Explore Panama on a Panama Canal Tour

Take an unforgettable Panama Canal tour to experience the world’s ultimate shortcut and one of Central America's most multifaceted countries.

Cathedral in Panama City’s old city

Photo: eStock

For most of us, Panama is the canal. But beyond the engineering juggernaut lies a fascinating country with colonial architecture, plentiful rainforests and a rich multi-ethnic history peopled by conquistadors, missionaries, indigenous tribes and runaway African slaves. By all means see the canal, but don’t stop there.

Whether you arrive by cruise ship or plane, the waterway is without a doubt a major attraction. Satisfy your curiosity on a Panama Canal tour: You’ll experience your vessel rising 85 feet from sea level to Gatun Lake. The vast man-made lake now harbors isolated monkey populations on islands you can see during jungle boat lake cruises.

Prefer to keep your feet on land? You can view ships transiting the waterway at Miraflores Locks, just outside the city. The site offers a historical museum and a panoramic restaurant, where you can watch gigantic vessels hoisted from one level to the next on their way through the waterway.

After your Panama Canal tour, visit Panama City, which straddles the cosmopolitan and the wild. Behind its thicket of glinting downtown skyscrapers, Casco Viejo, the original Spanish quarter, is a collection of crumbling colonial mansions, grand churches, narrow streets, sleepy plazas and landmarks dating back to the 1500s. The area is a reminder of centuries when time moved at a crawl—until the completion of the canal sped things up and brought the world to Panama’s door.

Photo: eStock

From Panama City, you can visit Soberania National Park, just 16 miles from the capital. The 55,000-acre park, home to more than 100 species of mammals and 500 species of birds, echoes with the cries of howler monkeys at dawn and dusk. Along the Pipeline Road hiking trail, toucans gather in flocks. At the nearby Embera Indian Village, tribes welcome you with ceremonial dances and display crafts.

Day-trippers to Gamboa Rainforest Resort can take an aerial tram into the canopy, catching bird’s-eye views of capuchin monkeys, tree-climbing anteaters and the vast Chagres River. But if you overnight, you can join night tours by tram, when crocodiles and guinea pig relatives known as agouti come out. And next morning, the howlers will herald a new day of adventures.

AAA Travel offers a variety of options for cruises through the Panama Canal.  Browse and book online or call 877-396-7159 to speak to a AAA Travel Counselor.

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Heidi Kazemi, AAA Travel Counselor, Roseville, Calif.

Customization is always my top priority when planning a client's vacation. I ask about their family and where they've been before. Their preferences guide our planning so the vacation is perfectly tailored for them.

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