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EXC In-Depth Field Notes: Santa Marta, San Blas Islands, Golfito & Quepos

Our EXC In-Depth Voyages recently set sail on an unforgettable journey of discovery. Holland America Line’s Director of Explorations Dr. Peter Carey is on board, and he, along with the EXC In-Depth Guides, will be documenting their up-close adventures and encounters our guests are having at every port. After departing Ft. Lauderdale the ship made way to Colombia, Panama, through the Panama Canal and on to Costa Rica. Enjoy the first installment of Field Notes, and stay tuned for more along the way!

SANTA MARTA, COLOMBIA
And so it begins! The Inaugural EXC In-Depth Voyage on Maasdam is underway. As we sailed across a placid Caribbean Sea, we had ample opportunities to learn about the region from our many Guest Presenters and EXC Guides. Santa Marta was our first port of call and it proved to be a showcase for the vibrancy of Colombia and its natural charms. It’s a compact city, spreading along a sandy shore with a beach that was alive with children playing in the gentle surf. A walk around the city center revealed a grid of narrow streets and low houses, with a smattering of small parks and plazas mixed throughout. Many of us also ventured out to the nearby Tayrona National Park, a stunning wedge of jungle that abuts the Caribbean Sea. The beach here was beautiful, and wild, as was the forest behind it.  Accompanied by local guides and our EXC In-Depth Naturalists, we saw a range of wildlife big and small, including a trail of the famous leafcutter ants, transporting their little green prizes back to their unseen colony. These insects have one of the most complex societies of any animal and can be said to practice agriculture. They use the leaves to cultivate a fungus and it is this fungus which provides food for the ants.

 

A lizard greets the camera at the lunch stop in Tayrona National Park. photo © Martin Cohen

A lizard greets the camera at the lunch stop in Tayrona National Park. photo © Martin Cohen

The wild coast of the Caribbean Sea. photo © Alan Trujillo

The wild coast of the Caribbean Sea. photo © Alan Trujillo

SAN BLAS ISLANDS, PANAMA
A short tender ride from Maasdam’s anchorage brought our EXC In-Depth Voyage to the unusual San Blas Islands. These low-lying islands are isolated off the coast of Panama and are home to the Kuna people. Barely three feet above sea level, the islands are absolutely packed with the small huts of the inhabitants. There is almost no ground here that does not have a dwelling on it and we wandered in the tight spaces between houses and marveled at the variety of materials used to construct them. The people here make their living from the sea and get around in fast, extremely narrow canoes. Although the Kuna have lived here for centuries, rising sea levels are now driving them out and we were told the entire population would be relocated to the Panamanian mainland in the next 12 months.
 

A tiny island is packed with inhabitants. © Peter Carey

A tiny island is packed with inhabitants. © Peter Carey

Three different water craft are seen here off the San Blas Islands. © Peter Carey

Three different water craft are seen here off the San Blas Islands. © Peter Carey

GOLFITO, COSTA RICA
Even before we reached the harbor, the friendly inhabitants of Golfito were welcoming us: a flotilla of colorful boats danced sprightly around Maasdam as we made our approach. One of the characteristics of EXC In-Depth Voyages is our forays off the beaten path and that was certainly the case in Golfito. They don’t get a lot of cruise ships here and we were certainly the largest vessel of any kind to tie up to the pier. As we disembarked, a band of local musicians kept up a lively serenade and we fanned out to take in the sights. Immediately adjacent to town, the Golfito Wildlife Refuge meant there were plenty of birds around the streets, including a pair of one of the gaudiest of parrots, the dazzling scarlet macaw. And for those on excursions with our EXC In-Depth Naturalists, the refuge proved delightful even in the pouring rain with sightings of a group of endemic squirrel monkeys and a hike to a gorgeous waterfall.

Another excursion took a group to kayak through the forest and mangroves of Golfito, which proved to be a physical and entertaining voyage. Paddling on tranquil waters while howler monkeys made a raucous racket in the forest canopy made this is a fantastic excursion. As we sailed away from our pioneering stop at Golfito, the local boats escorted us out of the harbor while the town shot off a fireworks display in celebration of our visit. A truly spectacular end to our first day in Costa Rica. 
 

Kayaks are launched to explore the forest and mangroves of Golfito. © Alan Trujillo

Kayaks are launched to explore the forest and mangroves of Golfito. © Alan Trujillo

QUEPOS, COSTA RICA
After the tiny town of Golfito yesterday, we graduated to the slightly larger town of Quepos today. It sits right next to Manual Antonio National Park and whether on a formal EXC In-Depth excursion or as independent travelers, it seems much of Maasdam’s population made it into the park to see what they could see. Which was quite a lot! Sloths were spotted along one of the easy trails, white-faced capuchin monkeys fought over a honeycomb, and two troops of howler monkeys engaged in a loud vocal competition that drowned out the sounds of the birds and cicadas. Elsewhere in the park, our rafting excursion took a leisurely path through the forest, gliding quietly past egrets and other water birds, and even a caiman (local alligator).

A sloth taking it’s time to do ... pretty much everything. In Manuel Antonio National Park. © Martin Cohen

A sloth taking it’s time to do … pretty much everything. In Manuel Antonio National Park. © Martin Cohen

The rafting trip descends a gentle river through the rainforest near Quepos. © Alan Trujillo

The rafting trip descends a gentle river through the rainforest near Quepos. © Alan Trujillo


 

Maasdam currently is crossing the equator en route to Ecuador and further along South America’s coast. If you’d like to join an EXC In-Depth Voyage, they are scheduled into 2020 so take a look and see where you’d like to explore!

2 Comments
  • Donna dickson

    Can u send me more info for 2019 and costs involved

  • Julie

    Hi Donna, all of the EXC In-Depth itineraries are on HollandAmerica.com. Please search by Maasdam.

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