Puntarenas, Costa Rica. There are so many fabulous encounters with nature available from this port, you’ll have a hard time deciding on a shore excursion. A visit to the Tabacon Resort Hot Springs takes you to the slopes of the active Arenal volcano. The Poas volcano features the amazing sight of a huge crater filled with iridescent blue water. Walk through a cloud forest at Villa Blanca, where you’re surrounded by mist and water droplets clinging to the vegetation. See one of Costa Rica’s renowned rain forests at Pura Vida Gardens, or climb a set of wooden steps up to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens.
Colon, Panama. Those on “partial crossings” or simply docked at Colon might consider completing the crossing in a smaller boat. This popular shore excursion begins at Gamboa, one of the towns along the Canal. It takes passengers through the remaining two Canal locks, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. A motorcoach ride delivers passengers back to their waiting ships at Colon.
Other great shore excursion options include taking the refurbished Panama Railway from the Pacific to the Atlantic. It rides parallel to the Canal and offers a great view in luxuriously paneled railway cars. Another exciting alternative is to take a trek through the rain forest at Gamboa, or visit an authentic Embera Indian Village on the Chagres River (which often takes place by canoe).
Panama Canal. If you’re on a trans-canal trip, enjoy the engineering marvels of your 50-mile journey. The highlights are Lake Gatun, the Gaillard Cut along the Continental Divide and three locks: Gatun on the Atlantic, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores on the Pacific.
Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala. This port on the western coast of Guatemala provides access to the colonial city of Antigua, which has earned status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its architecture and ruins. The port provides a jumping-off point for tours of working coffee plantations, the Pacaya Volcano (one of the country’s many active mountains) and Lake Atitlan.
Puerto Limon, Costa Rica. Tortuguero National Park offers close encounters with the green tortoise, crocodiles, monkeys and exotic birds, all seen at water level on the canals. Braulio Carillo National Park has the first aerial tramway in Central America; you’ll be above the trees, at times 100 feet high, and close enough to touch tiny orchids, spectacularly colored birds, butterflies and, if you’re lucky, a toucan or monkey. Heartier souls can try white-water rafting on the Revantazon River.
Isla de Coiba, Panama. Covering 430,825 pristine acres, the island of Coiba has been identified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and offers some of the world’s most superb snorkeling. The warm, translucent waters are teeming with dazzling marine life and surrounded by one of the largest coral reefs on the Pacific. Follow them to the underwater Cordilera mountain chain, which extends as far as the Galápagos Islands.
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