Cruising the Panama Canal
The warm region between Mexico and South America possesses remarkable culture, spectacular scenery - and one of the world's historic engineering marvels, the Panama Canal. Lush tropical rain forests and abundant colorful wildlife make Central America a prime cruise destination for people seeking places off the beaten path and close to nature.
Although a few of today's largest cruise ships can not pass through the locks of the Panama Canal, most major cruise lines offer sailings that include this unique passage along with visits to several Central American and Caribbean ports of call. A day-long passage through the 51-mile-long canal transits three locks and passes through some of the region's most beautiful scenery.
Some lines operate Central American/Panama Canal cruises throughout the year, but September through April is the most popular season for these itineraries. Many Panama Canal cruises last from 10 to 25 days or more, though some are as short as a week. Repositioning voyages between the Atlantic and Caribbean waters and the Pacific and Alaska also usually go through the Panama Canal and include Central America visits, as do many world cruise itineraries.
Ports of Call
Costa Rica's most popular beach resorts and 14 national parks and reserves can all be found in this little coffee shipping port on the Gulf of Nicoya. The town also serves as the connection to the nation's capital city and other attractions.
Parks & Forests -
Highlights of Puntarenas include trips to the city's national parks and tropical rain forests to explore the area's exotic plants, flowers and wildlife. The cloud forest, Poas National Park and Carara Biological Reserve offer the opportunity to breath in fresh air, take in beautiful scenery, and spot monkeys, macaws, parrots, peccaries, toucans, butterflies, crocodiles and more.
Sarchi & San Jose -
A relatively short trip through picturesque valleys and past coffee and sugar plantations along the Pan American Highway from Puntarenas can take cruise visitors to the nearby town of Sarchi and to San Jose, Costa Rica's capital. In Sarchi, local craftsmen carry on the traditions of Costa Rica's native art, painting the famed ox carts. An excursion to San Jose, Costa Rica's capital, includes a drive through the Central Volcanic Valley and stops at the National Museum to capture pre-Columbian art and history, the National Theater, Opera House and National Library.
Other Activities -
Other things to do and see in Puntarenas include a leisurely raft ride down Carobici River to enjoy bright scenery and rich wildlife; a horseback adventure through jungles and cattle fields; and a journey through the city's history. Open-air restaurants and craft shops also line the streets of Puntarenas.
Rich in jewels and history, this Columbian city is characterized by its fortress walls, twisted streets, colonial buildings and balconied houses. It was also the film sight for the movie "Romancing the Stone," which starred Michael Douglas, Kathleen Tuner and Danny DeVito.
Pieces of History -
Historic sights and buildings are the main points of interest in Cartagena. Places to see and visit include San Felipe Barajas Fortress (originally constructed to protect gold shipments from pirates), La Popa Monastery, Plaza Bolivar, the Gold Museum, the Palace of Inquisition and the Church of San Pedro Claver. Walking and bus tours are available.
Beach & Boating -
Cartagena offers opportunities to go for a sailboat ride in the inner bay area to admire the coastal sites, take a speedboat to nearby Rosario Islands, which are designated as a National Natural Park, or hop on a motorboat for a guided history tour and day at the beach.
Jewels, Jewels, Jewels -
Those interested in admiring or purchasing emeralds, other gems or souvenir items can certainly do so in Cartagena. Bocagrande and Pierino Gallo Shopping Center are both hot spots for jewels, leather goods and Columbia coffee.
Puerto Limon -
Located on the eastern coast of Costa Rica, Puerto Limon is famous for launching the first shipment of bananas to North America in the late 19th century. Tropical flower farms and thousands of animal species are among the many natural wonders cruise vacationers can discover here.
Guided tours through this 350 hectare private forest reserve, which is the namesake of the school devoted to biological preservation, follow a walking trail through the lush forest. Along the way, visitors can spot monkeys, birds, sloth and snakes as well as coatis, agoutis, pacas, armadillos, iguanas. Visitors may also have a chance to visit E.A.R.T.H.'s experimental banana packing plants and orchid nursery.
Aerial Tram -
Cruise vacationers can get a birds-eye view of the rain forest on excursions into the Braulio Carrillo National Park. After a scenic bus ride past banana plantations, fields of exotic flowers and plants to the park, nature lovers ride the Rain Forest Aerial Tram through the rain forest to the canopy where gardens of plants and two-thirds of all rain forest species can be seen.
Capital Connections -
A short trip from Puerto Limon takes visitors to San Jose, Costa Rica's thriving capital city. Other connections from this strategically located port city offer opportunities to tour a working banana plantation; take a whitewater rafting adventure on the Reventazon River; walk through the city's historic villages and tropical flower gardens.
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