It might seem that, to find a relatively untouched tropical paradise, you’d need to travel halfway around the world. However, one of the best-kept secrets in travel ”“ Panama ”“ is close at hand and has everything you could want in a warm-weather getaway. The country combines the modern (its capital and the engineering marvel of the Panama Canal) with the natural (its beaches and jungles).The best way to see it all is on a Panama Canal cruise.

While the capital, Panama City, is a bustling metropolis, travel to other parts of the country with less tourism infrastructure can be a challenge without the right guidance. A Panama Canal cruise guided trip will make it simple to explore all parts of this fascinating place ”“ all the arrangements and planning are done ahead of time, so the only thing travelers need to think about is enjoying the experience. With transportation, dining and lodging all pre-arranged, the cost savings of a journey that includes a Panama Canal cruise can also be significant ”“ as much as 40 percent less than the cost of independent travel.

The vessel that takes you on your Panama Canal cruise will also be a major factor in how much you enjoy the trip. A yacht like m/v Tere Moana, which Tauck uses for its Panama Canal cruises, provides a totally different vantage point, as well as a club-like atmosphere aboard ship and a personalized cruising experience. Beyond the Panama Canal cruise days, m/v Tere Moana is able to access waters unavailable to large ships.

The first stop of many Panama Canal cruises is the capital of Panama City. The modern skyscrapers might be a surprise, but you’ll also find plenty of fascinating historical sights and local flavor around town. The cobblestone streets of Casco Viejo, the UNESCO-World-Heritage-listed heart of the old town, are perfect for strolling between Spanish-style courtyards, cafes and restaurants.

Outside the city, Panama’s natural wonders take center stage. On the coast, crystalline blue waters and white sand beaches are beautiful, and in the interior, mysterious cloud forests are filled with jungle wildlife and the sounds of exotic birdcall. At the Gamboa Rainforest Resort, you can even take an aerial tram through the canopy to spot the numerous birds that populate the region.

Getting off the beaten track on a Panama Canal cruise experience will give you a glimpse of truly unique cultures. In the palm-dotted San Blas Islands, a visit to a Kuna village takes in the daily lives of people living in such a remote place. The Kuna are famed artisans and masters of embroidery and applique work, which is demonstrated in the bright, whimsical molas that adorn local clothing. Further afield, in the Darien province, communities like the Embera carry on traditional ways of life that have changed little since the time of their ancestors.

Of course, the centerpiece of a Panama Canal cruise is a journey through the canal itself, which is celebrating its centennial in 2014. Aboard a small vessel like m/v Tere Moana, the 85-foot rise in the Gatun Locks is an unforgettable experience.

Panama is truly a destination that has it all, and visiting in 2014, during the 100-year anniversary of the Panama Canal, will only make your time there more unique and memorable. For more information about Panama Canal cruises, visit Tauck Online.