great experience adventure!   My tour started in the morning at the Flamenco Resort and Marina.  Passengers board motor coaches for a 45 minute ride to the town of Gamboa, a scenic road in the watershed and close to Soberania National Park. Once in Gamboa, we board the Pacific Queen Yacht boat to start the adventure. During the transit it is possible to see the continuous maintenance that this area requires, because it is very susceptible to landslides. In this area I also observe the work in process for the Panama Canal expansion project. Before to enter Pedro Miguel Locks I see the new Centennial Bridge wich is beautiful engineering piece. Then I enter Miraflores Lake, which is a small artificial body of fresh water that separates Pedro Miguel from Miraflores Locks. At Miraflores Locks the vessel is lowered 18 meters in two distinct steps. Once in the Pacific Ocean the vessel sail to the beautiful Flamenco Marina where passengers disembark. On the way to Flamenco, we pass under the Bridge of the Americas, and later, at the moment it is possible to admire the Bay of Panama and Panama City’s splendorous skyline. Staff was extremely professional and knowledgeable. The guide was so well-informed about the details of the Canal. For example the most expensive regular toll for canal passage to date was charged on May 16, 2008 to the Disney Magic, which paid US $331,200. The least expensive toll was 36 cents to American adventurer Richard Halliburton, who swam the canal in 1928.  What a fantastic and memorable tour!