What to Expect on a Panama Canal Cruise with Uncruise

Written By: The Planet D

A Panama Canal cruise is on many people’s bucket lists. Sailing through the world-famous canal is a dream come true for a lot of travelers and we are no exception. Going on an Uncruise through the Panama Canal is unlike the other large ships on the route.

We couldn’t wait to spend time traveling through one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

We had been to Panama before and watched the ships go through the Panama Canal, but now, we were the ones on board being watched by spectators.

UnCruise Panama to Costa Rica

Panam Canal Cruise seeing Sea Turtles

Taking an UnCruise is not your normal everyday cruise. It is a small ship expedition to private islands, untouched beaches, and off the beaten path destinations.

We had 10 days of adventure in search of wildlife, immersing in the culture, and enjoying extraordinary scenery.

With only 40 passengers on our itinerary, we made new friends and shared travel stories with like-minded people who enjoy seeking something different when booking a vacation.

We have taken two UnCruises, one to Alaska and now this cruise to Costa Rica. The common factor between both is the passengers.

Our fellow passengers are what make the trips so much fun, and we have left both our UnCruise expeditions with fond memories of the people we met and will never forget.

All-Inclusive Cruise

The Sea Legacy Uncruise Ship

An UnCruise might have a higher price-point than an average cruise, but when you factor in that everything (including excursions and alcohol) is included, it ends up being a great deal.

The moment we board the ship, we don’t have to worry about a thing. All we have to do is choose which activity we want to do each day when expedition leader Meagan asks us at dinner.

Kayaking on our Panama Canal Cruise

Every day we have a choice to go out exploring on skiff boats (zodiacs), kayaking, or hiking.

There’s even paddle boarding, snorkeling, presentations, and stretch classes on the menu each day as well.

All About The UnCruise Panama to Costa Rica Experience

Panama to Costa Rica Uncruise Itinerary map

The Panama to Costa Rica UnCruise takes us from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean and is broken down into two parts.

  1. Panama – begins at the Canal and then we travel to the Pacific Coast where we spend time in and on the water. As our guides said, “Panama is all about being on and in the water and enjoying beach life.”
  2. Costa Rica – is more land focused with visits to private gardens and houses and where we hike in search of wildlife.

Panama City

Panama City is the the start of the Panama Costa Rica Cruise

Our journey begins in Panama City, a modern metropolis that will completely surprise and delight.

Panama City is a fun place to explore for a day or two and UnCruise offers pre-cruise tours if you want to make the most of your trip.

We joined the pre-trip excursion at it was a great way to see the highlights of the city with a local guide.

If you decide to take a Panama cruise, be sure to spend some time in Panama City, it is a fascinating blend of old and new!

We met up with the rest of the passengers at the Bristol Hotel where we board our bus to begin our adventure.

Aguas Clara – The Panama Canal

Aguas Clara in Panama Canal

Before getting on the ship, we pop in at Aguas Clara.

Aguas Clara is an expansion of the Panama Canal to allow larger ships to sail through. It sits on Gatun Lake which is an excellent spot for wildlife watching in Panama.

As a matter of fact, there is a walking trail in Aguas Clara that goes through the rainforest so visitors can search for sloths, toucans, and monkeys.

It is exciting to watch the ships go through knowing that we’ll be on the Canal in another 24 hours.

We spend the night on the ship and the following morning we take an excursion to Fort San Lorenzo while we wait for our time slot on the canal.

Fort San Lorenzo in Panama

The UNESCO World Heritage Site was built by the Spaniards in the 1500s as a military fort.

It’s a beautiful setting overlooking the Chagres River and the Pacific Ocean.

It is an interesting stop, but what I find even more interesting is where our ship was parked. We take our zodiacs from our ship, The Safari Voyager through what looks like a “boat graveyard.”

Many abandoned ships are scattered throughout the bay forever waiting their turn to go through the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal ship Graveyard

We are told that the shipping companies ran out of money or broke down before going through the locks, so they are stuck sitting in the sea awaiting a slow death.

Today, ships must have insurance to be able to cover the salvage costs.

Panama Canal

Panama Canal Gatun Locks

The time has finally come and by 2 pm, we are heading to the Panama Canal.

It is fascinating to see how much work goes into entering the locks. A tug boat guides us in, but not before at least a dozen men hop off of it onto our ship.

They are there to throw and secure the lines that attached to little trains (known as mules) that drive on either side of the canal guiding the ship from the shore.

View of the Panama Canal from ship

When going through the Panama Canal, the captain’s duties are taken over by the Panama Canal Authority pilot who communicates with the mules and men guiding the lines.

It takes hours to go through the Canal, Lake Gatun and then the final locks. We are sailing on the Pacific Ocean 8 hours later and are fast asleep in our beds before we even leave the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal at night

But we are grateful that we had an afternoon passage and could see all of the inner workings of the canal before turning in for the night.

Panama Pacific Coast

Morning Stretch Class on Uncruise Panama to Costa Rica

We awoke bright and early for morning stretch class on deck with our expedition leader Megan. What a great way to start the day!

Dave and I enjoy cappuccinos in the lounge at early bird breakfast and then join everyone in the dining room for a hearty buffet.

Dining is communal and you can choose to sit with a group or on your own. We love how quickly everyone bonds on an UnCruise and soon we were all enjoying our meals like one big happy family.

Pearl islands On Panama Canal Cruise

It is then out on the skiffs to explore the coast and the Pearl Islands. This is a highlight of our trip.

It feels like a mini Galapagos excursion as we spy on Blue Footed Boobies, Cormorants, frigate birds and enormous flocks of pelicans.

Cormorants in Panama Canal Cruise
Frigate Bird

The rocky coast is perfect for bird watching and we get our fill as our skilled skiff pilot Minor navigates through rocky outcrops while our guide Carlos informs us of the wildlife.

Blue footed Boobie on Panama Canal Uncruise
Blue Footed Booby

We take many skiff excursions along the Panama coast in search of wildlife, but something we didn’t anticipate was all the beach time.

Beaches and Watersports

We board skiffs and are dropped off at secluded beaches nearly every day where we are free to snorkel, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or simply enjoy the refreshments brought along by the staff.

Beach time on Panama to costa Rica Uncruise

Beer, water, and juice await us onshore.

Dave and I take advantage of kayaking and paddle boarding before popping a cold one as we lounged in the chairs.

Snorkeling in Panama

Snorkeling in Panama

It takes a few days before we have our first guided snorkeling tour. If you aren’t comfortable in the water, skiffs carry floating noodles and PFD’s (personal floatation devices) to help you out in the water.

Nobody judges anyone’s skills as we are all there to have a good time. And a good time we have indeed!

Our favorite snorkeling spot is at the picturesque island of Granito de Oro in Coiba National Park.

Granito de Oro in Coiba National Park Panama
Granito de Oro

This little piece of land in the middle of the sea is straight out of Gilligan’s Island. We set up here for the day with the usual toys of kayaks, paddleboards, and refreshments on hand.

We then joined a guide to take us around the island exploring the reef.

Panama Canal Cruise Turtle feeding

It is so exciting to spot a sea turtle feeding. There are a couple of sea turtles hanging out offshore, but it is the turtle shoving food into his mouth with his fins that captured our attention.

As we swim on, we see a white-tipped reef shark came out just long enough to show off its swimming skills as it loops around a reef.

White tipped reef shark on Panama Canal Cruise

The next thing we know, an ell pokes its head out to say hello as schools of colorful fish look like a rainbow before our eyes.

I’m glad we got in the water on this island because it was the best snorkeling of the trip!

Cultural Experiences

Cultural Experiences Panama Canal Cruise

One of the best things about travel is experiencing other cultures.

A highlight of this trip is going deep into the Darien Jungle to visit the Embera Tribe of Panama.

This joyful tribe welcomes us with smiles and dancing. They pick us up from our ship in traditional dugout canoes taking us through a river filled with birdlife to the village.

Darien Fores in Dugout Canoes on Panam Canal Cruise

We learn of their customs, dance with the villagers and buy some of their prized handmade crafts.

Dave and I just bought a house and can’t wait to hang the masks on our wall.

Embera Tribe of Panama in Darien Forest

At times I worry about this type of cultural tourism, but it was clear that the Embera people welcome our arrival and earn a living off of our presence.

Handicrafts from Embera tribe on Panama Canal Cruise
Our new mask to go on our wall

Something I loved was how each handcraft was labeled with a price and there was no negotiation. They know their value and charge accordingly.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica Wildlife on our Panama Canal Cruise

As we sail the open waters to Costa Rica, bottlenose dolphins welcome us to their home.

It is the first time we have the entire ship out on deck as we all “ooh and ah” over the railings watching the dolphins play in our wake.

We are ready for serious wildlife spotting, and if the dolphins are any sign of what is to come, we are going to get it!

Wildlife Spotting Panama to Costa Rica Cruise

Costa Rica is known for its birds and all Dave and I really wanted to see was a toucan.

Lucky for us our first river excursion in Costa Rica presents a couple of toucans in plain sight.

Toucans in Costa Rica

We could have spent a lot longer on the skiffs searching for wildlife. It seems that we are just getting started and have to go back.

We are dropped off at a couple of different private gardens on the Costa Rica coast and get to spend a couple of hours strolling the grounds.

But Dave and I instead, find a hammock and enjoy out with a fresh cold one.

Gardens in costa Rica on our Uncruise

What we really want to do is search for sloths, macaws, and monkeys, but it is too hot even for them at this time of day, so we do as the wildlife does, chill out in the shade.


Wildlife on Costa Rica Uncruise

Our final day truly gives us the best wildlife experience of the trip. We awake early to join the bird watching tour at the Curu National Wildlife Refuge.

Dave and I had yet to see a sloth or monkey and were feeling quite jealous of the day hikers that spotted a sloth just 10 minutes into their hike. If only the would have called us on the radio to join them.

Howler Monkey in Costa Rica

While we never did see our sloth, we did get our fill of howler and spider monkeys, iguanas and white-nosed coatimundis.

We could have spent the entire day at the refuge spending quiet moments on the trail searching for more wildlife, but alas, we only had the morning and are back on board to the next location.

All good things must come to an end.

White Faced Capuchin in Costa Rica

As we sip wine in the lounge reminiscing about the cruise with our fellow passengers felt privileged to be on board with such great people.

Uncruise from Panama to Costa Rica

It was a memorable trip filled with memorable people.

UnCruisers are adventure seekers who love to have a good time. We all laughed and bonded together creating memories that will last a lifetime.

We can’t wait for our next adventure.

panama cruise | uncruise

Check out our video of UnCruise from Panama to Costa Rica to see what it’s like!

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About The Planet D

Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil are the owners and founders of The Planet D. After traveling to 115 countries, on all 7 continents over the past 13 years they have become one of the foremost experts in travel. Being recognized as top travel bloggers and influencers by the likes of Forbes Magazine, the Society of American Travel Writers and USA Today has allowed them to become leaders in their field.

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1 thought on “What to Expect on a Panama Canal Cruise with Uncruise”

  1. This is a great piece of information of Panama canal Cruise. I have never been in this part of the world, but it looks stunning, especially interested to visit Costa Rica.