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Costa Rica and the Panama Canal

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January 04 - 11, 2014 (8 Days)

Day 1 — U.S./Panama City/Colón

Depart Miami late morning via American Airlines on a non-stop flight to Panama City. On arrival, drive to Colon to board the National Geographic Sea Lion or National Geographic Quest and set sail for the first part of our Panama Canal transit, anchoring in Gatun Lake for the night.

Day 2 — Gatun Lake/Panama Canal Transit

Board a expedition landing craft this morning to visit Barro Colorado Nature Monument in Gatún Lake by special arrangement. Scientists have worked at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on Barro Colorado Island since 1946, researching the 120 mammals and diverse tree species that can be found here. It is also the site of a pioneering project supported by National Geographic that tracks tagged animals using automated radio signals and wireless technology. Join researchers for a walk through the forests that so challenged the builders of the canal. This evening, continue through the complex lock system of the canal.

Day 3 — Gulf of Panama Islets

Our nimble motorized landing crafts allow us to navigate the tiny islets of the Gulf of Panama today, stopping to explore hidden coves and beaches. Here, we might spot magnificent frigate birds, brown pelicans, neotropic cormorants, and brown boobies. Reboard the Sea Lion this afternoon and head to the Panama Canal. Stretching slightly more than fifty miles, the canal was a colossal engineering feat completed in 1914 and is still traversed by some 14,000 ships every year. As cargo ships tend to pass through the canal during the day, we'll most likely begin our crossing at night when the canal is dramatically lit.

Day 4 — Coiba National Park, Panama

We'll make our first stop in Panama this morning at the remote Isla de Coiba, one of the many islands of Coiba National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Once a penal colony, the island has long been protected and accessible only by special permit. Among its many endemic species are the Coiba Island agouti and the mantled howler monkey as well as four varieties of turtle. Discover rich marine life while snorkeling, kayak along the coast, take a guided hike in the forest, or just relax on an idyllic beach.

Day 5 — Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica

Visit the Casa Orquídeas, a tropical paradise of ornamental palms, bromeliads, heliconias, orchids, and flowering gingers closed to the general public and reachable only by boat. Keep your eye out for tanagers, parrots, and toucans. Later, explore the placid bay, ideal for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, expeditions landing craft rides, and swimming.

Day 6 — Osa Peninsula/Golfo Dulce

Enter the mangrove-fringed Golfo Dulce, a protected gulf along the southwestern edge of Costa Rica. Venture ashore at the white sands of Playa Blanca. Then head inland to visit remote indigenous communities and experience daily life on the Osa Peninsula. Meet with local artisans working with cocoa, heart of palm, and sugar cane, and watch as they ply their trades. Later, hike in mature rain forest where sloths, monkeys, and brightly colored birds can be spotted, or kayak in the Golfo Dulce, one of the few tropical fjords in the world. In the evening, enjoy drinks ashore and, hopefully, a beautiful sunset.

Day 7 — Manuel Antonio National Park

Spend the morning in Manuel Antonio National Park, where thick forests fringe spectacular white-sand beaches. Venture into this lush wilderness, watching for three-toed sloths lazing among the branches as well as monkeys and vividly colored birds. This afternoon, trace the park's beautiful coastline and stop to take a refreshing swim, or a hike.

Day 8 — Herradura/Disembark/San Jose/U.S.

Disembark Sea Lion this morning in Herradura and drive to the airport for flights home, or on to other adventures. The Miami bound flight departs in late morning, arriving in the late afternoon.