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Day by Day Itinerary

Discover the Panama Canal, one of mankind’s most astounding achievements, during a cruise that champions a culmination of toil, diplomacy, and engineering prowess unmatched in the modern world. On our Panama Canal cruise, you’ll take three nights to complete a full daylight transit of this man-made marvel aboard Grand Circle's privately chartered, 24-passenger catamaran, the M/S Discovery. The epic tale of the construction of the Panama Canal will unfold before you as you cross the canal—and you may glimpse evidence of the future, as construction is completed on a new set of locks that will expand the canal for the first time. Then, your land explorations will introduce you to Panama's indigenous people, take you into the country's spectacular rain forests, and on a fascinating visit to a butterfly garden—and more. From the bustling activity of the Canal Zone and the abundance of wildlife in the rain forest to the quiet beauty of the coasts, Panama beckons. Plus, you can enhance your Small Ship Cruise Tour with our Bocas Del Toro, Panama: Wild Archipelago and Colonial Cartagena, Colombia: The Emerald of the Caribbean optional extensions.

Panama City Panama City Expand All
  • hidden

    Discover Panama City before embarking on your Panama Canal cruise

    You depart from the U.S. today and fly to Panama City, Panama's capital and largest city. Or, join fellow travelers who took our optional pre-trip extension, Bocas del Toro, Panama: Wild Archipelago.

    Your Grand Circle Program Director or a member of our local staff will meet your flight at the airport and help you transfer to your hotel. Dinner is on your own this evening. Your Program Director will be happy to suggest a restaurant.

  • hidden

    After your morning briefing, you’ll depart for San Felipe, Panama City’s Old Quarter. Here we'll stroll through the famous San Felipe de Neri market before taking a walking tour of the Old Quarter. There we will visit historic sites such as Santo Domingo Convent and the San Jose Cathedral, known for its gold altar.

    Enjoy an included lunch in the Old Quarter before taking a dynamic panoramic tour of modern Panama.

    This evening, you’ll enjoy an included Welcome Dinner.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast, explore the town of Chorrera. You'll arrive at Feuillet Park, a vibrant urban oasis where you’ll meet local entrepreneurs, see a leather-making shop, visit the town health center, and mingle with people as they shop, work, and socialize. Then enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.

    Later that afternoon, you’ll depart to Chitre. One of Panama's oldest communities, Chitre is a charming modern city with vestiges of its colonial past, such as the ornate, red-tiled Spanish houses. Chitre has also been called the gateway to the Azuero Peninsula, a less-touristed area of Panama known for its colonial traditions, festivals and handcrafts.

    Upon arrival, you’ll check in to your hotel and enjoy an orientation walk with your Program Director. That evening, head into Chitre for a city tour, followed by dinner at a local restaurant. Once back at the hotel, take part in a mask-making workshop.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    This morning, enjoy breakfast at your hotel before departing for the nearby coastal town of Guarare. Once you arrive, get a taste of everyday life as you explore the town’s central plaza, perhaps stopping at one of its enticing local food or juice cart vendors.

    Your next stop will be the town of Santo Domingo where you will visit a pollera shop. The pollera is a lavish embroidered dress that was brought over by the Spanish, but adapted and embraced as the national costume of Panama. Traditionally, polleras are white, feature a full, two-tier skirt and are hand-embroidered with exquisite details that can increase the value of the garment from hundreds to thousands of dollars. During your visit, you’ll learn all about the painstaking craftsmanship that goes into creating these adored Carnival costumes.

    Next, you will visit the city of Las Tablas, the capital of Carnival—as well as the capital of the Los Santos region. After lunch at a local restaurant, you’ll visit one of Las Tablas’s famous Carnival dance troupes, Taller de Tuna. You will meet with members of the troupe, hear about its history, and take part in a dance lesson.

    Later you will depart for La Enea fishing village—a small, rural area. Here, you will have a unique opportunity to meet with the local fishermen who will talk with you about their fishing traditions as well as the challenges they face today due to overfishing. You will also learn how to craft nets during a hands-on demonstration.

    Late that afternoon you will return to the hotel for an evening of leisure. Dinner will be on your own.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast this morning, depart for La Arena. A small village just north of Chitre, La Arena is famous for two things: its fine pottery and its fresh bread. Today, you will have the opportunity to find out why.

    Your first stop will be a traditional pottery workshop. Watch as a local sculptor transforms a humble ball of clay into a beautiful piece of art. Plates, bowls, and other tableware are highly sought after by local restaurants and hotels, while the more decorative items are embellished with folkloric designs.

    Next you will visit one of La Arena’s many panaderias (bakeries). Most panaderias are family owned and operated, and offer bakery treats of all kinds—from pastries to cookies. But it is the bread that travelers come to sample, as you will get a chance to today.

    After the day’s discoveries in La Arena, return to Chitre in time for lunch at a local restaurant. The balance of the day will be on your own. Perhaps you will explore Herrera Museum, a treasure trove of well-preserved, indigenous pottery dating from 5000 BC until the Spanish conquest. Or visit the San Juan Bautista Cathedral, one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas.

    Meet your fellow travelers back at your hotel tonight for an included dinner.

  • hidden

    This morning, you depart Chitre and visit a sugar cane farm. You’ll meet a local family who continues the traditional business of growing sugar cane, followed by a lunch in a local restaurant.

    After your visit, you travel overland to your next destination. You begin by crossing the Gaillard Cut of the Panama Canal by way of the Centennial Bridge that carries the Pan-American Highway across the canal. When you arrive in the mid-afternoon, you’ll check into your hotel.

    You'll have some free time to relax or explore before visiting a butterfly garden to observe their delicate fluttering and unique wing patterns. Dinner tonight is at the hotel.

  • hidden

    This morning, you'll transfer to the pier and then board motorized dugout canoes to visit a village of the Embera people, one of Panama’s seven indigenous tribes. While there, you will also visit the Embera's school which is supported by Grand Circle Foundation’s World Classroom initiative. You’ll spend time with the children and their teacher, who will tell you about the school's plans and hopes for Panama’s future generations.

    The Embera are often associated with the Wounan people, though the two cultures were effectively separated during the latter part of the last century. Since these two tribes have no written history, little is known of their early heritage. It is believed they originally were semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers and fishermen, but the construction of the Pan-American Highway reduced their rain forest habitat, and they adopted a more agricultural lifestyle while still retaining their traditional ways.

    Among the most stunning of these is body painting. To facilitate their movement through the jungle, the Embera once wore minimal clothing, and would cover the top parts of their bodies with black dye from the jagua, an inedible jungle fruit. Still used today for ceremonies and celebrations, this custom can take the form of solid blocks of ink against contrasting patches of bare skin or intricate patterns etched on the skin with a bamboo stick. The indelible blue-black dye remains on the skin for up to two weeks, until it is naturally exfoliated. Your friendly hosts will introduce us to their unique way of life by demonstrating these techniques.

    Also skilled craftspeople, the villagers will explain the technique used to make their canastas, baskets so tightly woven that they can even hold water. We’ll learn about the natural fibers and vegetable dyes of the rain forest used in their creation.

    Fish is an important protein among the Embera, and even youngsters are experts with the harpoon, spear, and hand line. The local diet also relies heavily on jungle plants, plantains, bananas, rice, beans, hearts of palm, and yucca root. You’ll enjoy an authentic taste of local cuisine during a Home-Hosted Lunch, and also experience Embera dances and the music of flutes, drums, and turtle shells.

    You'll return to your hotel this afternoon, with some free time to relax and enjoy the lush scenery. Or, join an included nature walk on hotel grounds. Dinner tonight is at the hotel.

  • hidden

    After breakfast and a nature walk at your hotel this morning, you'll depart for Panama City. There we will visit the impressive Panama Canal Administration building, inaugurated exactly one month before the Canal itself. You’ll enjoy lunch on your own and then board the M/S Discovery. This 24-passenger catamaran will be your private home for the next three nights as we transit the Panama Canal. After a short onboard orientation, our ship sets sail later this afternoon.

    Our first port of call is Taboga Island, known as the “Island of Flowers,” a title it lives up to with birds of paradise, orchids, and other tropical species. It’s a colorful island with an equally colorful history. The birthplace of Santa Rosa de Lima, the southern hemisphere’s first saint and a role model to Mother Teresa, the island also beckoned artist Paul Gauguin, who began incorporating bright colors into his work more often after his stay here. The island also played an important role in the construction of the canal, serving for more than three decades as a retreat for French and then American canal builders. Here we’ll have time to either kayak in the bay or disembark to explore the island, a mostly pedestrian haven, with our Program Director.

    This evening, we enjoy dinner onboard our ship and after-dinner activities on the Top Deck. Our overnight stay here allows us to be in prime position for the commencement of tomorrow’s transit of this vital link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

  • hidden

    You'll wake up this morning to find yourself at the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, where you’ll begin your northbound canal passage. 2014 is the centennial anniversary of the opening of the Canal, but you'll not only celebrate history, you'll witness a new chapter in the making as construction winds down on a third set of locks, which will allow the world's largest cargo ships to pass for the first time in the canal's history.

    The notion of building a path between the seas here is as old as the voyages of Christopher Columbus, but it wasn’t until 1879 that Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps, builder of the Suez Canal, made the first attempt. The scope of the effort proved too great, and the project languished until 1902, when Teddy Roosevelt brought the dream to life.

    In 1913—a full year ahead of schedule and nearly $23 million under budget—the Panama Canal was completed. It officially opened on August 15, 1914, and a dream became a reality. A journalist who witnessed its opening wrote, “This canal is both a first and a last … man will never again build with such scope, such imagination.” More than 40 ships a day, or more than 14,000 annually, traverse its 50-mile length—eliminating a 9,000-mile trip around the tip of Cape Horn.

    You begin your own transit by cruising beneath the soaring Bridge of the Americas, which connects the two land masses that were separated by the canal’s construction, to join today’s convoy of ships from around the world for your northbound canal passage. As you cruise, you’ll take in the full spectrum of everyday life on the canal’s banks, from the bustling activity at the commercial port of Balboa to crocodiles lounging in the sun.

    You'll pass through the Miraflores Locks and the Pedro Miguel Locks, experiencing for yourself the thrill of these engineering marvels. Then, you’ll navigate the Gaillard Cut; the narrowest section of the canal that bisects the Continental Divide, it is named for the American who oversaw its construction and then died just before it opened. You’ll see up close the dramatic landscape 6,000 canal laborers toiled to cut. At the peak of construction, up to 600 holes daily were drilled and then blasted with as much as 50,000 pounds of dynamite. Steam shovels dug out the rubble, which was loaded onto 160 trains a day for the twelve-mile trip to the dumps. Your Program Director will describe how, nearly a century later, this section of the canal requires continuous maintenance, due to its susceptibility to landslides.

    After a leisurely lunch onboard, experience the highlight of the day’s cruise when the Discovery is raised 85 feet above sea level to Gatun Lake. This man-made lake was created during the construction of the canal by damming the Chagres River, which supplies the Gatun Locks with more than 52 million gallons of fresh water per ship that passes through.

    The Discovery will anchor for the night in Gatun Lake, where you'll enjoy dinner together followed by a discussion that will prepare you for the rest of your cruise: The Expansion of the Panama Canal & History of the Chagres River. You'll spend the night moored at the lake, listening to the lullaby of the rain forest as you drift off to sleep.

  • hidden

    This morning you'll visit Gatun Dam and its hydroelectric generation station, responsible for generating electricity to operate and light the locks and light canal villages. At the time of its completion in 1913, it was the largest earthen dam in the world, and the resulting Lake Gatun was the largest artificial lake on the planet.

    Later this morning, you will enjoy a nature walk at San Lorenzo National Park to view its diverse flora and fauna, some of its twelve miles of picturesque coastline, and have opportunities to spot some of the park's several hundred bird species.

    You'll return to our ship for lunch onboard and some time for a short rest, or siesta.

    Late in the afternoon, your ship will continue your daylight transit of the canal, as you pass through the Gatun Locks—the largest of the Panama Canal locks. The ship will begin its descent back to sea level here, a process that takes about two hours. You’ll enjoy a Farewell Dinner onboard before an exclusive Discovery Series event, a discussion about coastline biodiversity.

  • hidden

    Disembark the Discovery this morning before arriving at Gatun Locks Visitors Center to learn about modern-day expansion of the canal.

    After lunch on your own, you'll visit Reprosa jewelry shop, famous for its reproductions of pre-Columbian art and jewelry. Tour the shop and admire how artisans bring these ancient "treasures of Panama" to life in finely-wrought silver and gold.

    This evening, check into your hotel before gathering with your fellow travelers to reminisce over dinner.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight to the U.S. Or begin your post-trip extension in Colonial Cartagena, Colombia: The Emerald of the Caribbean.

Panama City Panama City Expand All
  • hidden

    Discover Panama City before embarking on your Panama Canal cruise

    Depart from the U.S. today and fly to Panama City, Panama's capital and largest city.

    Your Grand Circle Program Director or a member of our local staff will meet your flight at the airport and help you transfer to your hotel, where you will meet fellow travelers who took our optional pre-trip extension, Bocas del Toro, Panama: Wild Archipelago. Dinner is on your own this evening. Your Program Director will be happy to suggest a restaurant.

  • hidden

    After your morning briefing, you’ll depart for San Felipe, Panama City’s Old Quarter. Here we'll stroll through the famous San Felipe de Neri market before taking a walking tour of the Old Quarter. There we will visit historic sites such as Santo Domingo Convent and the San Jose Cathedral, known for its gold altar.

    Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant in the Old Quarter before taking a dynamic panoramic tour of modern Panama.

    This evening, you’ll enjoy an included Welcome Dinner.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    After breakfast, explore the town of Chorrera. You'll arrive at Feuillet Park, a vibrant urban oasis where you’ll meet local entrepreneurs, see a leather-making shop, visit the town health center, and mingle with people as they shop, work, and socialize. Then enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.

    Later that afternoon, you’ll depart to Chitre. One of Panama's oldest communities, Chitre is a charming modern city with vestiges of its colonial past, such as the ornate, red-tiled Spanish houses. Chitre has also been called the gateway to the Azuero Peninsula, a less-touristed area of Panama known for its colonial traditions, festivals and handicrafts.

    Upon arrival, you’ll check in to your hotel and enjoy an orientation walk with your Program Director. That evening, head into Chitre for a city tour, followed by dinner at a local restaurant.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    This morning, enjoy breakfast at your hotel before departing for the nearby coastal town of Guarare. Once you arrive, get a taste of everyday life as you explore the town’s central plaza, perhaps stopping at one of its enticing local food or juice cart vendors.

    Your next stop will be the town of Santo Domingo where you will visit a pollera shop. The pollera is a lavish embroidered dress that was brought over by the Spanish, but adapted and embraced as the national costume of Panama. Traditionally, polleras are white, feature a full, two-tier skirt and are hand-embroidered with exquisite details that can increase the value of the garment from hundreds to thousands of dollars. During your visit, you’ll learn all about the painstaking craftsmanship that goes into creating these adored Carnival costumes.

    Next, you will visit the city of Las Tablas, the capital of Carnival—as well as the capital of the Los Santos region. After lunch at a local restaurant, you’ll visit one of Las Tablas’s famous Carnival dance troupes, Taller de Tuna. You will meet with members of the troupe, hear about its history, and take part in a dance lesson.

    Later you will depart for La Enea fishing village—a small, rural area. Here, you will have a unique opportunity to meet with the local fishermen who will talk with you about their fishing traditions as well as the challenges they face today due to overfishing. You will also learn how to craft nets during a hands-on demonstration.

    Late that afternoon you will return to the hotel for an evening of leisure. Dinner will be on your own.

  • hidden

    After breakfast this morning, depart for La Arena. A small village just north of Chitre, La Arena is famous for two things: its fine pottery and its fresh bread. Today, you will have the opportunity to find out why.

    Your first stop will be a traditional pottery workshop. Watch as a local sculptor transforms a humble ball of clay into a beautiful piece of art. Plates, bowls, and other tableware are highly sought after by local restaurants and hotels, while the more decorative items are embellished with folkloric designs.

    Next you will visit one of La Arena’s many panaderias (bakeries). Most panaderias are family owned and operated, and offer bakery treats of all kinds—from pastries to cookies. But it is the bread that travelers come to sample, as you will get a chance to today.

    After the day’s discoveries in La Arena, return to Chitre in time for lunch at a local restaurant. The balance of the day will be on your own. Perhaps you will explore Herrera Museum, a treasure trove of well-preserved, indigenous pottery dating from 5000 BC until the Spanish conquest. Or visit the San Juan Bautista Cathedral, one of the oldest cathedrals in the Americas.

    Meet your fellow travelers back at your hotel tonight for an included dinner.

  • hidden

    This morning, you depart Chitre and visit a sugar cane farm. You’ll meet a local family who continues the traditional business of growing sugar cane, followed by a lunch in a local restaurant.

    After your visit, you travel overland to your next destination. You begin by crossing the Gaillard Cut of the Panama Canal by way of the Centennial Bridge that carries the Pan-American Highway across the canal. When you arrive in the mid-afternoon, you’ll check into your hotel.

    You'll have some free time to relax or explore before visiting a butterfly garden to observe their delicate fluttering and unique wing patterns. Dinner tonight is at the hotel.

  • hidden

    This morning, you'll transfer to the pier and then board motorized dugout canoes to visit a village of the Embera people, one of Panama’s seven indigenous tribes. The Embera are often associated with the Wounan people, though the two cultures were effectively separated during the latter part of the last century.

    While there, you will also visit the Embera's school which is supported by Grand Circle Foundation’s World Classroom initiative. You’ll spend time with the children and their teacher, who will tell you about the school's plans and hopes for Panama’s future generations.

    Because these two tribes have no written history, little is known of their early heritage. It is believed they originally were semi-nomadic hunter-gatherers and fishermen, but the construction of the Pan-American Highway reduced their rain forest habitat, and they adopted a more agricultural lifestyle while still retaining their traditional ways.

    Among the most stunning of these is body painting. To facilitate their movement through the jungle, the Embera once wore minimal clothing, and would cover the top parts of their bodies with black dye from the jagua, an inedible jungle fruit. Still used today for ceremonies and celebrations, this custom can take the form of solid blocks of ink against contrasting patches of bare skin or intricate patterns etched on the skin with a bamboo stick. The indelible blue-black dye remains on the skin for up to two weeks, until it is naturally exfoliated. Your friendly hosts will introduce us to their unique way of life by demonstrating these techniques.

    Also skilled craftspeople, the villagers will explain the technique used to make their canastas, baskets so tightly woven that they can even hold water. We’ll learn about the natural fibers and vegetable dyes of the rain forest used in their creation.

    Fish is an important protein among the Embera, and even youngsters are experts with the harpoon, spear, and hand line. The local diet also relies heavily on jungle plants, plantains, bananas, rice, beans, hearts of palm, and yucca root. You’ll enjoy an authentic taste of local cuisine during your Home-hosted lunch at one the villager's homes, and also experience Embera dances and the music of flutes, drums, and turtle shells.

    You'll return to your hotel this afternoon, where you will enjoy a nature walk on the hotel’s tropical grounds. Dinner tonight is at the hotel.

  • hidden

    After breakfast this morning, take part in a guided nature walk of the lush rainforest surroundings. Then you'll tour the Gatun Visitors Center and learn about canal expansion projects.

    After lunch on your own, you'll embark the M/S Discovery, a 24-passenger catamaran that will be your private home for the next three nights as we transit the Panama Canal. After a short onboard orientation, you’ll experience the highlight of the day’s cruise when the Discovery is raised 85 feet above sea level to Gatun Lake. This man-made lake was created during the construction of the canal by damming the Chagres River, which supplies the Gatun Locks with more than 52 million gallons of fresh water per ship that passes through.

    The Discovery will anchor for the night in Gatun Lake, where you'll enjoy dinner together. You'll spend the night moored at the lake, listening to the lullaby of the rainforest as you drift off to sleep.

  • hidden

    This morning you'll visit Gatun Dam and its hydro-electric generation station, responsible for generating electricity to operate and light the locks and light canal villages.

    At the time of its completion in 1913, it was the largest earthen dam in the world, and the resulting Lake Gatun was the largest artificial lake on the planet.

    Later this morning, you will enjoy an exclusive Discovery Series event—a nature walk at San Lorenzo National Park to view its diverse flora and fauna, some of its twelve miles of picturesque coastline, and have opportunities to spot some of the park's several hundred bird species.

    You'll return to your ship for lunch onboard as you continue on your course across Gatun Lake. Following dinner, gather in the lounge for another exclusive Discovery Series event. This discussion that will prepare you for the rest of your cruise: The Expansion of the Panama Canal & History of the Chagres River.

  • hidden

    This morning, you’ll navigate the Gaillard Cut; the narrowest section of the canal that bisects the Continental Divide, it is named for the American who oversaw its construction and then died just before it opened. You’ll see up close the dramatic landscape 6,000 canal laborers toiled to cut. At the peak of construction, up to 600 holes daily were drilled and then blasted with as much as 50,000 pounds of dynamite. Steam shovels dug out the rubble, which was loaded onto 160 trains a day for the twelve-mile trip to the dumps. Your Program Director will describe how nearly a century later this section of the canal requires continuous maintenance, due to its susceptibility to landslides.

    Then you'll make your descent back to sea level as you pass through the Pedro Miguel Locks and the Miraflores Locks. The Panama Canal celebrates the centennial anniversary of its opening in 2014, and on this cruise tour you'll not only celebrate history, you'll witness a new chapter in the making as construction winds down on a third set of locks. This massive project will allow the world's largest cargo ships to pass for the first time in the canal's history.

    After a leisurely lunch onboard, you'll sail triumphantly into the Pacific Ocean, passing beneath the soaring Bridge of the Americas, which connects the two land masses that were separated by the canal’s construction. Enjoy views of the full spectrum of everyday life on the canal’s banks, like the bustling activity at the commercial port of Balboa.

    Your final port of call is Taboga Island, known as the "Island of Flowers," a title it lives up to with birds of paradise, orchids, and other tropical species, not to mention pineapples and mangoes. It’s a colorful island with an equally colorful history. The birthplace of Santa Rosa de Lima, the southern hemisphere’s first saint and a role model to Mother Teresa, the island also beckoned artist Paul Gauguin, who began incorporating bright colors into his work more often after his stay here. The island also played an important role in the construction of the canal, serving for more than three decades as a retreat for French and then American canal builders. Here you’ll have time to either kayak in the bay or disembark to explore the island—a mostly pedestrian haven—with your Program Director. You’ll enjoy a Farewell Dinner onboard tonight. Learn about coastline biodiversity during an enlightening Discovery Series event talk tonight.

  • hidden

    You’ll disembark the Discovery this morning, and depart for Panama City where we will visit the impressive Panama Canal Administration building, inaugurated exactly one month before the Canal itself.

    After lunch on your own, you'll visit Reprosa jewelry shop, famous for its reproductions of pre-Columbian art and jewelry. Tour the shop and admire how artisans bring these ancient "treasures of Panama" to life in finely-wrought silver and gold.

    This evening, check into your hotel before gathering with your fellow travelers to reminisce over dinner.

  • hidden

    • Meals included:

    After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight to the U.S. Or begin your post-trip extension in Colonial Cartagena, Colombia: The Emerald of the Caribbean.

Extensions

Traveler Reviews

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Striving for Excellence

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Our #1 commitment is delivering the best travel experience at the best value, so we take feedback from our travelers seriously as we strive to improve what we do. And one of the best ways for us to measure how travelers have rated our trips—including their experiences and the value we offer—is from our post-trip surveys, sent in by travelers.

Ratings based on percentage of travelers who rated these features "Excellent".

Ship Excellence
91%
Program Director Excellence
89%
Overall Trip Excellence
86%
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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 12 days, with 3 nights aboard the M/S Discovery, and 5 hotel stays, including a single 1-night stay

Physical Requirements

  • Not accessible for travelers using wheelchairs or scooters
  • Travelers using walkers, crutches, or other mobility aids must travel with a companion who can assist them throughout the trip
  • You must be able to walk 2 miles unassisted and participate in 3 hours of physical activities each day, including stairs
  • Agility and balance are required for boarding dugout canoes and kayaks

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 85-90°F during cruising season
  • March and April are the warmest months

Terrain

  • Travel over uneven walking surfaces, including rain forest, unpaved paths, hills, and stairs

Transportation

  • Travel by 45-seat coach, school bus, motorized dugout canoe, kayak, and 24-passenger catamaran

Accommodation

  • The M/S Discovery does not have an elevator onboard

Cuisine

  • Meals will be a mix of local specialties and familiar American standards
  • Meals onboard feature a variety of entrée options, including vegetarian

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens do not need a visa for this trip.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • M/S Discovery

    During our Panama Canal transit cruise, we’ll stay aboard the 108-foot M/S Discovery, a 24-passenger catamaran launched in 2004, designed specifically for small group exploration and chartered exclusively for our group. In the dining area, bar, and lounge, floor-to-ceiling glass walls offer spectacular views. The ship is also equipped with Zodiacs and kayaks and a unique platform that lowers kayakers gently into the water and retrieves them just as gently for safety and comfort. The ship has 12 cabins, 8 with queen beds and 4 with twin beds. All cabins have individual climate control, a hair dryer, closet, writing desk, and private bath.

Main Trip

  • Tryp Panama Centro

    Panama City, Panama

    Tryp Panama Centro is ideally located in the center of Panama City, within walking distance of the capital's many restaurants and shopping centers. The hotel has an on-site gastropub, health center, hot tubs and a swimming pool. Each of its 92 air-conditioned rooms features city views, cable TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, telephone, private bath, and wireless Internet.

  • Hotel Cubita

    Chitre, Panama

    Hotel Cubita is a boutique resort and spa just steps from downtown Chitre. The hotel has an on-site gourmet restaurant, bar, and swimming pool, as well as a full-service spa. Each of its 90 air-conditioned rooms features 24-hour room service, cable TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, telephone, private bath, a hairdryer, and wireless Internet.

  • Radisson Summit Hotel & Golf Panama

    Paraiso, Panama | Rating: Superior First Class

    Located just minutes from the Panama Canal, amidst the splendor of the rain forest, the Superior First Class Radisson Summit Hotel & Golf offers a peaceful alternative to busier downtown accommodations. Amenities include an on-site, professional 18-hole golf course, two outdoor pools, and a nature trail with a butterfly exhibit. Each of the 103 air-conditioned rooms features coffee- and tea-making facilities, high-speed, wireless Internet access, hairdryer, and private bath.

Extensions

  • Tryp Panama Centro

    Panama City, Panama

    Tryp Panama Centro is ideally located in the center of Panama City, within walking distance of the capital's many restaurants and shopping centers. The hotel has an on-site gastropub, health center, hot tubs and a swimming pool. Each of its 92 air-conditioned rooms features city views, cable TV, coffee- and tea-making facilities, telephone, private bath, and wireless Internet.

  • Playa Tortuga Hotel & Beach Resort

    Bocas del Toro, Panama | Rating: Moderate First Class

    Located on Colon Island, a ten-minute walk from the center of the area’s main town, this Moderate First-Class resort is surrounded by tropical natural beauty and coral reefs in calm waters. A restaurant and a bar are on-site. Each of the 117 air-conditioned rooms has a balcony with an ocean view, cable TV, telephone, minibar, safe, free wireless Internet access, and private bath.

  • Armeria Real Luxury Hotel & Spa

    Cartagena, Colombia | Rating: Superior First Class

    The 40-room, Superior First-Class Armeria Real Luxury Hotel & Spa is situated just steps from Cartagena’s convention center. The charming, colonial-style building was originally a garrison constructed to defend the city against pirates in the 18th century. Features include a restaurant, full-service spa, outdoor pool, and a poolside bar.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two vacations to maximize your value.

  • Extend your vacation and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip excursions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your ship or hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your vacation
  • Choose to "break away" before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle Cruise Line vacations to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium class

The air options listed above may involve additional airfare costs based on your specific choices.

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $2795
w/ standard air $3595
Gateway Travel Time*
Miami 3hrs
Atlanta 5hrs
Orlando 6hrs
Baltimore, Philadelphia 7hrs
Chicago, Minneapolis, Newark, New York (JFK), Washington, DC (Dulles) 8hrs
Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego 9hrs
San Francisco 10hrs
Seattle 12hrs

*Estimated total time including connections and layovers. Actual travel time may vary.

The above information is your approximate flight time to Panama City, Panama. Routing is based on availability and subject to change. You will receive your final air itinerary approximately 14 days prior to departure.

Partner since: 2012
Total donated: $16,057

Supporting a World Classroom: Panama

By seeing how children are educated all over the world, we gain a rare understanding of different cultural values—as well as the common values that unite us all. That’s why your Panama trip features the opportunity to visit a local school supported by Grand Circle Foundation. You’ll visit the school featured below, providing school is in session.

"As a former teacher, I was impressed by the folk dance performance and the willingness of the students to take us by the hand to show us their school …"

Anne & Don Loy, 14-time travelers
Knoxville, Tennesee

Embera Quera School

Partner since: 2014

Engage with students during a local primary school visit in San Carlos, Panama.

We’re thrilled to have recently begun our partnership with the Embera Quera School in the Embera Indian Village. We look forward to working with the school principal and teachers to identify the school’s needs and supporting them in the most meaningful and sustainable way. Our first goals are to renovate the septic tank and bathrooms, thereby improving sanitary conditions for the school as well as the entire village.

If we’re here while school is in session, we’ll meet teachers and students and learn about the Panamanian school system, while being entertained by songs and dances performed by the children.

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Pencils
  • Crayons
  • Construction paper
  • Maps
Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

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Pay Early & Save up to 10% with our Good Buy Plan

It’s simple: The earlier you reserve and pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer, the more you’ll save on any 2015 departure of Panama Canal Cruise & Panama: A Continent Divided, Oceans United. You’ll maximize your value—saving up to a full 10% off your total trip price—when you pay in full twelve months or more prior to departure. Even if you don’t reserve a full year in advance, you’ll still save, as seen in the example below. Plus, there’s no risk in reserving early with our Lowest Price Guarantee. You’ll receive our lowest cruise-only price if we reduce your main trip price more than 60 days from departure.

This example demonstrates how you can save, based on a 9/22/2015 departure:

  ORIGINAL PRICE
per person
SAVE 10%
when you reserve and pay in full by 9/22/14
SAVE 7%
when you reserve and pay in full by 10/23/14
SAVE 5%
when you reserve
and pay in full by 12/23/14
Small Ship Cruise Tour-only price: $2895 $2606 $2692 $2750
Add a 5-night Colonial Cartagena, Colombia: The Emerald of the Caribbean extension: $1045 $941 $972 $993
International airfare out of New York: $1000 $900 $930 $950
Total price per person $4940 $4357 $4594 $4693
Total savings per couple   $1166 $692 $494

Maximize your value by using the money you save for a cabin upgrade or optional trip extension

Call Now 1-800-221-2610

Discover more of Panama with our enhanced itinerary

When you travel on Panama Canal Cruise & Panama: A Continent Divided, Oceans United this year, not only will you witness one of mankind’s most astounding achievements, you’ll enjoy our newly enhanced itinerary featuring:

Three nights in Chitre

We’ve added an extra day to your itinerary, which now includes a three-night stay in Chitre. One of Panama’s oldest communities, Chitre is a charming modern city with vestiges of its colonial past, such as ornate, red-tiled Spanish houses. Chitre has also been called the gateway to the Azuero Peninsula, a less-touristed area of Panama known for its colonial traditions, festivals, and handcrafts.

Discover La Enea fishing village

Find yourself in La Enea fishing village—a small, rural area on the coast. Here, you will have a unique opportunity to meet with the local fishermen, who will talk with you about their fishing traditions as well as the challenges they face today due to overfishing. You will also learn how to craft nets during a hands-on demonstration.

Meet the Taller de Tuna dance troupe

Visit the city of Las Tablas, the capital of Carnival—as well as the capital of the Los Santos region. Here, you’ll visit one of Las Tablas’s famous Carnival dance troupes, Taller de Tuna. You will meet with members of the troupe, hear about its history, and take part in a dance lesson.

Visit a Pollera workshop

Stop in the town of Santo Domingo and visit a Pollera workshop. The Pollera is a lavishly embroidered dress that was brought over by the Spanish, but adapted and embraced as the national costume of Panama. Traditionally, Polleras are white, feature a full, two-tier skirt, and are hand-embroidered with exquisite details that can increase the value of the garment from hundreds to thousands of dollars. During your visit, you’ll learn all about the painstaking craftsmanship that goes into creating these adored Carnival costumes.

Experience a pottery demonstration

A small village just north of Chitre, La Arena is famous for its fine pottery. Watch as a local sculptor transforms a humble ball of clay into a beautiful piece of art. Plates, bowls, and other tableware are highly sought after by local restaurants and hotels, while the more decorative items are embellished with folkloric designs, and valued by collectors.