Panama Canal Transit


I’ve just returned from a full transit of the Panama Canal on board an extremely comfortable cruise ship.

It’s great to have one’s hotel move from port to port. We left from San Diego, a very attractive city with near perfect temperatures.

At our first port, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I enjoyed a delightful experience, an encounter with a Sea Lion. I had previously gone swimming with the dolphins, but hadn’t really thought of a Sea Lion as a critter I could get close to! It is amazing how smart a sea lion is! The Lion did many of the tricks that a dolphin does. I was apprehensive at first, but I joined six other people in a pool especially constructed for this purpose. The female sea lion we encountered was about 6 feet tall and 220 pounds. They are sleek and firm to the touch. Samantha the sea lion gave us a hug, stood on her hands – well . . . fins, and gave us a smooch on the cheek. At the request of the trainer, I swam to the middle of the pool and the Sea Lion jumped over me. Guess that means I’m trainable, too!

The region has a lot to offer including zip lining and whale watching.

A longer tour goes to colonial San Sebastian. This quaint and lovely mountain village dates from the 1700s. You can wander along cobblestone plazas, visit the bandstand and an 18th century church dedicated to San Sebastian, and visit with some of the town’s 600 residents.

We also stopped at the port of Huatulco (wa tul kko), Mexico. It means “place of the beautiful wood.” Nine gorgeous bays with 36 white sand beaches make up the Huatulco area along a 22-mile of pristine coastline. I really like this area because it is less developed than the large cities like Mazatlan and Acupulco, and regulations keep structures to four stories or less, unlike the high rises seen elsewhere.

This is an area planned and developed in the 1980s by Mexico’s national tourism officials, and it seems to be a success. Part of the Oaxaca coast, 80 per cent of Huatulco’s Sierra Madre mountain lowlands —nearly 42,000 acres — have been set aside as a nature preserve.

The actual port is Santa Cruz, and the nearby town built around a charming square is La Crucecita. Here you will find a craft store featuring the work of local artisans. After pirates left, La Cruscecita was a quaint fishing village until the government development.

If you come to Huatulco, you will have a number of very fine resorts to choose from. I hope to go back for a longer visit!

Our Guatemalan port was Puerto Quetzal. The favorite destination from this port is the colonial capital of Antigua, just over 50 miles from the port. Here you can see the Government Palace, Cathedral and convent, as well as a jade museum and factory. Guatemala is a good place to purchase jade, and we saw many lovely jade pieces of varying shades of green as well as black.

In the Antigua area you can also zip-line through the forest and appreciate views of Guatemala’s three main volcanoes, or visit a coffee estate.

From the port, you can also take a 2 ½ hour drive to the Mayan site of Iximche (e Shim Chay).

A Panama Canal Cruise is the gateway to many fascinating places in addition to the Canal itself. More on this journey next time on Travel Explorations.


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