STE’s Holiday Editor, Tony Taylor, reports on his experiences on a Saga tour of Central America, commencing with Panama, the first country on the itinerary.
Central America was unknown to me and my wife, other than a visit to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Hence the Saga Holidays tour Contrasts of Central America appealed to us, as it covered four countries, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and, as an optional three day extension, Columbia.
We flew from Heathrow with Avianca (a Columbian airline), having been picked up from home in a shared taxi supplied by Saga. A 10½ hour flight took us to Bogotá followed by a 1½ hour connecting flight to Panama City.
Our three night stay in Panama was at the Tryp Hotel. The hotel was clean and modern with lovely spacious rooms, but it is surrounded by high rise buildings with little of interest nearby.
The next morning we left at 8 am for the Visitor Centre at Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal. At the top of the Centre there is a good viewing area enabling visitors to watch the large boats making their way through these impressive locks. Four trains, two at the front and two at the rear, are used for steadying and guiding the boats by means of hawsers.
Visitors also have excellent views of the surrounding countryside up to the Miraflores Lake and the Centennial Bridge. The Centre has much information about the history and working of the canal, including a 10 minute film in English and Spanish.
We then visited the Biomuseo situated on the Amador causeway, which links three islands. From here there are views over the Casco Viejo (Old Quarter) to the new Panama City in one direction, and to the beautiful natural countryside in the other. The striking Biomuseo building, designed by Frank Gehry, is brightly coloured with a strange shaped roof. The exhibits explain the formation of the isthmus of Panama and the resultant effects on fauna, flora and diversity, and also covers the arrival of the Spanish and changes up to modern times.
The final part of the day was spent visiting the Casco Viejo, the UNESCO listed historical quarter. The small area of just a few roads is full of examples of colonial architecture, many of which are being restored.
The following day we left Panama City and went by coach to Gatun, a quiet village on Gatun Lake. This is the highest point of the canal and the large man-made lake is well supplied with water from several rivers.
From there we took the ferry through the Lake and the Colebra Cut to the Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks. Then finally to the Pacific Ocean at Panama City. The ferry is a relatively small boat, hence we went through the original canal locks which are quite massive, but the new set of locks (for the expanded canal which opened in 2016) are even larger. The ferry cruise cost $190 per person including lunch. We enjoyed the scenery and the experience of travelling through the canal locks was quite awesome.
Unfortunately we had no further time to explore Panama as the next day we left the hotel at 11 am to fly to Costa Rica.
POSTED 27th JUNE 2019 by TONY TAYLOR