Cruising Through The Panama Canal

Lock up to Gatún Lake

One very popular cruise itinerary is transiting the Panama Canal. Cruises generally cover three categories. West to east normally starting in a California port and ending in Florida. The reverse, east to west and Caribbean cruises that go part way through the canal and return to the Caribbean.

The best way to experience the canal is on a cruise ship. Generally these cruises start from major cruise ports of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. They usually include a number of itinerary stops that can include Grand Cayman, Cartagena, Columbia, Colon in Panama, ports in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras and Mexico but the star of the trip is the Canal.

In 1880 the French tackled what was to be one of the biggest engineering projects ever. The intent was to dig a canal from the Caribbean across Panama to the Pacific Ocean. They were defeated by some mountains but mostly by a mosquito and the single celled organism that causes malaria.

In 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt of the United States took on the responsibility of getting done a long-term United States goal, completing the trans-isthmian canal. In order to get the U.S. authority a number of treaties were attempted and finally the U.S. backed a revolutionary movement that gained Panama independence from Columbia and granted the U.S. ownership of the property.

The new canal projects success was partly the result of healthcare advances made during the construction, led by William Gorgas, an expert in

Gatún Lake

controlling tropical diseases including yellow fever and malaria. Gorgas was one of the first to recognize the role of mosquitoes in the spread of these diseases, and by focusing on controlling the mosquitoes greatly improved worker safety and health.

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The American engineers abandoned the French plan of a sea level cut and went to a design using locks to lift ships up to the level of Gatún Lake and back down again. One of the biggest projects was the Culebra Cut through the roughest terrain on the route and remains one of the largest earth –moving projects ever tackled.

Transiting the locks

Later in the construction it was decided there would not be enough water reserves to operate the locks. Several dams were built with one being a dam at Pedro Miguel which encloses the south end of the Culebra Cut (actually an arm of Gatún Lake). The Gatun Dam is the main dam blocking the original course of the Chagres River, and resulted in creating Gatún Lake. Additionally two dams were built at Miraflores that enlarged Miraflores Lake.

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico


Mules prepare to receive a tanker

We have taken a couple of cruises that transit the canal and are always enthralled by the trip thru the locks and lakes of this remarkable place. Ships are pushed and pulled by tugs and canal rail engines called “mules” into locks with only inches of clearance. Water roars out of exhaust ports and massive ships rise and drop effortlessly within the locks.

A new electric Mule

Cruising across Lake Gatún is like a journey thru a primitive and beautiful rain forest with numerous islets. Dozens of ships glide along near us as they line up to re-enter the locks. Transiting the Culebra Cut with its walls towering above leaves us overwhelmed by the shear tonnage of dirt that had to be excavated and hauled away.




Many cruises stop at Cristobal Pier near Colon where locals offer crafts and wares for sale with usually Kuna Indians from the San Blas Islands among the merchants. Many of the cruise ships require a quick paint touch-up at the exit dock to cover up numerous rubs and scrapes from the passage through the locks

Up until recently the canal could only accommodate ships designated Panamax. Those original locks are 1,050 ft (320.04 m) in length, 110 ft (33.53 m) in width, and 41.2 ft (12.56 m) in depth. These limits have influenced the ship building industry to build Panamax vessels for the past hundred plus years

On September 7, 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed the Panama Canal Treaty and Neutrality Treaty promising to give control of the canal to the Panamanians in the year 2000. After Panama took control the Panama Canal Company started an expansion project. The expansion project started construction in 2007 and opened for commercial operation on 26 June 2016. The new locks allow transit of larger Post-Panamax and New Panamax ships, which have a greater cargo capacity than the original locks could accommodate. New Panamax ships will have a dimension of  1,200 ft (366 m) in length, 160.7 ft (49 m) in width and 49.9 ft (15.2 m) in depth. Unfortunately many of the cruise industries new mega-ships still cannot cruise the canal mainly because they are too tall to cruise under the bridge at the Pacific end of the canal.

All-in-all this is a fascinating journey and one of the three or four  best itineraries we’ve taken. The ports-of-call are an opportunity to visit a number of Central American countries and see some of this interesting region.


Iguazú Falls, South America’s Wonder

Iguazú River flows through the jungle

Picture a wide, slow moving river flowing through tropical jungles around hundreds of islands thick with trees. The water at the nearer bank flattens and slowly spreads out into jungle, while the far side narrows and seems to funnel into a U shaped trough. Clouds of mist billow skyward as the trough drops away into a horseshoe shaped rift. The near bank of the river breaks into dozens of channels that seem to fan out farther into the jungle. Down through the jungle a series of rifts fracture the landscape and the land falls away in a jagged line a mile wide. Fingers of the river race to the edge of these rifts and pour over the edge in a swirl of mist as the water roars down through narrow gorges. This is Iguazú Falls, the largest falls complex on Earth.

The western river drops into Garganta del Diablo
Falling water is everywhere

Last week I was speaking to someone who has spent the past twenty-five years making his living traveling the world. We were in Argentina and had just come back from Iguazú Falls. Like us, he felt the falls was one of the worlds great natural wonders and how remarkable it was that so few people know about it. He said that his first trip to the falls was about twenty years ago and at that time there was no national park, no visitors center and the dirt trails were connected with ramshackle wooden bridges. To reach the upper falls was almost a days hike along unmarked trails.

Today Iguazú Falls is an Argentine national park with paved trails and metal bridges and includes a train to take people to the upper falls. Thepark has a number of food concessions and even boasts a Melia Resort Hotel. You can ride a train (free) or take a jetboat ride up to the bottom of the major falls. Outside the park and down river a town has grown up with a number of restaurants including four and five star hotels. There is frequent jet service to Buenos Aries where it is possible to fly up early in the morning and fly back late at night if you are pressed for time.

We first learned about the falls last year when we were planning our Antarctic trip that was to start from Buenos Aries. In researching we found an article that said that if anyone had the time while visiting Argentina a couple of days at Iguazú Falls was not to be missed.

Iguazú Falls are waterfalls on the Iguazu River at the border of the Argentine province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná in the South American rain forest. Remarkably together, they make up the largest waterfall system in the entire world. The falls divide the river into the upper and lower Iguazu near the boarder where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay meet (Tres Frontieras).

You may have already seen these falls if you have seen movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls, The Mission or Moonraker, all shot here on location.


In making our plan we thought we had figured it all out – but we got it backward. Early on we found a number of tour operators that offered one day trips from Buenos Aries and that became our starting point. While planning on our own saved us a lot of money and gave us plenty of time at the falls we missed a few important points. We decided to fly up one afternoon, get a hotel for a night, get to the park early in the morning and fly back to Buenos Aries late that night. We booked our flights and shopped for a hotel. There are a number of hotels to pick from with good reviews – we selected the Saint George which was very nice (REVIEW HERE). Many people suggest renting a car but our plan was to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel and take a local bus to the park and back. Once there we realized that while inexpensive the bus service would have taken up a lot of time. We ended up striking a deal with a taxi drive to get us around for the two days.

While it should have been obvious, we missed it. Our day at the falls included ten miles of hiking in 100° weather with humidity in the 90’s. While most of the trails were in shade, at the end of the day we were exhausted and sweaty and in no condition for a plane ride. Fortunately we had time to get back to the hotel to freshen up before our flight but if we had this trip to do over we would have changed up a lot.

First we would have caught an early morning flight from Buenos Aries and gone straight to the park which is actually nearer the airport than town. A rental car would probably have been cheaper and also much more convenient. The town is some 14 miles away from the park. After our day at the falls we would have gone to the hotel, freshened up, taken a swim, drinks, dinner and been ready for a leisurely return to Buenos Aries the next day. Live and learn…

Overlook at Garganta del Diablo

While Brazil has an Iguazú Falls park most of the good stuff is on the Argentine side which is also much more developed. You will also need to arrange a visa to visit Brazil. Arranging a tour is also in our opinion probably a waste of money. The park has excellent trails and facilities, the train rides are included with park admission and even taking a taxi to reach the park over a tour is a big saving. Also don’t book a package that includes air and hotel and perhaps a tour (and that includes Expedia etc.). We looked at booking a number of ways and the least expensive by far was booking the air and hotel separately. Yes it is summer in January here and it is much cooler in winter. But that is also the dry season and the flow over the falls is said to be greatly reduced. January is the high tourist season at Iguazú Falls. We read a number of times that you will need cash at the park which is also wrong. Visa and MC are readily accepted for admission and at the concessions in the park along with the hotels and restaurants in town.


If you ever find yourself anywhere near Buenos Aries do NOT miss the opportunity to visit Iguazú Falls – it is amazing and a true wonder of the world.

Port of Call Roatan Honduras

The Caribbean Island of Roatan, Honduras

The main cruise dock and visitors village
Sailing into Mahogany Bay

Roatan is the largest of the Honduran Bay Islands in the Caribbean and is becoming a popular cruise itinerary destination. Like many Caribbean destinations it is recognized for its beautiful beaches, water sports, including premier scuba and skin diving, and modern resorts. It also has a growing number of American and Canadian ex-patriots and seasonal residents. To accommodate the cruise ships the Honduras government helped develop Mahogany Bay with modern docks, a well equiped duty free village and a beautiful beach recreation area.

Where You Dock

Most Cruise ships now dock at the Mahogany Bay facility on the southwest coast. The beautifully laid out area includes piers, a duty free shopping area and a beach area. In addition there is also the Port of Roatan located a bit farther west past Barrio Loma Linda and occasionally cruise ships may still dock there. It is about five miles between the two port facilities.


The best way to get around Roatan is by hired taxi or a rental car. Taxi’s are inexpensive and you can usually negotiate an island tour at a good price (share with other passengers).


The local currency is the Honduras Lempira with one being worth about US 5¢. US Dollars are usually welcome and most major credit cards are accepted.

Mahogany Bay beach area


Outdoor recreation is the focus on this Caribbean island with sandy beaches and clear, warm water being the central attraction. There are also several zip line facilities on the island and a dolphin encounter at Anthony’s Key Resort that’s very popular.

If your ship docks at Mahogany Bay you can spend the day right at the ports beautiful beach. It’s equipped with water sports equipment, beach loungers and umbrellas with a number of excursions leaving right from the cruise port.

A little over a mile from Mahogany Bay is the town of Barrio Loma Linda. It is not a resort area but a typical small Honduran town with stores and restaurants along with a couple of crafts facilities working in leather and wood.


Abandoned, Derelict and Thrown Away Boats


Throw Away Boats

Derelict Montevideo

Derelicts Montevideo Harbor


If you travel a lot, especially if you are a cruise enthusiast, you will on occasion come across ship and boat wrecks either grounded or in shallow water. They seem to garner more attention than wrecked and abandoned cars on land. Maybe there is something more intriguing or romantic about ship wrecks because they seem to recall huge tragedies or great seafaring legends. It’s unlikely you’ll find a story titled The Wreck Of A 66 Oldsmobile, but there are accounts that live on about the Andrea Doria, Rubin James, Titanic, Edmond Fitzgerald and a lot more.

Derelicts Montevideo
Derelicts Montevideo

On a recent stop in Montevideo, Uruguay we came across what looked like a ship graveyard, right in the middle of the harbor. Derelict fishing boats, tugs and even larger ships were left in the harbor, making for a very strange sight. Seeing this surprising, large collection of half sunk, rusting, and abandoned boats and ships in the center of this cities working harbor raised a number of questions. Who abandoned them and why? How long have they been here? What is anybody doing about them?

Abandoned boats are not a problem unique to Uruguay and we often encounter ships wrecked along a coast, unable to be moved or salvaged. Even in the U.S. you’ll find abandoned boats usually left on remote and rarely used channels or in out of the way bays. But I don’t think we have every come across such a large number anywhere else before.

Fishing boats abandoned in Puerto Quetzal Guatemala

After getting home a little research turned up an article dated 17 June 2015 (HERE) estimating the number of derelicts at fifty that were abandoned by their owners because of debts or liens. It indicated that a plan has been developed that will re-float the boats and have them taken away. The Uruguayan National Port Administration will be in charge of the program.

Cruise port Roatan Island

When we were there in January of 2019 and I counted thirty boats so maybe they have made some progress in the last three years but Montevideo still has a long way to go.

Hurricane wrecks St. John’s harbor, Antigua




The Falklands, Home to Penguins and Seals

Off To See Penguins, Sea Lions and Seals

Tracks across open range in the Falklands
Magellanic Penguin

Deep in the South Atlantic there is an archipelago known as the Falkland Islands. Generally, these are isolated, windswept islands where raising sheep and cattle are the main businesses. Covering about 4,700 square miles, the Falklands has a population of a little over 3,000 pe

The tourist business here is thriving and the main attraction is tours to the isolated coasts to see penguins, seals and sea lions. Stanley, the capital is located on the far eastern tip of East Falkland. It is nestled behind a double natural harbor where most cruise ships anchor, and is the starting point for most excursions.

A Gentoo Rookery

The day we spent in the Falklands, we booked a tour in advance with a local company (Falklands Style Off-road Tours), and went out to Dolphin Cove, about eighty miles from Stanley. The trip was in a 4X4, mostly over dirt roads after leaving Stanley. We traveled almost two hours past ranches and peat bogs and ended with a few miles of open country to the coast. Dolphin Cove is on a private ranch and we were introduced to the woman who manages the property. Just to offer some insight into the people who live here, when asked how often she gets into Stanley, she said about four or five times a year.

A King penguin
A Gentoo rookery

Driving in wheel tracks over open country towards the sea, we started spotting rookeries of mostly Gentoo penguins. Our guide (Wayne McCormick) said that they walk inland, sometimes as far as a mile, to dig their nests. One group of three was in our track and, in trying to run away, they kept right in front of us running at full speed for some distance. (You had to have been there – funny.)

Seals and pups

Our first official stop was at a bluff overlooking a rocky beach and a harem of seals had been giving birth that day. The harem was overseen by a good sized bull and the dark newborn pups were scattered across the rocks with the new moms watching over them. There were also large numbers of buzzards hanging around attracted by the byproducts of the births.


Magellanic Penguins coming ashore

Shortly after that, we made a couple of stops near large gentoo rookeries. These birds have no real fear of man and you can actually walk right up to them. The largest group we found seemed to have adopted a King Penguin who stood almost a foot taller than the Gentoos. The Kings look very much like the famous Emperor but they are not as large. We also stopped and watched some Magellanic Penguins come ashore at a rocky area. A Falkland penguin population guide can be found HERE.

Whale bones bleaching in the Sun

We returned to Stanley with a couple of hours to spare before our ship sailed. While it was a long day, it was well worth the effort. We have actually taken tours to see penguins in other parts of the world, but none of them came close to our day in the Falklands.

Port of Call Stanley, The Falkland Islands

Stanley the Capital of the Falkland Islands

Growing in popularity with cruise ships, the Falkland Islands are located over a thousand miles east of Argentina. The archipelago consists of two main and 776 smaller islands. The capital is Stanley on East Falkland which is home to a majority of the nation’s three thousand residents. The big attraction is the wildlife with some of the world’s largest concentrations of penguins along with seals and sea lions that come to breed and raise their young. It is also a frequent stop for cruise ships visiting Antarctica.


Stanley and the inner harbor

Where Your Ship Docks

Stanley is located on a large natural double harbor. Unfortunately, the docking facilities cannot accommodate most cruise ships so, for almost everyone, it is a tender port. The larger ships will most likely anchor in the outer harbor while the smaller ones can anchor closer to the town’s landing.

There are no facilities at the dock but restrooms can be found at the visitor’s center only a block away.


Stanley is a very small town and there is little in the way of public transportation. Most visitors book tours out to see the wildlife but you can also visit battlefields and beaches or enjoy a little hiking.



Oddly, the Falklands have their own version of the British Pound which probably cannot be exchanged outside of the Falkland Islands. The British government even warns visiting Brits to change it back before heading home. There are no currency exchanges or ATMs in town. Fortunately, many of the businesses will take Pounds, Euros and US Dollars. Ahead of our visit, we arranged with our guide to pay with US dollars and then just confirmed the exchange rate after our tour.

Christ Church Cathedral


Penguins in the Falklands

As already noted, the big attraction here is the wildlife and taking a tour is highly recommended. You will also hear a lot about “the war” from the locals and there are a number of sites to visit. In town there is a really nice Falklands National Museum and Christ Church Cathedral has a magnificent whalebone arch which can’t be missed.

A Note of Caution – The Falklands were the focus of a war between Great Britain and Argentina in 1984. When the Argentine military seized the islands they installed over 30,000 land mines along stretches of the coast to stop the British from landing (it was useless). There is still an ongoing project to remove the mines and any marked areas extremely dangerous and should be respected.

The Bristol Hotel In Buenos Aries

The Bristol at Avenue 9 de Julio
The Bristol Hotel A Great Choice For Location and Economy in Buenos Aries

On a recent trip to Antarctica we passed through Buenos Aries twice. The first was an extended visit and the second was a place to stay in transit. In both occasions we stayed at the Bristol Hotel in were very happy with the experience.

The Bristol Hotel is located in a good location near the Obelisco at Avenue 9 de Julio, Cerrito 286, C1010AAF CABA, Buenos Aries, Argentina.

The hotel lobby

When looking for a hotel and evaluating your stay afterwards there are a number of things we use to rate the hotel:

  • Location
  • Price
  • Cleanliness
  • Comfortable beds
  • Hot water
  • Helpfulness of the staff
  • Room size

After those, most considerations are esoteric and relate to luxury and exclusivity. Generally when we travel our budget is one of the major considerations. For this trip we selected the Bristol Hotel first because of its location. Also at US$50 a night and with four star on Google reviews we couldn’t resist.

A queen room

On check-in we were pleased with our choice. The location was right in the center of things, the staff was friendly and helpful and the room was well appointed and clean. The beds proved to be comfortable and there was plenty of hot water.

Two twin beds

Located near the hotel are lots of cafes and good restaurants. Only ten blocks to the northeast are a number of pedestrian walking streets with lots of interesting shops. All-in-all we were very pleased with our selection.