The Panama Canal is considered one of the most impressive feats of human engineering on the planet -- and some people spend an equal amount of brainpower trying to decide what to pack for a Panama Canal cruise. A voyage through the canal is a quintessential cruise experience, and it can be exhilarating, but it also involves some waiting around, many times in the unrelenting Panamanian sunshine.
We have compiled 10 items to add to your packing list for the ultimate Panama Canal cruise.
Don't let something as small as a mosquito or sand flea ruin your epic cruise vacation. Insect repellant with lemon eucalyptus oil is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be a natural, plant-based alternative to DEET. If the bugs do bite, be sure to bring a cream, gel or spray to alleviate the itch; we find anti-itch products with camphor to be the most effective.
Sunscreen is a necessity on most, if not, every cruise, but especially this close to the equator. If you're worried about lugging a giant tub of sun cream when you wanted to pack a carry-on (or simply want to have a small container on hand for reapplication) consider a tin of solid SPF 50+ sunscreen that rubs on like a balm. Not only is it convenient but the All Good brand is also organic and reef safe; if you wear it in the water, the minerals won't damage the marine life -- it's also water resistant for longer wear.
The shade provided by a hat will help keep you cool and also help you to see the fascinating mechanisms of the locks of the Panama Canal, along with the rest of the sunny passing scenery. Why not buy into the theme with a brimmed hat from Panama Jack brand? This canvas unisex version comes in two light colors and multiple sizes, but more importantly it is a breathable material with air vents and an SPF of 50+.
The sun is a constant in Central America, so in addition to sunscreen and a hat, shield your eyes with stylish shades. This unisex pair of sunglasses from Merry's are polarized for added protection (helpful with reflection off the water) and they're made of lightweight aluminum. Lenses come in multiple colors from blue to black to silver to pink. At reasonable prices, you can afford to lose or forget them and not let it detract from your trip.
Capturing the perfect moments from your Panama Canal cruise can be tricky if you're trying to get the right shot in a crowd of people aiming to do the same -- and not have it turn out blurry. A tripod can be essential for keeping your camera steady, but the GorillaPod from Joby is also manageable enough to use as additional height (hold it over the crowd for a clearer shot). The best part of this type of tripod is that the legs are a durable rubber and plastic that can be bent to wrap around something -- like a railing -- for hands-free captures (like recording a longer video).
Getting through the Panama Canal can take hours. If you want to aim to capture the entire experience, a time lapse speeds things up for a more exciting watch. You don't need elaborate editing software to create such a video; many apps are available to download right on your phone that will allow you to manipulate a video for that sought-after time-lapse effect (and some are even free). Try Lapse It (available for iPhone and Android); it's free with the option to upgrade to pro for $3.
One part shirt and one part swim and sun gear, this rash guard for women is as stylish as it is functional. Wear it for a casual sea day onboard your ship, or don it for an excursion kayaking in Costa Rica. Comfy, quick-drying and SPF 50+, this elastic top is great as active or leisure wear, and easy to roll up and pack.
Reusable is "in," so reduce your plastic use by bringing a BPA-free water bottle along to hydrate on your Panama Canal cruise. A brand like Hydro Flask uses insulation technology in a stainless steel bottle that will keep your beverage cold for up to 24 hours (up to six hours for hot beverages). A fun, bright color (we enjoy the cheery yellow) might help you to keep track of it.
Don't let H2O interfere with your electronics; if you're worried about the elements overcoming your phone or e-reader, keep these dry bags on hand. A set with three sizes, these vinyl pouches seal out moisture, which can also come in handy when packing damp things in your suitcase for the hike home. Lugging a large beach tote? These bags come in handy for better organizing items on a beach day ashore or by the pool.
Many Panama Canal cruises last 10 days or longer, with ample time sailing at sea or even waiting to get through those locks; be sure to bring some amusement. If you're the type for infotainment, David McCullough's "The Path Between the Seas" is considered one of the premiere accounts of the history of the Panama Canal, which is a nice companion to your cruise. Bring along the paperback, or download it for your e-reader or as an audio book.
Updated January 17, 2021