Arrive to Tocumen International Airport in Panama City. After clearing Immigration and Customs you will be met by a representative outside Customs. A private transfer to your hotel has been arranged. If you arrive early today you will have time to explore downtown Panama City and have dinner (on own). Overnight tonight at the Marriott-Panama Hotel.
Breakfast and introduction briefing will take place at the hotel this morning. Meet your expedition leader and other trip participants. Soon after, you will be heading to El Corotu on the shores of Madden Lake. The main reservoir of drinking water for the cities of Panama and Colon, Madden Lake also supplies 40% of the water required for the operation of the Panama Canal. Here, you will board a motorized piragua (dugout canoe) and journey up the Chagres River. The dugout canoe ride will take you through the rainforest of the 320,000-acre Chagres National Park, which is the largest of the national parks protecting the Panama Canal Watershed. Along the Chagres River, you may be able to spot Little Blue and Green Heron, Great Egret, Anhingas, Neotropical Cormorant, Amazon, Ringed, and Green Kingfishers, along with Keel-billed Toucans and Ospreys flying above. Howler monkeys and American crocodiles may be spotted.
Arrive at an Embera indigenous village where you will be greeted with lively music by the elder and children. Here you will learn about their customs and their intrinsic relationship with nature. The Embera have always lived in communion with nature and the surrounding environment attest to this remark. You will be invited to the main tambo (their communal house) to have lunch prepared with fresh fish, plantain and fruit. You will learn about the Embera customs, their social structure and will enjoy their traditional music and dance.
The Embera produce a variety of spectacular handicrafts. You will learn their secret on how they dye the vegetable fibers used for making baskets and about the hardwoods and nuts they use for carving animal figures representative of the wildlife they cohabit with in the surrounding rainforest.
Tonight dinner will be at a local restaurant. Overnight tonight at the Marriott-Panama Hotel. (B,L,D)
Early this morning you will take a short drive to Soberania National Park, in the Panama Canal Watershed, where world famous Pipeline Road is located. The Audubon Society held world Christmas bird count records for 19 years straight here, with 357 species of birds identified in a period of 24 hours. Your first stop will be at the Rainforest Discovery Center where you enjoy spectacular views of Soberania's vastness and canopy bird species from the 100 feet observation tower. Standing above the canopy, you will witness the morning flight of Keel-billed Toucans, Red-lored Amazons, the silent and stealthy movement of Mantled Howler Monkeys and the vivacious Red-naped Tamarins. You continue to explore the network of trails surrounding the Discovery Center and enjoy the hummingbird feeders that provide up close and personal views of 10 species of hummingbirds!
During World War II a pipeline was built along the Panama Canal to transport fuel from one ocean to the other in the event the waterway was attacked. Fortunately, it was never used. The now abandoned gravel road built to maintain the pipeline provides excellent walking access to Soberania's 55,000 acres of tropical rainforest. We will spend the better part of the morning birding and looking for wildlife in general along Pipeline Road. Soberania National Park boasts an impressive list of 525 species of birds including the Black Hawk-eagle, Black-cheeked woodpecker, Black-breasted Puffbird, Broad-billed Motmot, Blue Cotinga, Purple-throated Fruitcrow, Masked Tytira, Violaceous Trogon, Fasciated Antshrike, Shining honeycreeper, and a great array of North American migrants. Soberania is also home to 105 species of mammals including large felines, Tamandua, Two and Three-toed Sloth, 4 species of monkeys, Agouti, some of which are listed under CITES (endangered species) and 59 endemic plant species in 4 life zones.
After a rainforest picnic lunch there will be more opportunities to further explore the healthy and productive habitats of the Panama Canal Watershed. Early in the afternoon you will drive to the nearby Panama Canal visitors’ center at Miraflores Locks for an introduction to the engineering, the history and the current expansion works taking place along the waterway.
Tonight dinner will be embellished by a live Panamanian folkloric presentation. (B,L,D)
Panama City was established by the Spanish Crown in 1519 at it was the first European settlement on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. This morning explore the ruins of Old Panama City and learn about the land routes used to cross from Portobelo on the Caribbean Sea to Panama City on the Pacific Ocean before the railroad and the canal were built. You will continue to Casco Viejo where the city was re-located in 1671 after Sir Henry Morgan’s final raid to the old city which rendered useless. Casco Viejo is a walled city designed to be protected against the pirates and looters of the time and it contains landmarks such as the National Cathedral, the National Museum and the Presidential Palace. Casco Viejo’s architecture reflects Spanish, French and American (US) influence representing their presence in the city.
After lunch, board the Discovery and sail the warm tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean towards Taboga Island where the vessel will stay overnight. Located just 12 nautical miles from Panama City, Taboga is a small beautiful island with a rich and colorful history. Also known as the Island of Flowers, it was first discovered by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, the famous 16th century Spanish explorer and conquistador credited for leading an expedition through Panama in 1513 and becoming the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean. The small town church is said to be the second oldest church in the hemisphere and there is evidence suggesting that the first Catholic saint of the Americas, Rosa de Lima, may have been born in the island. French painter Paul Gauguin lived for some time on the island in 1887.
After arrival disembark using Discovery´s tenders and do a hiking tour through a trail that will take you to the highest point on the island called Cerro la Cruz. This hill is located at the south end of the island and there is a huge cross on top. From that point you will be able to appreciate beautiful views of the entire island, the Bay of Panama and the entrance to the Panama Canal. There will be time before dinner to do some kayaking around El Morro Island which is joined by a sand bar to Taboga at low tide. Enjoy cocktails with the sunset at one of Discovery´s open decks. (B,L,D)
Wake up at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal and join the morning’s ship convoy for your 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 as you transit right next to big container ships and tug boats. Navigate the Gaillard Cut (Culebra 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. You will also have a once in a lifetime opportunity to visualize most of the work that is taking place for the canal expansion. As your ship navigates, you will be able to appreciate the enormous and powerful heavy equipment working day and night to complete de dry excavation phase of the project.
Drop anchor at Gatun Lake which is a man-made lake built during the canal construction by damming the Chagres River to provide fresh water for its operations, and overnight inside Panama Canal waters. 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. Your expedition leaders 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.
There will be time again to do some kayaking around the area before dinner or for delicious and relaxing cocktails with the sunset. (B,L,D)
Disembark the Discovery after breakfast to take a one and a half hour special tour of the Panama Canal Expansion Project. The expansion project is a huge financial undertaking for the Republic of Panama and it is the largest infrastructure initiative in Latin America. The expansion project will build a new traffic lane along the Panama Canal doubling its capacity and allowing longer and wider vessels to transit. The project will accomplish this goal with the construction of two new sets of locks, one on the Pacific and one on the Atlantic side of the canal, and it also entails the widening and deepening of the existing channel in Gatun Lake and Culebra Cut and the construction of a new 6 kilometers channel to connect the new locks on the Pacific side with the Culebra Cut. Visit the construction area on the Atlantic side and learn firsthand about the project´s scope and implications for world commerce. Also stop at the Gatun Locks visitor´s center to observe from a distance the transiting vessels going through the largest set of locks.
Return to Discovery for lunch and to prepare to return to sea level as you continue your two and a half hour daylight transit through Gatun Locks on your way to the Caribbean.
Once you exit the canal you will sail to Shelter Bay Marina located at the Caribbean entrance to the canal. This small marina is surrounded by coastal rainforest and is the perfect place for a guided walk before sunset. Wild life abounds on this area including various species of monkeys, sloths, iguanas and a variety of birds. Be on the lookout for wildlife and interesting tropical flora along the way. (B,L,D)
Wake up to breakfast before you disembark the Discovery. Travel by motor coach to 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. You will also 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. After this visit, travel again 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. On arrival to Panama City you will be transferred to the hotel. Enjoy a farewell dinner tonight before your overnight at the Marriott Panama Hotel. (B,L,D)
Today you will be transferred to Tocumen International Airport 2½ hours prior to your scheduled flight departure time. (B)