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Blue water and lush rain forest in Panama

Exploring the Caribbean Coast

Example 8 Day Cruise aboard National Geographic Quest
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Discover an astonishing trove of natural and cultural treasures as you navigate the Caribbean coast of Panama and Colombia aboard the National Geographic Quest. Hike into dense rainforests that harbor extraordinary biodiversity, glide through little-explored inlets by Zodiac and kayak, and meet the indigenous inhabitants of a secluded Panamanian archipelago where age-old traditions remain part of everyday life. Experience the diverse heritage of stunning cities and remote towns off the beaten path, from the Arab-influenced architecture of Colombia’s Santa Cruz de Lorica to the bustling shores of Santa Cruz del Islote—the most densely populated island in the world.

Day-by-Day Summary

Day 1 : Panama City, Panama | Embark
Day 2 : Gatún Lake
Day 3 : Portobelo
Day 4 : Guna Yala
Day 5 : Necoclí, Colombia
Day 6 : Santa Cruz del Islote | San Bernardo Archipelago | San Antero | Tuchín
Day 7 : Santa Cruz de Lorica, Cispatá Bay
Day 8 : Cartagena, Colombia | Disembark

Highlights

  • Transit the Panama Canal, a modern marvel of engineering
  • Discover the coastal treasures and remote wilderness of Colombia
  • Visit the palm-shaded Panamanian archipelago of Guna Yala
  • Explore vibrant villages, pristine beaches, and wildlife-rich jungles

Ship

National Geographic Quest

Places Visited

Activities

Trip Type

  • Small Ship

Activity Level

Relaxed

Trip Snapshots

Panama City's Bridge of the Americas Gatun Lock of the Panama Canal Blue water and lush rain forest in Panama Clear blue water of the Caribbean San Pedro Claver Plaza, Cartagena The colorful streets of Cartagena

Day 1 Panama City, Panama | Embark

Upon arrival in Panama City, transfer to the port in Balboa and embark on your ship. 
 

Day 2 Gatún Lake

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
By special permission, our ship anchors overnight in Gatún Lake, a vast artificial lake that forms a major part of the Panama Canal. In the morning, disembark on Barro Colorado, a hilltop transformed into an island by the damming of the Chagres River to build the Panama Canal. Visit the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and learn about initiatives to protect the incredible biodiversity of the surrounding Barro Colorado Nature Monument, one of the most studied areas of tropical forest on the planet and the site of various National Geographic–supported studies. Later, choose to hike into the jungle, navigate the lake by Zodiac, or take a boat ride to the mouth of the Chagres River to explore the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center. Tonight, cruise onward through the complex lock system of the Panama Canal, taking advantage of the nighttime lull in cargo activity. Completed in 1914, the canal is about 50 miles long and sees some 14,000 ships pass through every year. Witness this astonishing feat of engineering under the dramatic golden glow of floodlights.

Day 3 Portobelo

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
This morning, we arrive along Panama’s Caribbean coast and step ashore at the historic town of Portobelo. Named by Cristopher Columbus in 1502, Portobelo, or “beautiful port,” was one of the most important Spanish trading centers in the New World. Explore the town’s 17th- and 18th-century Spanish colonial fortifications, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Later, hike into Portobelo’s lush jungles in search of mantled howler monkeys, toucans, and a variety of parrots. In the afternoon, our ship sails further down the Panamanian coast, where we’ll set out with snorkel and fins to explore the vibrant undersea world of the Caribbean.

Day 4 Guna Yala

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Wake up amid the archipelago of Guna Yala (also known as the San Blas islands), a constellation of 368 tiny, white-sand isles scattered off the northeast coast of Panama. Get to know the indigenous Guna people, one of the first native groups to achieve political autonomy in Latin America. Spend the morning among the thatched huts of an island village, learning about Guna culture and handicrafts. Marvel at the intricate designs of handmade textiles called molas, which harken back to a female tradition of body painting. In the afternoon, explore the vibrant marine world around the islands by snorkel, kayak, and stand-up paddleboard.

Day 5 Necoclí, Colombia

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Discover the little-explored coastal community of Necoclí and the surrounding region. Our exploration begins with Zodiac excursions into lagoons fringed by mangroves, part of a protected coastal wetlands area. Keep an eye out for wildlife, including a variety of colorful bird species such as great and snowy egrets, and Amazon and green kingfishers. After lunch, visit a local cocoa farm, where residents are striving to incorporate the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals into their agricultural community. 

Day 6 Santa Cruz del Islote | San Bernardo Archipelago | San Antero | Tuchín

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Santa Cruz del Islote is one of the most densely populated islands on Earth, where some 600 inhabitants live squeezed together in an area the size of two soccer fields, surrounded by turquoise seas and coral reefs. Stroll the island’s motor-free streets, past brightly painted houses and bustling docks; and experience daily life on this unusual island as you chat with local residents. Later, as we enjoy lunch on-board, we cruise through the San Bernardo archipelago calling at San Antero.  Our afternoon excursion takes us to Tuchín, an indigenous village celebrated as the birthplace of the sombrero vueltiao, a type of hat considered a national symbol of Colombia. Observe vueltiao makers at work, and then meet with members of the local Zenú community, known for their ingenious irrigation systems.  Return to National Geographic Quest which will stay at anchor tonight in San Antero. 

Day 7 Santa Cruz de Lorica, Cispatá Bay

  • Ship
  • 1 Breakfast, 1 Lunch, 1 Dinner
Disembark this morning for our short drive to Santa Cruz de Lorica, a charming riverside town influenced by several waves of immigration from France, Belgium, England, Syria, and Lebanon. Stroll through the central square, overlooked by a stunning Spanish-colonial cathedral and historic buildings in colorful Arabic styles.  Return to the ship for lunch and time to relax before embarking on a late afternoon cruise in the rarely-explored Cispatá Bay, timed for optimum wildlife spotting, as native creatures emerge from their mid-day rest. 

Day 8 Cartagena, Colombia | Disembark

  • 1 Breakfast
After breakfast on board, disembark in Cartagena and transfer to the airport to connect with your flight home.

National Geographic Quest

Deals

Complimentary Flight Credit
Panama Savings - Book by July 31, 2020 and receive complimentary $450 air credit. Select departures only. Valid for new bookings after February 5, 2020. Contact us for details.
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Per person starting at
$5,990
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Category 1
Cabins feature two lower single beds that can convert to a Queen, a writing desk, and two portholes. Individual climate controls. Shampoo, lotion, and hair dryer are available in cabin bathrooms, as well as an Expedition Essential Kit.
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Category 2
Cabins feature two lower single beds that can convert to a Queen, a writing desk, and two portholes. Individual climate controls. Shampoo, lotion, and hair dryer are available in cabin bathrooms, as well as an Expedition Essential Kit.
National Geographic Quest Cabin
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Category 3
Cabins feature two lower single beds that can convert to a Queen, a writing desk, and a large view window. Individual climate controls. Shampoo, lotion, and hair dryer are available in cabin bathrooms, as well as an Expedition Essential Kit.
Select a Date
Category 4
Cabins feature two lower single beds that can convert to a Queen, a writing desk, sliding glass door, and small, private balcony. Individual climate controls. Shampoo, lotion, and hair dryer are all available in cabin bathrooms, as well as an Expedition Essential Kit.
National Geographic Quest Cabin
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Category 5
Cabins feature two lower single beds that can convert to a Queen, large view windows, an expanded bathroom, writing desk, ample storage space, and a convertible sofa bed to accommodate a third person. Each cabin has individual climate controls. Shampoo, lotion, and hair dryer are all available, as well as an Expedition Essential Kit.

Notes

Single supplement varies by itinerary. A solo traveler matching program may be available, but is subject to availability. 
 

INCLUDED
Aboard ship
  • All meals and non-alcoholic beverages*
  • Cappuccinos, lattes & filtered water
  • 24-hour coffee, tea & soda on demand 
  • Hors d’oeuvres & snacks during Recap
  • Fitness center or exercise equipment, depending on the ship
  • Fully stocked library, and other gracious public spaces
  • The guidance and company of our expedition staff
  • The services of a physician on certain ships/destinations
Ashore
  • Meals on land, as indicated in the itinerary
  • Sightseeing & entrance fees
  • Special access permits, park fees, port taxes
  • Transfers to and from group flights
  • The expertise of our expedition staff
Activities
  • All excursions
  • Zodiac & kayak explorations
  • Snorkeling, including wetsuits, masks, fins & snorkel where relevant
  • Presentations and guest speakers in the lounge
EXCLUDED
Airfare
  • International and internal airfare
Pre- and post-expedition
  • Additional hotel nights
  • Private transfers
  • Travel Protection Plan
  • Passport, visa, and immigration fees
  • Expedition extensions
  • Gratuities
Aboard ship
  • Alcoholic beverages 
  • Spa treatments
  • Gratuities 
  • Laundry
  • Gift shop items and any other items of personal nature
Payment & Cancellation Policies
Travel Agents
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The trip might have been the absolute best of our lifetime (thus far). We particularly want to commend our guide Peter in the Guilin area-he was so incredibly attentive, energetic, enthusiastic-and absolutely dedicated to ensuring that our meals were 100% vegetarian.
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