Between Two Seas
by Andrew Browning on May 22, 2008
Between the marine habitat of the Pacific Ocean and the crystal clear Caribbean Sea lies the small country of Panama. The Panamanian isthmus acts as a tropical land bridge that connects the vastly different North American and South American continents. An important historical site and home for many exotic wildlife species; Panama is also the setting for one of the greatest feats of human engineering- The Panama Canal. North of Panama lies beautiful Costa Rica, a country known equally for its rainforests, exotic wildlife, beaches, and its extensive environmental efforts to protect these local treasures. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to experience Panama and Costa Rica up close aboard the Pacific Explorer on our Between Two Seas Cruise.
Upon arrival at the Panama City airport I was met by our local representative and we went to meet the rest of the group at the Sheraton hotel in Panama City. After a quick orientation we boarded coach buses for the drive to Colon where we would board the Pacific Explorer. Along the way we stopped to visit the Miraflores Locks center. At the time of our visit a Panamax ship was entering the locks. We watched the nearly 1000 feet long ship move through the locks and we began to get an idea of just how precise and complex the canal operations are. After our tour of the Miraflores locks center we drove through the tropical forest arriving at the shipyard in Colon. After a welcome cocktail up on the open air sundeck the Pacific Explorer embarked on our cruise.
On the first morning I awoke early and looked out the window at my new surroundings. I was in Kuna Yala the Kuna Indian controlled province of the San Blas Islands. Sandy palm covered islands surrounded our small ship and native fisherman were out in their dugout canoes between the islands. After a cultural and historical briefing about the Kuna Indians we boarded the fleet of Zodiac inflatable crafts for a visit to a Kuna community. The Kuna villagers were expecting us and the young men and women of the tribe performed traditional music and dance performances in the center of their village. This was an amazing experience for all of the passengers, and we all very much enjoyed the Kuna cultural visit. After lunch aboard the Pacific Explorer we boarded the Zodiacs again for the afternoon visit to a remote tropical island. My fellow travelers and I spent the afternoon on the pristine sandy beach alternating between sea kayak explorations and snorkeling the tropical waters at a unique site that was one of the best surprises of the trip. Each night the exploration leader and naturalist guides offered interesting presentations about the cultures and natural history of the areas that we were visiting.
Cruising through the night we arrived in the historical town of Portobelo. Centuries of colonial and pirate history paint a vivid picture for visitors exploring the forts and historical structures of Portobelo. We spent the morning exploring the sites of Portobelo and after lunch we boarded the Zodiacs for a mangrove forest river expedition. The naturalist guides accompanied us as we explored this unique ecosystem. We were fortunate enough to see an astounding variety of birdlife as well as the water-walking Jesus lizard and several two toed sloths. The naturalist guides offered expert interpretations of this complex ecosystem and the wildlife that live within the mangrove.
The third day is when we arrived at the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal. We gathered in the lounge for a presentation on the history and current operation of the canal as we awaited the Panama Canal pilot to board our vessel. In the afternoon we began our transit of the canal. The always attentive crew prepared dinner for us on the open air sundeck so that we could eat dinner and fully experience transiting the locks. The sheer power and mechanical engineering of the locks is something that everyone should experience. Late in the evening we cruised out of the last set of locks and into the Pacific Ocean.
The next few days were truly unique and amazing. We visited the Embera Indian village in southeast Panama, snorkeled at Granito de Oro Island near Coiba National Park, and explored Golfo Dulce in southwest Costa Rica. Among my favorite memories was standing with the naturalist guides and other passengers on the bow of the Pacific Explorer spotting different types of marine wildlife as we cruised toward Coiba National park. From the bow we observed spotted dolphins, eagle rays, manta rays, flying fish, hammerhead sharks, and Olive Ridley Sea Turtles.
We all greatly enjoyed our time in Panama and it was now time to explore the National Parks and beaches of Pacific Costa Rica. With the naturalist guides we split up into small groups to explore the trails of Corcovado National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park. The rainforest was heavily populated with birds and wildlife. In Corcovado we saw some birds that are native only to this area and we learned about the symbiotic relationships that the plants have with the insects of the rainforest. In Manuel Antonio three toed sloths and white-faced Capuchin monkeys looked down on us from the trees. We spent the afternoons relaxing on the beach and swimming in the cool waters of the Pacific Ocean. The days we spent in Costa Rica were very memorable for me and my fellow passengers but on the 10th day it was time for us to say our farewells to each other, the wonderful crew, and our new favorite ship the Pacific Explorer.
I experienced so much on this trip and I have touched on some of my favorite parts, but there are so many surprises along the way that you simply have to experience this cruise first hand. This is truly a trip of a lifetime that combines natural wonders, historical settings, local cultures, and the extraordinary Panama Canal transit experience. I have traveled extensively in Panama and Costa Rica and I am ready to share my experience and expertise with other travelers who want to experience this amazing small ship cruise. I am happy to discuss the details of this trip and the exciting travel opportunities that await in Costa Rica and Panama. Give me a call today!