- Transit the Panama Canal, gaining an up-close view of this modern marvel of engineering, and navigate the waters of the man-made Gatún Lake.
- Discover the coastal treasures and wilderness of Colombia, exploring vibrant villages, pristine beaches, and wildlife-rich jungles.
- Visit the palm-shaded Panamanian archipelago of Guna Yala, an autonomous province that is home to the indigenous Guna people, and get immersed in local culture.
- Encounter timeless artistic traditions from the handcrafted mola textiles of Guna Yala to the famed vueltiao sombreros woven by artisans in the mountain village of Tuchín.
- NEW! Enjoy complimentary beer and wine while aboard ship.
Discover an astonishing trove of natural and cultural treasures as you navigate the Caribbean coast of Panama and Colombia aboard the National Geographic Quest. Hike into dense rainforests that harbor extraordinary biodiversity, glide through little-explored inlets by Zodiac and kayak, and meet the indigenous inhabitants of a secluded Panamanian archipelago where age-old traditions remain part of everyday life. Experience the diverse heritage of stunning cities and remote towns off the beaten path, from the Arab-influenced architecture of Columbia’s Santa Cruz de Lorica to the bustling shores of Santa Cruz del Islote—the most densely populated island in the world.
This trip is operated in collaboration with Lindblad Expeditions.
Upon arrival in Panama City, transfer to the port in Balboa and embark our ship. Stretching more than 50 miles, the Panama Canal was a colossal engineering feat completed in 1914. It is still traversed by some 14,000 ships every year. As cargo ships tend to pass through the canal during the day, we’ll begin our crossing at night, when the canal is dramatically lit.
National Geographic Quest for the remainder of the voyage
By special permission, our ship anchors overnight in Gatun Lake, a vast artificial lake that forms a major part of the Panama Canal. In the morning, disembark on Barro Colorado, a hilltop transformed into an island by the damming of the Chagres River to build the Panama Canal. Visit the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and learn about initiatives to protect the incredible biodiversity of the surrounding Barro Colorado Nature Monument, one of the most studied areas of tropical forest on the planet and the site of various National Geographic-supported studies. Hike along the mouth of the Chagres River to explore the Panama Rainforest Discovery Center before returning to the National Geographic Quest to continue our transit of the canal. We pass the city of Colon and venture out overnight into the fabled Caribbean Sea.
This morning, we arrive along Panama’s Caribbean coast and step ashore at the historic town of Portobelo. Named by Christopher Columbus in 1502, Portobelo, or “beautiful port,” was one of the most important Spanish trading centers in the New World. Founded March 20th, 1597, and eventually designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Portobelo was the end of the trail through the Isthmus of Panama, an alternate route from the Caribbean to the Pacific. Today, we explore the town, the adjacent bay and many 17th and 18th-century Spanish colonial fortifications.
Wake up amid the archipelago of Guna Yala—also known as the San Blas islands—a constellation of 368 tiny, white-sand isles scattered off the northeast coast of Panama. Get to know the indigenous Guna people, one of the first native groups to achieve political autonomy in Latin America. Spend the morning among the thatched huts of an island village learning about Guna culture and handicrafts. Marvel at the intricate designs of handmade textiles called molas, which harken back to a female tradition of body painting. In the afternoon, as conditions allow, take to the waters to snorkel and explore the vibrant marine world around the many tropical cays of Guna Yala.
Arriving in Colombian waters, National Geographic Quest calls at the wonderfully isolated villages of Sapzurro and Capurgana, where we are welcomed into the laid-back vibe of the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Choose to explore these two villages on foot or set out on a nature walk between the towns. In this area, the ranges of the two species of howler monkeys overlap as both the mantled and the Colombian red howler monkeys are here, as are toucans, parrots and trogons, which we watch for as we trek towards El Cielo waterfall or walk between the two towns. Or for those who wish to stretch their leges even more, a hike takes us back into Panama, descending from a quick walk-through border crossing perched high on a bluff down to the beach at La Miel. In the afternoon, kayak or paddleboard round the tropical inlet of the sheltered waters of the bay at Sapzurro.
Santa Cruz del islote is one of the most densely populated islands on Earth, where some 600 inhabitants live in an area that is approximately the size of two soccer fields. The island is surrounded by turquoise seas and coral reefs. Stroll the island’s motor-free streets, past brightly painted houses and bustling docks; and experience daily life on this unusual island as you chat with local residents. Later, as we enjoy lunch on board the ship, we cruise the San Bernardo archipelago, calling at San Antero. Our afternoon excursion takes us to Tuchín, an indigenous village celebrated as the birthplace of the sombrero vueltiao, a type of hat considered a national symbol of Colombia. Observe vueltiao makers at work, then meet with members of the local Zenú community, known for their ingenious irrigation systems. Return to the ship, which will stay at anchor tonight off San Antero.
Disembark this morning for our short drive to Santa Cruz de Lorica, a charming riverside town influenced by several waves of immigration from France, Belgium, England, Syria, and Lebanon. Stroll through the central square, overlooked by a stunning Spanish colonial cathedral and historic buildings in colorful Arabic styles. Return to the ship for lunch and time to relax before embarking on a late afternoon cruise in the rarely explored Cispatá Bay, timed for optimum wildlife spotting as native creatures emerge from their mid-day rest.
After breakfast on board the ship, disembark in Cartagena and transfer to the airport to connect with your flight home.