Panama City and Portobelo
Welcome to Panama
Arrival into Panama City’s Tocumen international airport and private transfer to your boutique hotel in the historic Casco Viejo.
Check-in and remainder of the day at leisure. We’ll help you with some great dining and cocktail suggestions near your hotel.
A Tale of Two Panamas
After breakfast, depart with your private English-speaking guide and driver for your full day exploration, beginning with a tale of two Panamas. You'll head up to Ancon Hill (650 feet above sea level) for amazing 360-degree views of Panama City and the canal. During this visit, your guide give you insight into Panama's modern history, including the near century of U.S. presence in the country and how that helped create the country you see today. (Please note that Ancon Hill can only be accessed by walking up and down along a gradual path, as cars are not allowed.)
Your next stop visits the famous fish market where you will have a delicious ceviche tasting. This market was donated by the Japanese government in 1989 at a cost of 8 million dollars and opened its doors to the public in 1994. The idea was for local fishermen to greatly benefit from it and create a sustainable living for them and their families. Today the fish market is a most stop when visiting Panama City.
Afterwards, explore the historic and picturesque Casco Viejo, also known as the walled city. Casco Viejo was founded by Spanish in 1673 following the destruction of the original city of Panama (Old Panama). Together with Old Panama, the Casco Viejo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historical and artistic value. As you walk around, your guide will tell you about the history that has shaped the culture and diverse population of the city. You'll visit not only majestic squares and cafés but also areas of Casco to see places where locals do their shopping and carry about their daily lives.
This afternoon, you'll see one of the modern wonders of the world with a VIP special access visit to the Miraflores locks of the Panama canal. Here you will learn about the history and construction of the Canal at the Visitor’s Center and Museum, and then you'll go out and get up close to see a ship transit the canal.
For those who really want to see all the behind-the-scenes operations, we can arrange a special visit to the control tower of the newer Cocoli locks. Or for the ultimate experience by air, we can organize a one-hour helicopter ride over the canal zone and the city! Additional costs apply - please ask your Almaz Journeys travel planner.
Please note that the order of the day's activities are subject to change based on weather conditions, availability and Canal operations.
Rainforest Adventure Just Outside the Capital
You don't have to venture very far outside the city to see why Panama is a nature lover's paradise - and today you'll get a glimpse with this full-day guided exploration of the surrounding rainforest and canal zone.
You'll begin this morning by visiting Soberania National Park, a biodiverse rainforest only 16 miles outside of the city. This incredible park encompassing 55,000 acres is known for its abundance of birds - over 525 known species - and is part of an ecotourism project of conservation and environmental sustainability. At the park, enjoy a walk on the trails to take in the rainforest scenery and discover its great variety of bird and mammal species, and climb the park's observation tower (131 feet) to spy the famous blue cotinga and toucans in flight.
After lunch (included), continue for a private boat ride on Gatun Lake, a massive artificial lake that forms a major part of the Panama Canal. The lake is located within an immensely diverse tropical ecological zone and is surrounded by untouched exotic rainforest. A boat ride on the lake will reveal the area’s many different species of birds, monkeys, iguanas and sloths, among others. You will also have the opportunity to navigate close to massive ships as they wait to cross the Canal.
This is a perfect adventure for nature lovers, but also a great way to see a different but primary part of the Canal system! (Please note that the order of the day's activities are subject to change based on weather conditions and availability.)
Panama City to Portobelo Bay
After breakfast and check-out, meet your private driver for the approximately 90-minute transfer to El Otro Lado, on the "other side" of Panama, a world away from the capital where time moves at a slower pace and we invite you to linger, relax, and enjoy the beautiful nature and culture of this part of Panama.
From the thick fortress walls that once protected Spanish galleons from marauding pirates to the vibrant art and pulsating drum music of the Congos, the area vibrates with a rich history and culture.
Bordered by rainforest and ancient forts, the waterfront hideaway is a work of art in and of itself. Architecture and design reflect the colors, magic and whimsy of the Congo culture and rooms are adorned with original artwork and striking portraits by renowned Panamanian photographer Sandra Eleta (cousin of El Otro Lado’s owner.) The retreat now operates as a nonprofit extension of the Bahia Portobelo Foundation and offers you the opportunity to immerse yourselves in the surrounding nature, culture, history and flavors unique to this part of Panama’s Caribbean coast.
Your stay here includes your choice of a number of options including guided hikes through the rainforest, story-telling walks to UNESCO fortifications, wellness activities and dance performances or drumming lessons with the community troupe to help guests connect with the essence of Portobelo. (Additional costs apply for some activities.)
Congo Culture and History
The town of Portobelo encompasses an array of stories that date back to the Spanish colonial period of the 17th century, and the Congo culture is kept alive with the support of the Portobelo Bay Foundation. After breakfast, you'll travel by boat across the bay to Portobelo for a walking visit of the town and a chance to get to know the people in town. Stops will include the Foundation's art gallery, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the church of the "Black Christ."
Then, you'll see and participate in one of the drumming workshops that the Foundation organizes. Called "La Escuelita del Ritmo" (School of Rhythm), the program provides free music lessons to the children of Portobelo, helping them develop social skills and values through the preservation of the Congo culture.
Or, if you're more interested in art, we can organize a workshop with one of the local artists involved with the Foundation - you'll create a masterpiece of your own to take home with you! (Additional cost applies - please inquire.)
After lunch in Portobelo at Casa Congo, transfer by boat back to the hotel where the afternoon is yours to enjoy the included activities such as use of kayaks and SUPs on the bay (unguided), on-property nature hikes, guided kayak or mangrove safaris, and more. Or you may prefer to relax poolside with a view of the bay, or arrange a relaxing massage in your room. (Additional costs apply to some activities offered.)
Dinner included this evening in the Gazebo at El Otro Lado.
Pirates of Portobelo private catamaran day
After breakfast, head out for an unforgettable day aboard your private catamaran tracing the history of pirates along Panama's Caribbean coast and Portobelo Bay, including Drake Island named after Sir Francis Drake (who met his death here in 1596). The waters along the coast and in the bay are pristine and offer an abundance of marine life which you'll be able to explore snorkeling and kayaking today.
You'll have an English-speaking host guide with you on board today, will have snacks, soft drinks, beer and lunch on board.
Return home or continue in Panama
After breakfast and check-out, you'll return by boat across the bay to Portobelo, where your private driver will meet you for your land transfer back to Panama City (approx. 90 minutes) for your flight back to the U.S....or you may wish to continue on for another few days of beach and pristine nature on Panama's Pacific coast!
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