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Cruises to (and through) the Panama Canal not only take you to an interesting and historic landmark, but also visit popular ports in the Caribbean and Mexican Riviera. And there's plenty to do when you step on shore in Panama.
The main draw for a cruise to the Panama Canal is the marvel of the canal itself. This fascinating feat of engineering and construction took 10 years and $387 million to complete. Ships that travel completely through the canal are transported through three sets of locks, which raise a vessel 85 feet above sea level before gently lowering it down. While the ship makes the passage (sometimes a tight fit with only inches to spare on either side), guests can come on deck to learn about the history of the canal and spot sights with an expert along the way.
The capital, Panama City, is a burgeoning commercial center on the Pacific coast. It boasts a cosmopolitan atmosphere with the restaurants, clubs, shopping and skyscrapers to match. The glass and steel is complimented by the rain forest of Soberania National Park, which lies at the edge of Panama City. Guests can explore the fascinating ecology of the 55,000-acre park on an excursion.
Cristobal is at the Atlantic entrance to the canal and one of the country's vital ports. And nearby Colon is best known for the Colon Free Zone, which is an import/export hub and a terrific place to shop. The San Blas Islands are a cluster of unspoiled islands off Panama's Caribbean coast and home to the Kuna Indians. Visitors can photograph the native people in exchange for a small tip. Cultural performances and informational lectures educate travelers about the Kuna people, while molas -- elaborately made embroideries -- serve as unique souvenirs.