When planning a vacation, nothing makes me happier than visiting a new place. Some folks enjoy returning time and time again to their favorite spot on the planet but not me. I love the idea of experiencing a new culture for the first time and seeing the beautifully hidden and then suddenly revealed exciting novel sights and sounds. I enjoy the uncertainty of what’s just around the bend, and I relish peeling off the superficial to reveal the deeper, and often very meaningful revelations a new place provides. Continually learning about the unique history of a specific locale is one of the best parts of travel.

My recent trip to Panama, Colombia and Aruba was a total winner. Before heading out to sea on a cruise, it’s always best to arrive to the departure city a day or two early. No one wants to miss their holiday because of late flight.

Lobby of Hotel La Compañia, Panama City

We arrived in Panama City just one day before our Windstar ship sailed, but after experiencing the iconic Hotel La Compañia, we were very sorry we only gave ourselves 24 hours in this gem of place.

Built on the site where a Jesuit convent was constructed in Panama City in 1673, it now sits in the heart of Casco Antiguo, Panama City’s old town. Centrally located, this landmark has revitalized the hotel to pay tribute to 3 major points in Panama City’s history, beautifully curating their space into a luxury experience with a Spanish Colonial wing, dating back to 1688, a French Colonial wing, built in 1739; and the Beaux-Arts rooms in the American wing, which dates back to 1904.

Our room was in the Spanish Colonial wing and was comfy and gorgeous. We loved every minute of our stay. Our only regret was that we hadn’t plan to stay longer.

Star Legend Motor Yacht

The Windstar small ship cruise option is the ideal size for sea travel. To be onboard with a maximum of 300 other travelers allows for a lot of luxury and plenty of space to move. On this trip we loved the intimacy of the Star Legend, a newly renovated motoring yacht that allowed us to visit locations that the larger vessels can’t reach like a remote island seabird sanctuary.

Panama Seabird Sanctuary

We chose this specific cruise because it offered a ride through the Panama Canal and to see some new spots, including Cartagena, Colombia before ending our vacation in Aruba for some beach time.

Stormy seas, always a possibility any time of year, kept us from visiting Panamanian island of San Blas, but we managed to have some local San Blas artisans and musicians come aboard and share their handicrafts and local music with us.

San Blas woman artist and me

Did you know emeralds come from Colombia? Me neither. The visit to Cartagena was a feast for the eyes. The streets are full of color and local art and Colombia is a destination I want to visit and explore further.

Street scene Cartagena, Columbia

Arriving in Aruba at dawn to see the sunlight shining on the town was a real treat. We hopped off the ship and hightailed it to our land paradise for 3 final days of sun, sand, and daily ocean swims. There is nothing quite like the color of the water in the Caribbean. The Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino was roomy and luxuriously comfortable and had the best beachfront cabanas on the island. A huge bonus for me was that you could book your daily beach spot in advance and select the type of beach chairs you prefer (we opted for lounge chairs and low water seats). We stayed at the beach all day, and with just a push of a button servers happily served us drinks and food.

We sat close enough to enjoy the live poolside music without having to be at the pool, and there was an adult only pool and club option, too. There were several good restaurants onsite (think acai bowls for breakfast and Ruth Chris’ for dinner) so we honestly only ventured a 5 minute walk down the beach once to check out the Italian restaurant at the Ritz Carlton next door.

Aruba beach view

Travel always helps me see the world as beautiful again and feel its magic, to shake off the disenchantment and worries of world politics and find sanctuary in just being present exactly where I find myself sitting. This trip was no exception.

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