Arrive Panama City
Tour begins: 6:30 PM, Hilton Panama or InterContinental Miramar Panama. Welcome to Panama! A transfer awaits to take you from Tocumen International Airport to the Hilton Panama or InterContinental Miramar Panama. Meet your Tauck Director and your fellow travelers at our welcome cocktail reception and dinner this evening at your hotel.
Exploring Panama City
Begin today's exploration of Panama City in its key historic district, Casco Viejo; a walking tour will show you this walled cobblestoned city, built in the 1670s at the foot of Ancon Hill, to provide safety from attack. The area is a gem of Spanish colonial architecture in various stages of redevelopment, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site; you'll also have free time to explore on your own. After lunch at a local restaurant, tour the former Canal Zone, driving through Ancon Hill, a lush residential enclave that was home to US military facilities until a 1977 treaty granted Panamanian sovereignty over the "Zone;" Albrook, a former US Air Force Base; and Clayton, once a US Army base. Then enjoy a fascinating visit to the exhibits and gardens of the Biomuseo, the Panama City biodiversity museum designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. The evening is yours to spend as you please in Panama City.
Canal Zone, Gamboa Rainforest & your cruise begins
From Panama City, start across the Isthmus of Panama; during a stop at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, you'll choose between an aerial tram ride with a naturalist through the rainforest at eye-level with exotic birds and animals (aboard the only gondola of its kind in Panama), or a boat cruise along waterways leading to hidden islands, where you might spot monkeys at play. After lunch at a local restaurant, learn more about the Panama Canal on a visit to the Agua Clara locks. In the late afternoon, arrive at the pier in Colón to board your Explorer Class yacht for 7-night Panama Canal cruise.
The Guna people of the San Blas Islands
Your yacht arrives in the archipelago of San Blas today, where you'll transfer by Zodiac for a wet landing at Holandes Caye. Here, you'll visit Guna Indians, whose language and customs reflect lives with few outside influences, women sell handmade molas - reverse-appliquéd fabrics with brilliant images of fish, birds and jungle animals - and fishing is still done by canoe. After your visit to a Guna village, you can spend a leisurely afternoon swimming and snorkeling before returning by Zodiac to your ship. This evening, your Explorer Class vessel begins preparations for tomorrow's entrance into the Panama Canal.
Transiting the Panama Canal
Opened in 1914, and considered an engineering marvel of the 20th century, the Panama Canal opened trade to the Americas by creating a transit path between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Thanks to the canal, today ships traveling from New York to San Francisco save over 7,000 miles by not having to chart a course around South America. Early this morning, your ship will arrive at Gatun and position outside the canal for her full transit from the Atlantic to the Pacific. We'll welcome aboard a canal pilot, the local navigation professional who will guide our ship into the Gatun Locks, Lake Gatun and into the narrow Gaillard cut. Later, we transit the Pedro Miguel locks before finally clearing Miraflores locks and passing beneath the Bridge of the Americas to the Pacific Ocean at Balboa. Your Tauck Director, Tauck Naturalist and an official of the Panama Canal Authority will provide both technical and historical information about this engineering wonder. The process may take approximately eight to ten hours; while passing through the three locks, your yacht will be be raised up a total of 85 feet before reaching the Pacific Ocean!
The Embera people of the Darien
Today you'll stop in the beautiful but remote Darien region of Panama, calling on Play del Muerto for a wet landing by Zodiac craft to visit an indigenous community of the Emberá people, whose lifestyle remains largely unaffected by modern times. You'll meet the locals, watch them perform traditional dances, see how they live, and perhaps purchase some of their "Cocobolo" wood or "Tagua" vegetable ivory carvings. Return to the ship for lunch; enjoy a naturalist lecture this afternoon.
Day at sea
Enjoy a relaxing day at sea on the Pacific Ocean today, taking advantage of your Explorer Class ship's many amenities. Throughout the day, your Tauck Directors and naturalist guides will circulate about the ship answering questions - sharing their experiences and scanning the horizon for marine mammals and pelagic birds - and will also offer compelling lectures.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Call on the city of Quepos this morning, a perfect jumping off point for your excursion to Manuel Antonio National Park, where you'll find coral reefs and white sand beaches, considered among the most beautiful in Costa Rica, lined with rainforest. Your choices here include a walking tour of the park with your local naturalist guide; an exciting river float trip* on the Savegre River (which will include lunch either before or after the trip); or a horseback ride through a mountain forest. Back aboard the ship, enjoy dinner at your leisure tonight, as your yacht sets out from Quepos.
Carara National Park & Pura Vida Gardens
Your ship arrives at Playa Herradura for a choice of shore excursions offering a range of eco-activities. One includes a walking tour and a mangrove cruise in Carara National Park with a local naturalist guide. Following your jungle walk through the park, enjoy a local lunch before learning about various coastal bird and wildlife species on a mangrove boat tour. Another choice features a visit to Tropical Forest Sky Walk near the boundary of Carara Biological Reserve, where you'll hike across suspended cable bridges skimming the top of the rainforest, up to 126 feet above the ground; from your lofty perch, you'll see the marshlands of the Tarcoles River and views of the ocean in the distance. Your guide will point out species of birds, monkeys, butterflies and other mammals that you may encounter. Still another possibility is a visit to the spectacular Pura Vida Gardens, whose beautifully manicured gardens are bordered by one of the tallest waterfalls in the country. Pura Vida is home to over 60,000 flowering plants, including 60 varieties of heliconia, ten varieties of ginger, and orchids; look for butterflies, macaws, parrots, parakeets, toucans, kingfishers, birds of prey, and waterfowl. After your tour, enjoy a traditional lunch in the garden restaurant. You'll also stop at the Tarcoles Bridge for a chance to observe an immense population of crocodiles that live just several meters below the bridge. Join us for the Captain's farewell dinner tonight, as your yacht sails to Puerto Caldera.
Ox carts in Sarchi and gold in San José
As your cruise ends in Puerto Caldera, bid farewell to your Explorer Class ship and her crew, and set off to discover Costa Rica's fascinating interior en route to the capital city of San José. Visit the artisan village of Sarchi, known for the production and painting of the traditional ox carts (carretas) and other handmade products seen all over the country, bearing the colorful starburst designs that have become a symbol of Costa Rica. Continue on to Costa Rica's capital city, San José. Here, sightseeing includes a visit to the National Theatre, an ornate symbol of civic pride dating back to 1897; the theatre's interior shines with Baroque gold and Carrara marble. You'll also take in the Museo del Oro Precolombino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum) and its collection of pre-Columbian works of gold. After lunch at a local restaurant, arrive and settle in at your hotel; the evening is yours to spend as you wish in San José.
Coffee, waterfalls & rainforest wildlife
Coffee has long been one of Costa Rica's most important exports. Today you'll visit the Doka Coffee Plantation, located on the fertile slopes of Alajuela's Poás Volcano, where the soil and altitude make for ideal growing conditions. Your guide explains how the beans are produced and roasted and how different microclimates affect the taste. Also explore and have lunch at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a private rainforest eco-park and wildlife refuge known for spectacular waterfalls and flowing white rivers; this protected reserve buzzes with the sounds and sights of wildlife including toucans, butterflies, spider monkeys, two-toed sloths and red-eyed leaf frogs - to name a few of the 100+ species. Join us this evening for a farewell reception and dinner at your hotel in San José.
Tour ends: San José, Costa Rica. Fly home anytime. A transfer from the Costa Rica Marriott Hotel San José or InterContinental Costa Rica at Multiplaza Mall to Juan Santamaría International Airport is included. You should allow a minimum of 3 hours for flight check-in.