Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Atlantic to the Pacific via the Panama Canal


My two-week cruise was aboard Holland America’s Volendam from Fort Lauderdale to San Diego. I was anxious to take the trip because I have had five operations on my eye this past year, which has prevented me from traveling, and even prohibiting my driving for three months.

Catedral de Puntarenas, Costa Rica.

We began our trip with a stop at Holland America’s private island, Half Moon Cay. It was an opportunity to relax on its beach beside its crystal-clear blue sea. An extensive barbecue was provided.

After two days of cruising on the Caribbean, we visited Cartagena, Colombia, which features a well-preserved walled colonial city. It is a UNESCO world heritage site with colorful original architecture and street vendors. I had visited the city when it was infested with crime, but now it is a safe resort that is one of the most beautiful cities in South America. The Castillo San Felipe de Barajas on a hill overlooking the town merits a visit.

We continued our journey through the famous Panama Canal, which is one of the man-made wonders of the world. This was my fourth trip across the Canal, but one never tires of the awesome locks and banks of this massive engineering miracle. There is nothing that matches the unique experience of watching a huge container ship make its way through the amazing locks. It is a destination that deserves to be on everyone’s bucket list.

We sailed next to Puntarenas, Costa Rica, a small, friendly but poor port, catering to cruise ships. A long walking path along its beach is filled with craft and souvenir stalls. The featured building in town is its cathedral, built in 1902.

The next day we stopped at Corinto, Nicaragua, which is the country’s largest port. From here I took a tour to Leon, which once served as the country’s capital. It is one of Latin America’s most prominent colonial cities. It features Central America’s largest cathedral, the Cathedral de la Asuncion, which dates to 1746.

The cruise ship stopped in Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala, the country’s largest Pacific Ocean port. It serves as a jumping off place to visit colonial Antigua, but I have seen it before so I declined to visit and stayed at the port to visit its craft shops.

Our first port stop in Mexico was at Huatulco, a modern tourist area that lies in a large bay beneath the Sierra Madre Mountains. I visited the quaint village of Crucesita, which has a large Spanish plaza and a bustling market along its streets.

Our final stop was at the resort city of Puerto Vallarta, recognized as one of the most prosperous cities in Mexico. It was the former home of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The city was once voted the best place to retire by the American Association of Retired Persons, and also was recognized at one of the top vacation destinations in the world. We walked along the iconic boardwalk, called the Malecon, which overlooks the picturesque bay and is lined with statues. It has several blocks of cobblestone streets in the old Vallarta section. The city also contains La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Our cruise ended in San Diego.

Dave Pattison has lived in Marco Island since 1999. He has traveled to every continent and over 100 countries, and still takes five-six trips annually. Dave is a well respected travel writer, winning first place in a Florida Press Association contest. Dave was a lawyer/lobbyist for the insurance industry, and had worked in the White House for four years before retiring. A widower, Dave has four adult children and five grandchildren.

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