Central America / Panama Canal Cruises
Central America / Panama Canal Highlights
If you're looking for a completely different type of cruise experience, then you should consider a Central America or Panama Canal cruise. Because of their proximity to the United States, less travel time is required – so itineraries to the Panama Canal and Central America tend to last longer. Most Central America or Panama Canal cruises are at least one week long; some itineraries last for up to three weeks. Cruise vacations to the Panama Canal and Central America are best known for their adventurous shore excursions, which visit rainforests and other natural wonders.
Popular Central America and Panama Canal cruise destinations include:
Cartagena, Columbia: One of the oldest cities in Colombia, Cartagena is filled with historic buildings and monuments. The city's resort area is generally considered to be safer than most other locations within Columbia.
Colon, Panama: Named for Christopher Columbus, Colon is the Caribbean Sea's gateway to the Panama Canal. It's also the world's second-largest duty-free port of call.
Gamboa, Panama: Located in the middle of the Panama Canal on Gatun Lake. Cruise ships that traverse the Panama Canal completely, or which turn around and return to their point of departure, visit this village.
Limon, Costa Rica: Home to National Parks and scenic preserved sites.
Puerto Caldera, Costa Rica: One of Costa Rica's largest coastal cities. Costa Rica's capital, San Jose, is just a short distance from here.
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala: Puerto Quetzal is in close proximity to the city of Antigua, Guatemala's former capital city. It's also home to many ancient Mayan ruins.
Puntarenas, Costa Rica: This colorful destination offers cruisers a wide variety of adventurous shore excursion options – many waterfalls, rainforests, and volcanoes are located nearby.
San Blas Islands: The country of the Kuna Indians. The Kuna Indians rule this collection of 365 islands (50 of which are inhabited), and it's here that they continue to practice their cultural traditions.
Santo Tomas De Castillo, Guatemala: Guatemala's largest port of call along the Caribbean Sea.
Central America / Panama Canal Activities & Attractions
Café Britt Coffee: Learn about the art of growing coffee. Tours depart from Puntarenas, Costa Rica.
Cartagena Shopping: Available at Las Bovedas (in Old City) and Pierino Gallo Plaza (in New City).
Cartagena Sites: Attractions include the Church of Saint Pedro Claver, the Church of Santo Toribio, Gold Museum, La Popa Monastery, the Palace of the Inquisition, Plaza Fernandez Madrid, San Felipe Fortress, Saint Peter Claver's Church & Monastery, and the Virgin of Candelaria statue.
Cartagena Tours: Guided walks and rides are available that explore this historic Colombian city.
Colon Excursions: Options include cruises on the Changres River, guided hikes through a rainforest, kayaking excursions, raft rides, scuba diving excursions, and trips to the Locks.
KéköLdi Indigenous Reserve: This reserve is home to the few remaining indigenous Costa Ricans. Be sure to get permission before visiting!
La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Nature Park & Wildlife Refuge: A must-see attraction located near Puntarenas. Home to the Butterfly Garden and the Hummingbird Garden.
Limon Excursions: Choices include aerial tram rides in rainforests, boat trips along the Tortuguero Canals, or swimming and snorkeling in Cahuita National Park. Traverse cables and swing like Tarzan through the rainforest on the Canopy Tour!
Limon National Parks: Highlights include the Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge, Braulio Carrillo National Park, Cahuita National Park, Chirripó National Park, Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, Hitoy-Cerere Biological Reserve, La Amistad International Park, and the Tortuguero Canals.
Mayan Ruins: A must-see. Located in Puerto Quetzal.
Panama Canal Helicopter Rides: Helicopter rides depart from Limon and other locales. See the Panama Canal from a bird's-eye perspective!
Panama Canal Locks: A short trip from Colon. Highlights include the Gatun Locks and the Miraflores.
Panama City: A 90-minute bus ride from Colon. Attractions here include the city cathedral, the Historical Museum of Panama, the Municipal Palace, the Panama Canal Museum, the President's Palace and a completely restored colonial town.
Portobelo: A 60-minute bus ride from Colon. This once-thriving city is now home to forts and a famous street market.
Puerto Caldera Excursions: Travel inland to nearby mountains or pay a visit to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.
Puntarenas Excursions: Options include horseback riding, kayaking, snorkeling, trips to Poas National Park (home to a "Cloud Forest"), and strolls through the rainforest across an elevated sky bridge.
Puntarenas Sites: Attractions include the Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Theater.
San Jose Sites: Costa Rican ports of call offer excursions to the capital city. San Jose highlights include the National Museum of Pre-Colombian Art and the Opera House.
Santo Tomas de Castillo Sites: Visit Cayos del Diablo Resort and see ancient Mayan ruins.
Sarchí: An art village. Located near Puntarenas.
Central America / Panama Canal Ports Of Call
Itineraries that involve the Panama Canal vary widely from cruise line to cruise line. Many Panama Canal cruises will stop at locations in the Western Caribbean and Mexico, while others will stop in Northern South America and Central America. Not all cruise ships will pass through the Panama Canal. Some will not enter the Panama Canal at all.
Typical ports of call on a Central America or Panama Canal cruise include Cartagena, Colon, Gamboa, Limon, Puerto Caldera, Puerto Quetzaland, Puntarenas, Santo Tomas De Castillo, and San Blas Island.
When To Visit Central America / Panama Canal
Cruises to Central America and the Panama Canal are generally offered from October through April. The region's rainy season ends in November, so it's recommended that you cruise once it's over.