Port and Shore Excursions
Very small factory. The guide greeted us with a demonstration of cutting open a piece of aloe and then led us through a small "museum" area and up a flight of stairs to view the processing area where no photos were permitted. out of four areas, only one had any activity. Three women were working. One filling blue bottles, one putting on the caps and one applying labels. We were then brought downstairs into the gift shop. The samples on display seemed high quality, but the prices were extremely high. This was a disappointing stop.
Unfortunately, our bus developed some mechanical problems, so we were sitting on the bus waiting for a fix for about 40 minutes.
Interesting park-like setting. A cave-like cluster of rocks had metal bars to protect the cave paintings inside. It was easy to take photos through the bars. We only had about 20 minutes to explore the area due to earlier bus mechanical problems. I would have liked a bit more time to do some exploring and climbing. We did find it more interesting than the CasiBari rock formations we visited on a past cruise.
We developed more mechanical problems on the bus, so had no time at all for the planned shopping and in fact were late by about 1/2 hour in returning to the ship. This is why we generally book excursions from Princess, you never know what might happen and the ship will wait for you.
It was raining for most of this visit, but during the heaviest rains, the guides kept us under a porch for an introductory lecture/demonstration of some of the butterfly research and species at the farm. we were then led back to the enclosed garden area where we heard more information and were able to wander and explore and take lots of photos.
Beautiful gardens, several fish and turtle ponds and many beautiful butterflies where ever you looked (in spite of the intermittent drizzle).
I would definitely recommend this part of the tour.
Very charming small church. It has a garden courtyard and a small museum of religious sculptures. The church has some interesting architecture, nice stained glass windows, an ornate altar and a relic skeleton under the altar of St. Peter Claver. A colorful parrot was posing on the end of a stairway banister.
A long, hot walk to the top, but our guide (who had to be close to 70!) took us up in segments. He was very informative. Many pushy vendors, but we took our guide's advice, didn't make eye contact and repeated no thank you and they mostly left us alone.
The underground tunnels and passageways were amazing. Be sure to bring a flash camera if you love to take picture of tunnels and hallways.
The views of the surrounding city were also amazing.
Beware if you plan to take a taxi here. The traffic in Cartagena was the worst we've ever seen anywhere. The excursion said a 15 minute ride to the fort - it took about 45 minutes with the traffic.
The architecture is very interesting. We only had about 20 minutes, due to the heavy traffic. Basically, these are small souvenir shops, one after another, for a block or two in either direction. Most of the shops had the usual touristy stuff. There were a few with local art work or emerald jewelry, but we really didn't have much time to check them out.
We were also supposed to stop at a shopping mall, but weren't allowed to do so because of time constraints. We pretty much just made it back to the ship in time for boarding.
We walked through the streets with our guide. People we were with said that the neighborhood was very reminiscent of New Orleans, with lovely balconies, often filled with flowers. Cobblestone streets, small picturesque alleys and bustling people, fruit carts and vendors everywhere.
The palace had many interesting museum-like displays. The upstairs exhibits were air conditioned.
The replicas of the instruments of torture were a bit disturbing, as was the courtyard with the guillotine and viewing balconies, but the history was fascinating.
The Panama Canal was pretty much the reason we chose to go on this cruise. We really don't have the time (or money) to cruise for more than about 10 days, so we chose to take the excursion that goes all the way through the locks to the pacific ocean.
After our ship passed through the Gatun locks, we were tendered ashore to pick up a motor coach to the ferry that would bring us all the way through the locks. Our tour guide was okay. She was an older woman who supplied us with some basic information about the area on the way to the ferry.
It was an on again off again rainy day, so we chose seats on the ferry under the roof and directly on the back of the ferry. We were protected from the rain and had a great unobstructed view from the back. Some friends we had met on the cruise were calling the ferry "the African Queen". It really wasn't that bad. It was an older boat, the bathrooms had some issues, but it was clean and appeared to be completely safe, if a little "well loved".
The ferry boat captain narrated the trip. a small buffet lunch was served and a local woman was selling molas and other souvenirs upstairs. (If you want to buy the molas, they reduced the price toward the end of the trip.) You were able to touch the sides of the locks on several occasions if you chose.
It was very interesting getting a closer view of the locks than we got on the Island Princess.
We were able to see much of the work being done to widen the canal for the future locks that are being constructed. It was amazing to pass under the two bridges that pass over the canal. Not bridges that I would want to drive over!
We boarded our same motor coaches for the trip back to the ship. This time we traveled on the relatively new highway and arrived in about 40 minutes. Our coach's sound system went out and for some reason, our guide put on a Spanish sitcom instead. Many people grumbled about it, but she explained later that she thought all people enjoyed laughing and that she thought we might enjoy it.
The Colon area was not somewhere I would feel comfortable wandering around. There is a small shopping mall about 5 minutes from the ship, but those I talked to who went there were not real impressed.
I would definitely recommend this excursion.
We had originally planned to walk up the falls. As we walked down to the area and saw the amount of water and the distance of the walk, we decided to just enjoy the view instead! The falls is very beautiful. There are steps that follow alongside that are wide and easy to walk, with small viewing and rest areas along the way.
There are lockers you can rent if you are planning to walk to falls. You really can't carry a backpack or anything of substance. You WILL get wet. In some areas, the water was at least adult waist high. People had to hold hands as they climbed, so it was difficult to take photos if you were climbing. Don't even think about using a non-waterproof camera! Of course, they had people taking photos and videos the whole time that they were more than happy to sell you.
Leaving the park, you must walk through an area of vendors. They are very pushy. If there is anything you might be interested in buying, offer about a third of their asking price and walk away if they don't take it. There will be another vendor more than willing to have your business.
When we left, we took a shuttle bus according to our wrist band color and could choose our next stop.
We were pretty much just dropped off here and told to take a shuttle back when we were ready to return to the ship. We wandered to the shark encounter area and watched a pleasant show with several young men interacting with and feeding some large (probably nurse) sharks. There was an area to the right that had a swim with the stingray encounter going on and an area behind it that had a swim with the dolphin encounter going on. When the shark encounter was over, we wandered back up the hill toward the main dolphin area. We visited with some very friendly parrots and their handler who placed them on our heads and shoulders and had us hold them for photos. (No charge for this and he was thankful, but reluctant to take our tip.)
We met several of the local cats - primarily Boots and Toby but many others were hanging around. We took up seats near the swim with the dolphin encounter. Be aware that if you are actually swimming with any of the critters, you cannot take a camera. They will be happy to sell you photos and DVDs! If you have someone along who is willing to sit outside the area, they can get get photos and video depending on the area you are in. There are three shows going on at the same time.
The shows were entertaining and I got some great photos and video. (If you were the young couple who got married on the cruise, if you get in contact, I have a picture the groom swimming with the dolphin that I'd be happy to send you.)
We found out that the cats sometimes get some of the fish fed to the dolphins. I'm sure that's why thet were hanging out.
There is also a small covered area that sells food and drinks and some souvenir shops. A musician was performing island music on site.
The shuttle bus will bring you to Dunn River Falls, to a shopping area or back to the ship if you are wearing your wrist band.
There is a small shopping mall called the Taj Mahal that is about a 5 minute walk from the ship. It had an assortment of stores, bars and eateries with all price ranges.
This also included a short version of the aerial rainforest tram.
Once again, we had bus issues! Due the the early rains, the road to the rainforest was too wet for our large bus to make it, so we sat for about 40 minutes while smaller buses were sent down form the park to pick us up. Our guide left the bus to get local plants, talked to a nearby farmer and retrieved an interesting hanging nest. He even went into a tiny store and bought us some local snacks to taste while we were waiting.
The rainforest park was very educational. We were given the option to pick one of two routes. The more strenuous one would take us to a waterfall, the other would not. Most people chose to take the least strenuous walk, but our young guide convinced us that ii wasn't too bad. For those of you on the fence here, the waterfall route has 350 step of varying height and widths, usually with a handrail. There are also a few steeply sloping stretches without steps. The downward hike wasn't bad, but the hike back uphill was a bit challenging. The waterfall was nice, but not a must-see if you have any doubts about your ability to make the hike.
We saw cages of many types of snakes, an indoor frog exhibit, both with cages and in an open dark enclosure where the guides, with flashlights, highlight the frogs. There was also an enclosed butterfly area that was very nice. Not quite as impressive as the butterfly farm on Aruba, but very close.
Our guide was very knowledgable. The tram ride was very interesting, if a little short. We heard toucans and saw a sloth in one of the trees overhead. After we departed the tram, we hiked to and from the waterfall and took the tram back to an open sided visitor center for a light lunch. The sandwich was so-so, but the fruit was excellent, as was the Costa Rican coffee and fruit juice.
Our bus had somehow managed to make it to the park and the ride back to the ship was interesting as our guide continued to share information about his country. I'd love to go back to this area.
There was a small shopping area with local handicrafts and souvenirs near the dock. The vendors were pleasant and not pushy.