The Panama Canal via Eco-Tour

Gonzalo Azumendi / Getty Images

I arrived in Panama City from Quito, Ecuador a little over a week ago with my boyfriend. Neither of us has ever been to Panama before. One of the things we wanted to do, of course, saw the Panama Canal up close on a tour — quite the feat of engineering, especially considering that it was completed 100 years ago (Next year, 2014, will mark the 100-Year Anniversary).

When I booked our Panama Canal cruise, I ended up booking something a little different — a very small boat eco-tour, instead of a larger cruise ship tour. I booked with Panama Tours, and we ended up with Captain Carl, an American from Missouri who has been in Panama for nearly 12 years now. We were with 7 other people, from Spain, France, India, and Canada.

The Small Boat Panama Eco Tour was perfect, because it not only took us down the Panama Canal where Carl pointed out the history of the canal, boats that have been there since post-WWII, the current dredging and expansion going on, etc. — but he also took us on small tributaries, rivers, and lakes that spin off the canal to see the wildlife and jungle that grows on all sides and right up to the edge of the canal.

Right off the bat, the tour was exciting. As soon as we went under the bridge from the loading dock and entered the canal proper, a crocodile slid off the bank toward our boat from the right-hand side, while a police boat flashed its lights and started toward us from the left. Surrounded on all sides! Fortunately, the croc disappeared, and the police were only checking in with Carl.

As we made our way through the tributaries, we saw capuchin and howler monkeys, more crocodiles, iguanas, frogs, and many bird species. We drifted through mangrove forests while Carl explained the various native trees and wildlife species. When we stopped by trees that were filled with monkeys, the creatures came right up to the boat. We fed them peanuts and one cheeky bugger even stole a banana from a passenger!

Captain Carl then steered the boat to his Jungle Lodge getaway — a floating home with six guest rooms and an attached houseboat, where we ate lunch and enjoyed a top-tier deck with hammocks in the afternoon breeze.

After lunch, Carl led us on a kayak excursion through the tributaries, to a small waterfall. Carl was quite the character, full of jokes and stories, translating from English to Spanish and back again.

All in all, it was an informative, interesting, and highly enjoyable day. I liked being on a small boat with just a handful of other people and considering the fact that the Panama Canal cuts right through the jungle, I really enjoyed being able to see, experience and even interact with the wildlife in the jungle.

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