Panama Canal & Colonial Highlights with Galápagos Islands

Panama Canal & Colonial Highlights with Galápagos Islands

Panama Canal & Colonial Highlights with Galápagos Islands

Panama Canal & Colonial Highlights with Galápagos Islands

Travel information 16 days MS Fram
Departure
September 26, 2023
Price from $ 11,012
$ 9,905
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included

Your journey begins in Colón, your starting point to the famous Panama Canal that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Once we’re past Panama City, we’ll head south to charming cities in Ecuador and Peru. Our visits include beautiful beaches, mysterious archeological ruins, and UNESCO sites. Then you’ll visit the wildlife-rich Galápagos Islands, where you’ll go island-hopping and explore the archipelago.

Transiting the Panama Canal

Marvel at the brilliant engineering of the Panama Canal as you pass through its complex locks. Exiting on the Pacific coast, we’ll head southward to Manta and the nearby town of Montecristi, home of the handwoven Panama hat. From there, we visit the ‘Banana Capital of the World’ in Puerto Bolivar before setting course for Salaverry. If sea conditions enable us to land here, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the area’s ancient architecture on an optional excursion.

Quito and the Galápagos Islands

After flying to the Ecuadorian capital of Quito and wandering its UNESCO-listed historic center, we’ll continue to Santa Cruz Island in the Galápagos. Over the next two days, you’ll board boats and tour a new island in the archipelago each day, uncovering the supreme biological diversity these islands are known for. Keep your eyes peeled! You may spot the finches that inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, and see native giant land tortoises in their natural habitat.

Panama Canal & Colonial Highlights with Galápagos Islands Panama Canal & Colonial Highlights with Galápagos Islands
  • Day 1
    Colón, Panama

    Gateway to the Panama Canal

    September 26, 2023

    The city of Colón lies by the entrance to the Panama Canal on the Atlantic coast. Here, you you’ll find high-quality hotels, a casino, hot springs, a thriving handicraft scene, and great restaurants featuring local delicacies. If you want to really explore the city or join a Pre-Program where you’ll spend time in a beautiful jungle lodge next to the Chagres River, you should arrange to arrive a couple of days earlier.

    Once you board the ship, you’ll pick up your complimentary expedition jacket, settle into your cabin, explore the ship, and attend a mandatory safety drill. After the welcome dinner (featuring a toast by the captain), you’ll meet your Expedition Team, who will run through important health and safety protocols with you.

    Day 1
    Colón, Panama

    Gateway to the Panama Canal

  • Day 2
    Panama Canal

    Connecting two oceans

    September 27, 2023

    We depart Colón early in the morning to start the process entering the Panama Canal. The complex canal network is over a hundred years old, stretching almost 50 miles through natural and man-made waterways. We’ll wait eagerly for our allocated slot to enter the first of a series of huge locks. In a feat of modern engineering, these ingenious locks effectively lift the ship more than 80 feet above sea level. If weather allows, the Expedition Team will be on deck to point out sites of interest around the canal and talk about the history of this ambitious project.

    Roughly halfway through the 12-hour transit of the canal, the ship will enter the Gatun Lake section. Created after the nearby Chagres River was damned, it’s one of the largest artificial lakes in the world. In contrast, the surrounding rainforest is virtually untouched by any development. The flora and fauna native to Central America flourish here, undisturbed. If you’re lucky, you may spot a crocodile or alligator ashore. Watch the trees and you may also catch a glimpse of a monkey (and maybe even a sloth or two).

    After a few more locks and lakes, the ship will pass under the Bridge of the Americas and emerge in the Pacific Ocean. In one day, you’ll have experienced the culmination of centuries of planning, hard work, and resourcefulness, and cross from one great ocean to another in the process. It’s sure to be an experience you won’t forget.

    Day 2
    Panama Canal

    Connecting two oceans

  • Day 3
    La Chunga, Panama

    Meet the Embera

    September 28, 2023

    It’s pure adventure today as we head to an authentic Emberá settlement in the middle of the jungle in Darién National Park. The indigenous Emberá people have lived in this area for centuries, long before the first Spanish explorer set foot in the New World. The community doesn’t receive regular visitors; we have worked closely with them to give you this rare opportunity. We’ll brief you beforehand on how to ensure that our visit to this isolated community is respectful and always in line with their courtesy customs.

    To get there, we’ll drop anchor in La Chunga Bay and head up through the jungle on the Sambú River using our small boats (RIBs). The temperature usually increases as we travel inland, so bring proper protection from the sun and the mosquitos. The journey up river will take approximately one hour but will be well worth it. Along the way, keep your eyes peeled (and your camera ready) for birds such as herons, egrets, osprey, and harpy eagles.

    When we arrive at the Emberá settlement, you’ll meet some of the people that live here and explore the village. You’ll learn about their traditional clothing and medicine, much of it sourced from the surrounding jungle. We may have the opportunity to join a local guide on a short walk through the jungle to learn about medicinal plants and insects of interest. Back in the village, the residents will likely be having fun themselves, as they offer to give you a temporary tribal tattoo or even let you try on their traditional dress.

    Day 3
    La Chunga, Panama

    Meet the Embera

  • Day 4
    Bahía Solano, Colombia

    Afro-Colombian vibes

    September 29, 2023

    The little town of Bahía Solano is the largest settlement on Colombia’s Chocó coast, near the mouth of Rio Jella and surrounded by thick jungle. It is also called ‘Ciudad Mutis’, after the 18th-century Spanish botanist José Celestino Mutis. Such a name could be an homage to the natural biodiversity that exists in the area’s jungles, mangroves, mountains, marshes, rivers, and bays.

    The community here will open their town to us, as they warmly invite you on a guided walk through their settlement. Meet and talk along the way to the Afro-Colombian residents who live alongside the indigenous Emberá people, and other Colombians from the interior. Passing by the main church and kindergarten, we’ll come to the local secondary school, where students will greet you with a traditional welcome song and show you around their classrooms. At the small fishing port, learn about the town’s fishing co-op, the main source of income for the community. Your tour ends at the seafront, where you’re in for a treat: a performance of unique Afro-Colombian music and dance.

    You may also join an optional excursion to the botanical gardens located on the long sandy beach of Playa Mecana. The botanical gardens are actually a 170-acre jungle reserve with fascinating nature trails, and home to a seed bank and different reforestation projects. Other possible optional excursions will take you to the fishing village at Playa Huina, where you’ll have the opportunity to walk through the jungle to waterfalls with crystal-clear swimming holes, or to visit a local indigenous community.

    Day 4
    Bahía Solano, Colombia

    Afro-Colombian vibes

  • Day 5
    At Sea

    Relax on board

    September 30, 2023

    Spend some of your day at sea taking a relaxing walk out on deck. Enjoy the seascapes and keep an eye out for marine life such as whales, dolphins, and seabirds. Want to feel even closer to the water? Go for a dip in the infinity pool or in one of the two outdoor hot tubs (where you can still admire the scenery).

    Head to the Science Center and make the most of the Expedition Team’s lectures to learn about what you will experience in the following days. Participate in a Citizen Science project, where you will help contribute to current scientific research being conducted around the world. When darkness falls and it’s a starry night, you can also join the Expedition Team on deck for some stargazing. Or settle into a seat in the Explorer Lounge & Bar to raise a glass or two with your new-found friends.

    Day 5
    At Sea

    Relax on board

  • Day 6
    Manta, Ecuador

    Made in Montecristi

    October 1, 2023

    We cross the Equator early in the morning. In a traditional ceremony, we’ll seek King Neptune’s blessing on board. If luck is on our side, he might even make an appearance before we reach our first call in Ecuador.

    The main attraction of the day will be to Montecristi, located 5 miles inland from the tuna-fishing port city of Manta. It was established in the 16th century by manteños fleeing the frequent pirate raids on the coast. Even though it is located in Ecuador, Montecristi is the actual birthplace of the Panama hat, despite its name. The misnomer originated when President Roosevelt wore one of these hats on a visit to the Panama Canal in 1904, sparking their popularity worldwide. There are plenty of shops selling the genuine article, which local artisans have expertly handwoven from the leaves of the jipijapa tree.

    When you’re done hat-hunting, browse the stalls at the town’s pretty plaza, admire the architecture of the church, and look at the varied street art. One prominent mural at the plaza depicts General Eloy Alfaro, two-time Ecuadorian President and a Montecristi native. If time allows, head to the top of the main hill, where there is a museum and a grandiose mausoleum in honor of Alfaro, who was also known as the Viejo Luchador (Old Warrior).

    Day 6
    Manta, Ecuador

    Made in Montecristi

  • Day 7
    Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

    Ecuador’s other Galápagos

    October 2, 2023

    Isla de la Plata is a part of Parque National Machalilla, Ecuador’s only coastal national park. The island sits a ways off the coast and is prone to large waves that can make landings a challenge. Its nickname of ‘Silver Island’ is thought to come from the belief that English seaman Francis Drake buried a treasure trove of silver here. This nickname could also come from the copious bird guano reflected in the sunshine, giving the island a shiny, silvery look when seen from the mainland. Unfortunately, no treasure has ever been found on the island, which is just over two square miles in size.

    But what the island lacks in size or silver, it more than makes up for in the wide range of wildlife, even rivaling that of the Galápagos Islands. If we are able to land here successfully, keen birdwatchers take note! Have your binoculars at the ready to spot some of the 32 species of birds found here, including the famous blue-footed boobies, nesting waved albatross, pelicans, gannets, and frigate birds. The wildlife in the island’s waters are equally diverse. Keep an eye out for whales, manta rays, green turtles, and dolphins.

    Day 7
    Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

    Ecuador’s other Galápagos

  • Day 8
    Puerto Bolivar (Machala), Ecuador

    Growing green gold

    October 3, 2023

    Machala’s main claim to fame is Puerto Bolivar, an important Ecuadorian port where coffee, cocoa, shrimp, and bountiful bananas (which the locals call ‘oro verde’, or green gold) leave for export. As part of one of our optional excursions, you may have the opportunity to visit a local banana plantation, or to try and spot hummingbirds, parakeets, and howler monkeys in the Buenaventura Nature Reserve to the south. The nearby Puyango Petrified Forest has one of the largest collections of fossilized trees in the world, thought to be about 100 million years old—as old as the Andes Mountains themselves.

    Feast on fresh seafood at Puerto Bolivar at one of the harbor’s many restaurants, and enjoy views of the natural mangrove swamps of Isla Jambeli. Machala has all the charm you’d expect from a small coastal city. Stroll through quaint plazas filled with friendly locals, and admire unusual monuments dedicated to sorting fish and bananeros. The restaurants here are evolving and have started dabbling in the hip, modern cuisine for which Ecuador and Peru have increasingly become known.

    Day 8
    Puerto Bolivar (Machala), Ecuador

    Growing green gold

  • Day 9
    At Sea

    At your leisure

    October 4, 2023

    Enjoy another day at your leisure aboard the ship. Continue to take advantage of the many onboard facilities and join in on lectures (perhaps on Peruvian culture and history) as we prepare you for the final days ahead. You can also spend some time on deck sunbathing, or slip into your bathing suit and enjoy one of the outdoor hot tubs. Or, bask in a state of zen during a guided meditation class. And if the warm weather hasn’t opened up your pores, a session in the sauna is sure to do the trick. Had enough of the sun for the day? Head inside to join an art workshop, or maybe swap stories about the cruise with your shipmates in the Explorer Lounge & Bar.

    Day 9
    At Sea

    At your leisure

  • Day 10
    Salaverry / Trujillo, Peru

    Ancient kingdoms

    October 5, 2023

    Pummeled by the Pacific’s wind and waves, Salaverry can be a hard port to access. If we are able to land there, though, it’ll be a good starting point to explore Trujillo, Peru’s third-largest city, and the array of archeological sites scattered throughout the region.

    Trujillo sits in a fertile valley oasis irrigated by the Moche River. It boasts a colorful Baroque 17th-century cathedral, 10 colonial churches, and many Neoclassical mansions, not to mention one of the longest mosaic murals in the world at the local university. It’s more likely, however, that your focus will be further back on the past.

    The city of Chan Chan was created by the Chimú Empire, which appeared in the region around 900 A.D. The vast ruins of the complex, measuring almost 8 square miles, include the Tschudi temple-citadel and Huaca Esmeralda. On the other side of Trujillo are you’ll find the Mochican pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. These pre-date Chan Chan by a few hundred years! Huaca del Sol stands out as the largest adobe structure on the continent, while Huaca del Luna is a more detailed specimen, with many of its pastel frescos still visible.

    Day 10
    Salaverry / Trujillo, Peru

    Ancient kingdoms

  • Day 11
    Callao/Lima/Quito

    On a high

    October 6, 2023

    We dock in Callao and travel a short distance to the Lima airport for your flight to Quito, Ecuador’s capital. Upon arrival and after the transfer that brings you to the hotel, you’ll have the day to explore Quito at your leisure, with dinner served at the hotel.

    Originally settled by the Quitu people in the first millennium, Quito was eventually integrated into the Incan Empire before becoming the first Spanish settlement by conqueror Sebastian de Benalcásar in 1534. Stroll through the city’s historic center and view splendidly restored period buildings and Colonial-era churches lining the narrow, cobblestone streets. You’ll see why Quito’s historic center is described as the largest, least-altered, and best-preserved historic area in all of the Americas. That’s why in 1978, it was one of the first places in the world to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Don’t be surprised if you feel a little short of breath when exploring the city, though. At 9,350 feet above sea level, Quito is the second-highest capital in the world, after La Paz (Bolivia), which is even 2,130 feet higher.

    Day 11
    Callao/Lima/Quito

    On a high

  • Day 12
    Quito, Ecuador

    Views from the ‘Middle of the World’

    October 7, 2023

    After a nice breakfast, we´ll bring you to the charming colonial quarter for a sightseeing tour of the area. Starting from Plaza San Francisco, we´ll visit the church choir and the patios of the Franciscan order. Then we stroll through the handsome streets to the stunning gold-leaf interior of the Jesuit church of La Compañía.

    No trip to Ecuador is complete without a photo of one foot standing in the northern hemisphere and another in the southern hemisphere. Continue by bus to Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (‘City at the Middle of the World’), located just 8.3 miles north of Quito. This stands to honor the Geodesic Mission that established latitude 0 in the 18th century. Depending on the time, you can visit the surroundings of the small village. You will also have the chance to visit the Intiñan Museum, a space of ecological and scientific discovery that transports visitors back to ancient times. Learn about the worldview, customs, and traditions of ancient cultures.

    Lunch is served at El Crater restaurant, which overlooks Pululahua Volcano.

    In the afternoon, you´ll return to your hotel in Quito.

    Dinner will be served at the hotel, and then you’ll have the whole evening to spend at your leisure.

    Day 12
    Quito, Ecuador

    Views from the ‘Middle of the World’

  • Day 13
    Quito/Baltra Island/Santa Cruz Island

    Arriving at Santa Cruz Island

    October 8, 2023

    Start the day with breakfast at the hotel before being driven to Quito’s airport for our flight to the Galápagos Islands (via Guayaquil). When we arrive at Baltra’s airport, our local guide will be waiting to transfer you to the Itabaca Channel, where a small ferry awaits you to bring you to the island of Santa Cruz.

    Our travels will take us through a rural agricultural area surrounded by wild landscapes, where we can see many different species of flora and fauna. If you are lucky, you might spot a few of the famous finches that inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution based on natural selection. The highlands are one of the best places on the island to observe giant tortoises in their natural habitat. They are easy to spot. They lumber around eating grass and leaves and wallow in the small, muddy rain-formed pools. Younger giant tortoises tend to be smaller with shinier carapaces, while the larger, older giant tortoises proudly don weathered and worn shells—distinguished armor in a long life that can span over 100 years in the wild.

    Enjoy lunch in the Highlands.

    After settling into your hotel in Puerto Ayora, we’ll walk to the nearby Charles Darwin Research Station. The station hosts educational museums about the history and development of the Galápagos Islands and the different ways of protecting its unique natural heritage. You can also observe the giant land tortoises native to the islands. The station is the only place in the Galápagos where most of the different species reside at one site.

    Spend the afternoon at your leisure and explore the small, picturesque town of Puerto Ayora and its many local handicraft shops. Observe the colorful murals at the churches around town or stroll over to Tortuga Bay to look for marine iguanas, crabs, and white-tip reef sharks among the mangroves. Dinner will be served at the hotel´s restaurant.

    Day 13
    Quito/Baltra Island/Santa Cruz Island

    Arriving at Santa Cruz Island

  • Day 14-15
    Santa Cruz Island

    Galápagos Island–Hopping

    October 9, 2023 - October 10, 2023

    After breakfast, we'll begin to explore the islands that have become synonymous with the theory of evolution and hailed as a natural laboratory for natural selection. The range of wildlife on display in the islands is mind-boggling. The islands are teeming with endemic species and subspecies ranging from the wonderful to the weird and everything in between. On each of our two days here, we’ll visit one island by boat, meaning we’ll see two of the possible six islands. We don’t know which islands we’ll see, as that is at the discretion of the park authorities, who regulate and assign visitors one month beforehand.

    Could it be Bartolomé Island, famous for the dramatic Pinnacle Rock and the rare colony of Galápagos penguins at its base? How about North Seymour Island, with its large populations of hilarious blue-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls, and magnificent frigatebirds? Another possibility is Santa Fe Island, known for having the most beautiful coves in the archipelago, with beaches covered in lounging sea lions. Perhaps we’ll head to South Plaza Island, where a growing colony of land iguanas roam among prickly pear cactus trees.

    It’s clear that wherever you set foot to explore, you’re in for a real treat! You’ll go on walks to learn about the island’s geology, human history, and its exceptionally diverse wildlife. After two days, you’ll understand why these islands impressed Darwin so much and why they inspired his world-changing theory of evolution by natural selection.

    Day 14-15
    Santa Cruz Island

    Galápagos Island–Hopping

  • Day 16
    Santa Cruz Island/Baltra Island/Guayaquil 

    Return to mainland Ecuador

    October 11, 2023

    After breakfast at the hotel, we’ll make our way to the Baltra airport to fly to Guayaquil and on to your connecting flight home.

    With that, your expedition comes to an end. You will have journeyed from the Panama Canal, the marvel of human engineering with its complex lock system, then through to the Galápagos Islands, the birthplace of Darwin’s radical evolutionary theory of natural selection and a sanctuary for unique wildlife found nowhere else in the world.

    Day 16
    Santa Cruz Island/Baltra Island/Guayaquil 

    Return to mainland Ecuador

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What's Included

Included in Your Expedition

Galápagos Island Land-Program after the expedition cruise

  • Economy flight from Lima to Quito, and Quito to Baltra
  • Two nights in Quito, including breakfast and dinner
  • Three nights at a hotel in Santa Cruz Island/Galáapagos, including full board
  • Economy flight from Baltra to Guayaquil
  • All transfers, excursions, and meals are as described in the itinerary, including an English-speaking guide
  • Galápagos National Park entrance fee

Expedition Cruise

  • Expedition cruise in a cabin of your choice
  • Breakfast, lunch, and dinner including beverages (house beer and wine, sodas, and mineral water) in restaurant Aune
  • Fine-dining in À la carte restaurant Lindstrøm is included for suite guests
  • Complimentary tea and coffee
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi on board. Be aware that we sail in remote areas with limited connection. Streaming is not supported
  • Complimentary reusable water bottle to fill at onboard water refill stations
  • English-speaking Expedition Team who organizes and guides activities, both on board and ashore
  • Range of included activities

Onboard activities

  • Experts from the Expedition Team present detailed lectures on a variety of topics
  • Use of the ship’s Science Center, which has an extensive library and advanced biological and geological microscopes
  • The Citizen Science program, which allows guests to contribute to current scientific research projects
  • The onboard professional photographer will give tips and tricks for taking the best landscape and wildlife photos
  • The ship has hot tubs, an infinity pool, a sauna, an outdoor and indoor gym, and an outdoor running track
  • The ship has hot tubs, a sauna with a view, and an indoor gym
  • Participate in informal gatherings with the crew, such as daily recaps and the next day’s preparations

Landing activities

  • Loan of trekking poles and all equipment needed for the activities
  • Complimentary wind- and water-resistant expedition jacket
  • Expedition photographers will help configure your camera settings before landings

Not Included In Your Expedition

  • International flights
  • Travel protection
  • Baggage handling
  • Optional shore excursions with our local partners
  • Optional small-group activities with our Expedition Team

Notes

  • All planned activities are subject to weather conditions
  • Excursions and activities are subject to change
  • Please ensure you can meet all entry and boarding requirements
  • No gratuities are expected
MS Fram in Greenland
Photo: Stian Klo
MS Fram in Antarctica
Photo: Sandra Walser
Your Ship

MS Fram

Year built 2007
Year of refurbishment 2022
Shipyard Fincantieri, Italy
Passenger capacity 250 (200 in Antarctica)
Beds 276
Car capacity 0
Gross tonnage 11,647 T
Length 374 ft
Beam 66.3 ft
Speed 13 knots
MS Fram in Greenland
Photo: Stian Klo

The original Fram was the most famous explorer ship of its time and the achievements of her expeditions are unparalleled. The advanced technology on the MS Fram, in the spirit of the famous original, makes her exceptionally well suited for expedition cruises in polar regions.

Read more about MS Fram

Icebergs – one of many favorite photo motives when on an expedition with MS Fram
Photo: Tomas Mauch
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