oat travel panama canal

Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T. Tours)

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$2,895 — 9,190

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Age Range:  Primarily 50+

Average Tour Price: $4,538

Average Tour Duration: 15 Days

Group Size:  Small groups - between 10 and 16 travelers, max of 24 on small ship cruises

Travel Style:  Culturally immersive and local experiences. Walking between 3-6 miles a day.

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Policy over practical customer service. zero customer service

don't expect humanity or common sense

This letter is effectively what was communicated no less than 8 times in writing and conversation to OAT representatives up the chain, beginning 19 days before the t...

Trip of a Lifetime

Our recent Tanzanian Safari was indeed the trip of a lifetime. Saw the big 5, met the wonderful locals and spent 5 days in the Serengeti. Saw many lions, zebras, gi...

Booked for July and gave them $12,000. They talked us into early arrival and then come back to us a two months later saying we can't offer. We have to keep our airli...

My favorite OAT adventure

I went to this adventure with my sister-in-law and we had the absolute best time! Our guide were all amazing and our trip leader Martin was exceptional! My sister-i-...

We visited Panama on this trip with OAT

We visited Panama on this trip with OAT including walking through El Chorrillo neighborhood and listening to the stories of the survivors of the US invasion. We woul...

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Founded in 1978, Overseas Adventure Travel specializes in small group and small ship adventure tours . Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) is now part of the Boston-based Grand Circle Corporation, which also includes Grand Circle Travel and Grand Circle Cruise Line.

Quick Facts

Founded in 1978

Very welcome to solo travelers - Free or low single supplement

Average Tour Price - $4,538

Average Tour Duration - 15 Days

Small Groups - between 10 and 16 travelers, max of 24 on small ship cruises

Travel Style - Culturally immersive and local experiences. Walking between 3-6 miles a day

Age Range - Primarily 50+

What Makes Overseas Adventure Travel Stand Out?

  • Solo traveler friendly
  • Cultural immersion
  • Grand Circle Foundation

Touring southeast asia with Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T. Tours)

Overseas Adventure Travel is solo traveler friendly . They offer free or low single supplements. OAT understands that solo travelers desire to follow their own schedule, desires and needs. They help handle all the details to make sure your trip is affordable, easy and enjoyable.

A major focus of OAT is cultural immersion . Travelers can expect to visit local schools, churches, and homes (where you might be treated to a home-cooked meal). Experienced guides -- all fluent in English -- lead groups off the beaten path when possible.

OAT strives to give back to the world they send travelers around.  A portion of all proceeds goes to the Grand Circle Foundation, which supports cultural and educational programs in the countries visited.

Who Will Enjoy Traveling With Overseas Adventure Travel?

  • Solo travelers
  • Cultural enthusiasts

Woman in Turkey on a tour with Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T. Tours)

 OAT specializes in small group tours around the world serving Americans aged 50 and older. They appeal to the old fashioned - the fact that they still offer a physical catalogue is testament - and their travel style reflects an appreciation of the classics coupled with an adventurous spirit to explore each destination deeper and from a local perspective. 

Overall, prices fall into the moderate range, and are especially a bargain for solo travelers , who can save substantially by not having to pay for single supplements. Accommodations are designed to be both comfortable as well as unique and in keeping with the local spirit of the destination. If your hostelling days are over but you feel too adventurous for a standard hotel, OAT will be a great company to travel with. 

OAT travelers are those with a passion for culture . They don’t just want to see a destination, they want to experience it. For these travelers, spending a day in a Maasai village in Kenya, eating dinner with a local family in Chile's oasis town and interacting with local musicians at the bustling Libertad Plaza in San Salvador, Belize is a welcomed adventure.

Top Destinations

Female traveler enjoying Overseas Adventure Tour in Patagonia, Argentina

OAT operates tours all over the world, specializing in remote, off the beaten path destinations. African safaris are an especially popular offering, though you can also travel to Japan , India , Peru , Iceland , Vietnam , Albania , or Morocco , to name just a few of its far-flung destinations. OAT also runs small-ship cruises through the Galapagos , on the Amazon , and along the Turkish coast.

OAT Travel Style

With Overseas Adventure Travel you’ll find a combination of transportation and accommodation styles, but all with an element of comfort. Groups are small, with a max of 16 (24 on small ship cruises). 

Accommodations vary, but generally favor being local and non-traditional over a basic centrally located hotel. Their exact words are “emphasis on authenticity, rather than amenities”.

Exploring rural China with Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T. Tours)

Their style is all about unique and meaningful cultural interaction . While you’ll learn the history and see the famous sights, their true focus is about people and connections. This means you’ll enjoy meals with local families, like you’re just a friend over for dinner; visit schools and see the amazing work being done in small communities. The visceral understanding and perspective that comes from learning to cook traditional meals and make traditional crafts is what you’ll find on an OAT tour.

Why Choose a Tour with OAT?

OAT offers a unique up close and personal experience, guaranteeing that its groups will never exceed more than 10-16 travelers. A spirit of spontaneity is part of what makes traveling with OAT special, as they strive to take advantage of every interesting opportunity during a trip. 

Woman in traditional dress in India

Traveling with Overseas Adventure Travel allows for an in depth cultural travel experience in comfort. Many opportunities exist for travelers to find deals, and it’s a great way to meet new friends in a similar age range.

If you traveled extensively in your youth and are not ready to slow down, but perhaps are looking for a few more logistical ducks to be taken care of for you, OAT could be the perfect fit. They offer a variety of options for more independent minded travelers, as well as ample free time to explore and plan your own adventure during cruise port stops and on their group tours.

Alternatively, if this is your first travel experience, OAT will be a great starting point. You’ll gain cultural insights, meet locals, as well as hit on all the best tourist sites that provide cultural and historical context to your destination.

Overseas Adventure Travel Covid Safety Precautions

Through December 31st 2020, Overseas Adventure Travel is offering Risk Free booking. You can transfer your departure with all change fees waived.  

Some countries are beginning to reopen to international visitors with entry restrictions while others have remained closed. Stay up to date and see a full list of which countries are open  »  

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Solo friendly.

  • No single supplement
  • Solo & Singles Travel

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About the company.

Overseas Adventure Travel offers unique small group adventures worldwide to Americans over 50. By land and sea, we explore on—and off—the beaten path with a resident OAT Trip Leader, immersing ourselves in local cultures, sampling unique modes of transportation, and staying in authentic lodgings that reflect the essence of your destination. Grand Circle Small Ship Cruises serves both our GCT and OAT brands with an award-winning fleet known for exceptional value and high-quality experiences in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. Custom-designed according to our travelers’ specifications, our fleet includes 50+ small river and ocean-going ships that we own or privately charter.

Grand Circle Corporation is a global enterprise—comprised of a family of travel companies—committed to changing people’s lives by offering high-impact experiences to our travelers and building local communities through philanthropy, social entrepreneurship, and volunteerism.

Simply by traveling with OAT, you support the work of the nonprofit Grand Circle Foundation, which was created with the mission of changing people’s lives through travel—both those of our travelers, and of the people who welcome us so warmly into their homelands.

Journey with the Leader in Adventure Travel and Watch Your Dreams Take Flight : It is the stuff of dreams: gazelles bowing to lap at a glassy pool in the Serengeti as the vast sky turns purple with night, the tiered splendor of the Himalayas, rising behind a Tibetan monastery. Dreams like these are everyday realities for OAT travelers, thanks to the principles which ground every OAT adventure: value, choice, discovery, and carefully paced itineraries.

Our Value puts your travel dreams within reach: OAT can help you realize your travel dreams for a lot less than you thought possible. Together with our regional offices located throughout the world, we’ve been able to establish long-term relationships with many local vendors and hotels. Buying direct brings down our costs—and allows us to pass the savings on to you. And negotiating directly for hotel space also allows us to secure as many single room allotments as possible for our solo travelers. That way, we can also extend our great value to solo travelers. In fact, we offer the best value for solo travelers, guaranteed.

The Choice is yours : You’ll always have plenty of choices with OAT. We offer you a breadth of awe-inspiring travel destinations—from the peaks of the Andes to the sweeping desert sands of the Sahara to the rugged natural beauty of Iceland. You'll also enjoy more trip extension choices than ever before—like hiking to ancient monasteries in Bhutan or discovering the Moai monolithic rock statues on Easter Island. You have plenty of choices within each adventure, too, including several interesting optional tours. And the free time we’ve woven into our itineraries allows you plenty of opportunities for independent exploration. You can shop, unwind, perhaps linger at a sidewalk café, visit an interesting gallery or museum, or explore a cobbled street that caught your eye earlier in the day. You can do as much or as little as you want on an OAT adventure—the choice is yours.

OAT Difference

Adventure Travel : Adventure travel with OAT is a journey beyond the familiar, one that takes you into the very heart of a destination—to meet people where they work and live.

OAT Advantages : Journey with the leader in adventure travel and watch your dreams take flight, thanks to the principles which ground every OAT adventure: value, choice, discovery, and carefully paced itineraries.

Small Groups, Big Discoveries : When you discover the world in an OAT small group, you’ll journey off the beaten path to the places the big tour groups miss—and enjoy an intimate, discovery-filled adventure filled with personal connections, shared experiences, and treasured memories.

Trip Leaders : No matter where in the world you venture with OAT, you'll have one of our resident, expert Trip Leaders by your side. All are fluent in English and possess the skills, certification, and experience necessary to ensure an enriching adventure.

Airport Transfers : We’ve listened to your feedback, and will now offer international airport transfers to and from your hotel to our travelers who choose to purchase their own airfare on OAT adventures as part of our Personalize Your Trip program, which allows you create the OAT adventure that's right for you.

Personalize your trip : OAT travelers have long expressed the desire to decide exactly where they’re going, how they get there, and when they wish to leave. That’s why we developed a variety of choices that enhance the value of every trip we offer, allowing you to create the adventure that works best for you.

Traveling solo? Enjoy your own room or cabin—at no extra cost : You’re in control of your travel dreams—and we’re making them more affordable than ever: Maybe you prefer the freedom of solo travel—or maybe you and your usual traveling companion can’t agree on a destination. Whatever the reason, you don’t have to put your travel dreams on hold. When it’s time to go it alone, you’ll never pay a Single Supplement to have your own room or cabin with OAT.

Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T. Tours) Trips & Specials

Real Affordable Peru

Real Affordable Peru

Japan's Cultural Treasures

Japan's Cultural Treasures

Mongolia & the Gobi Desert

Mongolia & the Gobi Desert

Untamed Iceland

Untamed Iceland

Heart of India

Heart of India

Northern Greece, Albania & Macedonia: Ancient Lands of Alexander the Great

Northern Greece, Albania & Macedonia: Ancient Lands of Alexander the Great

From Siam to Saigon: Thailand & Vietnam Revealed

From Siam to Saigon: Thailand & Vietnam Revealed

Southern Africa: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana

Southern Africa: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana

Want a tailor-made trip instead, your trip, your way, planned by an expert:.

  • You choose budget, destinations, activities, transport & lodging type
  • Expert designs the itinerary for you, and once approved, takes care of logistics

Top Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T. Tours) Trip Categories

Overseas adventure travel (o.a.t. tours) company ranking by category, similar companies.

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Small ship adventures (20 to 25 travelers) 22 average, the 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. In the dining area, bar, and lounge, floor-to-ceiling glass walls offer spectacular views.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • There is no Wi-Fi onboard the Discovery
  • Transit through the canal is subject to the Panama Canal ´s Captaing schedule, be flexible.
  • This is a privately chartered catamaran not owned by OAT therefore some inclusions like open bar do not apply
  • Some activities involve to go on and off fiberglass boats
  • Bring plastic bags to protect your electronics!

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 are located at same level and have individual climate control, a hair dryer, closet, writing desk, and private bath.

Packing tips

To improve your comfort while on the M/S Discovery even though there is built in storage for you to get organized be mindful about how to organize your clothing so they can be easily accessed. Some travelers like to bring an extra small bag to put in there what they will use on the next 4 days and keep stored the bigger bag.

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Go tripping with Overseas Adventure Travel

OAT travels with friends

2019: Panama Canal Cruise & Panama: A Continent Divided, Oceans United

Info on Panama trips from OAT

oat travel panama canal

The Bamboo Traveler

  • 8 Ways to See the Panama Canal (2024)

by Julie | Feb 5, 2024 | Panama , Travel

a shipping container moving through the Panama Canal

Are you in the middle of planning a trip to Panama?

Wondering how to visit the Panama Canal?

In this Panama travel guide, I’m going to share with you the best tours of the Panama Canal. This guide is ideal for those who are history nerds like me and want the BEST canal experience . However, for those who aren’t nerds, I’ve also included a list of easy and cheap ways to see the canal.

So let’s get started!

By the way, for more information on traveling to Panama, check out my complete list of Panama Travel Guides .

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links.  As an Amazon Associate and a Bookshop.org Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.  Please see this website’s  Disclosure  for more info.

In this post, you’ll find…

  • Where EXACTLY is the Panama Canal

History of the Panama Canal

  • How the Panama Canal works – ESSENTIAL info for trip planning – Don’t skip this part!
  • Panama Canal Cruise – Half-way (6 hours)
  • Panama Canal Cruise from Pacific to Atlantic Oceans
  • Miraflores Locks
  • Pedro Miguel Locks
  • Gatun Locks in Colon
  • Lake Gatun – Includes Monkey Island
  • Panama Canal Museum
  • Museum of the Afro-Antilleans of Panama

Where EXACTLY is the Panama Canal?

map of the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal stretches from the city of Colon on the Atlantic Ocean to Panama City on the Pacific Ocean.

Container ships, cruise ships, and even sailboats ply the canal daily as they make their way from one ocean to another.

You can either visit the canal from the Pacific Side in Panama City, the Atlantic side in Colon, or from Lake Gatun in Gamboa . I recommend visiting the canal from Panama City, but in this guide, I’ll tell you all the different ways to visit it.

The original Panama Canal was completed in 1914. However, in the twenty-first century, some container ships had become too wide to fit through the original canal, so in 2016 Panama built another set of locks running parallel to the old locks. This new set of locks is called Cocoli Locks .

TOP 3 Panama Canal Tours

1. panama canal cruise.

RATING: 4.6/5 (70 Reviews) | TIME: 6 Hours | COST: US$145

  • Take a boat ride from the Pacific Ocean through Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks to Lake Gatun (vice versa)
  • Includes FREE snack and FREE lunch
  • FREE hotel pickup and dropoff


2. Panama Canal from Pacific to Atlantic + Jungle Tour

RATING: 5/5 (1,100 Reviews) | DURATION: All Day | PRICE: US$135

  • Drive along the Panama Canal from Panama City to Lake Gatun in a bus
  • Take a boat ride around the islands of Lake Gatun to spot the wildlife of Panama
  • Visit the Agua Clara Locks to see the ships pass through the canal
  • Visit San Lorenzo National Park where you’ll visit a rainforest to spot more wildlife and tour Fort San Lorenzo to learn about the pirates that terrorized Panama

3. Miraflores Locks + Panama City Tour

RATING: 4.8/5 (220 Reviews) | DURATION: 5 hours | PRICE: $67

  • Includes FREE hotel pickup and dropoff
  • Miraflores Visitor Center
  • Casco Viejo
  • Bridge of the Americas
  • Amador Causeway

The Panama Canal has one of the most interesting histories in the world. On the one hand, it was an engineering and scientific miracle . But on the other hand, its construction was filled with hubris, corruption, lies, disease, war, revolution, racism, and death .

Before the Panama Canal was Built

a map of Panama before the canal was built

Before the Panama Canal was built, ships had to travel around the tip of South America to get from Europe or the East Coast of the United States to Asia or the West Coast of the U.S. This would take many months of travel.

The Panama Canal clipped off months or over 10,000 km from the original route .

During the California Gold Rush , the quickest way for Americans to travel from the East Coast to the West Coast was to take a boat to the Caribbean side of Panama and get off in Colon, where they would then take a boat down the Chagres River to Panama City.

Eventually, a train was built parallel to the river that would take passengers across the isthmus to Panama City. Finally, fortune seekers would catch another boat to California.

The French and the Building of the Panama Canal

The first country to try building the Canal was France. The story of France’s attempt to build the canal is one that is hard to believe–a story of hubris, incompetence, corruption, and scandal.

Over 22,000 people died from disease during the 9 years of construction (1880-1889). Millions of dollars were siphoned off into people’s pockets. And a well-respected French family was left penniless and the eldest son was imprisoned for the arrogance and ignorance of his father.

Ferdinand de Lesseps

Ferdinand de Lesseps

The one name that you should remember from this period is Ferdinand de Lesseps . He was the head of France’s attempt to build the canal. De Lesseps had more charm and confidence than integrity and humility . It’s hard to know what he was thinking. Did he knowingly lie and cheat people? Or did he believe his lies and was just living in a fantasy world? Reading his story, one is reminded of Elizabeth Holmes or Sam Bankman-Fried.

What did the French do wrong?

Culebra Cut

The French started building their canal without doing proper research on what would be the most suitable canal for Panama. Lesseps just insisted on building a sea canal and wouldn’t accept facts even after years and years of failure. A sea canal was not possible given the terrain, the soil, and the raging Chagres River. As a result, the French ran into one engineering problem after another. 

Why did so many workers die?

The French had another big problem: so many workers—both French and West Indies— died on the canal from malaria and yellow fever . Back in the 1800s it was believed that these two diseases were caused by dirt, filth, bad air, or immoral living. No one knows for sure how many died—as the French didn’t keep track of the deaths of the Jamaican workers. But estimates say that it was at least 22,000.

The collapse of the Panama Canal Company

However, Lesseps kept telling people that construction was going well and progress was being made. The guy was so charming that everyone believed him. Sound familiar? Finally, in 1889, Lessep’s lies caught up to him and the company ran out of funds .

Construction stopped and France was rocked by the scandal of the Panama Canal. There were several trials. In the end, de Lessep’s son went to prison for the lies or incompetence of his father.

The Americans and the Building of the Panama Canal

construction of one of the locks of the Panama Canal

Then the Americans came along. Many Americans especially Theodore Roosevelt, saw the canal as essential for the future imperial ambitions of the United States.

However, the Americans debated between building a canal in Nicaragua or Panama. Unlike the French, they had done a substantial amount of research. In the end, Panama won with the help of another fascinating French guy (I’ll tell you about him below) and a corrupt American lobbyist.

Colombians refused to give in to the Americans

But the Colombians, who owned Panama, had different ideas. They didn’t trust the Americans as the U.S. was already giving off hints of imperialist ambitions in South America. Thus, the Colombians refused to allow the Americans to build the canal. However, the Panamanian elite wanted it.

So the Panamanians with American backing and the support of a French engineer named Philippe Bunau-Varilla revolted and declared independence from Colombia .

The notorious Philippe Bunau-Varilla

Philippe Jean Bunau Varilla and John Hay

Philippe Bunau-Varilla is probably the most hated French person in Panamanian history. His role in the Panama Canal and the revolution was to have repercussions for the next 85 years of Panama-U.S. relations.

The Panamanian revolutionaries needed money for their revolution to succeed. Bunau-Varilla agreed to give them $100,000 in exchange for being made Panama’s ambassador to the United States .

After the Panamanians got their independence, Bunau-Varilla stabbed them in the back. As Panama’s ambassador to the U.S., he rewrote the original Panama Canal Treaty . The conditions in the new treaty were so favorable to the U.S. and so disadvantageous to Panama that they were to anger Panamanians for the rest of the twentieth century, leading to hatred and resentment toward America and many deaths.

The Panama Canal Treaty

In the new treaty, the United States was given complete sovereignty over the land in the canal zone , which included 10 miles of land on each side of the canal. The second change was that this control over the Panama Canal was to be in perpetuity and not for the 99 years that had originally been agreed upon in the previous treaty. The treaty also in essence gave the U.S. final say over any decision made by the Panamanian government, including who would govern the country.

American successes

The U.S. began construction on the Panama Canal in 1904 and they stumbled just like the French did during the first year.

However, in 1905 the right people were put in charge: the railroad engineer, John Steven,s and the infectious disease doctor, William Gorgas.

The U.S. spent time before construction eliminating yellow fever and malaria by reducing the number of mosquitos. Discovering the cause of these two diseases probably saved tens of thousands of lives, and without this achievement, the canal probably wouldn’t have been completed.

The Americans also scrapped plans for a sea canal and i nstead went with the lock canal .  If they hadn’t, they probably wouldn’t have finished the canal for another twenty years.

The U.S. finished the canal in 1914.

The end of U.S. control over the Panama Canal

Jimmy Carter and a group of people standing in front of the Panama Canal at Miraflores

In the end, Panama became a vassal of the United States until President Jimmy Carter and Omar Torrijos of Panama signed a treaty whereby the U.S. would give up the canal in 1999 .

Before this happened, though, the U.S. invaded Panama in 1989 to arrest its one-time ally, the psychopath, General Manuel Noriega. Several thousand Panamanians lost their lives and most Americans lost all historical memory of the invasion. 

Ever since 1999, Panama has run the canal and has done as good of a job as the Americans had done.

For the BEST book on Manuel Noriega and the U.S. invasion of Panama , I highly recommend God’s Favorite by Lawrence Wright.

Best Books on the History of the Panama Canal?

These are my 2 favorite books on the Panama Canal. You can also check out my complete list of books on Panama .

  • The Path Between the Seas – By David McCullough (1977) – The most popular book on the history of the Panama Canal but it was written over 45 years ago, sooooo not the most up-to-date book on the market.
  • Panama Fever – By Matthew Parker (2007) – An excellent but more up-to-date published book on the canal. You’ll find Parker has a different perspective on the characters and events from McCullough’s.

How the Panama Canal Works

Before visiting the Panama Canal, it’s helpful to how it works. If you don’t, you might end up visiting at the wrong time and see NOTHING! Trust me! I’ve met several other travelers who went to the canal and saw NOTHING because they went at the wrong time.

Visiting the Panama Canal in the Morning

tugboat going through the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal

In the morning , ships ONLY travel down the canal from the Pacific end to the Atlantic end .

The best place to see ships passing through the canal on the Pacific Side is at the Miraflores Locks. Visit the Miraflores Visitor Center website to find out when the ships pass through the locks . Times change daily. And now with the Panama Canal suffering from a shortage of water, times are very different from in previous years. In January 2024 , the website says ships pass through until 6:30 am and then start going through the canal again at 12:35 pm .

It’s BEST not to visit the Miraflores Locks in the morning. Visit in the afternoon.

Visiting the Panama Canal in the Afternoon

In the afternoon starting at noon , the canal is ONLY open to ships traveling from the Atlantic end to the Pacific end .

According to the Miraflores Website, the first ship in January 2024 passes through the Miraflores Locks at 12:35 pm . However, when I visited in 2023 the first ships passed through at 2:40 pm .

Ships continue going through the locks at least until Miraflores Visitor Center closes. So, if you go between 2:00 and 5:00, you should see something .

Essential Info on the Locks

A boat exiting the Miraflores Locks

When the Americans were constructing the canal, they were having a hard time cutting the canal through the Continental Divide. They could not dig deep enough to make a canal level with the sea . In addition, they were having difficulty controlling the flooding from the Chagres River.

The only solution was to build a canal with locks and create a huge human-made lake.

What you see today is a canal that is at a higher elevation than both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans .  When ships enter the Panama Canal from either the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans, the locks raise the ships so that they are equal to the level of the canal and lower them to sea level when the ships exit the canal and enter the two oceans. Maybe I’m a nerd, but I think it’s really cool seeing the ships being raised and lowered.

How many locks are there?

There are 3 locks on the Pacific side (2 locks at Miraflores and 1 lock at Pedro Miguel) and 3 locks on the Atlantic side (all 3 are at Gatun Locks) that raise and lower ships. You can visit the locks on both sides.

The original canal has 2 lanes of traffic, so you can see 2 ships passing through the locks at the same time.

However, in the 2000s, at the height of globalization, shipping containers became too wide to pass through the original locks.

In 2016, Panama built a new set of locks running parallel to Miraflores and Pedro Miguel. This new set of locks is called Cocoli Locks. When you’re at Miraflores Observation Deck, you can see ships passing through the new locks in the distance.

How do the locks work?

map of the Panama Canal locks

As a ship travels the canal from the Pacific side, it enters the first lock at Miraflores. The lock raises the ship 9 meters (29.5 feet) above sea level. Doors to the second lock open and the ship enters a new lock. When it enters the second lock at Miraflores, the lock raises the ship another 9 meters (29.5 feet). Finally, when the ship enters the Pedro Miguel lock, the lock raises the ship a final 9 meters (29.5 feet).

In total, the ship is raised 27 meters (88.5 feet) above the level of the Pacific Ocean.

The ship then travels through the Culebra Cut , which is where engineers carved the canal through the Continental Divide.

The canal then makes its way to Gatun Lake . This is where the powerful Chagres River was damned. The Chagres was another challenge for the builders of the canal. During the rainy season, it often floods.

After Gatun Lake, the ship enters the first lock on the Atlantic Side, the ship is lowered 9 meters (29.5 feet). At the second lock, the ship is lowered another 9 meters (29.5 feet). Finally, the last lock lowers the ship 9 meters (29.5 feet) until the ship is at the same level as the Atlantic Ocean .

8 Best Tours of the Panama Canal

aerial view of the Miraflores Locks at the Panama Canal

There are several ways to visit the Panama Canal during your trip to Panama. I will talk about all of the ways and which ones I did.

1. Taking a Cruise Down the Panama Canal

PRICE: US$145 | TIMES: Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon | BOOK YOUR CRUISE: Northbound Cruise ; Southbound Cruise | LOCATION OF PORT: Google Maps

Pedro Miguel locks opening up on the Panama Canal

The BEST way to see the Panama Canal is by taking a boat tour down the Panama Canal . This way is for those who REALLY want to be immersed in one of science’s greatest inventions.

It was one of the best things I did in Panama. But I’m a nerd and I love history and science. So this is not for those who are too cool.

These Panama cruises only do half of the Panama Canal . But you still get to go through 2 locks at Miraflores and 1 lock at Pedro Miguel , pass under the Bridge of the Americas , sail through the Culebra Cut , and see Lake Gatun .

There are 2 half-day boat tours :

  • Northbound Tour (Saturdays) – Pacific Ocean toward Lake Gatun
  • Southbound Tour (Sundays) – Lake Gatun toward the Pacific Ocean

Both tours only do half the canal.

Northbound Panama Canal Tour:

Shipping container on the Panama Canal

The Northbound Panama Canal cruise departs every Saturday morning . The boat travels from the Pacific Ocean toward the Atlantic Ocean.

The tour leaves from Isla Flamenco in Panama City and ends around the town of Gamboa on Lake Gatun.

The Northbound Cruise costs US$145 for children and US$95 for children. Check-in time is between 6:30 and 7:30 am. The tour company will pick passengers up at certain hotels around Panama City. Expect to finish the tour around 2:00 pm.  

The tour includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, a small snack, free drinks, free lunch, and English and Spanish guides. I was told that my tour did not include drop-off at the end, but I was dropped off at my hotel.

One big negative about the cruise was that the boat was pretty crowded. Maximum number of people is 250! Get to the boat early so that you can stand at the front of the boat as it goes through the locks. This means you probably won’t be able to do the free hotel pickup and instead get to the port on your own.

Why do the Northbound Panama Canal Tour?

You get to feel what it’s like for the ship to be raised through the three locks , which just seems like a cooler thing to experience than a ship being lowered (according to an engineer I met on the cruise.)

Southbound Panama Canal Tour

The Southbound Panama Canal Cruise goes from Gatun Lake to the Pacific Ocean . This cruise runs only on Sunday afternoons.

You take a bus from Panama City to Lake Gatun , where you catch the boat through the canal. First, you go along the Culebra Cut before passing through the Pedro Miguel lock and then through the two locks of Miraflores . The boat eventually sails under the Bridge of the Americas to the Pacific Ocean. The tour ends at Flamenco Island .

Why do the southern tour?

The cool thing about doing the southbound cruise is that you get to travel toward the Pacific Ocean at the end of the tour and you get to see the skyline of Panama City .

Your boat, however, will be lowered through the locks, whereas the southbound boat is raised as it goes through the locks.

The other reason to do the southbound Panama Canal cruise is that you don’t have to start the tour so early as you do with the northbound tour (6:30 – 7:30 am). The check-in time for the southbound one is between 9:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m .

How to book your Panama Canal Boat Tour

A large shipping container navigating the Panama Canal

I did the Northbound Tour in March 2023 and booked directly with the boat company called Panama Marine Adventures .  I recommend this company because their boats looked better than the other two going through the canal at the same time my boat went through.

However, I do NOT recommend booking directly with the company . I’ll tell you later my reasons.

Instead, book through Get Your Guide or Viator . It’s the same tour I took with Panama Marine Adventures .

  • Northbound Tour (Pacific Ocean to Lake Gatun – Saturday morning – US$145): Get Your Guide or Viator
  • Southbound Tour (Lake Gatun to Pacific Ocean – Sunday afternoon – US$145): Get Your Guide or Viator

Why book through Get Your Guide?

The price is the same as booking directly with Panama Marine Adventures .

And Get Your Guide is AMAZINGLY helpful if you have trouble with your tour. Finding a representative to talk to from Get Your Guide is easy and quick and they will contact the tour company if you have problems.

I tried to book a hotel pick-up time with Panama Marine Adventures and they did not answer my message for several days . They finally contacted me AFTER the deadline for booking a pickup. Thankfully, they did allow me to book a pickup.

However, whenever I’ve used Get Your Guide and had problems with a tour, like I did in Ecuador, I’ve gotten an immediate response from them even late at night.

You can easily get refunds if you need to cancel with Get Your Guide and if the tour doesn’t show up, you can get your money back through Get Your Guide .

You might be interested in these posts:

  • The BEST Boquete, Panama Travel Guide
  • The Ultimate Panama Food Guide
  • Top 20 Places to Visit in Central America

2. Take a Panama Canal Cruise from the Pacific to the Atlantic

PRICE: US$195 | TIME: once a month (see below for exact dates) | BOOK YOUR TOUR: Get Your Guide | LOCATION: Google Maps

2 large container ships are entering the Miraflores Locks

For the ultimate history and/or science nerd there is a cruise that takes you through the whole Panama Canal from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean .

I sooooo wanted to do this cruise.

But unfortunately, it’s only done once a month and I was not in Panama City when the cruise was running. Here are the dates for 2024:

  • January 20, 2024
  • February 17, 2024
  • March 16, 2024
  • April 20, 2024
  • May 18, 2024
  • June 15, 2024
  • July 20, 2024
  • August 17, 2024
  • September 21, 2024
  • October 19, 2024
  • November 16, 2024
  • December 21, 2024

The cruise begins at Flamenco Island before crossing under the Bridge of the Americas. It then passes through the Miraflores Locks and the Pedro Miguel Lock . Then it snakes its way through the Culebra Cut , where the canal was carved through the Continental Divide. After that, the boat cruises through Lake Gatun before it is lowered 26 meters through the three chambers of the Gatun Locks . Finally, your boat ends on the Atlantic side in the city of Colon. A bus brings you back to Panama City.

The tour lasts 12 hours and in 2024 costs US$195 for adults and US$105 for children .

What’s included in the tour?

  • Continental breakfast
  • Buffet lunch
  • Afternoon snacks
  • Unlimited water and soft drinks
  • Bilingual narrator onboard guide
  • Pickup from your hotel

How to book your tour?

You can book your tour through Get Your Guide .

3. Miraflores Locks

ENTRANCE FEE: US$17.22 (adults); US$7.22 (ages 6-12); FREE (under 6) | TICKET OFFICE OPEN: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm (M-Su)  | WEBSITE: Miraflores Visitor Center  | LOCATION: Google Maps

A white stone building in front of the Miraflores Locks

The easiest and most popular way to see the Panama Canal is by visiting the Miraflores Locks. The locks have a visitor center that includes the following three attractions:

  • IMAX Theater to watch a 40-minute 3-D film on the Panama Canal
  • Exhibition Hall – temporarily closed
  • Observation Deck to watch the boats pass through the locks

IMAX Theater

You can watch a 40-minute 3D film (you get 3D glasses) on the construction of the Panama Canal. It’s narrated by Morgan Freeman.

Personally, I think the movie was boring and did a horrible job of telling the history of the canal. It felt more like a tourism video as it spent way too much time bragging about how beautiful Panama was.

Here were the times for the 3D documentary on the canal when I visited:

Exhibition Halls

There are 4 exhibition halls that introduce visitors to the Panama Canal’s history, function, biodiversity, and international importance. When I visited in April 2023, it was closed .

Observation Deck

A ship in the Miraflores Locks

The highlight of visiting Miraflores is watching the ships go through the locks from the Observation Deck.  

The problem with the observation deck, though, is that it’s too small and there are too many people . When I got to the deck in the afternoon, the bleachers were full so I had to stand on the left edge of the deck and only got a view of the ships leaving the locks .  

If you stand to the right of the bleachers in the afternoon, you’ll get to see the ships entering the locks .

Even though I had taken a cruise through the locks several weeks earlier, I still LOVED watching the ships go through them AGAIN.

Check the Miraflores website to find out when the boats pass through the Miraflores Locks. The times in January 2024 are different from the times in 2023. In January 2024 , the website says ships go through the locks until 6:30 in the morning and start going through the locks again at 12:35 pm.

Coffee Shop, Wine bar, and Snack Bar

There’s a coffee shop, wine bar, and snack bar at the Visitor Center. They sell snacks as well as coffee and other drinks.

Are there long lines at Miraflores?

Yes, there are indeed long lines. However, my line moved relatively fast. I think I was in line for only around 10 minutes.

How to get to the Miraflores Locks

bus map from Allbrook Station to Miraflores Locks to see the Panama Canal

Getting to the Miraflores Locks by public transportation is SUPER EASY and FAST .

I highly recommend doing it by bus because taxis and Ubers tend NOT to like taking people all the way to the locks . AND they really hate picking people up from the locks .

At Allbrook Bus Station ( Google Maps ), take bus C810 from Bahia (Bus Stop) D right outside the station entrance. Allbrook is also called Gran Terminal Nacional de Transporte

Google Maps will show you the EXACT location where your bus is picking up passengers. Every time I used Google Maps at Allbrook it was 100% accurate in identifying the location of the bus stop.

Rapid Pass Machine

Bus fare costs 25 cents . However, you will need a Metro Card, which costs US$2 . You can buy a Metro Card from machines at subway stations around the city or from inside the Allbrook Bus Station.

Google Maps also works really well in Panama City for bus routes and schedules.

Bus C810 will drop you off right in front of the entrance to the Miraflores Visitor Center .

bus schedule from Allbrook to Miraflores for bus C810

My bus left Allbrook Station at 1:00 pm and arrived at Miraflores at 1:20 pm . This gave me enough time to buy tickets for the movie starting at 1:30 pm and get to the Observation Deck at 2:20 pm for the first boat passing by at 2:40 pm . I finished watching the ships pass through the locks at 3:30 pm and made it to the bus stop at 3:45 pm . I caught my bus back to Panama City a few minutes before 4:00 pm .

You can also drive if you have a private vehicle. There is a parking lot in front of the Miraflores Visitor Center.

How to get from Miraflores back to Panama City

Pick up Bus #C810 from the same spot that you were dropped off at. Google Maps will give you the bus schedule.

I met this American guy who was trying to get an Uber back to Panama City. No Uber would pick him up. This was at 3:45 pm . Taxis were offering to take him back for US$12.

Is Allbrook Station Safe?

Allbrook Station is safe, clean, and convenient .

It’s where you catch buses to other parts of Panama like Bocas del Toro and David. Allbrook is also where a lot of metro buses begin their routes to other parts of Panama City. There’s a subway line that ends at Allbrook as well.

Here are the 3 most HIGHLY-RATED Tours of the Miraflores Locks:

For the most convenient way to visit Miraflores, take a guided tour. All tours include hotel pickup and drop-off as well as a guide to explain the history and background of the Panama Canal. I recommend booking tours through Get Your Guide . In case something goes wrong with your tour, you can easily and quickly contact Get Your Guide .

1. Conozca Primero Tours Panama

RATING: 4.9/5 (35 REVIEWS) | TIME: 5 hours | PRICE: US$67 – $79

  • Jampacked, informative, and reasonably priced
  • Miraflores Visitor Center (entrance fee included in the tour price!)
  • Accepts solo travelers (few tours do) but for US$79
  • Do the afternoon tour to see the ships pass through the canal


2. Panama Trails

RATING: 4.6/5 (72 Reviews) | TIME: 4 hours | PRICE: US$130

  • Jampacked and informative
  • Miraflores Visitor Center (included in the tour price!)
  • Includes hotel pickup and dropoff


3. Safe Transportation Panama

RATING: 4.7/5 (200+ Reviews) | TIME: 5 hours | PRICE: US$129

  • Jampacked and fun tour with knowledgeable guides
  • A boat ride on Gatun Lake
  • A stop at Monkey Islands to see monkeys and other wildlife.

4. Pedro Miguel Locks

COST: FREE  | OPEN: 24/7  | LOCATION: Google Maps

A ship going through Pedro Miguel Locks

If you want to see ships passing through the Panama Canal for FREE , head to the Pedro Miguel Locks. Here you can stand on the side of the road and look through the holes in a fence to see ships get raised or lowered in the one lock at Pedro Miguel.

In the morning, you’ll want to get here BEFORE 9:00 am and in the afternoon AFTER 1:00 pm .

I did not visit the Pedro Miguel Lock, but I did pass by them on a bus going from Gamboa back to Panama City and I went through the lock on my Panama Canal cruise.

How to get to the Pedro Miguel Lock:

If you don’t have a car, you can take either bus #C800 or C970 from Allbrook Station and get off at this bus stop near Pedro Miguel Lock.

5. Agua Clara Visitor Center to See the Gatun Locks

ENTRANCE FEE: US$10 (adults); US$5 (ages 6-12): FREE (under 6)  | OPEN: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm (M-Su); Tickets are sold until 3:30 pm | WEBSITE: Agua Clara Visitor Center | LOCATION: Google Maps

Gatun Locks at Agua Clara Visitor Center

If you’re in Colon , the best way to see the Panama Canal is by visiting the Agua Clara Visitors Center. You can get a panoramic view of ships passing through the Gatun Locks . In the morning, the ships will be coming from Lake Gatun and entering the Atlantic Ocean, and in the afternoon, they will be coming from the Atlantic Ocean and entering Lake Gatun.  

There is also a projection room where you can learn about the history of the canal .

According to the Panama Canal website, ships pass through the Gatun Locks between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm .

How to Visit Agua Clara from Panama City:

1. panama canal pacific to atlantic + jungle tour, 2. agua clara locks + jungle tour.

RATING: 4.5/5 (99 Reviews) | TIME: 6 hours | PRICE: US$100

  • Informative and jampacked tour
  • Includes hotel pickup and dropoff and transport from Panama City to Colon and back
  • Agua Clara visitor center to see the Gatun Locks,
  • Visit a rainforest to see wildlife
  • The historic San Lorenzo Fort , where the Spaniards defended Panama from pirates like Captain Henry Morgan.

6. Lake Gatun

aerial view of Lake Gatun

A fun way to see the Panama Canal is by taking a boat ride on Lake Gatun .

This lake was created during the building of the canal and it is considered part of the canal as ships need to pass through the lake. Lake Gatun is used to provide water for the raising and lowering of the locks.

While you’re on the lake, you can see the ships passing along the canal . However, you do not get to see the ships go through the locks.

To visit Gatun Lake, most people join a tour. All tours take you to Monkey Island on Lake Gatun, which is home to 3 types of monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, turtles, and a variety of bird species.

Top-Rated Tours of Lake Gatun and Monkey Island:

1. panama canal: pacific to atlantic + jungle tour, 2. miraflores locks + lake gatun + monkey island.

RATING: 4.7/5 (220 Reviews) | TIME: 5 hours | PRICE: US$129

  • Miraflores Locks Visitor Center
  • A boat ride across Lake Gatun
  • Monkey Island to see monkeys and other wildlife

3. Lake Gatun + Monkey Island + Sloth Sanctuary

RATING: 4.8/5 (72 Reviews) | TIME: 5 hours | PRICE: US$155

  • A boat ride across Lake Gatun to experience the ships crossing the Panama Canal
  • Monkey Islands to see the monkeys and other wildlife
  • Sloth sanctuary and a butterfly garden in Gamboa

4. Lake Gatun + Monkey Island + Indigenous Village

RATING: 4.7/5 (150 Reviews) | TIME: 7 hours | PRICE: US$130

  • An enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide
  • Monkey Island where you can see 3 kinds of monkeys
  • An indigenous village where you can learn about the Embera people


7. Panama Canal Museum

ENTRANCE FEE: US$15 (adults); US$7.50 (students & retired); US$5.00 (ages 6-12) |  OPEN: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm (Tu-Su)   | WEBSITE: Panama Canal Museum | LOCATION: Google Maps

Panama Canal Museum

The  BEST way to get the most complete Panama Canal experience is to first visit the Panama Canal Museum BEFORE visiting Miraflores Locks or doing a Panama Canal cruise.

This very informative museum will tell you the history of the Canal and the history of Panama from the building of the Panama Railroad to the handover of the canal to Panama in 1999.

The museum also covers the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989.

Give yourself enough time to visit the museum. I ran out of time and had to rush to tour the last few rooms of the museum. There’s so much information that it might take you 2 to 3 hours . For history nerds, give yourself 3 hours.

8. Museo Afroantillano de Panamá

ENTRANCE FEE: FREE | OPEN: 8:30 am – 3:30 pm (Tu – Sa)  | LOCATION: Google Maps

Museo Afroantillano de Panama

Another Panama Canal attraction you might want to consider exploring is the Museum of Panama’s Afro Antilleans (a.k.a West Indies or Afro-Caribbean people).

The museum traces the history of the Africans who came from the Caribbean islands to work on the Panama Canal during both the French and American construction.

Over 31,000 people from Barbados, Martinique, Trinidad, and other countries in the West Indies worked on the American Canal . It’s unclear how many from the West Indies came during the French construction of the canal. I’ve read everything from 10,000 to 50,000.

The West Indians did the backbreaking work of building the railroad and canal and also suffered the most from malaria, yellow fever, and pneumonia . Under the French, the majority of the 22,000 who died from disease were from the Caribbean Islands. However, the French didn’t keep good records so we don’t know exactly how many died.

The history of the West Indians is important and should be highlighted more. Unfortunately, the museum is rather small—basically one room. There are just a few artifacts, photos, and models . That is probably due partly to the fact that at the time the canal was being built, few paid attention to these people. This neglect was mainly due to racism and partly due to the people from the West Indies being too poor, overworked, and/or illiterate to find the means and time to record their thoughts, experiences, and daily lives.

How to get to the Museo Afroantillano de Panamá:

Take the subway to 5 de Mayo station . Inside the station, there are signs pointing the way to the correct exit to take you to the museum. Once you exit the subway station, the museum should be right across a narrow street .

It’s also possible to walk from Casco Viejo to the museum.

Top Places to Stay for Every Budget

Here are my recommendations on where you to stay in Panama City while you visit the Panama Canal. I stayed at Panama House Bed and Breakfast and would stay there again in a heartbeat.

However, I also highly recommend trying to find a place in Casco Viejo so you can experience the city’s beautiful historic neighborhood.

Best Budget Place to Stay in Panama City

Panama house bed and breakfast.

LOWEST PRICE: US$20-$40 (private room);US$20 (dorm) | BREAKFAST: Included | RATING: 8.9/10 (252+ Reviews)

  • Located near a subway station and lots of good restaurants
  • Good WiFi – Great place for digital nomads
  • Reasonably priced private rooms and dorm rooms
  • Very inclusive: Other guests are diverse in terms of age, nationality, and race


Best Mid-Range Place to Stay in Panama City

Magnolia inn.

LOWEST PRICE: US$80-$100 (private room) US$24 (dorm) | BREAKFAST: Not Included | RATING: 8.5/10 (1,477 Reviews)

  • A beautiful French-style mansion in Casco Viejo
  • Has both mid-range at around US$80-$100 and dorm rooms for US$24

Best Luxury Place to Stay in Panama City

Amarla boutique hotel casco viejo.

LOWEST PRICE: US$242 | BREAKFAST: Included | RATING: 9.3/10 (97+ Reviews) |

  • Located in the heart of Casco Viejo
  • An impeccably beautiful boutique hotel
  • Amazing rooftop terrace with views of the city

Final Thoughts on the 8 Ways to See the Panama Canal

Don’t skip the Panama Canal when you’re visiting Panama . It is one of the greatest engineering feats ever conducted and it’s got a fascinating and tragic history that you should learn about.

But what, in my opinion, are the BEST ways to see the Panama Canal?

  • A Panama Canal boat cruise
  • A visit to the Miraflores Locks

Now where else should you go in Panama?

  • San Blas Islands – BEST beach and island destination in Central America
  • Boquete has tons of things to do if you like hiking, birdwatching, and drinking coffee.

Best Resources for Your Trip to Panama

Book your flight:.

I use Skyscanner and Google Flights to book my flight.

Book Your Accommodations:

I book all my accommodations through Booking.com and Agoda . Another site for backpackers and budget travelers is Hostel World – they’re a great site for finding hostels.

Book Your Tours:

I book my tours through Get Your Guide and Viator . They’re reliable and trustworthy, and if you run into problems, you can easily and quickly contact them.

Book Car Rentals:

I book car rentals through Discover Cars . They have good prices and good customer service.

Get Internet & SIM Cards:

I now buy an eSIM through Airalo . It avoids those nasty roaming charges and always having to buy a physical SIM card when arriving in a new country.

Are you on Pinterest?

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How to Visit the Panama Canal Pin

More Travel Posts on Panama…

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Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel blog dedicated to helping those travelers who want to dig deeply into the history, heritage, and culture of a place. Whether it’s through the pages of your passport or the pages of a book, I’ll help you travel the world and uncover the history, culture, food, architecture, and natural beauty of some of the world’s most fascinating places.

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Trip through the canal with Grand... - Panama Canal

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Trip through the canal with Grand Circle Travel

Panama Canal Cruise and Panama with Grand Circle Travel A wonderful combination of cultural connections, history, geography, flora and fauna, and the experience of traversing the isthmus on a catamaran through the Panama Canal. Our outstanding program director Juan Carlos Valdes Villarreal ("JC"), and a congenial group of travelers, made for a memorable trip. Suggested reading and viewing: -Book: “The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal”, by David McCullough -DVD “NOVA: A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama” “The Panama Deception”


The Panama Canal is a must when visiting Panama City. We went t the Miraflores Locks and watch a ship pass through the canal. We highly recommend the Canal museum in Casco Viejo as well. It provides history and context for this engineering masterpiece.

If you have extra money to spend go see the canal otherwise your money would be better spent on shopping or a nice lunch.

I found the Miraflores Visitor Centre very interesting. The set up is well thought out, theres plenty of room to see the canal working and there is a film to help you understand how the canal locks were built. I wish I had more time there to fully appreciate it.

the canal lock is amazing, the museum is also good. find a travel agency to do so. Canal train is ok

So much history in the building of the canal. To see the ships using the locks is unreal. I understand why it's the '8th' wonder of the world.

Panama 011 (507) 6679-3444 |   [email protected]

About our adventure trips:

 " Aventuras Panamá " or Adventures Panama pioneers adventure travel in Panama city and the country. It offers  soft adventure travel packages that include whitewater rafting , kayaking , mountain biking , hiking , camping , snorkeling , cultural inmersions on rainforest tribes , Panama vacation, Guna Yala , Panama City Panama , and more to turn your vacations in Panamain to unforgettable  memories. Visit Panama !

Panama is a bridge that unites North America with South America, and separates the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the narrowest area of America. That explain the huge biodiversity that you will encounter. Adventure into Panama Whale Watching , Bird Watching , or into any of our protected areas such as Soberania National Park to be amaze with our wildlife.

What ever your needs are in lodging, transfers, or activities we are here to help. If you can not find online what you are looking for contact us and we will be happy to assist you providing you reliable service.

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Discover Panama: From the capital to the Canal to its Caribbean beaches and tropical jungles

The monuments, restaurants and hotels of the old town of panama city, the colonial fortresses of san lorenzo and portobelo, excursions to learn about the emberá ethnic group and a visit to the panama canal are the milestones of a complete route through the latin american country.


Panama — the youngest nation in Latin America — united Central and North America with South America, while connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific. It’s a small country of enormous contrasts, filled with diverse tourist attractions.

Like small floating corks in the immense bay, countless gigantic merchant ships wait their turn to change oceans in front of the Panama Canal. The capital, Panama City, outlines its imposing profile of skyscrapers against stormy clouds.

Ancient enclaves such as Casco Viejo — the Old Town of Panama — and Panamá Viejo are in the same capital, but they’re not the same as modern Panama City, much of which is crowded with skyscrapers. The capital is the Latin Manhattan, or the Hispanic Hong Kong — an important financial center and a modern, cosmopolitan and multiracial metropolis, with great cultural offerings.

One institution that stands out is the Biomuseum. Brightly-colored and containing Panama’s ecological history, it was designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry . Meanwhile the city’s leisure and gastronomy scenes are equally interesting and varied: it is possible to enjoy nature in the nearby Metropolitan National Park — hiking, bird-watching, or enjoying incomparable views of the city skyline — to restaurants offering the best international cuisine.

The outside of the Biomuseo in Panama City, a project by Frank Gehry.

Panama Viejo — “Old Panama’ — is the colonial city that was built over Indigenous territory, before the pirate Henry Morgan destroyed it in 1671. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, it’s designed in a reticular shape — oriented towards the four cardinal points — and has the classic Spanish plaza mayor or main square at its center.

About 20 minutes away by car, in the district of San Felipe, is Casco Viejo (“the Old Town”). Having suffered repeated fires over time, its current configuration dates back to the end of the 19th century. Efforts have been made to preserve and restore colonial, neoclassical and Art Deco buildings. Today, it’s very inviting for visitors, who can stroll through quiet cobbled streets during the daytime to enjoy the monuments, elegant restaurants and fine shops. In the night, however, it’s significantly noisier: several old mansions have been converted into nightclubs.

The Plaza Mayor, Plaza de la Independencia or (the most popular) Plaza Catedral have always been the epicenter of the Old Town. They’ve witnessed major national events, such as independence from Spain in 1821, or the separation from Colombia in 1903. Here, there are two emblematic buildings: Santa María La Antigua, which is a basilica with a notable baroque-colonial style, and the Central Hotel Panamá, the first luxury hotel that was ever built in the country. Over its 150 years of life, it has accommodated major personalities, such as Theodore Roosevelt.

Other interesting places and monuments in the Old Town are Plaza Simón Bolívar, Plaza Herrera, the Church of La Merced, the Church of of San José — famous for its legendary Golden Altar, a notable baroque altarpiece covered in gold leaf — the Oratory of San Felipe Neri, the Church of San Francisco de Asís, the ruins of the Convent of Santo Domingo and the Church of the Society of Jesus, which housed the first Panamanian university. Among the official and civil buildings, you can check out the Bolívar Palace, the Palacio de las Garzas — the presidential palace, named after the storks that walk the courtyards — the National Theater, the Góngora House (one of the oldest in the country) the Boyacá House, the Heurtematte Houses, the Calvo Mansion and the Art Deco House.

The Central Hotel Panamá, the first luxury hotel that was ever built in the country, in front of Plaza de la Independencia, in the Old Town of the Panamanian capital.

In the Old Town, there are accommodations and tables for all types of budgets. Among the hotels and restaurants to highlight, one of the latest and most notable establishments is recommended: La Compañía, a tasteful hotel, converted from a Jesuit convent. Several architectural and archeological elements from different periods remain, while the residential wings and themed restaurants relate to the esthetics and cuisines of the different countries that had a presence in or historical influence on Panama (Spain, France and the United States). Even if you’re not going to sleep or eat, it’s advisable to visit.

Another excellent and brand new hotel is the Sofitel Legend Casco Viejo, located in a privileged location on the edge of the Pacific, with unbeatable views of the Panama City skyline. Good restaurants to enjoy Panamanian cuisine and have a drink in the Old Town are Casablanca and Lo que hay (“whatever there is”).

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Let’s get back to Panama Viejo, the name given today to the archeological site that preserves the ruins of the original city of Panama, which was founded by Pedrarias Dávila in 1519 and destroyed by the English pirate Henry Morgan. In its heyday, it was the place where gold from Peru arrived. After crossing the isthmus and changing oceans, it was sent to Spain. Among the ruins, there’s an old tower, which used to be the church-cathedral. This large area, occupied by the remains of Old Panama, is undoubtedly worth a visit.

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Colonial fortresses and Caribbean beaches

“In a single day, I counted 200 mules loaded with silver and gold… piles of silver ingots piled up like stones in the streets. In a few days, everything was loaded into a fleet [made up] of eight galleons and 10 merchant ships.” This is how, in 1637, the English clergyman Thomas Gage described the incredible spectacle that he witnessed in the streets of the port town of Portobelo. Years before, Bartolomé de las Casas, the Dominican friar who chronicled the colonization of the West Indies, had written something similar, referring to the enormous movement of precious metals that took place in the port of Nombre de Dios, located in contemporary Panama: “From there, it embarked for Spain [after arriving] from Peru… enormous amount of gold, never seen, nor even dreamed of.”

For almost three centuries, the two trails that linked Old Panama along the Pacific with the Caribbean — Camino Real and the Camino de Cruces — were, in the colonial era, the routes along which the most wealth traveled in the world. Created by the Spanish monarchy, a naval force was charged with protecting the enormous quantities of gold, silver and precious stones that, coming from the Viceroyalty of Peru, regularly arrived in Old Panama. From there, the immense treasures continued their journey, until reaching the port of Nombre de Dios and then Portobelo, on the Atlantic coast. From here, the West Indies Fleet finally delivered the precious shipments to Spain.

To protect the circulation of so much treasure from English piracy , Spain built different fortifications at key points along the trade routes that crossed the isthmus. One of them was the San Lorenzo Fort, located on top of a high cliff overlooking the mouth of the Chagres River in the Caribbean. The stronghold — ordered to be built by Philip II of Spain — was designed by the expert engineer Bautista Antonelli. Over the centuries, the place suffered different attacks by privateers and British sailors (Francis Drake, in 1596; Henry Morgan, in 1671; Edward Vernon, in 1740). An obligatory visit allows travelers to enjoy spectacular views of the jungle, the river and the ocean, while witnessing a magnificent example of military defensive architecture.

From Old Panama on the Pacific, to the Atlantic or Caribbean ports, the two aforementioned routes could be followed in colonial times: one by land (Camino Real) and the other by land, river and sea (Camino de Cruces). Both reached Nombre de Dios and Portobelo. As the port town of Portobelo had better conditions than Nombre de Dios to organize the defense of the enclave, with the passage of time, all commercial activity eventually was concentrated there. For this reason, Portobelo preserves remains of several fortifications that protected its bay and its natural port, the most important being the San Jerónimo Fort, the San Fernando Fort and the Santiago Fort.

All these defensive enclosures, unlike that of San Lorenzo, are still awaiting their well-deserved restoration. However, at sunset, its old walls made of coral stone and the many cannons scattered along its walls make for an evocative experience. The fortifications of Portobelo have also been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980.

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One Renaissance building that has recently been restored is the splendid and historic Royal Customs headquarters, built in 1630. From here, the colonial transoceanic trade was administered. The Church of San Felipe, which houses the famous and venerated Black Christ of Portobelo, is another obligatory stop. Wandering around the town, one can imagine the frenetic and chaotic hustle and bustle that the city experienced when the Fleet of the West Indies arrived with products from the Peninsula. If you stop for a drink in this town, located about two hours by car from Panama City, a good place to eat is El Castillo, which has a magnificent patio facing the sea. Casa Congo is another establishment that also hits the spot.

The surroundings of Portobelo offer plenty of opportunities to go hiking in the nearby natural parks, or to enjoy the clear waters and Caribbean coves spread throughout the area’s coastline. A good plan could be to travel by boat along the coast towards Isla Grande, where you’ll spend the night at the Candy Rose Hotel, or at the Bananas Village. But before that, and throughout the day, you should try to sail through the mangroves , take a dip, sunbathe, or go snorkeling in one of the many coves or water spots that are found along the route.

It’s a good idea to eat in the small coastal town of Cacique. There, you can choose between several places. Trying shrimp and fried fish with plantains at Margarita’s small Caribbean restaurant won’t disappoint. She does it all with love: she cooks and she serves the four tables herself.

Aerial view of the Panamanian city of Portobelo.

Tropical jungles and lost paradise

Getting to Playa Muerto isn’t easy or quick. First, from Panama City, you have to drive five or six hours on bumpy roads. Then, from Puerto Quimba, three more hours by speedboat along the Iglesia River, along the Pacific coast, until you finally reach the northeastern end of the Darién Biosphere Reserve, a national park and another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Playa Muerto is a remote place that can only be accessed by sea. But when you reach it, you’ll find a small, lost paradise that’s almost surreal. The town, made up of members of the Indigenous Emberá ethnic group, leads a way of life that’s in deep harmony with nature. It seems like it’s from another time. A naturally conservationist community, the residents are careful to preserve their cultural identity, their traditions and their environment. It’s not a coincidence that the word Emberá means “good man.”

Secluded from the world , on the edge of the jungle, near a wild, idyllic beach full of palm trees, 200 members of the community live in houses built on stilts. They fish for protein and grow everything they need — bananas, cassava, rice, corn, coffee — at the mouth of the Jesús River, or in the South Sea.

The Emberá have their own language. They adorn themselves and paint their bodies colorfully. And, while they’re no strangers to certain advances and comforts of modern society, they persevere in keeping their ancestral rites and customs alive. Women, for example, usually go about topless, cooking directly over fire and serving food and drinks in bowls made from gourd (a type of large fruit similar to the coconut).

Members of the Emberá community.

Playa Muerto is a perfect destination for travelers eager to experience beautifully-preserved nature, while sleeping, eating and living in the community that the Emberá have long maintained. Nowadays, the few visitors who venture here are either passengers on small cruise ships who reach the beach by canoe and spend time with the Indigenous community, or small groups of tourists that enter the jungle to explore the region, taking all kinds of treks to bird-watch or locate the tracks of jaguars and pumas. At certain times of the year, you can also see whales in the ocean, or see several species of turtles laying eggs.

Only a handful of local organizations offer these activities. Among the most professional and recommended are Ecotour Darién and Dynamo Travel. Their respective managers, Erasmo de León and Gustavo Zevallos, are very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna of the practically virgin Darién ecosystem. They, along with the Panama Tourism Authority, are also helping the Indigenous population of Playa Muerto to maintain their culture by providing them with supplementary resources and creating appropriate opportunities, so that their community can enjoy sustainable development.

And, of course, the Canal

According to Jerónimo Welchs, an expert guide for Aventuras 2000, the main Panamanian tour operator, no one who visits Panama should leave the country without visiting the Canal. It was Emperor Charles V of Spain who, in 1534, was the first to study the possibility of building a canal in Panama that would link the Atlantic with the Pacific through the narrowest part (50 miles) of the Panamanian isthmus. But the project had to wait until 1880 for the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps to try and bring it to completion.

After more than eight years and 20,000 dead workers, the project was suspended, until it was resumed by the United States, which completed the canal in 1914. Since then, the Panama Canal has continued to operate normally. In 2006, to allow larger ships to cross, it was decided that what practically amounted to a second canal had to be created, with wider, longer and deeper locks. This was inaugurated in 2016. Today, the Panama Canal continues to be one of the main sources of income for the country (6.8% of GDP), while representing 6% of the world’s commercial transportation.

View of the Panama Canal from the Agua Clara Visitor Center.

This impressive work of modern engineering — as well as the maneuvers of large cargo ships making their way from Gatún Lake to the Atlantic Ocean — can be seen from the Agua Clara Visitor Center, near the city of Colón. You can also watch a film that offers all kinds of details about the Canal: its history, the functions of the artificial Gatún Lake, the biodiversity of the environment that the project is built through, the operation of the locks, the number and types of boats that cross per day and the cost of cargo. The closer you get to Panama City, it’s also possible to learn everything about the Canal from the Pacific side at the Miraflores Visitor Center.

The country’s tourism slogan tries to convey, among other things, that, in Panama, there are many things to experience and discover: “We dare you to live for more.”

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Panama Tropical Adventure

Dear Traveler, Welcome to a great vacation at an affordable price. Your Panama tour is fully guided and includes most meals, all hotels, and all activities. Happy Travels! Caravan

All-Inclusive Panama Canal Boat Ride

The Panama Canal is the world’s most important commercial waterway and a vital link between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. If you are searching for the best all-inclusive Panama Canal Boat Ride, consider cruising the Panama Canal with Caravan Tours. Climb aboard and enjoy daytime cruises through one of the greatest engineering feats in history.

Tour Includes 2 Panama Cruises

Bird Watching Cruise – Located on the Atlantic side of Panama near Colon, Gatun Lake is a large man-made lake that is essential to navigating the Panama Canal. As you cruise Panama Canal, you’ll enjoy a guided boat tour through the lush jungle canals. The many hilltop islands were created when the Gatun Dam was built, and the valley was flooded.
Chagres River Cruise –Take an unforgettable small boat cruise up the Chagres River where you will explore the tropical Panama rainforests and visit an authentic village of the Embera Indians , of which there are only 33,000 in Panama.

Best All-Inclusive Panama’s Hotels

Book a caravan panama canal boat cruise, 2024 hotels, days 1, 2 • panama city, westin panama, days 3, 4 • gamboa, gamboa rainforest resort, days 5, 6 • playa bonita, westin playa bonita resort, day 7 • panama city, intercontinental miramar panama, airport transfers, arrival transfers, departure transfers, passports & visas, weather & clothing, temperature °f (high/low) rainfall (inches), clothing tips, travel tips & faqs, my tour price includes, preparing for the tropics, are meals included, children on tour, family trips, my tour price does not include, age of travelers on a caravan tour, forms of payment, many tours sell out each year, fully guided tours since 1952, size of tour group, a well-paced itinerary, caravan’s $129 travel protection, customer reviews.

"Amazing. This was our first trip with Caravan and we will be taking another adventure with you. Couldn’t ask for better accommodations, the hotels were all topnotch. Enjoyed all the meals, something for everyone. Friends told us about Caravan and they were 100% right. We will be telling all my other friends about Caravan Panama." Mr. & Mrs. G.S., Ormond Beach, Florida
"This was our third Caravan tour and once again, it was wonderful. The detailed schedules and activities allow us to enjoy the tour with no concerns about logistics. Wonderful job of providing background and history. Every meal offered tremendous variety and diverse regional cuisine of Panama. Thanks to our Director and the many people helping with the tour, we learned a lot, experienced wonderful opportunities, and enjoyed local culture." Mr. & Mrs. M.L., Brussels, Wisconsin
"Panama is a spectacular place. The hotels were beautiful, the last one being the best I’ve ever stayed in. The food and drink was great. We had such an informed director, he knew history and current affairs. Very helpful and always there if needed. This was a wonderful tour that I will remember." Ms. M.N., Buffalo, New York
"Panama: a WONDER of the world! A fantastic week - expertly planned and executed! From history, observation and riding through the canal, with additional side events...awesome!! A most memorable experience." Ms. P.M., Winnetka, Illinois
"This was my fifth tour with Caravan. They have all provided wonderful opportunities to see spectacular scenery, enjoy the cuisine, and interact with local culture. The guides are professional, personable, competent and enhance the tours. Our canal transit was great." Mr. J.D., Upton, Massachusetts
"I selected this trip as an alternative to taking a cruise which visited the canal. What’s not to like about this trip? It totally went beyond my expectations. It provided so much more than the cruise we were considering. I am glad I found Caravan to give you a try. Our party of four would at dinner each night, review and evaluate the day, giving each other a high point or low point of the day. This was the first time trying to come up with a low was extremely difficult. Caravan has got traveling down to an artform." Mr. & Mrs. D.G., Rockville, Maryland
"We have fallen in love with guided tours. We don’t know how Caravan does it. We wanted to see the Panama Canal and we got to see every angle. Everything planned perfectly. The entertainment at night was very interesting, showing pride in the Panama culture. There is not enough space about our amazing tour director. His heart and soul was into the tour and travelers, his experience shows. Not only did we learn from the trip, we learned from fellow travelers. They became our family for a week." Mr. & Mrs. D.M., Tampico, Illinois

Why Travel with Caravan?

Excellence since 1952, caravan care, caravan's proud history, great hotels, complete sightseeing, fully guided by tour directors, all-inclusive, shopping freedom, great value, book early, how does caravan tours sell these tours for such a low cost, trade association memberships.

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12 best Panama Canal cruises for a bucket-list trip

Donna Heiderstadt

A Panama Canal transit is a rite of passage for many cruise lovers. Experiencing this marvel of early 20th-century engineering appeals to those with a wide array of interests, from history and politics to colonial architecture and wildlife spotting. Built by the U.S. government between 1903 and 1914, this 50-mile waterway linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans revolutionized shipping by creating an expedited route for the transit of cargo and, ultimately, cruise ship passengers.

Panama Canal itineraries are offered by almost every cruise line. Thanks to a 2016 canal expansion project, a third set of locks can now accommodate larger vessels. It's possible to cruise the Panama Canal on ships of all sizes (from 148 guests to more than 3,000) on itineraries that range from a week in the sun to a six-month world cruise.

Some ships sail a full transit of the canal, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, or vice versa. These one-way journeys between Miami or Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles or San Diego, visits ports in Central America, South America, Mexico and California.

Others sail only a partial transit, entering the locks from the Atlantic and cruising into Lake Gatun before turning around and exiting again. These itineraries, sailing round-trip from Florida ports, combine the canal experience with island-hopping in the Caribbean.

For more cruise guides, news and tips, sign up for TPG's cruise newsletter .

The array of options means that a Panama Canal cruise experience is possible even if you're short on time or have a limited budget — and chances are high that your favorite cruise line offers one or more itineraries. Most sailings attract couples, typically retirees, but if the timing is right a Panama Canal cruise can also be a great multi-generational experience.

Here are a dozen of the best Panama Canal cruises to consider.

Holland America's 14- to 16-day Panama Canal cruises

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Holland America offers a variety of Panama Canal cruises , but the most popular itineraries span 14 to 16 days. They offer a full transit between Fort Lauderdale and San Diego, or vice versa, and are offered on multiple ships, including Zaandam, Eurodam, Nieuw Amsterdam and Volendam. These sailings call on Cartagena, Colombia; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; Huatulco and Puerto Vallarta or Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Who should go: Holland America ships sailing a full transit are popular with retired couples who appreciate the cruise line's consistency and good value. All four ships accommodate between 1,432 and 2,106 passengers and offer signature onboard experiences that include the Greenhouse Spa and the BBC Earth in Concert multimedia performance. The larger Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam feature additional specialty dining options, such as Tamarind and Nami Sushi, as well as B.B. King's Blues Club, Lincoln Center Stage and Billboard Onboard.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises' 16-night Los Angeles to Miami cruise

Regent Seven Seas Cruises ' newest ship, Seven Seas Grandeur, debuts in November 2023 and its first two Panama Canal itineraries in early 2024 are already waitlisted. For those planning ahead, the 16-night Miami to Los Angeles (Dec. 13-29, 2024) and 16-night Los Angeles to Miami (Jan. 8-23, 2025) transits offer luxurious all-inclusive pampering, plus port calls in Ensenada, Cabo San Lucas and Acapulco, Mexico; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; Corinto, Nicaragua; Panama City, Panama; Cartagena, Colombia; and George Town, Grand Cayman.

Who should go: This itinerary can be a wonderful splurge for a couple seeking to celebrate a milestone anniversary or birthday in a memorable way on a luxurious new ship. Prices start at a hefty $10,399 per person for a spacious balcony suite, but they also include airfare, transfers, gratuities, dining and beverages, Wi-Fi and shore excursions — meaning you'll hardly have any other vacation expenses.

Related: The 8 best luxury cruise lines for elegance and exclusivity

Celebrity Cruises' 11-night Panama Canal & Southern Caribbean cruise

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For a Panama Canal experience that begins and ends in Fort Lauderdale, Celebrity Cruises ' 11-night Panama Canal & Southern Caribbean itinerary is a great option. There's plenty of time to plan ahead for the Dec. 2, 2024 cruise or the half-dozen almost identical sailings that follow through March 2025. All sailings are aboard the new 3,260-guest Celebrity Beyond and visit Cartagena, Colombia; Colon, Panama; Oranjestad, Aruba; Kralendjik, Bonaire; and George Town, Grand Cayman (Willemstad, Curacao replaces Grand Cayman on some 2025 sailings).

Who should go: Celebrity Beyond and its Edge-series sister ships appeal to Millennials, Gen Xers and young-at-heart Boomers who appreciate innovative design, entertainment and dining options. The ships are geared toward couples or groups of friends, but families with older teens might also enjoy the onboard vibe. There are no splash pools or waterslides for younger kids, although calls on three Caribbean islands offer aquatic fun.

Windstar Cruises' 7-night Costa Rica & Panama Canal cruise

To explore the Panama Canal region in a relaxed manner aboard an intimate motorized sailing yacht, check out Windstar Cruises' 7-night Costa Rica & Panama Canal itinerary aboard the 148-guest Wind Star. Bookable on more than two dozen dates in 2023, 2024 and 2025, the itinerary takes guests from Colon, Panama to Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica (or vice versa). The ship will transit the canal and visit Panama City and Isla Parida in Panama, plus Golfo Dolce and Quepos (for Manuel Antonio National Park) in Costa Rica.

Who should go: Fans of small-ship cruising who enjoy a casual onboard ambiance, are interested in nature and wildlife and wish to sample the regional flavors of Central America should consider a Windstar cruise . All accommodations are in snug yet well-designed staterooms with windows, but no balconies. Wind Star is a cozy and social four-deck ship featuring a pool and pool bar, a lounge and two restaurants.

Related: Big vs. small cruise ships: Which will I like better?

Silversea's 31-day New York to Lima cruise

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Silversea Cruises ' indulgent 31-day New York to Lima sailing aboard its newest ship, 728-guest Silver Nova features a Panama Canal transit in the middle of the trip. The one-way itinerary departs New York City in November and visits Bermuda and multiple sunny Caribbean islands — Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Barth's, St. Kitts, Antigua, Martinique, St. Lucia, Barbados, Bequia, Grenada, Curacao and Aruba — and Cartagena, Colombia before transiting the canal to call on ports in Ecuador (Manta) and Peru (Salaverry and Lima).

Who should go: Silversea's clientele is mostly mature couples with a luxury mindset and an appreciation for elevated dining with a strong regional focus. They also appreciate the cruise line's all-inclusive ease. A month-long itinerary such as this is likely to attract retirees seeking an extended warm-weather escape.

Related: The 10 best cruises for couples seeking romance and together time at sea

Carnival Cruise Line's 8-day Panama Canal cruise from Tampa

Experiencing the Panama Canal doesn't have to be time-consuming or budget-busting. Carnival Cruise Line 's 8-day Panama Canal from Tampa itinerary offers a round-trip, partial-transit sailing aboard the 2,124-passenger Carnival Pride with port calls in Limon, Costa Rica and George Town, Grand Cayman—beginning at under $900 per person.

With four pools (including an adults-only aft Serenity Pool), a WaterWorks aqua park, Camp Ocean kids club and seven restaurants, the ship offers enough diversions for sea-day fun, even at half the size of Carnival's newest megaships.

Who should go: Carnival's action-packed ships and affordable cruise fares appeal to families, friends and couples of all ages who enjoy a lively onboard ambiance and casual complimentary dining options (including a Guy Fieri burger venue).

Related: Best cruise lines for families

Seabourn's 21-day Caribbean & Panama Canal Passage

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For a one-way Panama Canal transit that visits six countries (Aruba, Curacao, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Mexico) and offers six relaxing and luxurious days at sea, consider Seabourn 's 21-day Caribbean & Panama Canal Passage . The 450-guest Seabourn Sojourn will sail from Miami to Los Angeles in December.

Calls on Golfito and Puntarenas in Costa Rica offer access to eco-adventure. Visits to Puerto Quetzal in Guatemala and Puerto Chiapas and Huatulco in Mexico feature excursions focused on pre-Spanish-colonial culture, coffee cultivation and more, while a call on Cabo San Lucas offers whale-watching, deep-sea fishing or tequila tasting opportunities.

Who should go: Work-from-anywhere entrepreneurs and retirees who enjoy the luxury and refinement of small-ship cruising will enjoy this three-week Panama Canal transit. Seabourn Sojourn pampers its guests with attentive service, elevated cuisine and all-ocean-facing suites featuring walk-in closets and spacious marble bathrooms. Seabourn's all-inclusive cruise fares also cover gratuities and complimentary wines and spirits.

Princess Cruises' 10-day Panama Canal with Costa Rica & Caribbean cruise

While Princess Cruises does offer several longer ocean-to-ocean Panama Canal itineraries — including two in 2023 that transit via the historic locks — its popular 10-day Panama Canal with Costa Rica & Caribbean cruises conveniently sail roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale on more than a dozen dates in 2023 and 2024.

What's more, you can choose from among three ships: 3,140-guest Caribbean Princess or 3,080-guest Ruby Princess and Emerald Princess. In addition to the partial transit, these sailings call on Jamaica and Grand Cayman in the Caribbean, as well as Cartagena, Columbia; Limon, Costa Rica; and Colon, Panama.

Who should go: Couples who enjoy a ship with a more traditional vibe and families with kids who are content to participate in interactive learning activities and nature-based adventure (vs waterslides) will enjoy this cruise. Princess ships are known for their Movies Under the Stars screenings, multiple pools, specialty dining options such as Sabatini's Italian Trattoria and The Salty Dog Gastropub, and Crooners piano bar.

Related: The 5 best destinations you can visit on a Princess Cruises ship

Norwegian Cruise Line's 17-day South America: Peru, Colombia & Chile cruise

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There's no "Panama Canal" in this itinerary's name, but Norwegian Cruise Line 's 17-day South America: Peru, Colombia & Chile cruise in January 2024 does a full canal transit (and spends a day in Panama City) as it sails from Miami to Santiago, Chile. The 1,936-guest Norwegian Sun sails to historic Santa Marta and Cartagena in Colombia; Manta, Ecuador; Trujillo, Lima and Pisco in Peru; and Arica and Coquimbo in Chile, before disembarkation in Santiago.

Who should go: Couples and friends interested in experiencing not just a Panama Canal transit but some of the top coastal experiences along the Pacific Coast of South America should choose this itinerary. Norwegian Sun is an older, smaller vessel that was refurbished in 2018 and features a top deck more conducive to sunning than thrill rides. The ship also has a surprising number of restaurants for its size: two main dining rooms, a buffet restaurant, a sports bar and an outdoor grill on a complimentary basis, plus eight specialty dining venues (including Mexican, Italian, French, Japanese and a steakhouse) for an added fee.

Oceania's 16-day Miami to Los Angeles cruise

Following its May debut, Oceania Cruises ' 1,200-guest Vista — the first new-build ship in Oceania's fleet in more than a decade — will offer back-to-back 16-day Miami to Los Angeles and Los Angeles to Miami itineraries in October and November. Both sailings visit six countries with port calls that include George Town, Grand Cayman; Cartagena, Colombia; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; Corinto, Nicaragua; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; and Acapulco, Cabo San Lucas and Ensenada, Mexico. (The second sailing visits San Diego instead of Ensenada.)

Who should go: Oceania's newest ship offers a great compromise between a small and medium-size vessel and is ideal for those seeking a premium cruise experience with casual sophistication. Older couples especially will appreciate the ship's elegant stateroom decor in soft hues of wheat and seagrass, mix of grand and intimate spaces and wide array of dining options (including two new venues, Ember for inventive American cuisine and Aquamar Kitchen for wellness-focused breakfast, lunch and dinner). A more immersive mixology program features curated cocktail menus, indulgent pairing experiences and specialty beverage carts.

Related: The 5 best destinations you can visit on an Oceania Cruises ship

Cunard's 29-day Alaska & Panama Canal cruise

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Talk about packing for all kinds of weather! Cunard's 29-day Alaska & Panama Canal sailing aboard 2,081-passenger Queen Elizabeth begins in Vancouver on Aug. 7 and explores Alaska for more than a week (visiting Ketchikan, Juneau, Hubbard Glacier, Skagway, Glacier Bay National Park and Sitka). Then the ship heads back south along the U.S. Pacific Coast (stopping in Victoria, Vancouver, San Francisco and Los Angeles) before heading to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Only then will it transit the Panama Canal. The ship makes one Atlantic stop in Aruba before passengers disembark in Fort Lauderdale.

Who should go: British cruise line Cunard appeals mainly to older travelers who savor the line's formal traditions. This cruise is for you if you enjoy afternoon tea, dressing up for dinner, gala evenings and dancing to big-band orchestras. The particular itinerary appeals to retirees who wish to visit a variety of cruise regions in one singular itinerary.

Viking's 180-day World Voyage

For the ultimate cruise indulgence, Viking's 180-day World Voyage I includes a Panama Canal transit (on Christmas Day, no less) as 930-passenger Viking Sky cruises from Fort Lauderdale to New York City (Dec. 19, 2024–June 17, 2025). This round-the-world cruise will visit 37 countries as guests enjoy Viking Sky's modern Scandinavian interior decor, soothing LivNordic Spa, two pools (including one with a retractable roof) and six onboard restaurants. Pricing includes airfare, gratuities and complimentary wine and beer with lunch and dinner.

Who should go: With cruise fares that start at $79,995 per person, this six-month adventure at sea requires a luxury budget. Viking 's base clientele is mostly retired or close-to-retirement-age professionals who enjoy the cruise line's focus on educational enrichment (via onboard lectures) and serene ambiance (there's no casino and the nighttime vibe is on the quiet side).

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

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  1. Panama Beyond the Canal

    Our visit to the indigenous Embera village allowed us to experience Panama beyond the context of the capital city's tall buildings and the regimented day-to-day of the Canal Zone. Somewhere seemingly frozen in time across the Chagres River, a tight-knit community of fewer than 100 people preserves and shares the traditions of their ancestors.

  2. Travel by Small Ship

    Our 16- to 210-passenger small ships are ideal for the spirited adventurer, often docking right in the heart of the cities we visit—and even accessing off-the-beaten-path ports. As a result, you and your small group of 20-25 (average of 22) spend less time transferring to and from your destination, and more time immersing yourself in local customs.

  3. Adventure Travel with O.A.T.

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  4. Panama: A Photographer's Dream

    To book space on this adventure, please call O.A.T. at 1-800-353-6262 and press 3 for more details, then refer to Group Booking Code G9-28085. Iconic Panamanian scene: Nearly every visitor to Panama comes, at least in part, to see the canal, one of the wonders of the modern world.

  5. Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T. Tours)

    Founded in 1978, Overseas Adventure Travel specializes in small group and small ship adventure tours. Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) is now part of the Boston-based Grand Circle Corporation, which also includes Grand Circle Travel and Grand Circle Cruise Line. Quick Facts. Founded in 1978. Very welcome to solo travelers - Free or low single ...

  6. The Ship

    The 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. In the dining area, bar, and lounge, floor-to-ceiling glass walls offer spectacular views. Some things to keep in mind: There is no Wi-Fi onboard the DiscoveryTransit through the…

  7. Panama

    Go tripping with Overseas Adventure Travel . OAT travels with friends. Base Camp. Patagonia 2014; Panama 2019; Iceland 2021. Iceland Links of Interest; Ultimate Africa 2022. ... 2019: Panama Canal Cruise & Panama: A Continent Divided, Oceans United. Info on Panama trips from OAT ...

  8. Find Your Adventure

    Suez Canal Crossing: Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan & the Red Sea New! West Africa Cruise: Cape Verde Islands, Senegal & The Gambia New! Cruise Madeira to the Canary Islands & West Africa ... ©2023 Overseas Adventure Travel • 347 Congress St. • Boston, MA 02210 We use cookies to improve your experience, by using our site you accept such use. ...

  9. Overseas Adventure Travel. experience the best in Panama

    Internationally, please call 011 (507) 6679-4404. Our overseas adventure travel packages in Panama are designed to match the desires of the world explorer of today.

  10. How to Visit Panama Canal: Everything You Need to Know

    A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PANAMA CANAL. The idea to create a passageway via Panama between the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean is pretty old. At the beginning of the 16th century the Spanish explorer Vasco Nunez de Balboa first crossed the isthmus and saw the immense potential the canal could have for ship transport, but at that time it was not impossible to build it, especially because ...

  11. 8 Ways to See the Panama Canal (2024)

    Before the Panama Canal was built, ships had to travel around the tip of South America to get from Europe or the East Coast of the United States to Asia or the West Coast of the U.S. This would take many months of travel. The Panama Canal clipped off months or over 10,000 km from the original route.

  12. Panama Canal Full Transit. Panama Canal transit cruises

    Our trip departs from the Flamenco Marina (in front of Alberto's italian restaurant) at the end of the Amador Coast Way at 7:00 a.m. (Check in), and you will travel from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean on the same day.

  13. Trip Report OAT Panama

    Aug 16th, 2010, 10:16 AM # 1 LynnieD Original Poster Join Date: Oct 2003 Posts: 1,109 Likes: 0 Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts OAT Panama I just returned from the Overseas Adventure Travel trip to...

  14. Panama Travel Video

    Suez Canal Crossing: Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan & the Red Sea ... Overseas Adventure Travel Terms & Conditions ... ©2023 Grand Circle Travel • 347 Congress St. • Boston, MA 02210 We use cookies to improve your experience, by using our site you accept such use.

  15. Trip through the canal with Grand Circle Travel

    Panama Canal Cruise and Panama with Grand Circle Travel A wonderful combination of cultural connections, history, geography, flora and fauna, and the experience of traversing the isthmus on a catamaran through the Panama Canal. Our outstanding program director Juan Carlos Valdes Villarreal ("JC"), and a congenial group of travelers, made for a memorable trip.

  16. Associate Small Ship Travel

    An O.A.T. associate shares the less obvious highlights of Panama, from its wildlife to its people.

  17. Swimming the Panama Canal

    The 24,900-mile route will span 107 countries in 450 days, touching on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Suez Canal, the English Channel, the Amazon, the Red Sea … and the Panama Canal.

  18. Panama Tours

    Official website of Adventures Panama. Tours and adventure day trips in Panama City in Panama Canal, Chagres National Park, Boquete, Guna Yala. and more.

  19. Discover Panama: From the capital to the Canal to its Caribbean beaches

    A good plan could be to travel by boat along the coast towards Isla Grande, where you'll spend the night at the Candy Rose Hotel, or at the Bananas Village. ... with wider, longer and deeper locks. This was inaugurated in 2016. Today, the Panama Canal continues to be one of the main sources of income for the country (6.8% of GDP), while ...

  20. Find Your Adventure

    Suez Canal Crossing: Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan & the Red Sea New! West Africa Cruise: Cape Verde Islands, Senegal & The Gambia New! Cruise Madeira to the Canary Islands & West Africa ... Travel Protection Plan Vacation Ambassador Referral Program Sir Edmund Hillary Loyalty Club ...

  21. Panama Canal Travel Trivia

    Request Travel Planning Guide 1-800-955-1925. Adventures. Back. Adventures Top Trending . Back. Top 5 Trending Adventures Sicily's Ancient Landscapes & Timeless Traditions Morocco Sahara Odyssey Northern Italy: The Alps, Dolomites & Lombardy ...

  22. All-Inclusive Panama Canal Boat Ride

    Caravan's guided Panama tour is an excellent value for this vibrant, highly diverse Central American country. In fact, Fodor's Travel awarded 4 Stars to our Panama Canal guided tours! Cruise Panama with Caravan Tours and enjoy the trip of a lifetime. To Book a Caravan Tour of Panama, call toll-free at 1 800 227-2826.

  23. 12 best Panama Canal cruises for a bucket-list trip

    Celebrity Beyond. RYAN WICKS/CELEBRITY CRUISES. For a Panama Canal experience that begins and ends in Fort Lauderdale, Celebrity Cruises ' 11-night Panama Canal & Southern Caribbean itinerary is a great option. There's plenty of time to plan ahead for the Dec. 2, 2024 cruise or the half-dozen almost identical sailings that follow through March ...

  24. Costa Rica and the Panama Canal

    Cruise Costa Rica and the Panama Canal expedition-style with Lindblad Expeditions. Learn more about our inspiring and insightful itineraries. Call +1.800.397.3348 or ... Find out why our alliance means a richer travel experience for you. Read More. Expedition Stories. Articles, slideshows, and videos about the places we explore. Read More. More.