Colon to Guayaquil
9 days with Silversea Rating:
Day 1 Colon, Panama
Colon welcomes you to one of humanity's most extraordinary engineering endeavours, the Panama Canal. This extraordinary waterway connects two of the world’s great oceans and, on opening, saved ships from an epic and treacherous 8,000 mile voyage around Cape Horn. While the Atlantic Entrance is Colon's main raison d’etre, there is much more to this city on the canal’s grand gateway than first meets the eye. Take an old world voyage on the regally romantic Panama Railway Canal, which preceded the canal and was constructed at extraordinary human cost to traverse Panama’s narrow land. The tracks have been rolling since the 19th century and cosying up inside the historic carriages, with their gleaming glass ceilings and polished woods, is an elegant journey back through time to the period when this was the quickest route from the east coast of the USA to California’s gold rush dreams. A side trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Portobelo is also a must. With its reef rock fortifications built by the Spanish in the 17th century, these jagged jaws of coral were carved to cut approaching pirates and conquistadors to shreds. It shares its World Heritage Site designation with nearby Fort San Lorenzo, which perches on an emerald-green cliff, casting its gaze over the harbour below. Back in Colon, after staring in awe at the grand, clanging Gatun Locks, and splurging on a case of duty-free rum and trinkets from the Colon Free Trade Zone - a trip to the beach will soothe city-worn souls. Playa La Angosta is a rabble of raucous beach-going fun, where the blue waters swirl with bright banana boats and fleeting canoes. Relax on the sand among sizzling yuca fritters, and families clamouring in the shade of cabanas. On the Caribbean side, Playa Chiquita is accessible only by boat, but rewards with warm gin-clear waters backed by thick rainforest.
Day 2 Colon, Panama - Panama Canal Transit, Panama
The Panama Canal bisects the country just to the west of Panama City, which enjoys excellent views of the monumental waterway. Between the canal and the rain forest that covers its islands, banks, and adjacent national parks, there is enough to see and do to fill several days. Central Panama stretches out from the canal across three provinces and into two oceans to comprise everything from the mountains of the Cordillera Central to the west, to the Caribbean coral reefs and colonial fortresses in the north, to the beaches of the Pearl Islands in the Bahía de Panamá (Bay of Panama) in the south. Most of this region can be visited on day trips from Panama City, but the hotels in gorgeous natural settings outside the city will make you want to do some overnights. You could easily limit your entire vacation to Central Panama; the region holds most of the nation's history and nearly all the things that draw people to the country—beaches, reefs, islands, mountains, rain forests, indigenous cultures, and, of course, the Panama Canal. Within hours of Panama City, in many cases a fraction of an hour, you can enjoy bird-watching, sportfishing, hiking, golf, scuba diving, white-water rafting, horseback riding, whale watching, or lazing on a palm-lined beach. The Panama Canal can be explored from Panama City, Gamboa, or Colón, and its attractions range from the wildlife of Barro Colorado Island to the feisty peacock bass that abound in Gatún Lake. The coast on either side of the canal's Caribbean entrance offers the remains of colonial fortresses hemmed by jungle, half a dozen beaches, and mile upon mile of coral reef, most of it between one and two hours from Panama City. The mountains to the east of the canal hold flora and fauna that you won't find in the forests that flank it, plus there are indigenous Emberá villages and a white-water rafting route on the Chagres River. The Pacific islands offer idyllic beaches, sportfishing, decent dive sites, and seasonal whale watching, all within 90 minutes of the capital by boat or plane. The coast to the southwest of Panama City also has some nice beaches, whereas the nearby highland refuge of El Valle presents exuberant landscapes populated by a multitude of birds and an ample selection of outdoor activities.
Day 3 Darien Jungle, Panama
The remote Darien Jungle has one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world. It is also one of the world’s top ten birding sites, with the colourful Crimson-collared Tanager, Chestnut-fronted Macaws, and Snow-bellied Hummingbirds found here. Mammals include tapirs and Black-headed Spider Monkeys. In this roadless stretch of forest, rivers provide the best access. Visitors to the Darien Jungle are rare with fewer than 1,000 tourists visiting each year. The Embera are one of several indigenous groups that live here in relative isolation offering ornate handcrafted baskets and carvings for sale in their traditional villages.
Day 4 Bahia Solano (Choco), Colombia - Utria National Park (Nuqui Harbour), Colombia
Bahía Solano is located in splendid isolation; connected to the outside world by a single, small local airport. Tucked inside a bay, the small Columbian town is lined by the Pacific Ocean on one side and thick, impenetrable jungle flush with waterfalls on the other. The majority of the 10,000 residents work in local industries, which are predominantly fishing, agriculture and eco-tourism. In addition to a quaint town with its local schools, shops, businesses, church, and library, there is a small fishing port here with a display of the locally caught fish, which are flown out daily to the main cities of Colombia. The village also supports a regional botanical reserve that is dedicated to the protection and conservation of local wildlife through education and recovery.
Day 5 Utria National Park (Nuqui Harbour), Colombia
Sitting on Colombia’s Pacific coast is the lush tract of Utría National Park. From coral reefs and mangroves in the marine realm, to tropical rainforest and rocky beaches where sea turtles come to lay their eggs, few places in the world encompass the diversity of Utría’s ecosystems. The forest here offers a choice of trails to explore. In addition to a wealth of wildlife, the park boasts several species of impressive timber trees, notably the area’s beloved Cohiba tree and the Oquendo tree, which are used in the creation of local art and handicrafts.
Day 6 Gorgona Island, Colombia
Isla Gorgona is a beautiful tropical island and a national park. Packed with lush green rainforest, palm trees and beaches full of black volcanic rocks, this little island off the Colombian coast was used by Pizarro and his thirteen followers before they eventually went south to inspect and later conquer Peru. The island is named after its plentiful supply of snakes, which might have been one of the reasons to utilize the island until the 1980s as a prison. Today only limited amounts of visitors are allowed ashore to explore the prison ruins, hike in the rainforest or snorkel.
Day 7 Isla De La Plata, Ecuador
Isla de la Plata translates to ‘Island of Silver’, and the name was derived from the legend of swashbuckling pirate Sir Francis Drake’s buried silver treasure. The popular legend states that in the 16th century, hundreds of tons of silver and gold were never fully recovered and are still hidden on the island. The island was privately owned until 1979, when it was declared part of Ecuador’s Machalilla National Park. Best known for its fauna, which is amazingly similar to that of the Galapagos Islands, Isla de la Plata is a delightful place for birding, photography and long nature walks. Although just south of the equator, the influences of the colder Humboldt Current bring nutrient-rich water as far north as Isla de la Plata.
Day 8 Machala, Ecuador
Several National Sanctuaries and Ecological Reserves found near Machala boast sun-drenched beaches and mangrove forests. Pelicans, frigatebirds, and egrets nest nearby as Blue-footed Boobies dive for fish further out to sea. Whales and dolphins can occasionally be seen in the vicinity. Machala, with a population of approximately 250,000 inhabitants, is moreover known for traditional Latin American foods from shrimp ceviche to fried bananas. In fact, bananas feature heavily in the culture as the city is also known as the “Capital of the Banana.” During the third week of September the ‘World Fair of the Banana’ is held here and producers and buyers from Perú, Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela, México, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Argentina, Guatemala, Panamá, República Dominicana, El Salvado, Honduras and Ecuador attend the event.
Day 9 Guayaquil, Ecuador
The second major jumping off point for the Galapagos Islands after Quito, this is a little city with a big heart. A sea port first and foremost, the city’s personality has been founded on that, and all the better it is for it too. Almost Caribbean in feeling, the clement climate coupled with the intermingling rhythms floating from the windows and abundance of fresh seafood make this a very tropical destination. Once not even considered by the travel books as a potential destination in its own right, the city has undergone something of a resurgence in the past few years. Proud Guayaquileños will not hestitate to point out the Malecón or the exciting new riverfront promenade, once a no-go area after dark, now happily (and hippily) lined with museums, restaurants, shops, and ongoing entertainment. The new airport and urban transportation network are also lauded to the happy tourists who find themselves here. As the largest and most populous city in Ecuador as well as being the commercial centre, it would only be natural that the city would have some kind of modern architecture, but it is the colourful favelas, or to use their real name guasmos, that cling to the side of the hillside like limpets that really catch your eye. A blend of old and new, the first inhabitants can be traced back to 1948 when the government cleared the area for affordable housing, these shanty towns are witness to the social and political particularities that Guayaquil has faced in the past.
All This Included
The Darien has an almost mythical quality to it — an enigmatic land full of exotic plants, rare wildlife, and indigenous people, unburdened by modern life. After an exciting Panama Canal transit, set sail to discover this formidable wilderness. Yet even the Darien pales in comparison with Utria National Park; accompanied by our experts, spend two full days exploring its beauty and mystery.
Cruising: Cabin onboard Silver Explorer
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