Panama canal Travel Guide

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In the canal

Matt King

The Panama canal is one of the most spectacular sights from Panama. It is really great to see how the locks fill up and the big ships pass between the green lush mountains. You can arrange trips to see the canal from Panama city.

Miraflores locks on the Pacific entrance (new visitors center)  During the guided tour, you will be taken to a room with a scale map layout of the canal, where they will show you how the route goes from the Caribbean to the Pacific.  And,  outside, you can also see ships going thru the small locks.

But, if you want to really see the locks in action, it would be worthwhile to rent a car and drive east to the Gatun locks, past the former Ft Davis military base...near Colon.

Gatun locks on the Atlantic entrance.  These are by far the largest locks.  As you sit on the platform, you can see the ships approaching from the caribbean side... they are lining up,  one by one.  And then, each one goes thru 3 sets of locks, in each one, the locks are closed, filled with water to raise the ship, and then it moves on to the next one, and then the cycle repeats.  Finally, you see the ship moving out to the Lake Chagres...the former river which was dammed to accummulate water to fill out the locks...  luckily Panama gets a lot of rainfall. 

Further down,  halfway to the Pacific, there is the city of Gamboa.  Here the ships leave the Lake Chagres and go in the Gaillard Cut (Culebra cut in Spanish). This  is the most challenging, the narrowest part of the canal, this is the portion where  the mountains literally had to be cut to create the waterway.  At this stage, only one ship can go in  one direction, but currently there is construction to widen it.  From here, then there are two more sets of lock, the Don Pedro and the Miraflores, which are much smaller... and from here then the ships continue west to the Pacific side.

The Panama Canal is definitely worth checking out, considering it was such an engineering feat  at the turn of the century.  (that is, 100 yrs ago) It has been under full Panamanian control for a few years now, and it is still running very smoothly, and they are constantly improving the facilities. 

While in Panama City, be sure to visit the Canal Administration Building on top of the hill... they have these incredible murals (about 7 of them) in the ceiling depicting the process of building the canal.    Entrance is free.

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August 02, 2005 change by worldtraveler19

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