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Wild and Welcoming Panama

Afterward, Jolly led me to the Rainforest Aerial Tramway, an open-air tram ride that carries passengers under a sweeping canopy of trees to an 80-foot-high observation tower overlooking Soberania National Park. During the ride, we enjoyed the tranquility of the jungle as we rose above the dense green overgrowth and spotted a few white-faced capuchin monkeys.

The wooden walkway up to the summit of the observation tower features several seating areas along the ramp. From the top, travelers can witness a spectacular panoramic view of Soberania National Park at canopy level, with part of the Panama Canal visible in the distance.

Though we did not stay long after that, we stopped at the Gamboa Wildlife Center adjacent to the aerial tram; the center rescues and rehabilitates native animals such as ocelots, sloths, jaguars, anteaters and more. Groups can often organize an educational program with one of the resident naturalists to see some of these beautiful creatures up close.

Panama Canal

After our eventful morning, Jolly and I rejoined the group at the resort and made our way to the Panama Canal for a partial transit tour.

When it was first completed in 1914, the 48-mile-long canal, which uses a carefully regulated system of locks to lift ships 85 feet above sea level, was considered one of the greatest engineering achievements in human history. It also provided an invaluable trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, trimming a journey of nearly 9,000 miles around South America. Now, more than 100 years later, the canal continues to play an integral role in global commerce.

One of the best ways to experience this historic marvel is by starting at a midway point in the canal and traveling through the locks to the ocean. We took the southbound partial transit tour with Panama Marine Adventures, which begins at the famous Culebra Cut, where the Chagres River flows into the canal. Onboard we enjoyed lunch on one of the enclosed lower decks, and then spent most of our time on the open-air top deck watching our small cruise vessel trail behind towering cargo ships.

During the five- to six-hour journey, we traveled under Centennial Bridge, dropped nearly 30 feet in water level to enter the Pedro Miguel Locks and passed by the Miraflores Visitors Center, a state-of-the-art museum dedicated to the history of the canal. For a dramatic conclusion to the tour, our ship was lowered nearly 60 feet before crossing the Miraflores Locks into the Pacific Ocean, where hundreds of yachts and sailboats were waiting to transit the canal. Panama City’s striking skyline soon came into view, and we disembarked at Flamenco Marina.