If you’re serious about coffee, perhaps you’ve considered visiting the source. On a Panama Canal cruise with Holland America, your cruise itinerary will take you to several places known for producing some of the world’s best coffee: Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Colombia. On my recent cruise aboard the MS Westerdam, I visited each of these countries with the quest for coffee dictating my excursion options. Now I’m thrilled to share some of the best cafes, roasters, and plantation experiences I had on my cruise with Holland America.
Puerto Quetzal was the Guatemala port stop on my cruise and I knew an excursion with EXC Tours would offer a perfect excursion for a coffee lover like me. The “Antigua on Your Own” option proved to be ideal for me, as it included comfortable transportation during the 90-minute ride to Antigua—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—and allowed a generous amount of time for exploring the city on foot. Another alternative for coffee lovers would be an excursion that includes a visit to Filadelfia Coffee Estate, where guests tour the plantation established in 1870. Naturally that appealed to me, but I was concerned with balancing time between local coffee, chocolate, culture, and architecture. Thus, the focus on Antigua made perfect sense. In the city, my favorite spot for coffee and chocolate was ChocoMuseo, a hands-on museum offering guests an opportunity to see how chocolate is farmed and produced. Their gift shop and café offer fresh roasted coffee, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate, and other confections.
Our port in Nicaragua was Corinto, just over an hour away from my destination preference of Leon. Plenty of excursions tempted me, with itineraries including a rum distillery, botanical gardens, and a banana plantation, yet the coffee quest continued so I opted to focus on this former capital city with “Colonial Leon” through EXC Tours. I’m glad I did. It was here I found Casa del Cafe, a charming café housed in a beautiful stone nook of a building. Visitors can enjoy a hot or cold pick-me-up beverage on the spot while perusing a nice selection of fresh roasted local beans.
When it came to visiting Costa Rica, with our port stop in Puerto Caldera, there was no question about what to select for an excursion. “Costa Rica’s Countryside & Coffee Experience” with EXC Tours included a focused amount of time at Espíritu Santo Coffee Plantation in the highlands of Naranjo. Guests tour a portion of the 640 plantation acres, getting hands-on experience of what it’s like to cultivate coffee cherries. Guides tour guests through the entire cherry-to-packaged production, with a roasting demonstration and cupping experience to taste a fresh from the farm cup of joe. Then we spent a little time at the shop picking out bags of coffee to bring home. I adored this experience, and the little additional stop in neighboring town Sarchi—home of the largest oxcart ever built. Oxcarts were an important part of the area’s coffee production and delivery system, so this added an extra special meaning to our visit.
When we arrived in Cartegena, Colombia, my partner and I opted to explore the old walled city on foot, knowing ahead of time the many cafes and eateries we would want to experience. One of the most common cafes you’ll find in the area is the Juan Valdez Café, serving fresh roasted beverages and baked goods alongside a selection of bagged beans. Another notable place I recommend visiting is Cafeto Café Y Regalos, located in a narrow building in the walled city. The shop staffers were wonderful with sharing their history and roasting, and the venue offered a great variety of beans whether you prefer light, medium, or dark roasts. Samples are available, and there’s also a nice selection of unique coffee gifts available.
My experience with the Panama Canal cruise was full of culture, food, exploration, and—yes—coffee. I found the itinerary to offer a well-rounded variety of port stops in beloved coffee-growing countries, while also providing coffee-lover options with official EXC Tours. You can choose anywhere between 10 to 24 days cruising Panama Canal with Holland America, and the lengthier itineraries will certainly offer even more coffee quest options. Even onboard, you’ll find a great cup of java served at Explorations Café Presented by the New York Times. Plus, the ship’s retail area carries coffees local to your itinerary, so if you miss picking up beans while on shore you can still stock up with local roasts before heading home. For more info on planning your Panama Canal cruise, visit Holland America.
Lori A. May is a Seattle-based travel writer.
Photo credits: CT Shier