Day 1: Panama City, Panama
Arrive in Panama City, transfer to our hotel, meet your guide, and enjoy a welcome dinner.
Day 2: Fort Armador / Biomuseo / Miraflores Locks / Casco Viejo
Positioned strategically to protect the southern terminus of the Panama Canal at Panama Bay when it was built in 1912, U.S. Army Fort Amador is our first stop of the day. Named for the first president of Panama, Manuel Amador Guerrero, the fort served as an U.S. Army base until 1999, when it was turned over to Panama.
Continue to the Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo, or Museum of Biodiversity, for a guided tour. This is the globally acclaimed architect's only design in Central America, featuring more than 30,000 feet of gallery space with eight exhibits dedicated to the history of the Isthmus of Panama and its myriad species, including two high-rise aquariums. Biomuseo is located at the entrance to the Panama Canal on the Pacific side. From the museum one can clearly observe the skyline of modern Panama City, the historic district, Ancon Hill and the Bridge of the Americas. The museum's whimsical structure and brightly colored exterior are in keeping with Gehry's other notably unique projects including the Disney Concert Hall, Seattle's Experience Music Project (EMP Museum) and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
On a behind-the-scenes tour of Miraflores Locks, watch vessels pass through the Panama Canal at close range from an observation point directly above, followed by a private VIP tour of the Panama Canal Museum, where interactive exhibits showcase the canal’s history and its international importance. In 1904, the United States began building this engineering marvel that would link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans like never before, making trade and travel both faster and safer. When it was completed in 1914, ships no longer needed to sail all the way around the tip of South America; they could cut through the canal saving 8,000 miles and several months of transit time. Today, roughly 14,000 ships pass through the Panama Canal each year. Lunch at the new on-site restaurant overlooking the locks is an experience in itself as we dine in the Atlantic & Pacific Co.’s private dining room, where floor-to-ceiling windows provide an unparalleled view of the canal. After lunch, transfer back to the hotel where the remainder of the afternoon is at leisure.
This evening, visit the first of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites on our itinerary—the Casco Viejo neighborhood of Panama City. Walk the Old Town and experience the color and ambience of the historic city core. Set on a peninsula and walled for protection, with narrow streets, small shops and cathedral spires rising overhead, Casco Viejo offers a look into Panama’s colonial past. Dinner at a local restaurant is included.
Day 3: San Lorenzo Protected Area / Agua Clara Locks / Embark Ship
Departing our hotel this morning, we make our way through the Canal Zone toward the northern terminus of this massive waterway, where Punta Toro juts into the Caribbean Sea. Our destination is the San Lorenzo Protected Area, one of Panama’s little-known and rarely explored natural gems that’s filled with dazzling biodiversity. On trails within the verdant depths of the forest, listen for mantled howler monkeys and watch for the movement and color of tropical birds in the canopy, including yellow-throated toucans and slaty-tailed trogons. Lower down, keep an eye out for poison dart frogs and blue morpho butterflies. Although rarely seen, northern tamandua anteaters are also here. As we explore, we may be watched by ocelots or even jaguars, remaining hidden from view in the thick vegetation of the tropical forest.
Continue to fabled Fort San Lorenzo, where the Chagres River meets the Caribbean Sea. Dating to the early 1600s, the fort—our second UNESCO World Heritage Site—stands sentinel atop a cliff above the river. The fort was later converted to a prison after the Spanish abandoned the Chagres trading route, opting to travel overland via the isthmus.
Our tour concludes at the Agua Clara Locks Visitor Center in Colon. Here, a series of terraces and platforms provides a firsthand look at the canal’s newest locks. This monolithic expansion adds 70 feet in lock width, allowing for the passage of “post-Panamax” ships—vessels that supersede the previous maximum dimensions accommodated by the canal. The canal-widening project alters the global shipping world, allowing for greater freight capacity to more easily transit between the two oceans. In the late afternoon, continue to Colon to board National Geographic Quest and the start of your adventure cruise.