Photo: Carlo Raciti Photography

This Expedition Cruise To Costa Rica and the Panama Canal Is Perfect For Adventure Travelers

Costa Rica Panama Colombia Sustainability Cruises
by Tim Wenger Mar 6, 2024

Innovation in cruise travel tends to focus on “bigger” – bigger ships, bigger sites, and longer tours. But as those who signed up for the recently ill-fated 36-month cruise found out the hard way, bigger isn’t always better. The companies pushing water-based travel forward aren’t employing bigger ships or setting sail for longer than a typical apartment’s lease term. Rather, they’re thinking outside the box, and in the other direction.

Aurora Expeditions, an Australia-based company known primarily for its small-boat cruises to the planet’s polar regions, recently unveiled a new itinerary that takes travelers down Costa Rica’s west coast to multiple national parks and wildlife refuges before hitting Panama’s Pearl Islands and passing through the Panama Canal en route to Colombia. It’s the perfect way for adventurous families and even solo travelers to experience one of the planet’s lushest and most beautiful regions.

playa escondilla in costa rica

Photo courtesy Aurora Expeditions

Aurora Expeditions’ inaugural Costa Rica & Panama Canal expedition sets sail from April 19 through May 3, 2024, with the 2025 expedition sailing April 19 through April 30, 2025. Every day of the trip offers exploration opportunities that are included in the cost of embarkation. Guests will have the opportunity to explore the Curú National Wildlife Refuge, Costa Rica’s first privately-owned wildlife refuge, and its eco-tourism offerings including hiking and wildlife viewing. The following day will be spent viewing the 184 species of birds and over 100 different mammal species living in Manuel Antonio National Park.

“Aurora’s Costa Rica and Panama Canal itinerary is known as one of our “Discovery” voyages, meaning that we combine opportunities for cultural experiences and excursions with activities and exploration in pristine nature,” says Hayley Peacock-Gower, Aurora Expeditions’ Chief Marketing Officer. “This voyage is a great example of how we reimagine destinations that are already well known, like Costa Rica, and do them differently. While traditional cruises to the area may focus more on relaxation in the tropical environment with optional excursions, like with all our voyages, we encourage our passengers to get off-ship as much as possible and focus more on immersion and enrichment.”

Also on the itinerary are the Rio Claro Wildlife Refuge and Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica and Panama’s Coiba National Park and Pearl Islands. Time is provided to explore Quepos town in Costa Rica, Panama City, and Cartagena de Indias in Colombia, where the trip ends. Spare time can be spent on water activities, listening to naturalists and crew giving educational lectures on board the ship, and participating in other on-shore excursions.

“On this voyage, we include guided hikes and activities such as paddling, snorkeling and stand-up paddleboarding, as well as a visit to the local Embera tribe in the remote Darién National Park and a guaranteed daylight crossing of the Panama Canal,” Peacock-Gower says.

The trip starts at $13,795 per person for the 2024 cruise and $9,276 for the 2025 cruise.

Why expedition cruising is ideal for solo travelers

man on cruise boat

Photo: Katarina S/Shutterstock

Due to the inclusive and adventurous nature of the trip, even those traveling alone will feel welcomed and part of the group. Solo travelers can opt for their own cabin aboard the ship or request to be paired with another solo traveler to save some cash. Aurora Expeditions has reported seeing increased numbers of guests under 50 on recent expeditions, many of whom travel alone or in small groups. No more than 132 passengers will embark on the trip.

“Our smaller passenger numbers means we can be flexible with offering options for different skill levels and passenger capabilities,” says Peacock-Gower.

Riding solo offers the advantage of being able to get as adventurous as you wish during the stops. If you’re an avid hiker, you can traverse a few of the trails in the Curú National Wildlife Refuge, for example, without having to worry about pushing others too hard. Expedition cruising is unique in that each day is based on weather and conditions, keeping it more exciting than large-ship tours with set itineraries and activities that aren’t able to be personally tailored.

How expedition cruising fits with Costa Rica’s sustainability focus

aurora expeditions boat

Photo: Carlo Raciti Photography

Costa Rica has for years been among the world’s most aggressive countries in terms of conservation and sustainability efforts.  Aurora Expeditions expects to further these efforts with its cruise itineraries both in-country as well as in Panama and Colombia.

“Our mission is to be a global leader in sustainable expedition travel, and we are consistently working to enhance our impact in areas such as our sustainability programs both on and off-ship, conservation education, citizen science projects, and our partnerships, including our recent certification as a B Corp.,” says Peacock-Gower of the company’s sustainability efforts. “In addition, our two vessels, the Greg Mortimer and Sylvia Earle, each operate with low energy, high fuel-efficiency, and a streamlined design due to the revolutionary Ulstein X-Bow and other eco-design features.”

Guests can even contribute to the region’s conservation efforts.

“Like all of Aurora’s itineraries, expeditioners are also able to participate in the Citizen Science Program, which gives them the opportunity to actively participate in scientific research and data collection,” Peacock-Gower says. “The program is designed to educate and engage passengers in important environmental issues, allowing them to gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of the area visiting than when they stepped onboard.”

The overall goal is to educate passengers on the region’s wildlife, climate, and landscape, trusting in the mantra that experience leads to a desire to protect.

“Our commitment to responsible and respectful travel also factors in with the destinations that we choose to travel to – our aim is to go to places that few other operators visit, or to do well-known destinations differently,” says Peacock-Gower. “To that point, we greatly admire the initiatives in Costa Rica that have made it one of the world’s most sustainable destinations and feel that the destination is aligned with our values as an operator while offering the unique kinds of experiences and opportunities for authentic immersion that our passengers look for.”

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