The Panama Canal is a living monument stretching over historical lands and has connected the seas for over 100 years. We’ve curated 5 ways to experience this engineering marvel. Choose from expedition cruises and land-based tours that are focused on the 48-mile Panama Canal.

On a variety of itineraries, learn the history of overcoming hardships endured from 1881 when work on the canal first began, only to be aborted and started again when the United States in 1904 put its resources behind this engineering miracle that began changing the course of commerce—and world history—in 1914, the same year that World War I began. Today some 14,000 ships pass annually through the canal, and you could be on one of them.

Following are five ways to experience, with AdventureSmith Explorations, the Panama Canal by sea and by land:

A view of the Panama Canal locks with 2 large cargo ships.
Image courtesy of Ancon Expeditions

1. Costa Rica & The Panama Canal Cruise

This 8-day expedition aboard the 100-guest National Geographic Quest offers a two-day canal transit with a visit to Barro Colorado and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute with experts from National Geographic. Guests explore exuberant, colorful and diverse nature in national parks, wildlife reserves and a privately owned tropical garden. In addition, swim and snorkel Panama’s famed Isla Coiba, kayak along remote coastlines and horseback ride on the beach—a truly unforgettable experience.

2. Panama & Colombia: Exploring The Caribbean Coast

Another 8-day option aboard the 100-guest National Geographic Quest, this small ship adventure either begins or ends with a transit of the Panama Canal, uniquely spending a special overnight at anchor in Gatún Lake, a vast artificial lake that forms a major part of the Panama Canal. By focusing only on Panama and Colombia, this itinerary offers more time to explore the Caribbean side of Panama, as well as a well-rounded 4 days in Colombia. Cultural and active opportunities abound, with kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, hiking, skiff tours and onboard wellness routines.

3. Panama Discovery Tour Land-Based Adventure 

This 8-day land-based trip highlights Panama’s rainforests, wildlife rich cultural heritage. This tour includes a visit to the Panama Canal via the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center. Beyond the canal, excursions include meeting indigenous cultures on the Gatun and Chagres Rivers, riding the Panama Railway, observing wildlife, ziplining through the highlands, tasting local coffee, hiking in the cloud forests of the Chiriqui Highlands, searching for the elusive Resplendent Quetzal and exploring more of the over- and underwater world of the Caribbean Sea in Bocas del Toro.

A view from above the Panama Canal locks.

4. Best of Panama Land-Based Adventure

This 9-day land trip explores the Panama Canal, volcanic highlands and the Caribbean Coast, en route meeting some of Panama’s indigenous people. From coast to coast and past to present, guests glean the history and workings of the canal and the original Panama railway while on a private guided tour and jungle boat adventure in the canal. Thriving indigenous villages and Spanish colonial forts are just some stops made during moderate daily hikes. Others include the tropical cloud forest, rich in flora and fauna. There are opportunities for zip lining, paddling a dugout canoe and touring a coffee plantation as well. 

5. Panama Family Land-Based Adventure

The 9-day Panama Family Adventure embraces nature, culture and wildlife. It’s an enriching family trip that covers the most iconic things to do in Panama, including kayaking, zip lining in the Chiriqui highlands, historic and cultural explorations, and a visit to the Panama Canal lock system. Guests of all ages experience Panama’s finest from coastal snorkeling to venturing to the western highlands of the Caribbean coast to white water rafting the Chagres River. This is a perfect dose of family travel with plenty of optional activities to keep everyone entertained.

For more Panama and Costa Rica travel options, contact the experts at AdventureSmith Explorations. Our team can help you choose from the many options available and tailor the trip to your travel needs. For the most up-to-date listing of Panama Canal experiences, view all our Panama trips.