Why Visit Panama Canal & Costa Rica

Costa Rica, known for its biodiversity and ecotourism, offers something for everyone from famous national parks to beaches, to cloud forests to opportunities to view unique wildlife or partake in the nightlife scene. Costa Rica is a popular vacation destination with family travelers who find trips to the Central American country a blend of education and fun and appealing to all ages and interests. Traveling by small ship in Costa Rica offers advantages such as the ability to reach more unique locales like secluded islands and private beaches only reachable by boat.

In the neighboring country of Panama, which is bordered by Costa Rica to the west, the Panama Canal is the most famous tourist attraction. Visiting the Panama Canal and seeing this monumental engineering feat up close on a small ship tour is a dream for many, but visitors soon find the country has plenty more to offer including sandy beaches, mountains, nature-rich rainforests, islands to explore and opportunities to meet the indigenous people who inhabit them. Panama is also known for its marine life and is said to have one of the most diverse coral reefs in the Caribbean. Tourists flock to the country each year on Panama Canal cruises to watch sea turtle hatchlings emerge from their eggs along the country’s beaches.

Costa Rica


Costa Rica is located on the Central American isthmus between Nicaragua and Panama and covers 19,730 square miles. Costa Rica has a population of around 4.5 million and is considered one of the most economically prosperous countries in Central America. Exports are a major part of its economy and include coffee, pineapples, bananas, sugar, beef and ornamental plants. Ecotourism and the related service sector are also a significant part of Costa Rica’s economy. Costa Rica is known for its progressive environmental policies and aspires to become the world’s first carbon-neutral country with hopes of reaching that goal by 2021. In 2012, it became the first Latin American country to ban recreational hunting.

Panama is a country on the isthmus that links Central America and South America and encompasses approximately 29,762 square miles. World-famous for its 48-mile canal that connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, Panama began commercial operation of its expanded Panama Canal on June 26, 2016. The $5.2 billion project, which took about ten years to complete, added a new lane and increased the width and depth of existing lanes allowing for a greater number of ships as well as larger sized ships to pass.

Panama has been going through a period of growth. In 2014, Panama opened Central America’s first subway system, which is currently under expansion. The construction of Line 1 cost over $1 billion and is useful to both residents and tourists. Panama has a population of around 4 million and is known for its ethnic and cultural diversity. An increase in urban development in recent years has attracted a growing urban population, which currently represents about 59% of the country’s total population. Panama’s main industries are finance, tourism, and logistics.

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Costa Rica, which means “rich coast,” has an abundance of natural treasures and is home to thousands of species of plants, trees and insects; hundreds of species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians; and over a thousand species of fresh and saltwater fish. In an effort to preserve Costa Rica’s wildlife, plant and animal species, as well as rainforests, swamps, cloud forests and coral reefs, over 25% of the country’s total landmass is protected. Many of these protected areas are national parks.

Costa Rica currently has 28 national parks, two of which are marine parks, 67 wildlife refuges, and several other categories of protected areas that aim to preserve the distinctive and diverse natural habitats found throughout the country. The protected areas of Costa Rica are continuously being reviewed and reclassified by environmental agencies of the government, which leads to more national parks and protected areas. Diria National Park, located near the town of Santa Cruz, is one of Costa Rica’s newest national parks, having just received the designation in 2004. Prior to 2004, it was known as the Diria National Forest Wildlife Refuge; the park protects some of the last remaining old growth forests on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Panama is known for its exotic wildlife, abundant bird population, and beautiful beaches. Like Costa Rica, Panama has made an effort to preserve its natural resources and protect species by setting aside nearly 30% of its land for conservation. About 25% of this land is designated as national parks (around 5 million acres). There are 14 national parks in Panama, as well as approximately 16 wildlife refuges and reserves.

Panama has more than 220 mammal species including large cats, such as the jaguar, puma, and ocelot, and 354 reptiles and amphibians, including dozens of species unique to Panama. Mammals endemic to Panama include the Coiba Island howler monkey, the Pygmy three-toed sloth, and Panama slender opossum. The Panamanian golden frog, the Limosa stubfoot toad, and polkadot poison frog are among the reptiles exclusive to Panama. Birds found only in Panama include the Azuero parkakeet, the Glow-throated hummingbird, and the Brown-backed dove.

Coiba National Park Panama

There are over 900 recorded bird species in Panama of which many are migrants and Panama is known as one of the premier birding spots in the world. There are wonderful birding sites in the Chiriqui Highlands, Soberanía National Park, Cana Valley, and Cerro Azul Mountains. There are 10,000 species of plants found in Panama including 1,200 varieties of orchids, 1,500 types of trees, and 675 different ferns. Panama’s richness of plant species draws botanists from around the world to do research there. The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has a bureau in Panama.

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  • Darien National Park, Panama
  • Coiba National Park, Panama
  • Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves / La Amistad National Park, Costa Rica and Panama
  • Archaeological Site of Panamá Viejo and Historic District of Panamá
  • Cocos Island National Park, Costa Rica
  • Area de Conservación Guanacaste, Costa Rica

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Costa Rica Panama Map

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  • Full small ship transit of the Panama Canal with insights from a local canal guide
  • Naturalist-led excursions ashore in Costa Rica for enriching experiences of jungle, wildlife, flora and fauna
  • On-tour film vignettes custom-made for Tauck by BBC Earth natural history experts
  • Use of field equipment gadgets which may include GoPro cameras and camera traps
  • Two-night hotel stay in San José, Costa Rica, and a one-night stay in Panama City with in-depth guided sightseeing
  • Visit the Gatún Locks in Colón and the Panama Canal Expansion Observation Center
  • Walking tour of Panama City’s historic district, Casco Viejo, a gem of Spanish colonial architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Choice of an aerial tram ride or a boat cruise along waterways leading to hidden islands at the Gamboa Rainforest Resort in Panama City
  • Inside viewing of Costa Rica’s National Theatre whose interiors glisten with Baroque gold and Carrara marble
  • A visit to the Gold Museum in San José with a collection of over 1600 artifacts of Pre-Columbian gold dating back to 500 AD
  • Visit to a rainforest eco-park in Costa Rica known for its waterfalls where toucans, red-eyed leaf frogs and other resident species may be seen
  • Boating adventure in search of dolphins
  • Zip lining through the treetops of the Costa Rican rainforest
  • Learning about chocolate production on a visit to a Costa Rican cacao farm
  • Visit to a coffee plantation in Costa Rica to learn how coffee beans are harvested
  • Exploring the beautiful white sand beaches of Costa Rica with opportunities for swimming, snorkeling and sunning

Panama Canal

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