Last January, when I got off my cruise to the Caribbean, I promised myself I would take another trip A.S.A.P. During the summer, my girlfriend and I spent some time on the computer researching and chose to take the Panama Canal trip with Norwegian Cruise Lines. The plan for the trip was to leave Boston, fly to Miami, enjoy a day at South Beach, and sail out the next day from the port of Miami.
The cruise’s first port was Cartagena, Colombia, which is the old city. The city had amazing buildings, each touting a grand set of front doors large enough to ride your stallion into safety back in the old days. The Spanish influence, among others, is felt by the old architecture in the city. While there we took a walking tour and between the tour and the walk to the boat, we walked 14 miles!
After leaving Colombia, we headed north for the Panama Canal. The night of our Panama Canal arrival, myself and my two friends, Louis and Jonathan, stayed up 24 hours to watch the process. The boat we were traveling on was a Panamax size ship so we only had about 16 inches on each side of the ship to spare. During the process, they use everything from tug boats to small trains to pull the ship through the locks, each time closing the gates, flooding the lock, and lifting the boat. After we climbed the locks into Gatun Lake, which is 85 feet above sea level, we turned around and climbed back down and headed to the Port of Colon.
In The Port of Colon, the area within the port was OK, but overall the atmosphere was not very tourist-friendly. The people who got off the boat and went to Panama City said that was beautiful and well worth the trip. I got off the boat for a bit, went to the supermarket, which was very interesting, then went back on the boat and enjoyed the pool.
The next port we headed off to was the Port of Limon in Costa Rica. This was a very small port but very nice. On this day, my girlfriend and I booked an excursion to go on a Gondola ride through the rain forest canopy. When we got there, we met our guide Manuel and he was amazing. Manuel was very passionate about his work and did a great job ensuring he told us as much as he could.
While at the rain forest, we saw a coatimundi, some butterflies, a humming bird, a white hawk, and a few miscellaneous bugs. I thought we would have seen more creatures but then our guide explained that in order to have the great footage that nature shows usually have, they spend weeks if not months compiling clips for 30 minutes of good material. So it is not as common as one would think. That said, the plants and environment is just so naturally beautiful and we had an amazing time.
The next port our boat stopped at was Roatan, Honduras, which was beautiful even from the boat with its clear blue water and every color of green foliage that you can imagine. At this location, we decided to get off the boat and grab a cab to what they call “West Bay” for some snorkeling. Our cab driver, Jimmy, was a great guy and he got us there fast. They drive a little crazy there, passing at any chance they get. He got us to the site safely and we arranged to be picked up again at 3pm.
Once on the beach, we hit the water and did some snorkeling, seeing all type of fish and coral. The water in this area is just teeming with fish and we saw all the familiars like parrot fish, tangs, angel fish, barracuda, and much more. At lunch time we ate at a spot on the beach so we could get right back to the snorkeling. After lunch, we decided to venture into deeper waters where we found a coral cliff underwater where the depth went from 5′ to 25′ suddenly. The most amazing part of this location is that all the fish, coral, and plants were now suddenly different than the ones in the shallows.
After a great day of snorkeling, we got picked up by Jimmy and had some time before we needed to get back on the boat, so we asked Jimmy for a tour of the island, including where he lived. We went on a great ride around the area, seeing everything from the nice homes to the local impoverished areas. At one point, he took us way up into the hills where his family had an outside vendors fair. It was an amazing experience and really makes me realize how lucky we are.
Though it was hard to leave Honduras, we were off to Belize City, Belize and I was excited to go there. We got off the boat and had to tender in because the ship cannot park in the port due to the shallow depth, so it was a short 5 mile boat ride in. Once in the port, we met a cab driver named Michael and paid him to take us on a local tour. Michael gave us so much information and showed us all the embassies, churches, schools, stores, and other famous tourist areas.
After the tour, since we had more time in Belize, I asked Michael if he could show us the non-tourist areas, which he agreed to do. Michael took us back to his house and proudly opened his doors to let us meet his family and see his way of life. We spent a while hanging out with his kids and met his wife. They were all great people and we thoroughly enjoyed our time with them. It was again a true eye opener to how fortunate I truly am. After hanging out at his house for a while, we headed back to the boat for the next location. I really felt like Michael opened himself up to us in ways he did not need to and that was very humbling.
The next stop for the boat was Costa Maya, Mexico. When we got to the port that morning, there were some nice rainbows and you could see a very large water park in the distance. Once off the boat, we decided to walk out and grab a cab to the beach. Once at the beach, we sat in some swing chairs, had a drink, and observed the area.
I am not sure why, but this place was very dirty. It was almost strange that the ship would even stop there. While walking, we saw endless trash floating in the water and strewn on the beach. We also could smell and see open sewer water in many places. Based on this, we headed back to the port. In the port area, they had some native men dressed in full, traditional Mayan garb and we took some fun pictures with them. Then we hopped back onto the boat to hit the pool.
The last day of the cruise we got back to Miami and took an Uber up to Fort Lauderdale, where we stayed at the Westin on the beach. Fort Lauderdale is one of my favorites because I love Mega Yachts and it is the Mega Yacht Capital of the world. That night, we got water taxi passes, which transport you behind all the homes and tell you a bit about them. The taxi has about 13 stops and you can ride it till 10 pm, getting on and off as you please. The stops vary from restaurants to shopping areas to hotels. The last day, we took the bikes, which the Westin provides for free to guests, and rode around Fort Lauderdale a bit.
That night, unfortunately, the trip was at an end and we headed to Fort Lauderdale International Airport and flew back to Boston. During this trip, I feel like I learned a lot and got my focus back. It is easy in life to think we know a lot, but global travel always reminds us what a small piece of the world we live in. I can’t wait for my next trip!