‘Costa Rica and Panama Canal Cruise’ is a twelve-day tour on board of the brand new Greg Mortimer. For such a tiny country, Costa Rica punches way above its weight. A precious jewellery-box of a nation renowned for its incredible biodiversity. Costa Rica is a beautiful country bursting with wildlife, pristine beaches, and rainforests.
Combine the rich adventures of Costa Rica with a guaranteed daylight crossing of the Panama Canal. One of humanity’s greatest engineering marvels, and a journey not to be missed. Then continue to Cartagena de Indias in Colombia, a UNESCO listed city considered by many as the most beautiful colonial towns in South America. The perfect place to finish your twelve-day voyage around Central America.
About the vessel: As a modern and custom-designed ship, the Greg Mortimer (max 120 passengers) is at the cutting edge of nautical technology, featuring patented X-BOW™, hydraulic viewing platforms and environmentally friendly virtual anchoring. Four dedicated sea level launching platforms mean smoother and safer zodiac transfers. It is the perfect place to take five and recuperate after exploring – with creature comforts and well-being considered as part of the overall design. All staterooms have private bathrooms, personal storage options, twin and double-bed configuration options, ample storage, international power outlets, and daily cabin service, as well as all the basic amenities that you’ll need onboard.
Departs on 25 April 2020 to 6 May 2020
In San José, make your own way to our group hotel and enjoy time at leisure. Accommodation: Double Tree by Hilton Hotel Cariari (or similar)
After a leisurely buffet breakfast, check-out of your room and drive two-hours west to Puerto Caldera where your vessel Greg Mortimer awaits. After boarding, you’ll have time to settle into your cabin before our important briefings before sitting down to enjoy lunch as you sail to Isla Tortuga (Turtle Island). You can relax on the white sand beach or venture into the warm water to swim, snorkel or dive. The water is teeming with a dizzying array of fish and other creatures including manta rays, spinner dolphins and perhaps sharks. There are even some buried treasures there – literally. There are three shipwrecks off the shore of the island, offering plenty of opportunities to explore the remains of sunken vessels. At Isla Tortuga, we will do our kayak orientation and have our first introductory paddle. This evening, get to know your fellow expeditioners and friendly expedition team and crew at a welcome dinner to celebrate the start of a thrilling adventure to Costa Rica and Panama.
Curú National Wildlife Refuge is a privately owned and managed nature preserve offering visitors some of the best eco-tourism experiences in Costa Rica. The refuge is the first privately owned refuge in Costa Rica and is an example of a successful sustainable development program, offering over 3700 acres of tropical forests, mangrove swamps, and grassy fields sitting right along the coastline. 17 hiking trails wind through the varied terrain and you may see white-tail deer or catch a glimpse of armadillos or iguanas. Monkeys are prolific including the native capuchin, spider, and howler monkeys. Located on the southern Nicoya Peninsula of northwestern Costa Rica, the area is teeming with abundant wildlife and hosts one of the most beautiful beaches and protected bays on the Nicoya Peninsula, where we hope to go for a paddle and swim.
Boasting over 100 species of mammals, 184 species of birds and a plethora of diverse flora, Manuel Antonio National Park is a paradise for wildlife lovers. Costa Rica’s star attractions – two and three toed sloths, white-faced monkeys and toucans can all be found on hikes that weave through the park. Hiking trails snake their way through the parkland offering access to its rainforest, waterfalls and remote white sand beaches whilst from the water we can snorkel, kayak and paddleboard to view the exquisite coral. We anchor off the shores of Espadilla Beach and Zodiac to shore for a wet landing. Walk along this soft-sand beach or follow a trail through the rainforest parallel to the beach to get to Playa Manuel Antonio, which is the most popular beach inside the park. It’s a short, deep crescent of white sand backed by lush rainforest. There are numerous clearly-marked hiking trails to choose from – a circular loop trail (1.4km/0.9 mile) around a high promontory bluff, which includes a visit to the highest point on this hike – Punta Catedral, which offers spectacular views, takes approximately 25 to 30 minutes return. The hiking trails in Manuel Antonio National Park offer excellent opportunities to spot monkeys, sometimes sloths, agoutis, armadillos and coatis.
Over the next two days, we explore the untamed Osa Peninsula, considered by National Geographic to be ‘one of the most biologically intense places on Earth’. Considered to be the crown jewel of Costa Rica’s park system, Corcovado National Park is the country’s largest and one of the most remote parks in Costa Rica. It is home to the largest and only tropical primary lowland rainforest in the world, provides habitat for a plethora of endangered plant and animal species including the scarlet macaw, various frogs, and the tapir – the largest terrestrial mammal in Central and South America. In order to conserve the integrity of the national park, restrictions are placed on the capacity of daily visitors permitted in the park. We therefore hike through a private conservation reserve adjoining the national park looking not only for wildlife, but also to experience the incredible wet tropical rainforest filled with tall trees measuring over 60 metres/197 ft, lianas, epiphytes, palms, gingers and orchids. We also visit nearby Caño Island Biological Reserve, located only 20 kilometres/12.4 miles offshore from the Osa Peninsula, an island of incredible geographical and archeological importance.
This 300-hectare piece of land was formerly a cemetery or burial ground dating back to the pre-Columbian era. Visitors are only permitted to visit the island for a maximum of 15 minutes. However, the blue waters surrounding the island are ideal for diving, snorkelling and kayaking. With excellent underwater visibility, it is often possible to spot sea turtles, dolphins, stingrays, manta rays, moray eels, barracudas, tuna, snapper and grouper swimming alongside a variety sharks and humpback or pilot whales. Since the island is a reserve, scuba diving numbers are regulated to a maximum of 10, and the removal of any marine life is strictly forbidden. The following day, we will round the peninsula’ most southern point to enter Gulfo Dulce, or Sweet Gulf. The large bay hugs pristine beaches, rivers and tall evergreen forest, a protected area known as the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve. As one of the wettest places on Earth with over 200 inches/5000 mm of rainfall a year, the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve boasts some of the tallest ancient trees. Established in 1979, the Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve was created to protect the lowland forested areas that surround the gulf – the reserve also connecting other national parks in the area. We visit a private reserve called Casa Orchideas (Orchid House), akin to a botanical garden adjoining Piedras Blancas National Park. A hike in Casa Orchideas allows you to appreciate colourful orchids, heliconias, palms, and all the tropical wildlife such as toucans, macaws, tanagers, and honey creepers that feed from the flowers. The warm tropical waters in the gulf are a popular playground for dolphins – perfect for snorkelling, paddle-boarding, kayaking, and Zodiac cruising.
Leaving Costa Rica behind, we sail through the Panamanian islands of Coiba National Park, located off the southwest coast of Panama and inscribed as by UNESCO as a place of outstanding universal value. The national park protects Coiba Island, 38 smaller islands and the surrounding marine areas within the Gulf of Chiriqui. Protected from the cold winds and effects of El Niño, Coiba’s Pacific tropical moist forest maintains exceptionally high levels of endemism of mammals, birds and plants due to the ongoing evolution of new species. It is also the last refuge for a number of threatened animals such as the crested eagle. The property is an outstanding natural laboratory for scientific research and provides a key ecological link to the Tropical Eastern Pacific for the transit and survival of pelagic fish and marine mammals. Due to Coiba Island (the main island in the archipelago) previously serving as a penal colony, access to the island was heavily restricted. As a result, nearly 80 per cent of the islands’ natural resources have remained untouched and flourished because of limited human contact. Coiba National Park is managed by the National Authority for the Environment (ANAM) and is accessible only by permit from ANAM. With its designations as a National Park and UNESCO protection, Isla Coiba, its surrounding waters and island neighbours have been given a greater degree of protection. Despite being subject to poaching, illegal logging and other trespasses, the Panamanian government has taken a large step in their preservation. On Coiba Island, hike through untouched tropical jungle, home to mantled howler monkeys, crested eagles, and sea turtles. We aim to stop at Granito de Oro islet, a unique place which offers the casual snorkeller a diversity and volume of marine life that many avid scuba divers spend their lives trying to see. The waters surrounding are considered one of the best diving destinations in the world. Enjoy the day snorkelling among abundant marine life, kayaking around rocky outcroppings, and basking on the warm sand.
Choose one of these two shore excursions
Miraflores Visitor Centre and Colonial City Tour at “Casco Viejo”. At the Miraflores Visitor Centre, you will find different activities to learn and fully enjoy the Panama Canal. Learn about the history of the Panama Canal from its beginnings to the present. Four exhibition halls portray the Canal’s history and biodiversity, while three terraces and observation decks are ideal places for observing the Canal’s operation, the passage of ships through the locks and how they move. Continue to Old Panama and visit two exceptional sites as well as a guided walk around the historic quarter and the cobblestone streets for a leisurely look at many historic landmarks
or Gatun Lake Expedition & Walking Tour at “Casco Viejo” Gatun Lake is a large artificial lake with a unique ecosystem that forms a major part of the Panama Canal, carrying ships for 33 km (20 miles) on their transit across the Isthmus of Panama. At the time it was created, Gatun Lake was the largest man-made lake in the world. The vegetation at Gatun Lake offers ideal habitats for a large number of bird species. The excursion starts with boat trip heading north on the Canal for 25 minutes where we may get close to some of the larger ships that transit the canal daily. Enjoy a slow cruise along the forested banks of Gatun Lake, a protected area, looking for wildlife such as Capuchin Monkeys, three-toed sloth, howler monkeys, various kinds of toucans and other bird life. This is a place to observe the raw regenerative power of the forest as it struggles to claim what was once wild. Enjoy lunch at a resort located in the shores of the Gatun Lake. Continue to Old Panama and visit two exceptional sites as well as a guided walk around the historic quarter and the cobblestone streets for a leisurely look at many historic landmarks
Crossing the Panama Canal will surely be a highlight for many travellers. Each year, over a million people visit the canal to witness this engineering marvel at work. Starting in the Pacific Ocean, you will be able to admire the Bay of Panama and Panama City’s splendorous skyline before passing under the ‘Bridge of the Americas’. The vessel will then transit through the first set of locks, the Miraflores Locks, where it will be lifted 16 metres in two distinct steps. Next, your ship will enter Miraflores Lake, which is a small artificial body of fresh water that separates Pedro Miguel Locks from Miraflores Locks. The vessel will transit through Pedro Miguel Locks, which is one of the two sets of locks on the Pacific side, and here the vessel is lifted 9 metres in one step. After exiting Pedro Miguel locks, your boat will travel through the Gaillard Cut, where the Chagres River flows into the canal. The Gaillard Cut (also known as Culebra Cut because its curves resemble a snake) is one of the main points of interest for visitors because it was carved through the Continental Divide and this section of the canal is full of history and geological value. As you transit the cut you will see dredging occurring to control the sediments entering the canal because of the terrain’s susceptibility to landslides. Sail through Gatun Lake, which was formed by erecting the Gatun Dam across the Chagres River, and during your transit through the lake, you will pass the Smithsonian Research Station at Barro Colorado. The last of the three locks in the Gatun Locks, the only set of locks in the Atlantic sector. At Gatun Locks, the vessel will be lowered a total of 26 metres in three distinct chambers. The complete crossing from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean takes approximately 10 hours, a journey that once took almost two weeks to complete, where vessels were forced to sail around the notoriously rough seas around Cape Horn at the bottom of South America to reach the Pacific coast.
Enjoy a few final presentations from our team of experts including how to edit photos, finish that book you’ve been reading, or simply relax on your private balcony or in one of the many shared spaces on board the ship.
Today’s introductory tour will take you through Cartagena’s old town under the Puerta Del Reloj (Clock tower entrance) into the Plaza de los Coches. Your expert local guide will tell stories of the myths and legends, histories and stories of Cartagena from ancient times right up to the present. From the Plaza San Pedro Claver with its stunning Church, to the Plaza Bolivar with its shady areas, where you can watch the world go by. Cartagena is steeped in history and it’s a delight to stroll the streets accompanied by a knowledgeable local to show you around. During the walk you will visit the Inquisition Palace, considered one of the most elegant and characteristic colonial constructions in Cartagena in the 17th century. The tour ends with a transfer to our group hotel. After check-in, enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure (breakfast included; lunch and dinner at own expense).
After breakfast, farewell your fellow travellers and check-out of your room before making your own way to the airport for your onward journey. Important note: due to strict regulations enforced by local environmental authorities to conserve and protect the pristine places visited on this voyage, permits can be cancelled by authorities at any time with very little notice. Under such circumstances, Aurora Expeditions reserves the right to change our itineraries with little or no prior notice.