Bucketlist Travels logo

Travel bucket list idea:

Cruise the Panama Canal (& Costa Rica)

  • Panama

  • Bucket List Experience

Last updated: 19 March, 2024

Sailing through the Panama Canal is a lifetime dream for many and never disappoints; it’s an incredible feat of engineering and an experience for which you’ll want to be on deck as much as possible.

A transit of the canal could be part of any number of itineraries and on any size of ship. But one way to get deeper into the culture and contrasts of Panama is to join a cruise that includes the canal combined with a voyage along either the country’s Pacific or Caribbean coasts, as well as neighbouring Costa Rica.

This route combines the excitement of the canal with the rainforests and islands of the Pacific coast of both countries, with further contrast in Panama’s atmospheric Casco Viejo, the old heart of what’s now an ultra-modern city.

On the Pacific coast, you’ll snorkel off pristine islands among tropical fish and sea turtles, trek through dense rainforest, monkeys in the trees and scarlet macaws flying overhead, and on the most adventurous voyages, venture into Panama’s Darien rainforest to visit the Embera tribe.

On the Caribbean side of the canal, the San Blas islands, or Guna Yala, offer incredible snorkelling and diving off tiny, uninhabited sand spits – a true desert island setting.


Price from: £Varies
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 13+
When: All year around
Duration: 7 days

Getting there & doing it

Any number of cruises include the Panama Canal. It may feature as a sector on a world voyage or an expedition around Central America. For the true experience, make sure you cruise offers either a (daytime) full or partial transit not just a day trip overland to see the locks.

Costa Rica’s jungly coast is best explored on a smaller, more informal ship, for the full experience of swimming off the back of the ship and going ashore in small groups for hikes and snorkelling. This is a popular expedition route, so there’s plenty of choice.

Big ships sail this route, too, but stop at bigger ports like Puntarenas and Puerto Limon, from where you’ll join organised excursions.

When to do it

January to April is the best period in which to travel; outside this time the weather is hotter, wetter and sometimes punishingly humid.

Who to go with: tour operators


Our writer’s recommended tour operators to book with

Celebrity Cruises [Panama Canal]

  • Miami, Florida, Panama

A global cruise operator with 14 cruise boats that offers a bigger ship experience. Celebrity’s smart, modern vessels offer longer cruises, covering more distance, from Fort Lauderdale, through the canal and along the Pacific coast to San Diego.

UnCruise Adventures [Panama Canal]

  • Panama

Small ship expedition specialist, offering voyages between San Jose, Costa Rica and Panama City, travelling right off the beaten track with snorkel gear and kayaks carried on board.

Windstar Cruises [Panama Canal]

  • Panama

Small ship specialist, with 148 to 342 guests per voyage, offering assorted itineraries in Panama and Costa Rica on the four-masted sailing ship, Wind Star. Look out for cruise-tour packages that combine overland travel into Costa Rica’s cloud forest with an expedition-style cruise.

Star Clippers [Panama Canal]

  • Multiple countries

Star Clippers’ graceful, square-rigged sailing ship ‘Start Flyer’, with just 166 guests, offers intimate, luxury cruises through the Panama Canal and on to select destinations in the Caribbean.