Panama is synonymous with the Panama Canal. While Panama connects Central America to South America, the Panama Canal, which opened in 1914, connects the Caribbean Sea with the Pacific Ocean, reducing shipping time with this channel that connects 160 countries and 1,700 ports around the world. Hailed as an engineering marvel, the artificial waterway with its elaborate lock system is one of the great achievements of the 20th Century.
Arriving on an MSC Caribbean and Southern Caribbean cruise into Colón, Panama’s gateway city, you’ll encounter the irresistible juxtaposition of ancient and modern, artificial and the natural, as enormous computerized container ships transiting the canal slice through primeval rainforests teeming with fluorescent frogs and elusive wild cats.
Book an MSC excursion to hop on a ferry that will take you the length of the Panama Canal, through lakes and locks and past the Centennial and Americas bridges. Finally, you will arrive at Pacific port at the entrance of the Panama Canal, for a 90-minute bus ride back to your ship.
Not far from the ceaseless activity on the canal lies untamed nature. Take a guided eco-cruise on Gatún Lake, surrounded by rainforest. Gatún, created in 1913 to fill the fertile valley of the Chagres River, is the world's largest artificial lake, and an integral part of the dam and canal. Catch glimpses of exotic birds, monkeys, sloths, iguanas, crocodiles and more. Following your lake cruise, go on a rainforest walk and follow the eco-trail that surrounds the lake.
Head off the beaten path on an MSC excursion to explore the world of the Emberá people, located only half an hour by dugout up the Chagres River. Emberá villagers, who live much as they did when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s, will welcome you in traditional dress, with dances, music and their artifacts: baskets, jewelry and the cocobolo, a small sculpture made from a particular wood.
A Colón cruise also lets you discover bustling Panama City, the country’s capital, with its pleasant blend of modern and colonial architecture. Enjoy a scenic visit to Panama City’s cobblestoned historic center, Casco Viejo, or the Colonial City, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Founded in 1673, the Casco Viejo, or Casco Antiguo as it is also called, was built following the near-total destruction of the original Panama City two years earlier, when it was attacked by an Englishman, Captain Henry Morgan. The Casco Antiguo brims with historical buildings, including a cathedral and national theater, a French monument to the 22,000 workers who died building the Panama Canal, and the fabulous Las Bóvedas walkway. The tour also includes a quick visit to Agua Claras Locks (Expansion Center) to see how the Panama Canal operates.