Biological Wonders in Costa Rica and the Panama Canal

Led by Ted Johnson, Professor Emeritus of Biology, and Michelle Johnson, Retired Medical Technologist

February 25–March 4, 2017

With Lindblad Expeditions on the National Geographic Sea Lion


Registration is now closed, as the ship is full. Please take a look at the rest of Our Faculty-Led Programs or let us know of a destination in which you might be interested.

The perfect winter escape. Dense, lush rain forest. Pristine deserted beaches. Monkeys galore. Coatimundis and dozing sloths, plus toucans, macaws, and hummingbirds. Walk deep into the rain forest; the only sounds are the birds and monkeys in the trees and your own footfalls. And slowly, everyday life dissipates as revitalization takes over. On this expedition, we’ll walk the rain forest, kayak through mangroves, search for wildlife by expedition landing craft, and transit the Panama Canal—a modern wonder of the world.

Come along with us by expedition ship – the National Geographic Sea Lion – for a unique Canal transit and rare opportunities to explore deep in the jungle. We’ll experience a land of contrasts: the renowned natural beauty of Costa Rica and the tropical wildness of Panama, set against the stark concrete of the Panama Canal, a marvel of engineering in constant use for nearly 100 years.

We’ll immerse ourselves for a week in wildness, experiencing biodiversity at its best, in this remarkable land bridge between North and South America. The ship will be base camp — a movable feast with a welcoming onboard atmosphere that truly fosters an esprit de corps, as we share each day’s freshness and wonder. Multiple times each day we’ll explore the area with landing crafts (like zodiacs), kayaks, hikes, and snorkeling (full equipment provided by our tour operator, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic).

A transit of the Panama Canal is a bucket list must-do for many. It’s historically significant and a remarkable achievement of human engineering. But few have the opportunity to experience the Canal the way we do on this expedition. Our transit elapses over 48 hours, enabling you to see the Canal and learn about its mechanisms by day, and sometimes see it dramatically lit at night. Within the Canal Zone, we have special permission to overnight at Barro Colorado Island in Gatún Lake, serenaded by the thrilling sounds of the rain forest. Barro Colorado Island has been the site of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute since 1923, and is where we’ll meet Smithsonian scientists and enjoy a guided forest walk. When we resume our Canal transit, gathering on Sea Lion’s generous bow, staff will point out and explain how massive locks move a mountain of water — 26 million gallons of manipulated water rise seemingly magically beneath the ship, lifting us to 85 feet above sea level. 

Contrasted with this engineering wonder are the biological wonders we’ll encounter as we traverse ecological diversity in coastal rainforest, beaches, cloud forest and desert scape, including a wide variety of wildlife, such as: hummingbirds, butterflies, toucans, macaws, capuchin monkeys, spider monkeys and howler monkeys, red-eyed tree frog, three-toed sloths, long-nosed bats and – hopefully off the bow – dolphins, among much else.

Program Leaders

Ted Johnson, professor emeritus of biology, and Michelle Johnson, retired St. Olaf Health Center medical technologist, are veteran travelers and program leaders. Ted and Michelle led the St. Olaf Global Semester in 1998, the Environmental Studies in Australia Semester in 2004 and Term in Asia in 2006 and 2012. Ted led students on an Interim study service program in Peru multiple times.

Ted graduated from Augsburg College in 1968 and received an MS and a PhD from the University of Illinois in 1973. He has been with the biology department at St. Olaf for the past 38 years, teaching primarily courses in microbiology and immunology. He has been chair of the Health Professions Committee and has served as an advisor for many students interested in a career in the health professions. Michelle graduated from Millikin University in 1969 and received a masters in English from Mankato State University. Ted and Michelle have three children.

What to Expect

To participate in this program you must be capable of traveling on board a 152-foot ship for several days at a time, climbing in and out of zodiac-style landing craft, hiking over uneven terrain in the day’s heat, dealing with the emotional highs and lows that can occur when traveling, handling your own luggage, and traveling with a group for several hours each day. You always have the option of skipping a group activity you think will be too strenuous and remaining on the ship.

You are responsible for reviewing the specific requirements for this program and judging the appropriateness of these travel activities to your physical, mental and behavioral capabilities. Any participant who is unable to fulfill the program requirements may have their registration cancelled. Any participant who has demonstrated an inability, in the opinion of the program leader, of keeping up with the group or of safely participating in program activities may be prohibited from participating in certain activities or excused from the program.

The atmosphere on board is casual. There is no expectation of any formal dress whatsoever; after all, it is an expedition. Clothing that can be layered is the most suitable to provide maximum versatility to your wardrobe. Packing recommendations will be provided prior to departure. The weather in late February will be warm. Daytime temperatures will likely average 85° Fahrenheit, with lows around 65.

You should plan on seeing your family physician or a travel doctor at least four to six weeks prior to departure, preferably earlier, to talk about routine vaccinations. For more information on travel health, visit or

Program Fee

The program fee varies by cabin (see below) and include discussions led by Ted Johnson, assistance by Michelle Johnson, services of an Expedition Leader and naturalists, accommodations, all meals and non-alcoholic beverages on board, 24-hour coffee, tea & soda, hors d’oeuvres and snacks during daily recap, and some travel insurance coverage while overseas.

Participants are solely responsible for all expenses not specifically included in the program fee. Examples of excluded expenses are: international or internal airfare • Airport transfers, unless you book the recommended flights • Any passport, visa, or immigration fees • Any recommended immunizations or vaccinations • Baggage insurance • Trip cancellation insurance above $2,000 lifetime coverage • Alcoholic beverages • Spa treatments • Horseback riding • Laundry • Internet or phone charges • Gratuities.

Book by December 31, 2016 and receive free round-trip airfare Miami/Panama and Costa Rica/Miami or a $450 cabin credit.
PLUS, receive a free overnight and sightseeing excursion in Panama City prior to the program.
If you choose not to do the Panama City overnight, receive a $500 credit. Subject to availability; new bookings only. 



Cabins & Rates

Bridge Deck (top most level)
NG Sea Lion Bridge Deck

Upper Deck
NG Sea Lion Upper Deck

Main Deck
NG Sea Lion Main Deck

Category   Double*     Solo           Cabins
1                $6,390      $9,490          #300-305 on the Main Deck
2                $7,290      $11,090        #200-212, #215 on the Upper Deck and #100-104 on the Bridge Deck
3                $8,290          —              #214, 216, 217, 219 on the Upper Deck and #105, 106 on the Bridge Deck
*Prices are per person, double occupancy

CATEGORY 1: Main Deck #300-305—Conveniently positioned between the dining room & lounge, these cabins feature two single lower beds and a large view window.

CATEGORY 2: Bridge Deck #100-104; Upper Deck #200-212, 215—These well-located cabins include two lower single beds & a view window.

CATEGORY 3: Bridge Deck #105, 106; Upper Deck #214, 216, 217, 219—These cabins feature a seating unit with table and two large view windows. Upper Deck cabins include two lower single beds which can convert to a double bed and a pull-out single bed for a third person; Bridge Deck cabins include two lower single beds only.

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