Panama Canal, Indigenous Communities, and Cultures with Galápagos Islands

Panama Canal, Indigenous Communities, and Cultures with Galápagos Islands

Panama Canal, Indigenous Communities, and Cultures with Galápagos Islands

Panama Canal, Indigenous Communities, and Cultures with Galápagos Islands

Travel information 16 days MS Fram
Departure
September 29, 2022
Price from $ 11,709
$ 10,016
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included
Check prices and availability Request a quote

Transit the man-made Panama Canal from Colón to the Pacific Ocean. Then, sail to meet the indigenous Emberá people in Darien National Park. You’ll also visit a range of coastal communities in Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru before flying to the capital of Ecuador, Quito. Top off your expedition by exploring the scientifically significant Galápagos Islands, world famous for its unmatched wildlife.

Cruise the Canal and visit Darién National Park

Board the ship in Colón and sail into the Panama Canal and experience this marvel of human ingenuity first hand. After its traverse, we head to Darién National Park, where you’ll head up a river and through the jungle to an Embera community and learn about their unique way of life. Then comes the Afro-Colombian community of Bahía Solano, followed by Montecristi (next to Manta), the birthplace of the Panama hat.

Wonders of wildlife

Isla de la Plata has wildlife said to rival that of the Galápagos Islands, and Buenaventura Nature Reserve in Puerto Bolivar can be visited on an optional excursion for chances to spot hummingbirds, parakeets and howler monkeys. The weather along the Pacific can make landing at Salaverry a challenge. If we manage to land, however, we could have a chance to take optional excursions to explore the remains of the Chan Chan or Mochican temples. Then you’ll fly to explore the Ecuadorian capital of Quito before going on to explore the remote and wildly beautiful Galápagos Islands

Panama Canal, Indigenous Communities, and Cultures with Galápagos Islands Panama Canal, Indigenous Communities, and Cultures with Galápagos Islands
  • Day 1
    Colón, Panama

    Gateway to the Panama Canal

    September 29, 2022
    Estimated time of departure is 11:00 PM

    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 aspects with you.

    Day 1
    Colón, Panama

    Gateway to the Panama Canal

  • Day 2
    Panama Canal

    Connecting two oceans

    September 30, 2022

    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

    October 1, 2022

    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

    October 2, 2022

    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

    Crossing the Equator

    October 3, 2022

    Enjoy your day at sea with a relaxing walk on deck. Marvel at seascapes and spot marine wildlife like whales and dolphins. Want to get even closer to the water? Take a dip in the infinity pool or in one of the two 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. Maybe touch on topics like medicinal plants, the Emberá people’s history, and wildlife. Participate in a Citizen Science project, where you’ll contribute to current scientific research happening around the world. When darkness falls and it’s a starry night, you can also join the Expedition Team on deck for some stargazing.

    Maybe settle into a seat in the Explorer Lounge & Bar to raise a glass or two with your new-found friends.

    Day 5
    At Sea

    Crossing the Equator

  • Day 6
    Manta, Ecuador

    Made in Montecristi

    October 4, 2022

    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 del la Plata

    Colorful birds and fish on the Silver Island

    October 5, 2022

    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 bird 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 del la Plata

    Colorful birds and fish on the Silver Island

  • Day 8
    Puerto Bolivar (Machala), Ecuador

    Growing green gold

    October 6, 2022

    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 7, 2022

    Enjoy another day at your leisure on the ship and indulge as you please. Head out on deck with the Expedition Team to watch for wildlife, or let them prepare you for what’s still to come at their lectures in the lecture hall.

    Work out in the gym, or find a quiet spot to enjoy a book. And if the warm weather hasn’t opened up your pores, a session in the sauna is sure to do the trick. You can also slip into your bathing suit and lie back in one of the outdoor hot tubs. Whatever you decide to do, there are plenty of ways to keep yourself relaxed and entertained on this day at sea.

    Day 9
    At Sea

    At your leisure

  • Day 10
    Salaverry, Peru

    Ancient kingdoms

    October 8, 2022

    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, Peru

    Ancient kingdoms

  • Day 11
    Callao/Lima/Quito

    On a high

    October 9, 2022

    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 

    Views from the ‘Middle of the World’

    October 10, 2022

    After breakfast, we’ll head to the Inti Ñan Museum, in the aptly named ‘City in the Middle of the World’, Quito, whose claim to fame is being built right on the Equator. Here, you’ll see a range of totem poles and observe gravitational effects that occur only at the Equator. You will also learn about the traditions of rural life, including the customs and rituals of the indigenous Quechua-speaking tribes of the Amazon.

    Then we’ll ride the cable car (teleférico), one of Quito’s most popular attractions, which connects the city center to Cruz Loma hill on the east side of the Pichincha volcano. This 10-minute ride will glide you to an altitude of over 13,000 feet for an incredible view of Quito, the surrounding valleys, and the snow-covered volcanoes. It gets chilly up there, so bring something warm to wear!

    Back in Quito, we’ll have lunch in the charming Colonial quarter before enjoying a sightseeing tour. Dinner will be served at the hotel, and then you’ll have the evening to spend at your leisure.

    Day 12
    Quito 

    Views from the ‘Middle of the World’

  • Day 13
    Quito/Baltra Island/Santa Cruz Island 

    Arriving at Santa Cruz Island

    October 11, 2022

    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.

    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

    Island-hopping in the Galápagos

    October 12, 2022 - October 13, 2022

    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. Or maybe we’ll see the flamingo lagoon on Floreana, the southernmost island, and with some luck we’ll catch a glimpse of the bright green and red marine iguanas usually found here. Of it may be Isabela, the largest of the islands, home to a variety of mangroves and the largest community of wild tortoises in the entire archipelago.

    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

    Island-hopping in the Galápagos

  • Day 16
    Santa Cruz Island/Baltra Island/Guayaquil 

    Return to mainland Ecuador

    October 14, 2022

    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. But, on the way to the Baltra airport, we’ll have just enough time to squeeze in one last stop to see ‘Los Gemelos’—a pair of sinkholes often mistaken for volcanic craters in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. Keep an eye out for the striking vermilion flycatcher and the endemic short-ear owl of the Galápagos, which can be seen in this area.

    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

Departures

2022

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What's Included

Included in Your Expedition

Galápagos Island Land-Program after the 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 restaurants Aune and Fredheim
  • Fine-dining 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 organize and guide 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 the ship’s Science Center, which features an extensive library and advanced biological and geological microscopes
  • The Citizen Science program 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
  • Participate in informal gatherings with the crew, such as daily recaps and the next day’s preparations

Landing activities

  • Escorted landings with small boats (RIBs)
  • Loan of boots, 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
  • Optional treatments in the onboard wellness and spa area

Notes

  • All planned activities are subject to weather conditions
  • Excursions and activities are subject to change
  • Please make sure you can meet all entry and boarding requirements
  • No gratuities are expected
  • Land-Program to the Galápagos Islands involves long stretches of travel. This includes walking over uneven terrain and getting in/out of boats, as well as a climate ranging from cool temperatures at high altitudes to hot tropical weather.
MS Fram in Greenland
Photo: Stian Klo
MS Fram in Antarctica
Photo: Sandra Walser
Your Ship

MS Fram

Year built 2007
Year of refurbishment 2020
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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