Sailing on a 14-day Panama Canal cruise on the Norwegian Pearl has its advantages. It will get you up close and personal with some amazing sights, interesting food and beautiful beaches. Here are some of the ship’s ports where you can explore some eclectic shore excursions.
A British overseas territory, Cayman Islands is where you can come up close with beautiful marine life, whether it is swimming with dolphins or floating past a sting ray. While you can enjoy a host of beach adventure activities, this is where you can also visit a place called Hell. This is a sharp limestone rock outcropping which can be seen from a viewing platform. The Post office here is a good place to send a postcard from Hell too! You can also admire the colonial buildings in the capital city of George Town when you are here.
One of the most popular cruise destinations in Jamaica, Ocho Rios is where you can climb up the Dunn River Falls while also experiencing amazing water sports. If you are particularly adventurous, try the river tubbing safari, zipline, rainforest bobsled or simply glide on the bamboo raft on the Martha Brae River. The Konoko Falls is brimming with the local flora and fauna. You can even pet a snake or pose with a macaw here. Do try the jerk style meats, a specialty of the region.
Colombia’s colonial city that Simon Bolivar led to freedom, Santa Marta has beautiful beaches on one end, and a rich history that is best explored through its museums and churches. The Santa Martas Cathedral Church here dates back to the 18th Century and has a stunning white façade. Stop by at the Customs House here for a visit to the Gold Museum that has several artefacts that are centuries old. To spot iguanas, local birds as well as see an old sugar mill, a stop at the historic Casa Quinta de San Pedro Alejandrino is a must.
An old Spanish settlement the city of Cartagena in Columbia has a walled city which is the old part of the city dotted with colourful buildings, museums and stores that sell all kinds of local handicrafts. Climb up the El Castillo San Felipe a large fortress to see some panoramic views of the city. This is also the place to buy some of the best Colombian emeralds — so a stop at Museo de la Esmeralda is a good idea.
Apart from seeing the world’s greatest shortcut that join North and South America through the famed Panama Canal between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, there is much more to imbibe here. With swanky buildings in one part of the city, the real charm lies in exploring the Casco Viejo or the Old Quarter which is the historic district dating back to 1673, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can also enjoy the island life at the Flamenco Marina that has a motley collection of duty free shops and restaurants that overlook a yacht-filled marina.
The Costa Rican city of Limon is where you can explore the wildlife of the country. Take a boat ride through the Tortuguero Canal where you can see life on the mangroves. From spotting the shy three-toed sloth to iguanas and a large variety of birds and bat species, this is a 45 minute ride that will leave you asking for more. Take a guided walk into the rain forest and you can see cacao trees and banana plantations galore. We stopped at a local store for some unique cacao bean chocolates that were delicious.
Harvest Caye Belize
A beach island that is styled as a Caribbean premier resort destination, Harvest Caye in Belize has a seven acre white sand beach lined with lounge chairs. Perfect for a loll on a beach chair. The entire area has shopping and dining options as well as a wildlife conservation centre where you can see the national bird the Keel-billed Toucan, see a boa constrictor, see butterflies like the owl butterfly and the blue mormon as well as Scarlet Macaws. Take a boat out of the island into the Mango Creek and Independence Village where you get an insight into local life in Belize. You can also pick up authentic handmade souvenirs in the village here.
— Photographs by Bindu Gopal Rao...