Cruising Panama — Islands, Jungle, and a Very Large Canal

How could such a small country, only about 30 miles wide at its narrowest point, offer such a variety of experiences and activity?P1000837

I’ve already covered our 3 days in cosmopolitan Panama City in previous posts, so in this post I’ll focus on the cruise itself, the 7 day UnCruise Adventures Pure Panama: Cultures, Coasts & Canal trip. Here is a sampling of what we did in those 7 days:

  • kayaked among tropical islands and along a bay fringed by jungle and dark stands of mangroves;P1000935P1000797
  • motored down a very “Apocalypse Now” – like jungle river in traditional canoes, then hiked a short distance through the jungle to visit the Embera, an indigenous people with the warmest, friendliest, most charismatic children I have ever encountered;P1010098


  • visited the town of Portobela, the site of a 16th Century colonial fortress and a unique culture with deep African roots;P1000862P1000864P1000904P1000924
  • bird-watched in a skiff cruising down the historic Chagras River. We spotted herons, woodpeckers, and egrets, among a list of over 30 different species, including one named after me – the Manakin;P1000944P1000967P1000992
  • spotted other wildlife including howler monkeys and whales;P1010207
  • snorkeled in two oceans, the Caribbean and Pacific;DSCF0354 DSCF0374 DSCF0400 DSCF0436 DSCF0432
  • and traversed the Panama Canal, described by an exhibit in the Biomuseo as “one of the largest alterations of the natural world ever undertaken by humans.” P1000766P1010047P1010065P101005820170920_232915

photo by Robb Gieger

The UnCruise ship, the Safari Voyager, was the perfect vehicle for this active, varied adventure. With a capacity of only 62 passengers, the ship was able to get to places that bigger ships can’t go, without sacrificing comfort or luxury. The meals were excellent, the bar was open (including premium spirits and local craft beer), and each passenger received a free 30 minute massage from one of the two staff masseuses on the ship.P1000821P1010078

A feature that I especially appreciated, given my continuing recuperation from my knee replacement surgery several months ago, was the launching platform at the rear of the ship, which made it easy to get in and out of the skiffs and kayaks.P1000829P1000834The cruise ended in a spontaneous beach party with everyone cooling off in the water with flotation noodles keeping our heads and drinks (cans of beer, mojitos, and glasses of wine) above water.DSCF0347DSCF0474DSCF0475DSCF0465

Our trip didn’t end with the cruise. After spending another couple of days in Panama City (see previous posts for details), we stopped for a short visit at the ruins of the original city on the way to the airport. Panama Viejo, a World Heritage Site, was founded by the Spanish in 1519 and was the first European Settlement on the Pacific Ocean. The ruins themselves are spooky and evocative; the history – described in dramatic detail in the museum on the grounds, and involving indigenous people, Spanish conquistadors, and the British pirate Henry Morgan — is worthy of a summer blockbuster Hollywood movie.P1010327

This is an easy attraction to skip, lying as it does in the distant suburbs of the city, but it was well worth the 90 minute visit and the inevitable sweat pouring down my face. Charlie Fiddes ( — our driver and guide and retired helicopter pilot trained in the US – also took us on a drive through the affluent suburbs near the ruins and provided insightful commentary on life in Panama today.

Panama was a huge surprise to me. I figured that the Canal would be pretty cool, but I didn’t expect to enjoy the trip as much as I did. I recommend Panama as a must see destination, and not just for the Canal. Just make sure to bring lots of light weight underwear and shirts. You’ll be glad you did.

2 thoughts on “Cruising Panama — Islands, Jungle, and a Very Large Canal

  1. Hi Don,

    Omg, those pics are fantastic! And I love your blog in general! (Thanks for including the photo of “my” little girl…I never could get her name). We were with Barb and Robb last night — went to see a new musical “Trevor,” a coming-of-age story, that had good music, good story, and terrific acting! I told them about our night at the fish market — some fun, though the food wasn’t the greatest! If you find yourself in Chicago (remember, Catherine has to visit old haunts!) give us a call…and we’ll do the same, if we’re in LA.. It was great fun getting to know you and Catherine and sharing those great dinners on the boat. cheers! Jane

  2. Yes,Don, it was a great time, especially spending time with both of you. My cousin Ann wrote with an open invitation to you and Catherine (sp?) up in Westlake Village, and us, next time we’re in town. BTW I have an identical “float photo” only with green toenails. Yes, green… perhaps not the best choice…! See ya later!

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