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Panama Canal Cruise Tips

Gatun Locks
Gatun Locks; Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license
Panama Canal cruises come in three flavors -- a stop at Colón during a western Caribbean cruise, a visit to Panama City during a Pacific coast cruise and especially a cruise that travels the entire length of the canal.

A cruise to see the entire canal combines some of the best experiences of the coastal cruises and a chance to see some of the best ports of call on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Panama City is the highlight of the Canal at the Pacific side. The Colón port, Lake Gatún and the Gatún Locks are the highlights of the Caribbean side.

A Panama Canal cruise that goes the entire length of the Canal is either eastbound or westbound. An eastbound cruise usually leaves from a port in California, travels down the Pacific coast of Mexico and Central America, crosses the canal and goes up the Caribbean Sea to the port of disembarkation in Florida.

A westbound cruise simply goes in the opposite direction.

An eastbound cruise might leave from San Diego, CA, and have the following itinerary:

  • Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  • Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
  • Puntarenas, Costa Rica
  • Guatemala City, Guatemala
  • Panama City, Panama
  • Travel the 50-mile length of the canal
  • Colon, Panama
  • Cartagena, Columbia
  • Fort Lauderdale, FL.

A westbound cruise might leave from Fort Lauderdale, FL and follow the same itinerary.

Other cruises might emphasize stops in the Caribbean such as Grand Cayman or Jamaica.

Cruises of this distance and with this many ports of call usually last 14 or 15 nights. Plan on flying into a Florida embarkation port such as Miami or Fort Lauderdale and fly out of the final disembarkation in California such as San Diego -- or vice versa.

Cruise lines that offer Panama Canal cruises include Celebrity, Carnival, Crystal, Norwegian, Princess, Holland and Royal Caribbean.

Ports and Attractions

More than Caribbean cruises, a Panama Canal cruise has attractions that vary with the port of call.

Cabo San Lucas has both great shopping and great beaches. The main shopping district lines the port and marina. Visitors should plan on a long walk to get from one side of the marina to the other, all of which is packed with restaurants and small shops.

Puerto Vallarta also is a major beach destination and home to one of the largest bays in the world.

Puntarenas is an up and coming cruise port known for its small-town flavor and beach boardwalk.

Panama City attractions include the ruins of Old Panama, which were destroyed by the pirate Sir Henry Morgan in 1671, as well as Paseo Esteban Huertas, Metropolitan Cathedral, National Theater and Simon Bolivar Plaza.

One of the highlights of Colón is Gatún Lake, a man-made body of water created by the Gatún Locks.

Cartagena is known to be the most popular tourist destination in Columbia. It is popular because of its beaches and Old World architecture including 500-year-old forts.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

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June 23, 2018

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