Panama Canal Excursions - Which do you recommend?

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#21
421 Posts
Joined Dec 2004
Originally posted by BillB48
Since the Canal and Panama are subjects I am much more familiar with, I will just point out some of the highlights if the other port calls. I go into much more detail for Panama (Colon) at the end.

I sort of took the day off in Puerta Vallarta and did not do much... but if you are feeling a little homesick across the street from the pier there is a pretty big Wal-Mart! I'm kidding about going there, but it does seem surreal.

There really is not a whole to do in Puerto Quetzal unless you take a tour. Going to Antigua near Guatemala City in the highlands is very popular. Wonderfully preserved old city with some cooler weather, something you really don't expect to find on a cruise to the tropics.

Puntarenas, I never took any of the longer tours into San Jose or into the Volcanic parks... stayed nearer to the coast, cruised the Tarcoles River where they had some the biggest crocodiles I have seen in the wild. On another cruise we went to a nice little town (I think it was Orotina) in the foothills and entertained by folkloric dances, music and such. Stopped in a fairly typical roadside restaurant that provided a great view of the ship in Puntarenas off in the distance. By the way the maduros (fried ripe plantain) fried yucca and tostones (or patacones depending on the country, which are double fried green plantain) were great as well! Don't worry... nothing healthy in any of those selections, but perhaps you can say it was all organic!

Cartagena, probably the old walled City will give you a great deal of history, going back to the Spanish Inquisition. Well preserved architecturally. You could also take in La Popa Monastery or the fortress of San Felipe which is certainly a very prominent fixture in Cartagena.

Colon; First the disclaimer... there is nothing for you to do in Colon. This particularly true if you would just like to hit the streets on your own. Other than the mall that is connected to the pier there is not anything for you to do or go on your own without the benefit of a tour or at least a taxi to take you somewhere. There are so many great things to do in Panama and it is a real shame Colon could not be more inviting.

Now that is out of the way, I'm not sure where to begin... I am going to assume that your stop in Colon is a full day stop either before or after your transit and not what is called a "technical" stop. Probably the tour that is going to be the most obvious choice would be the partial transit of the Pacific Locks and Gaillard Cut by "ferry." Unless you don't get enough Canal from your transit on your ship, then this tour is going to be a bit a repeat of your transit. You will be retracing a portion the exact route you were on during your transit. Now, for the Canal aficionado like me, that would not be a bad thing. However, I try to see things through other peoples likes and for some this could possibly be too much of the same thing.

Probably one of the most popular non-Canal related tour would be to the Embera Indians. Depending on which village that is visited, you can get really off the beaten path. For many this is as close to a National Geographic experience any of us ever get. I can't remember hearing anyone having significant negative comments about this tour.

There is another tour that depending on the cruise line is called the Shaping of Panama. This tour takes you to the Pacific side to Panama City where the ruins of Old Panama, Casco Antiguo along with modern Panama City are combined. Quite a contrast.

For the railroad buff there is always a ride on the first and the fastest... better make that first and the quickest transcontinental railroad in the Americas. A lot of history on those rails.

There are a number of other tours that are offered that you may be interested in, but the ones I mentioned are certainly the ones that attract the majority of cruisers. Be glad to elaborate the best I can on any of the Panama tours if you have any questions.
This will be our second Panama cruise. We did the Old city/New city tour last time and thought it was terrific. We're debating whether to stsy on the ship (HAL) and go through the licks gain or get off and do the railroad car train ride to Colon? What would you suggest. We can't do as much walking as we did last time. Thanks.
#22
Florida
5,419 Posts
Joined Feb 2006
Originally posted by pamssanity
This will be our second Panama cruise. We did the Old city/New city tour last time and thought it was terrific. We're debating whether to stsy on the ship (HAL) and go through the licks gain or get off and do the railroad car train ride to Colon? What would you suggest. We can't do as much walking as we did last time. Thanks.
Well, there will be very little walking on the train trip, however I think those who would find the train trip interesting are more the railroad buffs that would like the experience for the nostalgic value of riding the Panama Railroad. Lots of history there and that is where I think the interest lies. While it is a very pleasant trip, you don't see very much of the Canal... only a few fleeting glances and some of that is at a distance. You will see a lot of rain forest on the way and not much civilization.

Staying on the ship on the trip back through Gatun Locks... it certainly is a lot less crowded! All the prime viewing spots will only be lightly populated. The down side is you are traveling ground you have already covered, but it is a very relaxing day.

I'm hesitant to "recommend" as I really don't have a good idea on what you are interested in. Either option would be low key and enjoyable.
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#23
Palm Springs
570 Posts
Joined Jul 2006
Originally posted by 2cool2cruise
Thank you for these information. These tours which you mentioned, are they ship excursions or private tours which can be hired at the dock of online?
If you are interested in using a private tour in Colon, I highly recommend Robtad's. You can contact Roberto at [email protected]. He does a variety of tours and you can also 'create' a tour to your liking. Send him an email and he will respond with all the choices. In November 2015, I organized a tour to the old and new locks through him. We had about 40 people from our roll call take the tour and everyone was very pleased. His prices are very reasonable and are discounted as your group size increases. Although other people that work for him may be good, I specifically asked for him to be our group's guide as he was highly recommended (you should be able to search this forum and find other mention of him besides me ). He is very knowledgeable and entertaining. He actually works for the canal. Let him know I 'sent' you! BTW, if he doesn't get back to you within a day or two, resend the email. Sometimes he has email issues.

Marilyn
#24
West Virginia
107 Posts
Joined May 2010
I totally agree about Robtad's!! I read of the 8 or 9 different tours that they offer in Colon and decided that viewing the old and new locks were at the top of my list - not to mention not wanting to spend hours and hours in the hot, humid weather waiting to go thru!! So, we decided to do their Tour 1 of both the old and new locks, with the hope of seeing a ship go through.

I emailed Robtad's and the owner Roberto Whitaker responded and thus began our correspondence as various Cruise Critic folks joined my tour!

Our tour began on time with Mr. Whitaker being our guide. Other personnel of his were assigned to other tours with his company. He did not push or rush anyone; he answered every question thoroughly; was determined that every guest was satisfied with every aspect of our tour; and left everyone on awe of the great tour! We were able to watch shops go through BOTH locks and Mr Whitaker explained exactly what was occurring every step of the way.

Although this tour was marked for 3 hours, it lasted for 5 hours because he wanted us to get the full experience. This tour literally blew everyone's mind!

Mr. Whitaker's first language is English and his clear booming voice was easily heard!

In addition, Simone, our bus driver, can thread a huge bus thru a needle, I am convinced!

You cannot do better than Robtad's - especially with Roberto Whitaker leading!!

Patty


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Patty
#25
28 Posts
Joined May 2015
Totally confused regarding the Panama Canal stop. HA website doesn't show any shore excursions. I can't figure out where or when the boat docks. I'm left not knowing what I'd like to do or how. If someone can enlighten me I sure would appreciate it.
It's New Years Day and no one answers the phone at HA.
Marvin
#26
Petaluma, Ca. 94954
28,707 Posts
Joined Jul 2000
Originally posted by Sodicoff
Totally confused regarding the Panama Canal stop. HA website doesn't show any shore excursions. I can't figure out where or when the boat docks. I'm left not knowing what I'd like to do or how. If someone can enlighten me I sure would appreciate it.
It's New Years Day and no one answers the phone at HA.
Marvin
It would be helpful if you told us the ship (HAL has several that go through the Canal), type of cruise (full transit, which usually don't stop in Panama, or partial transit, which do the Gatun Lake/Colon action very commonly discussed here on this board) perhaps the dates...

Or, you could look on the HAL website for specifics.
#27
Florida
5,419 Posts
Joined Feb 2006
Marvin you are probably lucky you did not get through to anyone today as their advice on a day like today might be a bit dicier than usual. As Bruce indicated, hit us back with a little info and maybe we could steer you in a better direction.
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#28
St. Augustine, FL
6,883 Posts
Joined Sep 2006
Originally posted by BillB48
Since the Canal and Panama are subjects I am much more familiar with, I will just point out some of the highlights if the other port calls. I go into much more detail for Panama (Colon) at the end.

I sort of took the day off in Puerta Vallarta and did not do much... but if you are feeling a little homesick across the street from the pier there is a pretty big Wal-Mart! I'm kidding about going there, but it does seem surreal.

There really is not a whole to do in Puerto Quetzal unless you take a tour. Going to Antigua near Guatemala City in the highlands is very popular. Wonderfully preserved old city with some cooler weather, something you really don't expect to find on a cruise to the tropics.

Puntarenas, I never took any of the longer tours into San Jose or into the Volcanic parks... stayed nearer to the coast, cruised the Tarcoles River where they had some the biggest crocodiles I have seen in the wild. On another cruise we went to a nice little town (I think it was Orotina) in the foothills and entertained by folkloric dances, music and such. Stopped in a fairly typical roadside restaurant that provided a great view of the ship in Puntarenas off in the distance. By the way the maduros (fried ripe plantain) fried yucca and tostones (or patacones depending on the country, which are double fried green plantain) were great as well! Don't worry... nothing healthy in any of those selections, but perhaps you can say it was all organic!

Cartagena, probably the old walled City will give you a great deal of history, going back to the Spanish Inquisition. Well preserved architecturally. You could also take in La Popa Monastery or the fortress of San Felipe which is certainly a very prominent fixture in Cartagena.

Colon; First the disclaimer... there is nothing for you to do in Colon. This particularly true if you would just like to hit the streets on your own. Other than the mall that is connected to the pier there is not anything for you to do or go on your own without the benefit of a tour or at least a taxi to take you somewhere. There are so many great things to do in Panama and it is a real shame Colon could not be more inviting.

Now that is out of the way, I'm not sure where to begin... I am going to assume that your stop in Colon is a full day stop either before or after your transit and not what is called a "technical" stop. Probably the tour that is going to be the most obvious choice would be the partial transit of the Pacific Locks and Gaillard Cut by "ferry." Unless you don't get enough Canal from your transit on your ship, then this tour is going to be a bit a repeat of your transit. You will be retracing a portion the exact route you were on during your transit. Now, for the Canal aficionado like me, that would not be a bad thing. However, I try to see things through other peoples likes and for some this could possibly be too much of the same thing.

Probably one of the most popular non-Canal related tour would be to the Embera Indians. Depending on which village that is visited, you can get really off the beaten path. For many this is as close to a National Geographic experience any of us ever get. I can't remember hearing anyone having significant negative comments about this tour.

There is another tour that depending on the cruise line is called the Shaping of Panama. This tour takes you to the Pacific side to Panama City where the ruins of Old Panama, Casco Antiguo along with modern Panama City are combined. Quite a contrast.

For the railroad buff there is always a ride on the first and the fastest... better make that first and the quickest transcontinental railroad in the Americas. A lot of history on those rails.

There are a number of other tours that are offered that you may be interested in, but the ones I mentioned are certainly the ones that attract the majority of cruisers. Be glad to elaborate the best I can on any of the Panama tours if you have any questions.
We are doing the "2 day canal experience" on the Island Princess so any additional info on Panama would be appreciated!
Thanks in advance!
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#29
Florida
5,419 Posts
Joined Feb 2006
Originally posted by suzyed
We are doing the "2 day canal experience" on the Island Princess so any additional info on Panama would be appreciated!
Thanks in advance!
I really think the only you will have to decide is if you would like to add on to your Canal transit experience by taking tours that focus on the Canal or have a look at the cultural and historic side of Panama. Many good choices here, so just go in the direction you think will be of interest.
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#30
4 Posts
Joined Apr 2015
Originally posted by BillB48
Since the Canal and Panama are subjects I am much more familiar with, I will just point out some of the highlights if the other port calls. I go into much more detail for Panama (Colon) at the end.

I sort of took the day off in Puerta Vallarta and did not do much... but if you are feeling a little homesick across the street from the pier there is a pretty big Wal-Mart! I'm kidding about going there, but it does seem surreal.

There really is not a whole to do in Puerto Quetzal unless you take a tour. Going to Antigua near Guatemala City in the highlands is very popular. Wonderfully preserved old city with some cooler weather, something you really don't expect to find on a cruise to the tropics.

Puntarenas, I never took any of the longer tours into San Jose or into the Volcanic parks... stayed nearer to the coast, cruised the Tarcoles River where they had some the biggest crocodiles I have seen in the wild. On another cruise we went to a nice little town (I think it was Orotina) in the foothills and entertained by folkloric dances, music and such. Stopped in a fairly typical roadside restaurant that provided a great view of the ship in Puntarenas off in the distance. By the way the maduros (fried ripe plantain) fried yucca and tostones (or patacones depending on the country, which are double fried green plantain) were great as well! Don't worry... nothing healthy in any of those selections, but perhaps you can say it was all organic!

Cartagena, probably the old walled City will give you a great deal of history, going back to the Spanish Inquisition. Well preserved architecturally. You could also take in La Popa Monastery or the fortress of San Felipe which is certainly a very prominent fixture in Cartagena.

Colon; First the disclaimer... there is nothing for you to do in Colon. This particularly true if you would just like to hit the streets on your own. Other than the mall that is connected to the pier there is not anything for you to do or go on your own without the benefit of a tour or at least a taxi to take you somewhere. There are so many great things to do in Panama and it is a real shame Colon could not be more inviting.

Now that is out of the way, I'm not sure where to begin... I am going to assume that your stop in Colon is a full day stop either before or after your transit and not what is called a "technical" stop. Probably the tour that is going to be the most obvious choice would be the partial transit of the Pacific Locks and Gaillard Cut by "ferry." Unless you don't get enough Canal from your transit on your ship, then this tour is going to be a bit a repeat of your transit. You will be retracing a portion the exact route you were on during your transit. Now, for the Canal aficionado like me, that would not be a bad thing. However, I try to see things through other peoples likes and for some this could possibly be too much of the same thing.

Probably one of the most popular non-Canal related tour would be to the Embera Indians. Depending on which village that is visited, you can get really off the beaten path. For many this is as close to a National Geographic experience any of us ever get. I can't remember hearing anyone having significant negative comments about this tour.

There is another tour that depending on the cruise line is called the Shaping of Panama. This tour takes you to the Pacific side to Panama City where the ruins of Old Panama, Casco Antiguo along with modern Panama City are combined. Quite a contrast.

For the railroad buff there is always a ride on the first and the fastest... better make that first and the quickest transcontinental railroad in the Americas. A lot of history on those rails.

There are a number of other tours that are offered that you may be interested in, but the ones I mentioned are certainly the ones that attract the majority of cruisers. Be glad to elaborate the best I can on any of the Panama tours if you have any questions.
I have a similar question - our Panama tour will stop in Cartagena, Panama City, Quepos, Caldera and Acajutla - then on to the familiar territory of Cabo San Lucas and San Diego. But for those first cities I'm trying to learn which ones we can just do our own thing in a cab, whether there are good excursion opportunities available in the ports, and in which cases the cruise excursions are the best option. Thoughts appreciated!
#31
9,587 Posts
Joined May 2009
Originally posted by Michelelabelle
I have a similar question - our Panama tour will stop in Cartagena, Panama City, Quepos, Caldera and Acajutla - then on to the familiar territory of Cabo San Lucas and San Diego. But for those first cities I'm trying to learn which ones we can just do our own thing in a cab, whether there are good excursion opportunities available in the ports, and in which cases the cruise excursions are the best option. Thoughts appreciated!
I've replied to your question on the separate thread you started.
#32
Florida
5,419 Posts
Joined Feb 2006
Originally posted by Michelelabelle
I have a similar question - our Panama tour will stop in Cartagena, Panama City, Quepos, Caldera and Acajutla - then on to the familiar territory of Cabo San Lucas and San Diego. But for those first cities I'm trying to learn which ones we can just do our own thing in a cab, whether there are good excursion opportunities available in the ports, and in which cases the cruise excursions are the best option. Thoughts appreciated!

When you say Panama City I assume that your ship will be actually stopping at Ft. Amador for Panama City and not docking in Colon. While I have not experienced it, there is a stop for the Hop on Off bus at Ft. Amador and then makes its rounds to various points of interest in PC that includes such places as Casco Viejo, Miraflores Locks as well as an assortment of other stops. It seems like most of the posters here that have reported back had favorable comments. I know at Ft. Amador and Cartagena as well you could just commandeer a cab to your liking and go from there.

As Turtles mentioned in the other thread Caldera is close to Puntarenas so I would guess you could expect similar offerings there... Quepos and Acajulta are unexplored at this time.
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#33
26 Posts
Joined Apr 2017
Originally posted by CruiserBruce
Only Colon is in Panama. Puerto Vallarta is covered extensively on the Mexican Rivera board. Similarly, Cartagena is covered on the Columbia board, Puerto Quertzal on the Guatemala board and Puntareanas on the Costa Rica board.
Since we're booked on an east to west full Panama Canal cruise I've appreciated the responses in this thread, but as a relative newbie still finding my way around the board this was especially helpful, CruiserBruce... thank you. The wealth of information on this forum is almost mind-boggling.
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#34
9,587 Posts
Joined May 2009
Originally posted by CA-Cruzers
Since we're booked on an east to west full Panama Canal cruise I've appreciated the responses in this thread, but as a relative newbie still finding my way around the board this was especially helpful, CruiserBruce... thank you. The wealth of information on this forum is almost mind-boggling.
I totally agree about the wealth of info here. Could not cruise without it!

Let me add one additional thing, since I was stymied by it when I began to research the ports on our full transit of the Canal. The Costa Rica board is in the *Caribbean* Ports of Call forum. Who would have guessed that, since Costa Rica also borders the Pacific!
#35
273 Posts
Joined Jun 2013
Turtles06, Kamloops50, Ruth and many others have always been so helpful to answer some specific questions and many of us are appreciative for everyone who can answer questions and even reference us to specific boards or posts by other cruisers that have more details. When we first started planning our trip to Panama Canal I did not find a lot of "current" posts or current information on some of the individual port of call boards so I was very appreciative for all who take time to share their experience
#37
St. Augustine, FL
6,883 Posts
Joined Sep 2006
Originally posted by BillB48
I really think the only you will have to decide is if you would like to add on to your Canal transit experience by taking tours that focus on the Canal or have a look at the cultural and historic side of Panama. Many good choices here, so just go in the direction you think will be of interest.
We ended up booking the Train Ride from Colon to the Gatun locks! The old train was fun and a pleasant way to see the country side. When we got to the locks we were able to see up close how the mules work! I found the locks fascinating and could hardly get enough of the history and workings of the locks, even though we had spent the whole day going through the canal the day before! It was great to see another ship traverse the locks! Loved it!
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#38
Florida
5,419 Posts
Joined Feb 2006
Glad you enjoyed your two days at the Canal!
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#39
KY
934 Posts
Joined Jul 2004
We are doing partial transit with Norwegian Jade and have a 4 hour stop in Colon. i understand there is nothing to at that time. I'm just confused about the 4 hour stop if there is nothing to do there..
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#40
Florida
5,419 Posts
Joined Feb 2006
Originally posted by nednrom
We are doing partial transit with Norwegian Jade and have a 4 hour stop in Colon. i understand there is nothing to at that time. I'm just confused about the 4 hour stop if there is nothing to do there..
The stop in Colon is primarily to pick up the passengers who elected ship's excursions after the Jade has locked up Gatun Locks. These passengers tender off the ship when it arrives at the Gatun Lake Anchorage. Those who remain on the ship will lock back down Gatun Locks and the short trip to Colon, much of which you already covered that morning. While there is not enough time to take any tour in Colon, there is a shopping mall connected to the pier that is safe to browse around.
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