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PANAMA: Hang With the Real Locals
The circuit: Colón, Panama, to Los Sueños, Costa Rica
Boat basics: Cruise West's 100-passenger Pacific Explorer is an intimate ship with a sundeck and no-frills cabins. Its emphasis is on cultural learning, with a host of lectures from local experts.
Shore thing: On the fourth day of the cruise, the Pacific Explorer navigates through the Panama Canal. The next morning you'll pass even deeper into the lost world: Passengers set out in inflatable Zodiacs to explore the dense, untouched Darién Jungle, with macaws overhead and monkeys yipping in the trees. The guides? Members of the Emberá Indian tribe. (While some ships meet with the Kuna Indians in the more accessible San Blas Islands, Cruise West is the only line to take passengers to visit the more remote Emberá.) A naturalist translates as the Indians explain in their native language how they hunt and weave; later they play music and dance. It's entertainment, certainly, but a far cry from the limbo dances of most cruises in the area.
The details: Nine-night "Between Two Seas" cruises depart December through April.
From $3,799 per person
Tel: 888 851 8133