National Geographic Quest spent the night in Gatun Lake. Early at dawn, a pilot from the Panama Canal Authority came on board and assisted our officers in repositioning our vessel near Panama’s Natural Monument, Barro Colorado Island. As our guests came out on deck, they were mesmerized by the lush tropical forest that covers the island.

Howler monkeys were heard as the sun began to rise, which was the best invitation to explore the area. Specialized guides from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute were waiting on the island to take us for interesting hikes through the different trails they use for research.

It was a great morning with spectacular sightings of crocodiles, different species of birds, primates, and insects. Local naturalists explained this great biodiversity to us, highlighting the amazing symbiotic relationships of plants and animals. Back on board, a delicious lunch was waiting for us.

In the afternoon, we enjoyed the opportunity to cruise around the small islets in Gatun Lake, which was created by damming three rivers: The Chagres, Gatun, and Ciri Grande. What were once hilltops became islets and small islands.

More wildlife was sighted. The overcast afternoon allowed us to enjoy every second of the ride. During the exploration, we could see huge Neopanamax vessels navigating close to our vessel.

It was indeed a great way to start our exploration around Panama and Colombia.