Today mark’s the 100-year anniversary of the completion of the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal is a “man-made” wonder, an engineering marvel that changed the way the world traveled and moved goods.
And this wonder is evolving, growing. A mammoth new construction project is underway: new locks, which are seventy feet wider, are being built at both ends of the existing canal. These new locks will allow behemoths—much larger than Panamax-sized ships—to alter global commerce again, by allowing a much greater volume of goods to cross.
If you’re considering joining in on the celebration, consider Lindblad Expedition’s 8-day Costa Rica and the Panama Canal expedition cruise itinerary. Not only do they spend two-full days exploring the features of the 51-mile canal, they have been granted special permission to visit the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Barro Colorado Island in Gatun Lake—a hill above the Canal flood zone. It is an isolated, richly diverse habitat. And diversity pretty much sums up this expedition: from one of man’s most remarkable achievements to among the most unspoiled tropical nature on earth.
During the two days spent exploring the Panama Canal, you’ll experience both the man-made and nature features of the Panama Canal region. On day one, explore the tiny islets of the Gulf of Panama by expedition landing craft or kayak. Here, you’ll spot frigatebirds, brown pelicans, neotropical cormorants, and brown boobies. Set sail for the Panama Canal this afternoon. Stretching more than 50 miles, the canal was a colossal engineering feat completed in 1914 and is still traversed by some 14,000 ships every year. As cargo ships tend to pass through the canal during the day, we’ll most likely begin our crossing at night, when the canal is dramatically lit.
On day two, explore Gatun Lake and transit the Panama Canal. Board an expedition landing craft to visit Barro Colorado Nature Monument in Gatun Lake by special arrangement. Scientists have worked at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on Barro Colorado Island since 1923, researching its’ 120 mammals and diverse tree species. It is also the site of a National Geographic-supported project that tracks tagged animals using automated radio signals and wireless technology. Join local guides for a walk through the forests. This evening, continue through the complex lock system of the canal. (B,L,D)
Start with an overnight/two-day stay in Panama City. By special arrangement, you’ll tour Miraflores Lock and then observe the action of the Canal from the overlooking restaurant where you’ll dine. Visit the new Canal’s mega-scale construction site as well as the Frank Gehry-designed Museum of Biodiversity, which is yet to be opened to the
The Frank Gehry-designed Museum of Biodiversity
“What is that?” our guests often ask, pointing at the angular jumble of steel, concrete, and color of the yet-to-open Frank Gehry-designed BioMuseo. A striking tribute to the history of the isthmus and the wildlife it engendered, it is visible as we approach the Canal. Ambitious in scope, its eight exhibits are spread over 43,000 square feet, one, titled Panamarama puts visitors in the center of a three-level projection space surrounded on all sides, ceiling and floor included, by screens that make you feel as if you’re deep in the Panamanian rain forest. Another exhibit, a pair of cylindrical two-story aquariums, tells the story of undersea life on each side of the Canal.
You’ll discover the history of the isthmus and then experience its diverse flora and fauna firsthand. The region is home to iconic wildlife—brilliant macaws, howler monkeys, capuchin monkeys, sloths, vibrantly colored butterflies, strange frogs, and the seldom-seen puma—in all, hundreds of species of mammals and thousands of species of flora, including hundreds of orchids. Explore Frank Gehry’s heralded, yet-to-be-opened BioMuseo his first and only building designed in Central America. This pre- or post-extension visit to the BioMuseo and the new Panama Canal’s Expansion Observation Center offers a local education on the breadth of wildness in the region and the engineering marvel of the Canal. Monuments to the wonder of wildness and the power of humans to change the face of the Earth, the extension grants special access and adds layers of insight. Guests on later expeditions may choose to explore the BioMuseo and new Canal Observation Center as an expedition extension.
“This is one of the great works of the world. It is a greater work than you yourselves at the moment realize.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, addressing the canal workers
Top 10 Reasons to experience Costa Rica & Panama with Lindblad and National Geographic
- Experience Matters. With 20+ years in the region, Lindblad has had more time than anyone to learn how to deliver the most extraordinary expedition possible. They also own and operate the National Geographic Sea Lion, giving them experience and ownership that many other operators here just don’t have. You’ll feel the difference.
- More flexibility, choices, and opportunities to explore. They’ve put their experience to use in scheduling swimming, snorkeling and walking/hiking excursions at our favorite sites, at the best time of day, with flexibility built-in for those magical wildlife moments you won’t want to miss. Kayak or take expedition landing craft to otherwise unreachable spots.
- Explore the Hidden Gems. Costa Rica and Panama offer wildness, enormous biodiversity, and beauty—but much of it is tucked away in secluded coasts or offshore in hard to reach locations. Approach beaches from the water, see a greater variety of natural wonders than any land-based excursion.
- Learn more from experienced naturalists. How many times has a stellar guide made all the difference in your travels? We’ve hand-picked a team of them, a core group of Costa Rican and Panamanian naturalists (1 for every 12 guests) so that you’ll learn more and make an incredible connection with these fascinating islands.
- A Lindblad-National Geographic certified photo instructor on every departure. A specially trained naturalist, your photo instructor will provide assistance with your camera and instruction in elements of composition—to help you take your best photos ever. Certain departures are dedicated Photo Expeditions, with National Geographic photographers aboard, for an in-depth photo experience.
- Unique Panama Canal Transit. The Panama Canal is so much more than a series of locks, and they take in this engineering marvel over two days instead of one. They explore the Canal Zone and, by special arrangement with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, are permitted to overnight in the middle of our Panama Canal transit to explore Barro Colorado Nature Monument.
- Tools for exploration. Their fleet of 5 expedition landing craft, 8 single kayaks and 12 double kayaks allow you to explore remote locations that would be otherwise impossible to reach. Video microscopes, hydrophones, and other tools give you the opportunity to have an unmatched, in-depth understanding and appreciation of all you’ll discover.
- Wellness inspired by nature. Their Wellness program, balances activities ashore and aboard. Their wellness specialist leads morning stretch class on the sundeck or on the beach. And complimenting the tonic of wildness, we offer massage therapy and body treatments in the LEXspa.
- Seamless transition to a land-based exploration. Add an inland exploration of Costa Rica before or after your coastal expedition. Join their top tier expedition team in exploring Monteverde, Sarapiquí, and Arenal.
- Exclusive Video Chronicle of your expedition. A video chronicler aboard every voyage captures all the moments of your unique expedition. Professionally shot in HD and edited during the voyage, it’s available for purchase at disembarkation.
Examine the fascinating lock system that made the Panama Canal one of the greatest engineering achievements of its era.