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Panama Canal, Columbia, and Ecuador

South America Cruise

Summary : Join a voyage from the Caribbean to the Pacific via the Panama Canal, a masterpiece of engineering, to reach out-of-the-way national parks and reserves that hold a multitude of rare mammals and birds. From the Darien Jungle to Isla de la Plata you will meet local people and see natural locations few others have encountered. Experience the interaction of rainforest cultures and the ecosystems surrounding them, as well as untouched natural ecosystems.

Activities : Birding, Culture, Hiking, Triple/Quad Cabins

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Itinerary
Day 1
Colón, Panama

Embark your vessel and meet some of your fellow explorers as you become acquainted with the luxurious amenities found on board. This evening, after settling in and setting sail, you will be introduced to your Expedition Team. Relocate to the entrance of the Panama Canal, waiting for the beginning of your transit the following morning.

Day 2
Panama Canal, Panama

Today pass through the narrowest part of the Isthmus of Panama and the American continent. Mules had been used as a means of transport for centuries before a railroad was constructed in the mid-1850s. When Nicaragua and Colombia (of which Panama was a part at that time) were selected as possible sites for a canal, a French company began excavations in the 1880s but was thwarted by engineering problems and tropical disease, which killed over 20,000 workers. In 1903 the United States took over the project, completing it in 1914.

The Panama Canal is an engineering marvel connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. Three sets of locks work as water elevators lifting ships to the level of Gatun Lake, 85 feet (26 meters) above sea level, and later lowering them again to sea level on the other side. By using the Canal, vessels avoid traveling the 14,000 nautical mile route through the treacherous Drake Passage and around Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America.

By the time this voyage departs, a new set of locks should be operational as already 87% of the design and construction of the third set of locks had been accomplished in May 2015. All other aspects of the improvement (dredging, raising the operating level of Lake Gatun, as well as the Pacific Access Channel) were already more advanced. By raising the level of Lake Gatun by just 40 centimeters (slightly less than 16 inches) 1,100 additional transits per year will be achieved.

NOTE: Although the shipping company has requested and booked a day-time transit, due to heavy traffic in the Canal, a daylight transit cannot be guaranteed. Confirmation of exact times will be established upon getting closer to the actual transit date.

Day 3
Darien Jungle, Panama

The Darien Jungle is remote and has one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. This morning Silver Explorer will anchor in the Bay of San Miguel. Explore this pristine, seldom visited area by Zodiac or local canoe, navigating up the tidal Mogue River. At the conclusion of your river adventure, hear the sound of distant drums welcoming you to the remote Embera Village. The Darien Jungle is rarely visited by outsiders (fewer than 1,000 tourists visit each year), and the Embera are one of several indigenous groups that live in relative isolation.

Go ashore to melodic rhythms of traditional tribal music played by male villagers on drums, maracas and flutes. Local women and children in brightly colored attire welcome you to their village and introduce you to their way of life. Visit authentic tribal dwellings built of nearby trees and plants. Before leaving, villagers will perform a native dance for your entertainment and demonstrate basket weaving and carving techniques.

As the Darien Jungle is recognized as one of the world’s top ten birding sites, on your way to the village and back to Silver Explorer you might see many different bird species such as the colorful Crimson-collared Tanager, Green and Chestnut-fronted Macaws, Rufous-tailed and Snow-bellied Hummingbirds, whimbrels, White Ibises and egrets, as well as Laughing Gulls. Other wildlife you may see includes vultures and the endangered Great Curassow.

Day 4
Bahia Solano / Utria National Natural Park, Colombia

Today, arrive in Bahia Solano, where you will anchor offshore and be brought to land by local tender or Zodiac. Bahía Solano is quite isolated; connected to the outside world by a single, small local airport. Tucked inside a beautiful bay, the small Columbian town is lined by the Pacific Ocean on one side and thick, impenetrable jungle on the other. The majority of the 10,000 residents work in local industries, which are predominantly fishing, agriculture and eco-tourism.

If you select the Bahia Solano Town Tour with your own local guide, the tour begins at the local secondary school, where you will be welcomed by the children. Afterwards, take a relaxed walk through the community, wandering the streets with their array of different shops and businesses, visiting the main church, the primary school and library, before visiting the small fishing port where there will be a small display of the locally caught fish, which are flown out daily to the main cities of Colombia. The tour ends on the malecon or seafront, with a performance of Afro-Pacific and Indigenous Colombian dance and an artisans’ market where handicrafts will be available for sale.

During lunch Silver Explorer will relocate to Ensenada Nuqui, Utría National Natural Park.

Your explorations of the Colombian Pacific coast continue with a visit to Utria National Natural Park. From coral reefs and mangroves to the marine environment, tropical rainforest and rocky beaches where sea turtles come to lay their eggs, few places in the world encompass the diversity of Utría’s ecosystems. The Expedition Team will offer a choice of trail hikes. Three hundred and eighty species of birds have been recorded and the park has several important species of timber trees, notably the area’s beloved Cohiba tree and the Oquendo tree, which is used in the creation of local art and handicrafts.

Day 5
Utría National Natural Park, Colombia

Your exploration of Utria National Natural Park continues. The Expedition Team will offer a choice of trail hikes to explore the park’s numerous highlights. During your walk, you might see some of Utría’s great variety of animal life, which includes deer, pecaris, anteaters, black howler and spider monkeys, wild cats (such as jaguar, puma and ocelot), sloths, and some adorable rodent species.

Depending on the tides, explore the mangroves using local boats or Zodiacs or simply use the walkways.

Apart from the animals ashore this part of the Colombian coast is recognized as a prime spot to observe humpback whales from June to November. Sperm whales and orcas are occasional visitors, while bottlenose dolphins can be seen all year round. The park’s waters are known to have 11 types of coral and more than 180 species of fish, even whale sharks are on record.

Day 6
At Sea

As strange as it may sound, you will be cruising the North Pacific Ocean as you are still north of the Equator. The lecture team will offer several interesting and enlightening talks about natural history and the cultures that inhabit this part of South America. Perhaps the story of Francis Drake, his voyages and the connection with Isla de la Plata is something you might want to hear. Join the Expedition Team in the Theatre or Panorama Lounge, or relax on the Sun Deck, savoring some local drinks or cocktails.

Day 7
Isla de la Plata, Ecuador

Exploration and discovery await as the ship anchors off the coast of the uninhabited and unspoiled Isla de la Plata (Island of Silver). The island’s name was derived from the legend of swashbuckling pirate Sir Francis Drake’s buried silver treasure. The popular legend states that in the 16th century, hundreds of tons of silver and gold were never fully recovered and are still hidden on the island.

The island was privately owned until 1979, when it was declared part of Ecuador’s Machalilla National Park. Best known for its fauna, which is amazingly similar to that of the Galapagos Islands, Isla de la Plata is a good place for birding, photography and long nature walks. Although just south of the equator, the influences of the colder Humboldt Current bring nutrient-rich water as far north as Isla de la Plata. Together with the local natural history guides, go ashore and enjoy various walks, watching for herons, pelicans, gulls, frigatebirds, Red-footed, Blue-footed and Nazca Boobies, albatrosses and hawks.

Day 8
Machala, Ecuador

Machala, with a population of approximately 250,000 inhabitants, is called the “Capital of the Banana” as the ‘World Fair of the Banana’ is held there during the third week of September. Producers and buyers from Perú, Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela, México, Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Argentina, Guatemala, Panamá, República Dominicana, El Salvador, Honduras and, obviously, Ecuador will show up. Fortunately for you, there is more to Machala than just bananas: opposite Machala are Jambeli Island with its sun-drenched beaches and mangrove forests and Isla del Amor (the “Island of Love”), an ecological island where pelicans, frigatebirds, and egrets nest. Santa Clara, a refuge for seabirds, such as Blue-footed Boobies, frigatebirds and pelicans, is further out to sea –and even whales and dolphins can still be seen in Santa Clara’s vicinity in October. Several other National Sanctuaries or Ecological Reserves can be found near Machala.

Machala is also known for fresh delicious seafood dishes like shrimp soup and raw marinated shrimp with fried bananas.

Tonight your on-board videographer will present the Voyage-DVD, letting you reminiscence all those extraordinary moments and encounters during your voyage.

Day 9
Guayaquil, Ecuador

After breakfast, disembark Silver Explorer.

Notes

This itinerary is subject to change. ExpeditionTrips is not responsible for itinerary changes.

NOTE: Although the shipping company has requested and booked a day-time transit, due to heavy traffic in the Canal, a daylight transit cannot be guaranteed. Confirmation of exact times will be established upon getting closer to the actual transit date.

Included:
Onboard accommodation; onboard meals; butler service; complimentary beverages served throughout the ship (an assortment of complimentary wines, champagne and spirits); all onboard gratuities (except spa); port charges and handling fees; Silver, Medallion, Grand and Owner's Suite guests receive laundry service and dinner at Officer's table; 1 hour of internet access per guest/per day for passengers booked in Adventurer, Explorer, View, Vista, and Veranda Suites; unlimited internet access for passengers booked in Medallion, Silver, Grand, and Owner’s Suites. Subject to change without notice.

Not Included:
Airfare; transfers and luggage handling; travel insurance; government fees and taxes; visa and passport expenses; gifts and items of a personal nature such as laundry and spa options; travel health insurance (required to enter Ecuador); fuel surcharge may apply.

Photo Credit: © Creative Services at Silversea Cruises, © Daniela Plaza (Zodiacs on river, Panama Canal)

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