Even travelers who consider themselves averse to cruises seem to feel drawn to a daytime cruise tour of the Panama Canal, and it's easy to understand why: it's a man-made engineering marvel, best seen close up.
A full-day tour, which typically lasts 8-10 hours, takes passengers along the locks and lakes of the canal, starting at the Pacific Ocean and transiting to the Atlantic. Along the way, tour operators provide meals and snacks, along with narration in English and Spanish. Tours are offered year-round.
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Traversing the Panama Canal in Style
Yes, the Panama Canal is a popular destination for some of the world’s biggest cruise ships. But navigating the 50-mile isthmus that connects North and South America in a smaller vessel gives you the opportunity to get a front-row seat for each of the three main locks—a real treat for engineering geeks. Many of these smaller ships, including those from Tauck, offer full trans-canal crossings on both Atlantic-to-Pacific and Pacific-to-Atlantic routes; with this option, you spend a full day on the canal, and usually spend time in ports such as Limon or Puntarenas (in Costa Rica) and Cartagena (in Colombia). Some small ships also offer partial crossings—trips that include passage through one lock and incorporate significant amounts of shore time (most commonly at Gamboa, in Panama). The best shore experiences are in the Costa Rican ports; in Limon, Tortuguero National Park offers close encounters with green tortoise, while Braulio Carillo National Park sports the first aerial tramway in Central America.