Discover Panama: A Smithsonian Family Adventure


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Bring the lesson plans to life – substitute your kids’ science books for hands-on, active discovery of a variety of precious ecosystems and wildlife.

Largely untapped as a travel resource, tropical Panama is a natural utopia; this Central American nation is a family adventure destination like no other! The combination of protected habitats and the expertise of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute deliver an unmatched fun and educational experience for kids and parents alike.

Beginning your tour in Panama City, you and your family will discover the abundant treasures of one of the planet’s richest ecological paradises. Take a jungle boat ride through Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal, observing howler monkeys, iguanas and crocodiles. Give practical context to your children’s history lessons with an up-close exploration of the Panama Canal’s massive Miraflores Locks.  Then ride a motorized dugout canoe, or piragua, up the Chagres River to an Emberá indigenous village, where you will learn some of the Emberá peoples’ traditional customs. For your family’s introduction to the work being done by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), learn how the Punta Culebra Nature Center’s work can enlighten the public about the conservation of delicate marine habitats.

Continue on to the Chiriqui highlands and enjoy a thrilling whitewater rafting adventure. Soar through the tropical cloud forest canopy on a zip line for a total adrenaline rush.

In Bocas del Toro, walk a rain forest trail alive with sloths, monkeys, birds, caimans and poison dart frogs. Snorkel among coral reefs and mangroves, observing angel fish, squid, cleaning shrimp, octopus and the Caribbean spiny lobster. Every day of this itinerary provides priceless opportunities to explore some of the world’s most important ecosystems.

Included in this exceptional itinerary are several special opportunities for behind-the-scenes access and exclusive tours and activities, such as:
Visit 2 Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) stations.  At the Punta Culebra Nature Center and the Caribbean Ocean Research Station, learn from the foremost experts about Panama's diverse marine habitats, the amazing array of aquatic animals living in the surrounding waters, and the scientific discoveries and conservation efforts taking place here. 
Stop at Silico Creek. En route to Bocas del Toro on Panama's Caribbean side, stop off at Silico Creek, an Ngobe indigenous village where families will see how organic cocoa is grown and processed into chocolate.
Experience Bastimentos Island. A trip to Bastimentos Island offers an excellent snorkeling opportunity among two very important oceanic ecosystems: coral reef and mangroves. Observe a stunning array of sea creatures, like angel fish, squid, cleaning shrimp, octopus and the Caribbean spiny lobster. 
Walk Salt Creek Nature Trail. Also on the island of Bastimentos, head to another Ngobe indigenous village called Salt Creek. Here, families will follow a local guide through a tropical lowland wet rain forest trail brimming with fascinating Central American jungle animals.
Final payment can be made by credit card. Exclusively on our Smithsonian Family Adventures, families are able to make their final payment by credit card.
2014 Dates
Dates Adult Price Teen Price (12-17) Child Price ( Internal Air
06/21 - 06/29 $4,390 $4,290 $4,190 $300
12/26 - 01/03 $4,790 $4,690 $4,590 $300

Single supplement: $2,000

Triple discount (child under 12 sharing with two adults): $300

Day 1 – Depart U.S. / Arrive Panama City

Bring the lesson plans to life – substitute your kids’ science books for hands-on, active discovery of a variety of precious ecosystems and wildlife. The combination of protected habitats and the expertise of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), deliver an unmatched fun and educational experience for kids and parents alike.

Days 2-3 - Panama City
  • Gatun Lake jungle boat adventure
  • Miraflores Visitor Center, the Canal's lock system
  • Chagres River piragua ride
  • Indigenous Embera village
Days 4-5 – Panama City / Chiriqui Highlands

Chiriquí, the “Valley of the Moon,” hosts a stunning diversity of tropical Central American landscapes, from beaches and plains to mountains and dense rain forest.


  • Punta Culebra Nature Center
  • Boquete transfer
  • Whitewater rafting
  • Boquete, a small town surrounded by rain forest
Days 6-7 – Chiriqui Highlands / Bocas del Toro

The archipelago of Bocas del Toro is situated on Panama’s Caribbean coast. Its white sand beaches, steamy rain forests, incredible snorkeling and relaxed bohemian ambiance have made Bocas del Toro a favorite spot for our families.


  • Zip line through the cloud forest
  • Bocas transfer and Silico Creek stop
  • Hike and snorkel in Bastimentos
Days 8-9 – Bocas / Panama City / Depart

Before your return to Panama City and departure from Panama, you’ll have one more fascinating scientific experience in this Caribbean region.


  • Caribbean Ocean Research Station
  • Friends Across Borders Meeting (pen pals)
  • Departure
Gamboa Rainforest Resort

The Gamboa Rainforest Resort is a luxury destination resort located on the Panama Canal in the heart of the lush Panamanian rain forest. The hotel’s 100 clean, air-conditioned rooms each have a balcony with spectacular views of the Chagres River. Other highlights include an aerial tram that goes all the way from the rain forest floor to the canopy, a fitness center, kayaks, pedal boats, tennis courts, jogging and cycling trails, a spa, and multiple restaurants.

Riverside Inn

Boquete's Riverside Inn sits on the banks of the Palo Alto River. The inn offers spacious, modern accommodations, as well as a new on-site restaurant called The Rock, one of the Chiriqui region's best.

Playa Tortuga
Playa Tortuga Hotel and Beach Resort can be found on the beautiful golden sand beaches of Colon Island in Bocas del Toro. The hotel features over 100 clean, air conditioned rooms, each with a private ocean-view balcony. Other highlights of the hotel include wireless internet, a beautiful swimming pool, a gym and a gift shop. The hotel also has two great restaurants (one of which is located at the end of a pier for amazing views!) and a bar.
Country Inn & Suites

The Country Inn & Suites Hotel is conveniently located right in front of the entrance to the famous Panama Canal. The hotel offers over 150 clean, comfortable rooms, each featuring a balcony. Other highlights include an outdoor pool, tennis court, exercise center, business center, playground, Jacuzzi, boardwalk, T.G.I. Friday’s and high-speed internet access.

Why Panama?

An undiscovered destination, with something for everyone: history, nature, culture
You know about its legendary canal, that stunning marvel of modern engineering. But what about its misty mountains and brilliantly colored orchids? Its exotic wildlife, staggering eco-diversity, amazing snorkeling and warm, welcoming people? Panama is one of the last undiscovered destinations in the Americas, and whether you are traveling with youngsters or teens, or grandparents looking to share an adventure with your grandchildren, we have created an itinerary that specializes in activities that are fun and informative for all ages. Panama is home to a largely tourist-free system of national parks, an abundance of plants and wildlife to rival neighboring Costa Rica, and easy access to both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. And Panama is just a short plane ride away from the US!
Fascinating canal system and interesting history
There is something very moving when seeing the Panama Canal for the first time. The enormity of this engineering marvel boggles the mind. There’s the vast jungle that had to be divided, the massive locks that had to be constructed, and then there are the 40 ships that pass through the Canal every day. History books can supply the amazing facts about this monumental achievement, but actually standing in full view of the Canal itself brings its story palpably and eloquently to life in a way that no book can match—and in a way that your kids will never forget. In Panama, history is one cool adventure.
Stunning landscapes and a variety of wildlife
Within our stunning itinerary, you’ll experience cloud forests and rain forest canopies, rolling hills and brilliant white sand beaches. From soaring frigatebirds to lounging lizards and capuchin monkeys, and from profusions of orchids to undersea coral gardens, Panama offers show-stopping eco-diversity that rivals most countries on earth.
Meeting the Embera
One of six indigenous groups that still maintain their cultures and traditions, the Embera recently migrated to the riverbanks of Chagres National Park near Panama City from farther south in the Darien province.  Villagers will share the story of their migration with you, a rare and special opportunity.

Why Panama with Thomson?

Benefit from Smithsonian scientific expertise
 You’ll get a fun and educational experience nobody but Thomson and Smithsonian could offer. On this adventure, we visit a couple different research centers owned and operated by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and meet with some very interesting people who are experts in the marine life of Panama’s Pacific and Caribbean regions.
Zip line tour
Gliding from platform to platform high in the rain forest canopy is an indescribable thrill as you wind your way along a zip line course. Hike up to the first platform where everyone is outfitted, safely and securely, for an unforgettable Panama experience.
Dugout canoe ride to Embera Village
Board motorized dugout canoes and head down the Chagres River, deep into the rain forest. As you wind your way to an Embera village keep your eyes peeled for wildlife on the shores. Upon arrival, you and your family will be met by welcoming and traditionally dressed members of the Embera and escorted to the village. You’ll learn about their traditions and history, including songs and dances, food and crafts, traditional medicines, and the story of their people.  Kids (and adults) might opt to receive a traditional tattoo!  (Don’t worry; it’s painless and made from vegetable dye, and will only last about a week.)
Friends Across Borders—Meeting your pen pal
Thomson families love this program! Children traveling with us can choose to exchange letters with a local Embera child of a similar age before leaving on their adventure. In Panama, your child will get to meet his or her pen pal through a fun activity while visiting the Embera Village. It’s amazing how much kids learn about one another—and the appreciation they gain for one another’s culture—when they meet through this eye-opening program.
Jungle boat adventure in the Panama Canal
Set out on a journey across Gatun Lake in the Panama Canal in our jungle boat, cruising past gigantic cargo and passenger ships. You’ll all be amazed at how big some of these vessels are—they dwarf everything in sight! And of course you’ll likely see plenty of wildlife along the way in the rain forest—iguanas, crocodiles, monkeys and peacocks, just to name a few.
Miraflores Locks
If your kids are into Legos or Lincoln Logs, they’ll love this engineering phenomenon. Stretching almost a mile long, Miraflores is part of a lock system that takes ships from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific (and vice versa). After watching a ship go through the locks make sure to visit the museum—the exhibits and views from there are fantastic!