Sitting in the morning haze, National Geographic Quest awoke surrounded by the lush rainforest that framed the Gatun Lake, the pumping heart of the Panama Canal. This lake was created when the Chagres River was dammed, so all the hilltops of the mountains became islands. Due to its amazing forest cover, one of them was established as a research station and around 1940 it became part of the Smithsonian Research Institute. Today, one of our activities was to hike the Island of Barro Colorado with local guides from the station. We were able to see monkeys, toucans, crocodiles, and many plants.

For our other excursion we took local pangas and cruised the spectacular waterway of the canal to the dredging division of the canal in the town of Gamboa. Once we arrived, we drove for a short distance to hike across another impressive forest where a 100ft tower was built to enjoy the magic of the canopy ecosystems. Also very memorable was when we spotted monkeys and tropical birds in the canopy.

After lunch we lifted anchor and, with our Panama Canal pilot onboard, we started the second part of our transit through this 100-year-old engineering marvel. In the afternoon we enjoyed a beautiful cruise along Gatun Lake, the famous Culebra Cut, and finally the Pacific Locks. Narration by our Panama Canal experts was a fantastic bonus to our experience.

There are many awesome lock canals in the world, but the Panama Canal is truly unique! Beautiful forests, machinery that works as great as in 1914, little row boats beside massive container ships, iron walls, locomotive, hydraulic power… what a marvel in engineering! It was a great way to start our adventures through Costa Rica and Panama.