Destination: Panama, Costa Rica | Duration: 16 days | Call to Personalize your Custom Journey
Experience the best of Central America on this 16-day custom vacation that highlights the best of Panama and Costa Rica. You will transit through the world-famous Panama Canal. Spend a day immersed in the fascinating culture of the Embera Indigenous community. Discover the incredible natural beauty and biodiversity in Costa Rica when you visit Arenal Volcano and national parks.
Day 1: Welcome to Panama
Your bilingual will meet you at Panama’s Tocumen International Airport to take you to your hotel by the Panama Canal. Relax and enjoy the amazing views from your balcony of the Bridge of Americas and the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal.
Day 2: Casco Viejo and Canal Museum
Visit the oldest neighborhood in Panama City with a walking tour of the beautiful and charismatic Casco Viejo founded in 1673. Take a peek inside numerous colonial churches like the National Cathedral, San Francisco de Asis Church, Santo Domingo Church and the beautiful gold- plated altar of the San Jose Church. You will see architectural delights like the Bolivar Palace, the National Theater and the Presidential Palace. Take a stroll on Las Bovedas Promenade with its spectacular views of Panama City. A monument to the French entrepreneurs who began the Panama Canal stands at the bayside end of the Casco Viejo. The Panama Canal Museum is also located in Casco Viejo and you will have a chance to visit.
Day 3: Panama Canal Partial Transit Tour
From the Pacific Ocean side, take a northbound journey beginning in picturesque Panama Bay where you can admire Panama City’s beautiful skyline. Cruise under the Bridge of Americas to enter the Panama Canal. The ship will be lowered 18 meters in two distinct steps at Miraflores Locks. Then, you enter Miraflores Lake on your way to Pedro Miguel Locks. Marvel at the scenery and the fact that the next 13.7 kilometers was carved through rock to allow your passage. Pass under the Centennial Bridge that spans over Gailard Cut, a main point of interest because it was carved through the Continental Divide. This section of the Canal is full of history and geological importance. At Gamboa, disembark and your driver will take you back to your hotel.
Day 4: Chagres River and Embera Village
With your guide, meet up with Embera guides in their dugout canoe who will take you upriver for about 45 minutes. Along the way, stop by a beautiful waterfall where you can take a refreshing dip in the cool water (optional). You are welcomed to the Embera indigenous community with traditional music. Wander for a short time on your own, then join a short presentation about Embera culture, traditions and crafts. A delicious lunch of fish or chicken and patacones (fried plantains) is included. Then you are free to relax or wander around to purchase crafts and make conversation. Or take a short hike in the jungle with one of the village elders to learn about medicinal plants. Before leaving, watch a traditional shamanic and celebrational dance. Then it’s time to climb back in the dugout and head back down river to your rainforest hotel.
Day 5: Pipeline Road and Discovery Center
Join a morning hike through Soberania National Park and you will observe a variety of exotic tropical birds, trees and plants. Pipeline Road is a dirt road that goes through the heart of this national park and affords views of some of the most diverse bird life in the area. For several years in a row, it has set a world record for bird counts in a 24-hour period – up to 367 different species of birds! Some of the more common sights are the Salty-tailed Trogon, Keel-billed Toucan, Thick-billed Mot-Mot, several species of ant birds, wrens, tanagers and flycatchers. There is also the possibility to see Howler Monkeys, sloths, anteaters and agoutis. Afterwards your morning hike, visit the nearby Panama Rainforest Discovery Center, an ecotourism and environmental education facility with a circuit of forest trails and observation decks.
Day 6: Jungle Canal and Lake Tour
A day of adventure on the waters of the world’s most famous man-made lake. Constructed 1906-1914 to make the Panama Canal possible, Lake Gatun is situated in the heart of the Isthmus of Panama. Board a fast motor launch to navigate above ancient routes that crossed the isthmus long before the lakes creation. Huge oceangoing ships can be seen transiting across this water bridge that links the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Glide past lush tropical forests to a scenic region of the lake. Exotic birds, monkeys, sloths, iguanas, and crocodiles are just a few of the animals that you can view in their native surroundings. Let the sights, sounds and scents that make up this tropical paradise will engulf you. Our ultimate destination will be a private tropical island to enjoy a delicious native style lunch. Then explore on your own while kayaking, swimming, and fishing, or relax in the shade swinging in a hammock and sip a cool drink.
Day 7: Historic Railway to Portobelo
Take a historic train ride alongside the Panama Canal. You will have unsurpassed views of the Panama Canal and the giant ships transferring between two seas as well as of the spectacular nature of the isthmus. In Portobelo, a sleepy bayside town full of colonial history, you will feel transported back in time. Five colonial fortifications with canons pointing towards the bay offered protection from invading forces. Other monuments of interest are the Custom House built in 1640, the Hospital Chapel built in the year 1597 and a statue of the Black Christ.
Later, tour the most impressive locks at Gatun. It takes approximately 1.5 to 2 hours for a vessel to complete the transit at Gatun Locks and you will have an opportunity to witness the process.
Day 8: Bienvenido a Costa Rica
You will meet your private bilingual naturalist driver upon arrival in San Jose. This is the person who will guide you for the next 6 days. En route, he will share his national culture, the history and the sights along the way. In addition, he will bring good materials like field guides. You’ll have a lot of flexibility in travel which allows you to enjoy occasional short side trips to enhance your overall experience.
Your destination today is the Arenal Observatory Lodge. Originally a family farm and later a Smithsonian Institute scientific research station, the lodge practices reforestation and contributes to community projects. The National Park surrounding the lodge teems with wildlife and almost every room has picturesque views of Arenal Volcano.
Day 9: Arenal Volcano
In a small canyon surrounded by lush jungle forest is a 200ft. waterfall that receives cool, clear waters from pristine forest mountains. If you’re in the mood, feel free to swim in the lagoon just below the waterfall.
Arenal Vida Campesina is a local farming family operation. A visit will show you how sustainable agricultural techniques are used to grow typical crops like sugarcane juice, coffee, bananas and plantains. Enjoy a traditional lunch with freshly harvested vegetables and tortillas you make by hand.
Arenal Hanging Bridges is a system of suspension bridges and trails through the beautiful rainforest. Hike the 1.5-mile trail that crosses ravines with small waterfalls and offers panoramic vistas over the treetops. The possible wildlife you will encounter includes toucans, poison dart frogs and monkeys (howler, spider and white-faced capuchin).
Day 10: Caño Negro Wildlife Tour
Head to north to the town of Los Chiles and the Rio Frio River with your guide. Here, you will begin a boat adventure to Caño Negro National Park. You will see a great variety of resident and migratory birds like the Amazon Kingfisher. There are also three species of monkeys, iguanas, sloths, turtles and caymans. This floating safari takes you through the tropical rain forest and alongside pastures to a marsh where the true biodiversity is found.
Day 11: Arenal National Park Tour
Explore the area around the volcano, learn about its fascinating history, flora and fauna. The volcano steams quietly and heats local rivers developed into popular hot springs and spas. Forest vegetation returned after a 1968 eruption covering the massive rock fragments and lava flows. The rainforest wildlife once again flourishes in and around the park for you to enjoy.
Continue to Monteverde Cloud Forest in the Tilaran mountain range, your home for the next 2 nights. Monteverde is one of the world’s premiere destinations for naturalists. A cloud forest is an especially beautiful and rare type of rainforest created by frequent mists from low lying clouds. This cool and moist environment is characterized by massive trees covered by thick carpets of small plants. Much of the resident wildlife is unique to these habitats.
Day 12: Monteverde Cloud Forest
A day in the clouds starts with an exciting Sky Tram/Skywalk. The tram will lead you up to the Continental Divide and one of the highest mountains in the area. From this vantage point, you can observe the outstanding biodiversity of the cloud forest, majestic Arenal Volcano and Nicoya Gulf. Skywalk bring you face-to-face with the upper level of the forest canopy. The trails extend for slightly over a mile and a half (2.5 km), making this tour extremely feasible for anyone in moderate shape.
In the afternoon, you’re on your way to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. The forest is dominated by trees densely covered with mosses, lichens, orchids, ferns and bromeliads. This cool, very green and often misty forest is home to a variety of wildlife. You may encounter monkeys, coatimundis and agoutis, as well as many bird species like Toucanets, Chlorophonias and seasonally the legendary crimson and green Resplendent Quetzal.
Day 13: Monteverde to Manuel Antonio
Make your way to one of the most beautiful national parks in the world – Manuel Antonio National Park. You will enjoy the lush forest growing to the edge of a gorgeous beach, the abundant wildlife, warm pacific waters, easy forest trails and scenic views overlooking the ocean. While walking along the trails, you will likely encounter a variety of wildlife as the animals are accustomed to visitors. Sightings may include squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys, sloths, black iguanas and agoutis.
Day 14: La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Today, you will be driven to La Paz Waterfall Gardens located in the mountains near Cinchona. It is a beautiful facility with restaurants, tropical gardens with butterflies and hummingbirds, an aviary, rescued animal zoo, serpentarium, live frog exhibit and orchid exhibit. All this is surrounded by cloud forest. Stroll leisurely along the well-maintained trails to view the numerous exhibits and gardens and the famous waterfalls of the pristine La Paz River. It’s the ultimate place for the awakening of your senses. Every magical sight, wondrous smell and sensual touch create irreplaceable memories of a journey you wish to take again and again.
Day 15: La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Costa Rica is a leader in ecotourism and will discover why when you explore La Paz Waterfall Gardens on your own today. The park comprises 70 acres (28 hectares) of land including 40 acres of cloud and rainforest protected under Private Animal Sanctuary Status. There are 2.2 miles (3.5 kilometers) of hiking trails and viewing platforms designed and built without cutting one tree or vine system. Five waterfalls, aviary with numerous species of birds, toucans, insect exhibit, butterfly observatory, capuchin (white-faced) monkeys, black-handed spider monkeys, hummingbird garden, snake and frog exhibits, jaguars, pumas, ocelots, margays, orchid and heliconia exhibits and more. All of these offered at one place, makes us the best eco park in Costa Rica.
Day 16: San Jose International Airport
You will be picked up at the lodge for your transfer to San Jose International Airport to take your flight home. Take with you the memories from your many experiences of the cultural and natural worlds of Panama and Costa Rica and the friendly people you met along the way.