Geographic Expeditions - vacations and travel


Panama, Central America

from $4,275* per person 9 Days Year-round
Boutique accommodations Exertion level: 4
Operator: Geographic Expeditions 18 people max
  • Airport near panama city, panama
  • Active & Adventure trips
Panama is one of those places we tend to think we have a handle on and so overlook when it comes time to make the next travel plan. Oh, there’s the Canal, and some nice Central American jazziness, and maybe we have a mental image of a nice jungle here and there, but somehow we think we’ve been there without ever having gone there. A common error, but, in Panama’s case, an unfortunate one.

First, if not foremost, there’s the Canal. “The greatest liberty Man has ever taken with nature,” James Bryce called it. And a magnificent, complex, deeply fascinating thing it is, enough to awaken a certain pride in being human. Our nine-day trip takes in the Canal, of course, and a fine mix of rain forests, jazzy urbanity, and beachside beauty. We’ll slip into an Embera Indian village via cayuco, or dugout canoe; visit the village of El Valle, nestled in the crater of a nonoperative volacano; experience a rain-forest canopy outing; and delight in the idyllic, under-the-touristic- radar islands of Bocas del Toro, an echt Caribbean experience. Our accommodations are tops—Panama City’s Bristol is Central America’s only member of Leading Small Hotels of the World—and our delight in unveiling this little, overlooked masterpiece is great.

Locations visited/nearby

Panama, Central America

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Special information

  • This is a custom departure, meaning this trip is offered on dates that you arrange privately with the provider. Additionally, you need to form your own private group for this trip. The itinerary and price here is just a sample. Contact the provider for detailed pricing, minimum group size, and scheduling information. For most providers, the larger the group you are traveling with, the lower the per-person cost will be.


Day 1

USA TO PANAMA Upon arrival at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, you will be met at
for a private transfer to downtown Panama City. A short 20-minute transfer takes you to the Bristol Hotel,
Panama City’s most luxurious hotel and the only property in Central America that is part of The Leading
Small Hotels of the World, the legendary hotel chain world renowned for uncompromising quality and
exemplary personal service. Located in the heart of Panama City, The Bristol is conveniently situated
near the shopping district and many fine restaurants, but in a quiet and relaxed setting.

Day 2

EL VALLE DE ANTON After a one and a half hour scenic drive from Panama City, you’ll arrive in El
Valle, a picturesque town nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano. Sparkling streams and jagged
mountain peaks surround this tranquil community. The highlight of today is a visit to the artisans and
handcrafts market held here each Sunday. Native craftsmen from all over Panama converge on El Valle
to showcase their talents. Brilliantly colored molas (an intricate, multilayered appliqué sewn by the Kuna
women of the San Blas Islands), Embera Indian baskets, painted hardwood serving trays and many other
handcrafted items are found in this open-air market. El Valle is also a great place for walking and you’ll
be rewarded with glimpses of many different species of birds amid a spectacular forest setting.
During this tour, participants will have the option of getting a “bird’s-eye” view of the spectacular forest
environment on a thrilling canopy adventure. This exciting new eco-tourism opportunity allows visitors
to enter and explore the rain forest canopy using safe modern climbing techniques. After an invigorating
short climb to the top of the ridge through a bird-rich forest, you strap in and soar through the treetops,
where you see a wealth of unexpected natural beauty and activity. Swooping from platform to platform
high among the sturdy cloud forest trees, you pass over the stream and waterfall not once, but twice. The
Refuge and Canopy Adventure are favorites of Panamanians and visitors, young and old alike and have
been featured in a National Geographic special and numerous articles.
After finishing the tour, you return to Panama City and your hotel in the early evening.

Day 3

PANAMA CITY AND CANAL A must-see for history buffs, your city tour starts at Panama La Vieja,
the first official city founded by Europeans on the Pacific coast of the Americas and the starting point of
the treasure trails that crossed the isthmus to the Caribbean. This city was attacked and looted by English
pirate Henry Morgan in 1671. You’ll walk among the stone walls and remnants of what was once
considered the richest city in the Americas. From here you will drive through the high-rise district of the
city, along the bay of Panama and into historic Casco Antiguo -- dating from the 1670’s. Casco Antiguo
became the new Panama City of the times and was never successfully attacked, being protected by a wall
that surrounded the new settlement. Here you’ll take a look at the Golden Altar, one of the few
testaments to all the wealth that made its way through this city. You will walk along the French Plaza – a
monument to the French canal effort and take a panoramic look of the modern city from this vantage
point as well as the ships that are anchored in the bay awaiting transit of the canal. After lunch, travel to
the Miraflores Locks to experience the brand new Panama Canal Visitors Center, a state-of-the-art
museum and exhibition. You will visit areas of the canal and learn how the giant gates of the locks are
controlled, see the switching equipment installed during the early 1900’s and get an “up close and
personal” view of ships transiting the locks. After the tour is over, you will be transferred to the Gamboa
Rainforest Resort.
The Gamboa Rainforest Resort is a spectacular property surrounded by breathtaking jungle scenery. Just
35 minutes from Panama City, the Gamboa Rainforest is the perfect location for exploring the Panama
Canal and the nature reserves that surround this incredible area. The resort property blends the historic
colonial architecture of the new hotel with the beautifully restored original buildings from the early days
of the Panama Canal construction.

Day 4

FORESTS, LAKES AND WILDLIFE From the comfort of your covered motorboat, you will get a
close-up view of the magnificent forests that surround Lake Gatún, primary reservoir of the Panama
Canal. From here you will slowly cruise the numerous coves and inlets that harbor countless species of
plants and animals in this protected area, the geographic
heart of the Panama Canal. Besides admiring the lush
beauty of this environment and learning about its complex
eco-system, you’ll have a good chance of observing some of
the local inhabitants of this area, such as sloths, howler
monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys, iguanas,
coatimundis, and an incredible variety of bird species.
While searching for wildlife you will also see ships come in
and out of view as they navigate the main channel of the
lake. Close by is Barro Colorado Island, the biggest island in
the lake, which has been the subject of scientific study for
over 78 years and whose protection (as well as that of adjacent peninsulas) falls under the jurisdiction of
the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. This area has some of the most accessible wildlife in all of
Central America and is a “must see” for nature and wildlife lovers.

Day 5

TUSIPONO Your private guide/driver will pick you up at your hotel in the morning for an incredible
adventure to the Soberania National Park and the Embera Indian Village of TusiPono. After about 90
minutes of driving, you’ll arrive at Lake Madden where a dugout canoe, or “cayuco”, will be waiting to
take you up river through spectacular rainforest. Immerse yourself in the unique native traditions of a
remote Embera Indian village, deep in the heart of the jungle, on this incredible tour. When you arrive at
the village, surrounded by lush forest, you will be greeted by the traditional music of this fascinating
culture. After experiencing several unique ceremonial dances (interpreted by your guide), you will learn
more about the customary lifestyle of a people virtually unchanged by civilization. The local “shaman”
will describe some of the medicinal plants and herbs found in this spectacular environment, many of
which are still a vital part of everyday life.

Day 6

PORTOBELO After an early check out at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort (6:15am) you will be
transferred to the Panama City terminal of the newly restored Panama Canal Railway for the start of their
“trans-continental” rail journey in refurbished air-conditioned passenger cars. This railroad follows the
east bank of the canal and affords an intimate view of the waterway and the rainforests that blanket its
shores. Upon arrival at the rail station in Colon, your tour continues on to Panama’s Caribbean coastline
and the historic sites found at Portobelo.
Portobelo is the name of perhaps one of the most ideal and well-protected inlets along the Caribbean coast
of Panama. Sir Francis Drake died while off the coast of this area in 1596 and, as legend has it, is buried
in a lead coffin close to Drake Island. Portobelo was the final receiving area of two trails that crossed the
jungles of the isthmus, Camino Real and Camino de Cruces. Here, once enough merchandise had been
accumulated, caravans of sailing ships would begin the trip back to Spain, escorted by enough firepower
to repel most, but not all, pirate attacks once they attempted to sail on past the West Indies. Nevertheless,
this strategic and heavily fortified harbor was not enough to keep out the fleet of ships commandeered by
Englishman Edward Vernon, who captured and destroyed the forts in 1739. Portobelo was then a
complex of batteries and forts that guarded the entrance to this beautiful inlet, perhaps the most heavily
fortified of the Spanish control points along the coasts of the Americas. You’ll take an intimate look on
foot as well as by boat at the outstanding features of this important historical site as well as the Church of
the Black Christ and learn its interesting legend.
We leave Portobelo in the early afternoon and return along the coastline back to Panama City.
Note: The railroad does not run on weekends and holidays, so if the tour falls on one of these dates the
whole tour is done by motor coach.

Days 7 & 8

BOCAS DEL TORO Transfer to Panama City’s domestic airport for your flight to the Caribbean coastal
area known as Bocas del Toro. An idyllic paradise of small islands, secluded inlets, palm-fringed white
sand beaches and breathtaking blue-green water, Bocas del Toro has a quaint charm and easy going
attitude that’s hard to find in the better known Caribbean destinations. To say that Bocas (as this area is
often called) is undiscovered is an understatement. Although frequented by adventurers traveling from
Costa Rica, mainstream tourism has yet to find this Panamanian gem.
Just a 55-minute commuter flight from
Panama City, Bocas is a short trip
from the city but a world away in
atmosphere. Secluded beaches and an
archipelago of both large and small
islands fringe the surrounding area
and the unique combination of tropical
beauty and lush rainforest makes
Bocas del Toro an unforgettable
destination. Kayaking, snorkeling,
diving and fishing are all available
within minutes from your doorstep.
Our choice of accommodations in this
area is the Punta Caracol Eco-Resort,
an intimate property with five palapastyle
bungalows built directly over the water. Each private bungalow has spectacular ocean views and the
local sea life is literally under your room.

Day 9

PANAMA CITY Return to Panama City in time for your international flight back to the USA. Arrival
home is the same day.

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