Panama Canal, Native Communities and Cultures with Galápagos Islands

Panama Canal, Native Communities and Cultures with Galápagos Islands

Panama Canal, Native Communities and Cultures with Galápagos Islands

Panama Canal, Native Communities and Cultures with Galápagos Islands

Travel information 16 days MS Fram
29 September 2022
Price from
8036 €
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included

Pass through the man-made Panama Canal from Colón to the Pacific and sail on to meet indigenous Embera in Darien National Park. You’ll also visit a range of coastal communities in Columbia, Ecuador and Peru before flying to the capital of Quito. Top off your expedition by exploring the scientifically significant Galápagos Islands, world-famous for one-of-a-kind wildlife. 

Canal Cruising and Darien National Park 

Come aboard in Colón as your ship steers into the Panama Canal and experience this marvel of human ingenuity first hand. After the transit, we head to Darien National Park where you'll go up river through the jungle to an Embera community and learn about their unique way of life. Next up is the Afro Colombian community of Bahía Solano, and then Montecristi next to Manta where Panama hats originate.  

The wonders of wildlife 

Isla de la Plata has wildlife said to rival that of the Galápagos Islands, and Buenaventura Nature Reserve in Puerto Bolivar can be visited on an optional excursion for chances to spot hummingbirds, parakeets and howler monkeys. Weather off the Pacific can make landing at Salaverry a challenge, but if we manage to, there may be an opportunity to explore the remains of Chan Chan or Mochican temples on optional excursions. You’ll then fly to explore the Ecuadorian capital of Quito before going on to explore the remote and wildly beautiful Galápagos Islands

Panama Canal, Native Communities and Cultures with Galápagos Islands Panama Canal, Native Communities and Cultures with Galápagos Islands
  • Day 1
    Colón, Panama

    Gateway to the Panama Canal

    29 September 2022
    Estimated time of departure is 11:00 PM

    The city of Colón lies by the entrance to the Panama Canal on the Atlantic coast. There are high-quality hotels, a casino, hot springs, a thriving handicraft scene and great restaurants with local delicacies. If you want to really explore the city or join a Pre-Programme to a beautiful jungle lodge next to the Chagres River, you should clear your calendar and arrange to arrive a couple of days earlier. 

    Once on board the ship, you’ll be busy picking up your complimentary expedition jacket, settling into your cabin, exploring the ship and attending a mandatory safety drill. After dinner and a welcome toast by the Captain, you’ll meet your Expedition Team who run through important health and safety aspects with you. 

    Day 1
    Colón, Panama

    Gateway to the Panama Canal

  • Day 2
    Panama Canal

    Connecting Two Oceans

    30 September 2022

    We depart Colón early in the morning to start the process of entering the Panama Canal. The complex canal network is over a hundred years in the making, stretching 80 km through natural and man-made waterways. We’ll wait with anticipation for our allocated slot to enter the first of a series of huge locks. In a feat of modern engineering, these ingenious locks effectively lift the ship more than 26 metres above sea level. If weather allows, the Expedition Team will be out on deck to point out sites of interest around the canal and to talk about the history of this ambitious project. 

    Roughly half way through the 12-hour transit of the canal, the ship will enter the Gatun Lake section. Created by damning the nearby Chagres River, it is one of the largest artificial lakes in the world. By contrast, the surrounding rainforest is virtually untouched by any development and various flora and fauna native to Central America flourish here undisturbed. Along the shores, you might be lucky enough to spot crocodiles and alligators. Scan the trees for glimpses of monkeys and maybe sloths too. 

    After a few more locks and lakes, the ship will pass under the Bridge of the Americas and emerge into the Pacific. Passing from one great ocean to another in a day, you’ve just experienced the culmination of centuries of planning, hard work and resourcefulness. It’s sure to be a moment you won’t soon forget. 

    Day 2
    Panama Canal

    Connecting Two Oceans

  • Day 3
    La Chunga, Panama

    Meet the Embera

    1 October 2022

    You’ll be on quite the adventure today as we head to an authentic Embera settlement in the middle of the jungle in Darien National Park. The indigenous Embera have lived in this area for centuries, long before the first Spanish explorer set foot in the New World. The tribe here doesn’t receive visitors regularly and we have worked closely with them to give you this rare opportunity. We’ll brief you beforehand on how to make sure our visit to this isolated community is a respectful one and always in line with their customs on courtesy. 

    In order to get there, we will anchor up in La Chunga bay and head up the Sambu River through the jungle using our small expedition boats. As we will be travelling inland, it will usually be a lot hotter and you’ll want to have good protection from the sun and the mosquitos. The journey up river will take approximately one hour but will be well worth it. Along the way, keep your eyes open and your camera ready to capture birds like herons, egrets, osprey and Harpy Eagles. 

    When we arrive at the Embera settlement, you’ll be able to greet and meet the people here and explore the village. You can learn about their traditional clothing and medicine, much of it sourced from the surrounding jungle. There might also be an opportunity to join a local guide on a short walk through the jungle to learn about various medicinal plants and insects of interest. Back in the village, the residents are likely to be having fun themselves as they offer to give you a temporary tribal tattoo and even let you try on their traditional dress. 

    Day 3
    La Chunga, Panama

    Meet the Embera

  • Day 4
    Bahía Solano, Colombia

    Afro Colombian vibes

    2 October 2022

    The little town of Bahía Solano is the largest settlement on Colombia’s Chocó coast, near the mouth of Rio Jella and surrounded by thick jungle. It is also named Ciudad Mutis after the 18th century Spanish botanist, perhaps a reference to the natural biodiversity that exists in the area’s jungles, mangroves, mountains, marshes, rivers, and bays. 

    The community here opens their town to us and warmly invite you on a hosted walk through their settlement. Along the way, you’ll meet and talk to the mainly Afro Colombian residents who live alongside indigenous Embera and other Colombians from the interior. Passing by the main church and kindergarten, we’ll come to the local secondary school where students will greet you with a traditional welcome song and show you around their classrooms. Over at the small fishing port, you’ll learn about the town’s fishing co-operative, which is the main source of income for the community. Your tour ends at the seafront where you’ll be treated to a performance of unique Afro Pacific Colombian music and dance. 

    There is an optional excursion to the Botanic Gardens located on the long sandy beach of Playa Mecana. The gardens are actually a 170-acre jungle reserve with fascinating nature trails and home to a seed bank plus different reforestation projects. Another potential optional excursion might take you to the fishing village at Playa Huina where you’ll have the opportunity to walk through the jungle to waterfalls with crystal clear swimming holes or to visit a local indigenous community. 

    Day 4
    Bahía Solano, Colombia

    Afro Colombian vibes

  • Day 5
    At Sea

    Crossing the Equator

    3 October 2022

    Enjoy your day at sea by taking a taking a relaxing walk on deck. Enjoy the seascapes and look for marine wildlife like whales and dolphins. If you want to get closer to water, go for a dip in one of the two hot tubs, and still be able to admire the scenery.   

    This is also a great opportunity to head to the Science Center for lectures with the Expedition Team and to learn more about what you will experience in the following days, and maybe touch into topics like medicinal plants, Embera tribal history and wildlife. Pick your preferred Citizen Science programme to get involved in too, knowing that you will be helping research currently happening around the world. When darkness falls and it’s a starry night, you might also join the Expedition Team out on deck to do some stargazing. 

    Or maybe find a comfortable seat in the Explorer Lounge & Bar to raise a glass or two with new-found friends. 

    Day 5
    At Sea

    Crossing the Equator

  • Day 6
    Manta, Ecuador

    Made in Montecristi

    4 October 2022

    We cross the Equator early in the morning. You can join a traditional ceremony on board where we seek King Neptune’s blessing. If we are lucky, he may even make an appearance before we reach our first call in Ecuador.  

    Our main tour of the day will be to the handicraft town of Montecristi located 8km inland from the tuna-fishing port city of Manta. It was established in the 16th century by manteños fleeing the frequent pirate raids on the coast. Montecristi, Ecuador is the actual birthplace of traditional Panama hats, despite the name. The misnomer originates from when President Roosevelt wore one of these hats on a visit to the Panama Canal in 1904, sparking their popularity worldwide. You’ll see many shops throughout the town selling the genuine article in all sizes and shades, expertly handwoven from the leaves of the jipijapa tree by local artisans. 

    Aside from hat-hunting, you can spend time browsing the stalls at the pretty plaza, admiring the architecture of the church, or looking at the varied street art. One prominent mural at the plaza depicts General Eloy Alfaro, two-time Ecuadorian President and Montecristi native. You might also have time to head to the top of the main hill where there is a museum and grandiose mausoleum in honour of Alfaro who was also known as the Viejo Luchador or "Old Warrior". 

    Day 6
    Manta, Ecuador

    Made in Montecristi

  • Day 7
    Isla del la Plata

    Colourful birds and fish on the Silver Island

    5 October 2022

    Isla de la Plata is a part of Parque National Machalilla, Ecuador’s only coastal national park. The island sits quite far off the coast and is prone to large waves that can make landings a challenge. Its name as the ‘Island of Silver’ is thought to come from the belief that English seaman Francis Drake buried a bunch of silver treasure here. Or it’s possibly because all the bird guano reflected in the sunshine gave the island a shiny, silvery look when seen from the mainland. No treasure has ever been found on the island though which only measures less than 6 square kilometres. 

    Still, whatever the island lacks in size or silver, it more than makes up for in a range of wildlife that rivals that of the Galápagos Islands. If we are able to go ashore here successfully, keen bird watchers among you will enjoy walking on the island with binoculars at the ready to spot some of the 32 species of bird found here, like famous blue-footed boobies, nesting waved albatrosses, pelicans, gannets, and frigate birds. The waters around the island are equally diverse and you might be lucky enough to see whales, manta rays, green turtles, and dolphins. 

    Day 7
    Isla del la Plata

    Colourful birds and fish on the Silver Island

  • Day 8
    Puerto Bolivar (Machala), Ecuador

    Growing green gold

    6 October 2022

    Machala’s main claim to fame is Puerto Bolivar, an important Ecuadorian port for the export of coffee, cocoa, shrimp and bountiful bananas which the locals call oro verde – ‘green gold’. As part of a choice of optional excursions, you can visit a local banana plantation and also try and spot hummingbirds, parakeets and howler monkeys in Buenaventura Nature Reserve to the south. Puyango Petrified Forest is nearby with one of the largest collections of fossilised trees in the world, thought to be about 100 million years-old, as old as the Andes Mountains themselves. 

    At Puerto Bolivar, you can feast on fresh seafood at one of the many harbour restaurants and enjoy views of the natural mangrove swamps of Isla Jambeli opposite. Machala itself has all the charm you’d expect from a small coastal city, including friendly locals, cute plazas and unusual monuments dedicated to sort-fish and bananeros. The restaurants are evolving and beginning to dabble in the hip modern cuisine which Ecuador and Peru are increasingly known for. 

    Day 8
    Puerto Bolivar (Machala), Ecuador

    Growing green gold

  • Day 9
    At Sea

    At Your Leisure

    7 October 2022

    Enjoy another day at your leisure aboard the ship by basically doing whatever you please. Join the Expedition Team out on deck to watch for wildlife, or listen in on their lectures in the lecture hall, as they prepare you for what’s still to come.  

    Work out in the gym, or find yourself a quiet spot to read a book. And if the warm weather hasn’t opened up your pores, a session in the sauna is bound to do the trick. You could also slip into your bathing suit and lie back into the bubbles of the outdoor hot tubs. Whatever you decide to do, you’re sure to be stress-free and revitalised for the remaining adventure. 

    Day 9
    At Sea

    At Your Leisure

  • Day 10
    Salaverry, Peru

    Ancient Kingdoms

    8 October 2022

    Buffeted by the wind and waves of the Pacific, Salaverry can be a hard port to access. If all goes to plan though, it will be a good transit point to explore Trujillo, Peru’s third largest city, as well as an array of archaeological sites scattered throughout the surrounding region. 

    Trujillo sits in a fertile valley oasis irrigated by the Moche River. It boasts a colourful baroque 17th century cathedral, 10 colonial churches, and many neoclassical mansions, not to mention one of the longest mosaic murals in the world at the local university. However, it is more than likely that your focus will be elsewhere and on things not so modern. 

    The city of Chan Chan was raised by the Chimu Empire which appeared in the region around 900 AD. The vast ruins of the 20-square kilometre complex include the Tschudi temple-citadel and Huaca Esmeralda. On the other side of Trujillo are the Mochican pyramids of the Sun and the Moon which pre-date Chan Chan by a few hundred years. Huaca del Sol in particular is the largest adobe structure on the continent while Huaca del Luna is more detailed with many of its pastel frescos still visible. 

    Day 10
    Salaverry, Peru

    Ancient Kingdoms

  • Day 11
    Callao/Lima, Peru, Quito, Ecuador 

    On a high

    9 October 2022

    We dock in Callao and travel a short distance to Lima airport for your flight to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. After you arrive and the transfer brings you to your hotel, you’ll have the rest of the day to explore at your leisure, with dinner served at the hotel. 

    Originally settled by the Quitu tribe in the first millennium, Quito was eventually integrated into the Inca Empire before being refounded in 1534 by Spanish conqueror Sebastian de Benalcásar. Take a walk in the city’s historic centre to see splendidly restored period buildings and colonial-era churches lining the narrow, cobbled streets. You’ll understand why Quito’s historic centre is described as the largest, least-altered, and best-preserved historic areas in the Americas. For those reasons, it was among the first places to ever be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. 

    Don’t be surprised if you should feel a little short of breath when exploring the city though. At 2,850 metres above sea level, Quito is the second highest capital in the world after La Paz in Bolivia which is about 650 metres higher. 

    Day 11
    Callao/Lima, Peru, Quito, Ecuador 

    On a high

  • Day 12

    Views from the Middle of the World

    10 October 2022

    Once you have enjoyed your breakfast, we’ll take you to Inti Ñan Museum in the aptly named City in the Middle of the World which claims to be built right on the equator. Here, you’ll see a range of totem poles and observe gravitational effects that can only occur at the equator. You’ll also learn about the traditions of rural life, including the customs and rituals of indigenous Quechua-speaking tribes of the Amazon.  

    We then ascend the Teleférico, one of Quito’s most popular attractions that connects the city centre to Cruz Loma hill on the east side of the Pichincha volcano. The ride lasts only 10 minutes, but you’ll shoot up to an altitude of 4,050 metres for an incredible view of Quito, the surrounding valleys and the snow-covered volcanoes. It can get chilly up there so remember to bring something warm to wear! 

    When we return in Quito, we’ll have lunch in the charming colonial quarter before enjoying a sightseeing tour of the area. Dinner will be served at the hotel and the evening is spent at your leisure. 

    Day 12

    Views from the Middle of the World

  • Day 13
    Quito/Baltra Island/Santa Cruz Island 

    Arriving at Santa Cruz Island

    11 October 2022

    You’ll start your day with breakfast at the hotel before we drive to Quito Airport for the flight to the Galápagos Islands (via Guayaquil).  When we arrive at Baltra’s airport, our local representative will transfer you to Itabaca Channel where a small ferry brings you to the island of Santa Cruz.  

    We’ll travel through a rural agricultural area surrounded by wild landscapes and many different species of flora and fauna. If you are lucky, you might spot a few of the famous finches which inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution. The highlands are one of the best places on the island to observe giant tortoises in their natural habitat. Easy to spot, they lumber around eating grass and leaves and wallow in the small, muddy rain-formed pools. Younger ones tend to be smaller with shinier carapaces while the larger, older ones wear weathered and worn shells like the distinguished armour of a long life – over 100 years in the wild. 

    Once you’ve settled into your hotel in the town of Puerto Ayora, we’ll walk to the nearby Charles Darwin Research Station. The station hosts educational museums on both the history and development of the Galápagos Islands and the range of protections given to this natural heritage. Native giant land tortoises can also be observed here, and the station is the only place in the Galápagos where most of the different species reside at one site.   

    The afternoon is at your leisure to explore the small, picturesque Puerto Ayora and its many local arts and crafts shops. See the colourful murals at the churches around town or take a short walk to Tortuga Bay to look for marine iguanas, crabs, and white tip reef sharks among the mangroves. Dinner will be served at the hotel´s restaurant. 

    Day 13
    Quito/Baltra Island/Santa Cruz Island 

    Arriving at Santa Cruz Island

  • Day 14-15
    Santa Cruz Island 

    Galápagos Island Hopping 

    12 October 2022 - 13 October 2022

    After breakfast, we'll begin to explore the islands that have become synonymous with the theory of evolution and hailed as a natural laboratory for natural selection. The range of wildlife on display in the islands is mind-boggling, full of endemic species and subspecies from the wonderful to the weird and everything in between. Over two days, you’ll visit two islands out of a possible six, going to one island each day by boat. Which ones you’ll see will be on the say-so of the park authorities who regulate and assign visitors a month beforehand. 

    Will it be Bartolomé Island, famous for the dramatic Pinnacle Rock and the rare colony of Galápagos penguins at its base? Or perhaps, it’ll be North Seymour Island, site of large populations of the hilarious blue-footed boobies, swallow-tailed gulls and magnificent frigatebirds? Santa Fe Island is known to have some of the most beautiful coves in the archipelago with beaches covered in lounging sea lions. Or maybe you’ll go to South Plaza Island where a growing colony of land iguanas roam among the prickly pear cactus trees. Perhaps it’ll be southernmost Floreana Island for the flamingo lagoon and, with some luck, signs of the bright green and red marine iguanas usually found here. Or will it be the largest of all the islands, Isabela, home to a variety of mangroves and more wild tortoises than anywhere in the archipelago? 

    It’s clear that whichever two islands you get to set foot on and explore, you’re in for a real treat! You’ll go on walks ashore and learn about the island’s geology, human history, and the exceptionally diverse wildlife all around you. After two days, you’ll understand just why Darwin was so impressed by the islands and why they inspired his world-changing theory.    

    Day 14-15
    Santa Cruz Island 

    Galápagos Island Hopping 

  • Day 16
    Santa Cruz Island/Baltra Island/Guayaquil 

    Return to mainland Ecuador

    14 October 2022

    After breakfast at the hotel, it’ll be time to make our way to Baltra airport to fly to Guayaquil and from there on to your connecting flight home. But, on the way to Baltra airport, we’ll have just enough time to squeeze in one last stop to see 'Los Gemelos' – a pair of sinkholes often mistaken for volcanic craters in the highlands of Santa Cruz Island. Keep an eye out for the striking vermilion flycatcher and the endemic short-ear owl of the Galápagos which are often seen in this area. 

    With that, your expedition is over. You’ll have journeyed from the marvel of human engineering at the Panama Canal and its complex lock system through to the Galápagos Islands, birthplace of Darwin’s radical biological theory of natural selection and a sanctuary for unique wildlife found nowhere else in the world. 

    Day 16
    Santa Cruz Island/Baltra Island/Guayaquil 

    Return to mainland Ecuador



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What's included

Included in your voyage

Land-Programme Galápagos Island after the cruise  

  • Economy flight Lima to Quito and Quito to Baltra  
  • Two nights in Quito, including breakfast and dinner  
  • Three nights at hotel in Santa Cruz Island /Galápagos, including full board  
  • Economy flight Baltra to Guayaquil  
  • All transfers, excursions and meals as described, including English-speaking guide  
  • Galápagos National Park entrance fee  

Expedition Cruise  

  • Expedition cruise in a cabin of your choice 
  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner including beverages (house beer and wine, sodas, and mineral water) in restaurants Aune and Fredheim 
  • À la carte restaurant Lindstrøm included for suite guests 
  • Complimentary tea and coffee 
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi on board. Be aware that we sail in remote areas with limited connection. Streaming is not supported. 
  • Complimentary reusable water bottle to use at water refill stations on board 
  • English-speaking Expedition Team who organise and accompany activities on board and ashore 
  • Range of included activities 

Onboard Activities 

  • Experts on the Expedition Team deliver in-depth lectures on a variety of topics 
  • Use of the ship’s Science Center which has an extensive library and advanced biological and geological microscopes 
  • Citizen Science programme allows guests to assist with live scientific research 
  • Professional onboard photographer gives top tips and tricks for the best landscape and wildlife photos 
  • Use of the ship’s hot tubs, infinity pool, panoramic sauna, outdoor and indoor gyms, and outdoor running track  
  • Informal gatherings with the crew such as daily recaps and preparation for the day to come 

Landing Activities 

  • Escorted landings with small expedition boats 
  • Loan of boots, trekking poles, and all equipment for activities 
  • Complimentary wind and water-resistant expedition jacket 
  • Expedition Photographers help with your camera settings before landings 

Not included in your voyage

  • International flights  
  • Travel insurance 
  • Luggage handling 
  • Optional shore excursions with our local partners 
  • Optional small-group activities with our Expedition Team   
  • Optional treatments in the onboard wellness and spa area  


  • All planned activities are subject to weather conditions 
  • Excursions and activities are subject to change  
  • Please make sure you meet  all entry and boarding requirements 
  • No gratuities expected 
  • Land based tour to Galápagos Islands involves long stretches of travel, walking over uneven terrain, and getting in/out of boats, as well as a climate that varies from cool at high altitudes to hot tropical weather. 
MS Fram in Greenland
Photo: Stian Klo
MS Fram in Antarctica
Photo: Sandra Walser
Your ship

MS Fram

Year built 2007
Year of refurbishment 2022
Shipyard Fincantieri, Italy
Passenger capacity 250 (200 in Antarctica)
Beds 276
Car capacity 0
Gross tonnage 11 647 T
Length 114 m
Beam 20.2 m
Speed 13 knots
MS Fram in Greenland
Photo: Stian Klo

The original Fram was the most famous explorer ship of its time, and the achievements of her expeditions are unparalleled. MS Fram brings on the heritage of the original Fram, using the most advanced technology to make her exceptionally well suited for expedition voyages in Polar Regions.

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Icebergs – one of many favorite photo motives when on an expedition with MS Fram
Photo: Tomas Mauch
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