Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

Panama Canal Cruise Guide

Portobelo Panama
Portobelo Panama. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

A Panama Canal cruise gives travelers insights into the wondrous man-made canal along with some time at tranquil Caribbean beaches and a taste of the ancient Mayan and Inca world.

Of course, the canal is one of the most important sights of the trip, as it’s one of the best engineering spectacles of the world. It is a link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and has been called the “Crossroads of the World”.

We found that a visit to the canal locks was an interesting and educational family experience.

Cruisers will get a chance to see how the canal works, whether they choose a partial transit itinerary or a full transit. There will also be stops for shore excursions or to enjoy some quiet relaxation.

The canal journey itself begins at Puerto Limon on the Caribbean coast or Panama City on the Pacific coast.

Although it is an option to walk into Puerto Limon from where the cruise ship docks, it is recommended that you take an organized tour or the area. Some of the islands have locals wishing to sell drugs and will approach tourists. It is best to go sightseeing in groups for safety.

Destinations and Ports of Call

Most Panama Canal cruises begin on the west coast of the United States, pass through the canal between Puerto Limon and Panama City, and end on the east coast or vice versa. There are many ports of call for Panama Canal cruises. Some of the most popular are: Belize City, Colon, Puerto Limon, Puerto Caldera and Cartagena.

Gatun Locks
Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

Belize City - Belize is a diverse city with some of the most ecologically protected land on Earth. It is home to the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, with amazing keys and beaches to explore. Locals are very friendly to guests and Belize is the only English speaking country in Central America.

Colon - Colon is the capital of the Colon Province on Panama’s central Caribbean coast, in the heart of the country. The city is full of history and culture, with many sights for visitors to explore. Some of the popular attractions include: the Spanish fortress Fort San Lorenzo and the Panama Railroad.

Puerto Limon - Puerto Limon is the capital of the province of Limon, located on the east coast of Costa Rica. It sits along the Caribbean Sea and has a mix or cultures and nationalities. This town is lively and home to 225,000 people. Guests traveling between May and November will be able to see the city during its “Green Season”, which has a more tropical feel.

Puerto Caldera - This quaint city of Costa Rica has varying lands of high mountain top peaks and lovely white sand beaches. Near the docking station, locals show their musical and dancing talents to tourists. Shore excursions will take guests into wildlife preserves to see some amazing animals. A trip to the capital, San Jose, will show a variety of plantations including sugarcane and coffee.

Cartagena - Cruisers will enjoy this small port city in the southeast of Spain. It is a beautiful city with friendly locals and wonderful weather. The city is warm and dry the majority of the year and is especially nice to visit during spring and fall.  Cartagena is rich with culture and great for sight seeing, with lovely landscaped squares and walking tours.

Tourist Attractions

Tortuguero National Park offers close encounters with some of Costa Rica’s fabulous wildlife. Guests will see crocodiles, monkeys, green tortoises and many exotic birds, all seen while riding along in a canoe. Visit this park while docked in Limon, Costa Rica.

Altun Ha Mayan Ruins is a fascinating tour in Belize City. It explores the ancient Mayan City of Altun Ha and the changes occurring to modern day Belize City. This site became famous when the world’s largest Jade Head was discovered here.

San Felipe de Barajas Fortress is the largest Spanish Fort in the New World and can be seen while touring the city of Cartagena. The Navy Museum, Gold Museum and Old City Square are all in the same vicinity. Visitors will get a wealth of history and culture from these city attractions.

Caves Branch River winds its way through the Maya Mountains and flows through ancient caves. Explorers can go cave tubing through this underground cave system and awe at majestic stalagmites and stalactites. A Rainforest Trek will also be had up and down a jungle trail to reach the river.

Belize Zoo is a famous wildlife habitat, home to some interesting local animal species. The animals are not in cages at this zoo, but protected by fences. Trails to view animals are loose gravel paths, so it is difficult for those with wheelchairs and walkers.


The Panama Canal port of call is very popular among travelers, as it is duty free. Luxury items from all over the world are sold here and it is about 1/3 of the normal price.

There is also the Centro Artesanal de Coronado, a shopping mall in Panama. It consists of several small shops and boutiques that sell handmade items, including the famous Panama hat that comes rolled up in a little box. This shopping area is similar to what tourists would find in an average Panamanian village.

When to Go/ Weather

Panama monthly rainfall
© 2021 Scott S. Bateman

When cruising the Panama Canal, average temperatures should remain in the 70s and 80s, depending on your ports of call. There will be constant humidity, mostly July through November. Rainfall occurs most in the month of November, averaging 22 inches.

The Panama Canal cruise season runs from October to April. The best time to take this cruise would be after the rainy season ends in November.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
August 16, 2022

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