In alliance with Smithsonian Journeys.
This cruise is part of a collection of PONANT voyages that are specially-tailored for English-speaking travelers who want to engage with the world. In addition to the usual elements of the PONANT experience, the listed price for these voyages includes transfers to and from the ship, talks and discussions aboard ship by world class experts, and a shore excursion or activity in each port of call that encourages guests to embrace the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of the local environment and culture.
Discover Panama and Costa Rica with PONANT on this splendid 8-day cruise aboard Le Champlain, which explores the region’s abundant natural splendours, local indigenous communities, and the modern marvel of the Panama Canal.
Your journey in Central America will start along the white sands and translucent waters of Holandes Cayes, one of the coral islets of Panama’s San Blas Islands. Spend a day in this tropical paradise and enjoy the opportunity to swim and snorkel. Members of the Kuna community call these islands home, and you may encounter them along the beach.
After a daytime sailing from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean through the world-famous Panama Canal, Le Champlain calls at Fuerte Amador for an exploration of Panama City’s Old Quarter and of the region’s fantastic biodiversity at the superb Frank Gehry-designed Biomuseo.
Here, you will also visit the Punta Culebra Nature Center at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), a fascinating, open-air museum dedicated to marine science and conservation. On a specially arranged tour guided by Smithsonian scientists, hear about the latest studies, observe marine species up close, and explore the unique flora and fauna of the tropical dry forest.
You sail next to the remote and magnificent Darién National Park. This little corner of paradise is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to a remarkably diverse range of plants and wildlife. Rocky coastlines, mangroves, swamps, and tropical rainforests abound and offer a feast for photographers. Here, meet members of the local Emberá community.
Your final call will be in Herradura, Costa Rica, gateway to the spectacular Carara National Park, where you will encounter myriad tropical flora and fauna, including over ten thousand species of plants, three hundred species of birds, and some two hundred species of butterflies. In the park, watch for scarlet macaws, toucans, howler monkeys, and crocodiles.
The encounters with the wildlife described above illustrate possible experiences only and cannot be guaranteed.
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Included in your cruise
For more peace of mind, PONANT organizes your trip before or after the cruise. This package is included in the price of your cruise.
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*Price is per person, double occupancy, is based on availability, and subject to change at any time. The category of cabin to which this price applies may no longer be available.
PONANT has organised the following included programme for you, which starts the day of embarkation.
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Important trip details
Costa Rica: When leaving Costa Rica from the International airport, an exit tax of 27 US$ p/p must be paid (either by credit card, US$ or Colones).
Passport valid for at least six (6) months beyond the completion of your trip. Passport must contain at least two completely clear, blank, unused visa pages for each visa required, not including any amendment pages. Visa pages with stains or ink from other pages in the passport are not usable. Guests who deviate from the scheduled embarkation or disembarkation port should research the foreign entry requirements for the port country. Due to government regulations, regrettably, Ponant will have to deny boarding to any guest who fails to obtain the appropriate travel documentation for this trip.
The information below is current but subject to change at any time without advance notice from government authorities. Please consult your respective government agencies for visa and health information.
The evolving COVID-19 health formalities are available in real time by clicking here.
Given the particularly changing international sanitary context, this itinerary as well as the land programmes and shore excursions may have to evolve according to port authorisations and governmental regulations in force at the time of your trip.
Therefore, for even greater peace of mind, we strongly recommend that you book your land programmes and flights before and after your cruise with PONANT.
Health formalities related to COVID-19 will be confirmed to you before your departure.
In this exceptional context, your safety remains our first priority. The effectiveness of our procedures, our cutting-edge medical equipment and the smaller scale of our ships means we can offer maximum safety so that you can relax and enjoy your cruise. The revised passenger circuit and our enhanced hygiene measures can be found on this page: https://en.ponant.com/sail-with-confidence.
Warning about the use of drones: the use of drones aboard PONANT ships, whether they are sailing at sea, at a port of call or anchored, is strictly forbidden. The use of drones on land in the Arctic and Antarctic regions is also strictly forbidden by international polar regulations. In other regions, it may be possible to use drones on land if permission has been obtained from the relevant authorities of each country and each region travelled through, as well as a pilot’s licence that should be obtained from your home country. Passengers are responsible for obtaining these permits; they should be able to present them at all times. Passengers who do not obtain these authorisations expose themselves to the risk of legal proceedings.
Panama: the yellow fever vaccination is recommended for the eastern areas of the Panama Canal (Darien and Kuna communities).
Ideal clothes for life on board:
During the days spent on board, you are advised to wear comfortable clothes or casual outfits. The entire ship is air-conditioned, so a light sweater, a light jacket or a shawl may be necessary. When moving about in the public areas of the ship and the decks, light but comfortable shoes are recommended.
In the evening, you are advised to wear smart-casual attire, especially when dining in our restaurants where wearing shorts and tee-shirts is not allowed.
Depending on the itinerary and the program of your cruise, an Officer’s Evening with a white dress code may be organized. Therefore, we encourage you to bring a stylish white outfit for the occasion (otherwise black and white).
During the cruise, two gala evenings will be organised on board. Thus, we recommend that you bring one or two formal outfits.
A small shop is available on board offering a wide range of outfits, jewellery, leather goods and many accessories.
A laundry service (washing/ironing) is available on board, but unfortunately there are no dry cleaning services. For safety reasons, your cabin is not equipped with an iron.
OUTFITS ON BOARD:
In your hand luggage, remember to bring any medicines that you need, and possibly a small spare bag of toiletries (in case of delay in the delivery of your baggage by the airline). Remember to always have your travel documents with you in case you need them: hotel vouchers, cruise vouchers, return flight tickets... Never leave them in your hold luggage.
All our cabins have a safe. We recommend not to go ashore with valuable jewellery.
Smithsonian Journeys is the travel program of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum, education and research complex, consisting of 19 museums, the National Zoological Park and nine research facilities. Drawing on Smithsonian's resources dating back 175 years, these sailings will feature notable experts and experiences that embrace local cultures and dive deeper into a destination’s history, cuisine, language, environment, and wildlife. For more than 50 years, Smithsonian Journeys has been rooted in and focused on cultural immersion and discovery – with a goal of inspiring guests to become global citizens through travel.
Ralph Nurnberger is an acclaimed speaker who brings humor, historical background, and current political insights to his presentations. He has spoken on a number of Smithsonian Journeys as well as at The Smithsonian Institute’s Associates Program in Washington, DC, where his presentations frequently sell out. He has appeared on radio and television programs as an analyst on political and international issues. Ralph earned his PhD in History from Georgetown University and subsequently taught as an adjunct at Georgetown for 38 years. He was named Professor of the Year by the Graduate School of Liberal Studies in 2003. He currently lectures on a wide range of historical and political subjects at Florida Atlantic University’s Lifelong Learning Programs. Ralph has spoken at a number of universities and other venues in Europe, including in the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Austria, France, Denmark, and especially in Germany, where he has given presentations in East and West Berlin, Hamburg, and Chemnitz. In addition to his public speaking and academic careers, Ralph has had positions in and related to the U.S. government (staff on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; US Department of Commerce; and Director of “Builders for Peace”, which was established to assist the Arab-Israeli peace process), as a fellow at a prominent think tank (Center for Strategic and International Studies – CSIS), and as senior partner in a government relations firm for over 25 years.
Language spoken: English
Matthew C. Larsen is the director emeritus of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama City, Panama. His 90+ publications are in the fields of natural hazards, water resources, climate change, and marine geology. Dr. Larsen has led research projects in the United States, Panama, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was STRI director from 2014 to 2020. From 2005 to 2014, he served as Chair of the US National Committee for the UNESCO International Hydrological Programme. Dr. Larsen looks forward to welcoming you to STRI and presenting Smithsonian research on biodiversity and ecosystem services with you.
Language spoken: English
Subject to withdrawal in case of force majeure
24 January 2022 Colón
Embarkation 24/01/2022 from 18:00 to 19:00
Departure 24/01/2022 at 20:00
Colón is the second largest city in Panama, at the Caribbean entrance of the Panama Canal. Colón is today an important port, and the free trade zone created in 1953 contributed greatly to the development of the city. Colón was founded in 1850 by Americans working on the Panama railroad connecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts through the isthmus of Panama; the city rapidly overshadowed the older Caribbean ports of Panama when the canal opened.
25 January 2022 San Blas Islands
Arrival 25/01/2022 early morning
Departure 25/01/2022 late afternoon
Located on the north-east coast of Panama, the San Blas archipelago is a string of coral islands in the heart of the Caribbean Sea. More than 300 islands and cays cover an area of 300 square kilometres offering travellers a multitude of treasures. Sheltered behind a long coral reef, the San Blas Islands are full of enchanting anchorages. The long sandy white beaches bound by crystal-clear waters will allow you to relax and enjoy incredible marine fauna before engaging with the Kunas Indian community. Still subsisting on hunting and fishing, they will welcome you in their villages of bamboo houses gathered near the beaches.
26 January 2022 Crossing the Panama Canal
Aboard your ship, experience something unique, that has inspired the imagination of numerous adventurers in the 20th century: sailing the Panama Canal. Its construction started in 1880 under the direction of Ferdinand de Lesseps. Abandoned then resumed, this marvel of engineering was completed by the United States in 1887 and opened in 1914. The canal crosses the Isthmus of Panama and links the Atlantic to the Pacific. Including three levels of locks and by raising ships to the level of Lake Gatun, almost as if the water was a lift, it allows them to avoid having to round Cape Horn.
26 January 2022 27 January 2022 Fuerte Amador, Flamenco Island
Arrival 26/01/2022 late afternoon
Departure 27/01/2022 early evening
An artificial peninsula situated at the Pacific entrance to the Panama Canal, Fuerte Amador is the gateway to several noteworthy sites. Right near there, the impressive Miraflores Locks are a shining example of the engineering feats deployed during the construction of the Panama Canal. Further north, in villages nestling amid dense vegetation, lives the Embera tribe, guardian of the forest and of the Chagres River. This proud people have successfully preserved their traditions and their ancestral way of life, which predate the colonisation of the region by the Spanish.
28 January 2022 Playa Muerto, Darien National Park
Arrival 28/01/2022 early morning
Departure 28/01/2022 midday
The most remote and least developed region of Panama, the province of Darien is an unspoilt land with an extremely rich variety of flora and fauna. Listed by UNESCO as World Heritage, Darien National Park offers its extraordinary scenery of rocky coastlines, mountain ranges, mangroves, rivers and creeks. Discover Playa Muerto, a tiny coastal village home to the Emberas Amerindian community. You will visit the village, attend traditional songs and dances of the locals, and admire beautiful local craft.
29 January 2022 At sea
During your day at sea, make the most of the many services and activities on board. Treat yourself to a moment of relaxation in the spa or stay in shape in the fitness centre. Depending on the season, let yourself be tempted by the swimming pool or a spot of sunbathing. This day without a port of call will also be an opportunity to enjoy the conferences or shows proposed on board, to do some shopping in the boutique or to meet the PONANT photographers in their dedicated space. As for lovers of the open sea, they will be able to visit the ship’s upper deck to admire the spectacle of the waves and perhaps be lucky enough to observe marine species. A truly enchanted interlude, combining comfort, rest and entertainment.
30 January 2022 Herradura
Arrival 30/01/2022 early morning
Departure 30/01/2022 late afternoon
Herradura takes its name in Spanish from the horseshoe form of its bay, covered in lush tropical vegetation, its beauty enhanced by the hills that loom over it. This small town is surrounded by national parks that are remarkable for the rich variety of fauna and flora they protect. When your ship calls here, it will be the moment to take a journey in small covered boats along the Tarcoles River, whose banks are home to crocodiles and iguanas. This mangrove also hosts the loyal and flamboyant Scarlet Macaw, with its red, blue and yellow plumage, known for mating with the same partner for life.
31 January 2022 Puerto Caldera
Arrival 31/01/2022 early morning
Disembarkation 31/01/2022 at 08:00
The port of Puerto Caldera lies on the Pacific coast, in the Puntarenas region, at the mouth of the Gulf of Nicoya. Areas of wilderness stretch along the coast. Further inland, among the countless natural wonders to be found in the generous rainforest of the Costa Rica’s national parks, Poas and Arena volcanoes towers up in all their majestic glory. In this luxuriant natural setting, Costa Rica protects one of the planet’s richest biodiversity: monkeys, sloths, tropical birds, iguanas, crocodiles, waterfalls, canyons, and more than ten thousand species of tropical plants.
Located off the northern coast of Panama, Holandes Cayes is one of the more than 300 islands and cays that make up the San Blas Archipelago. Sheltered behind a long coral reef, they abound with idyllic anchorages. Long sandy white beaches and crystal-clear waters invite you to swim and snorkel, exploring an incredible array of marine fauna.
In addition to enjoying the sand and surf, you may have the opportunity to meet with the local indigenous people of the San Blas, the Kuna, who sustain themselves by hunting and fishing and govern the islands as an autonomous province with minimal interference from the national government.
Arguably Central America's most attractive capital city, Panama City was founded in 1519 by Spanish explorers and rebuilt in the late 17th-century by the French.
Your excursion begins with a visit to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s Punta Culebra Nature Center, an open-air museum dedicated to marine science and conservation. On a specially arranged tour guided by Smithsonian scientists, hear about the latest studies, observe marine species up close, and explore the unique flora and fauna of the tropical dry forest.
After your visit, drive to Casco Antiguo, the old colonial part of the city, where you will enjoy a guided walking tour through this centuries-old neighborhood whose architecture blends French, Spanish, and Italian styles — reflecting the multicultural history of Panama. Churches and convents, colonial palaces, bridges and military buildings attest to the rich past of this city. Then pause for a refreshing lunch at one of the many restaurants in the quarter.
Lunch is followed by a drive through the modern city to the new Biodiversity Museum, designed by architect Frank Gehry to tell the story of how the emergence of the Isthmus of Panama changed the history of our planet. The Museum's exhibition, conceived by Bruce Mau and executed by scientists from the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Panama, aims to interactively engage the public and demonstrate to them the ecological significance of Panama’s exotic flora and fauna.
Declared a reserve in 1980, the Darien National Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981 and a Biosphere Reserve in 1983. In addition to preserving the globally important ecosystem of the rainforest, Darien also serves as home to about 30,000 indigenous peoples, mostly from the Emberá Tribe. On this excursion you will visit one of their villages on the coast of the Pacific and have the opportunity to meet and talk with men and women who have maintained their traditions and lifestyle much as it was before Spain colonized the region.
A short ride aboard the ship's Zodiacs brings you to the beach and to the thatched-roof palapas of the village. The Chief will welcome you with traditional Emberá hospitality, introduce you to their customs, and invite you to enjoy a series of dances that have been arranged for you.
Feel free to wander the village, ask questions, and engage with your hosts. The Emberá are marvelous craftsmen and craftswomen and have produced beautiful items that will be available for purchase as souvenirs or keepsakes of this very special experience.
Before returning to the ship, you may wish to take a 10-minute hike to a nearby waterfall.
Explore Costa Rica's Carara National Park and learn about the complex ecosystem of a tropical rainforest and the exotic flora and fauna that thrive in the region.
A 20-minute drive brings you to the Park, where your guide will lead you on a leisurely walk on a paved path through the forest. Over ten thousand species of plants, three hundred species of birds and some two hundred species of butterflies live in this transitional zone where less dense undergrowth makes spotting wildlife easier than in the deep forest. Scarlet Macaws, howler monkeys, white collared monkeys, coatimundis, peccaries, crocodiles and toucans are a few of the animals which call this area their home.
On the way back to the ship, you coach will stop at El Jardín Orotina for an opportunity to enjoy a snack at this popular restaurant and gift shop.
A scenic drive along the coast brings you to the estuary of the Tárcoles River, where you will board your covered river boat for an hour and a half cruise through the mangrove forest that dominates the river's shoreline.
Your guide will provide a running commentary on this unique ecosystem and on the importance of conserving it and the many endemic species it sustains. This particular mangrove forest is considered one of the richest for sea and shorebirds and is home to over 250 species of birds, mammals, and insects, including the endangered Scarlet Macaw. While these exotic birds spend most of the day deeper in the jungle, they also roost in the mangroves along with hummingbirds, herons, egrets, ospreys, pelicans, and storks. The estuary is also prime habitat for crocodiles, lizards, and iguanas, which are often seen foraging along the shore.
Before the heading back to the ship, a visit to El Jardín Market will allow you to browse and purchase souvenirs, sample tropical fruits, or taste a cup of freshly brewed Costa Rican coffee.
Aboard your ship, English-speaking lecturer will enlighten you about the culture and history of your destination to deepen your knowledge of the origins of local traditions, the history of emblematic sites, the stories involving famous personalities and those of major historical significance. During on-board lectures or your shore visits, this expert will be there to share his precious knowledge with you throughout your PONANT cruise.