The Panama Canal is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and worth a visit when you’re in Panama City. Even if you’re not into boats, you can appreciate how much work went into building this structure. Completed in 1914, boats finally had a way to cross by water between North and South America instead of having to go all the way around South America.
The Canal was one of the biggest undertakings of its time, and thousands of people died in the creation of this. They had to cut through mountains and create a dam for this project to work. The dam created Gatun and Miraflores Lakes, which ships go through to get to the other side. The lakes are above sea level, so when ships come in, the gate closes on either side and water starts filling in so the boat can be lifted to the same level of the lakes (about 28 feet).
On average, it takes a ship about eight to ten hours to travel to the Panama Canal. If this wasn’t in place, it would take over two weeks to get from the Caribbean side to the Pacific side of Panama. They estimate the cost of a ship going through based on how much it weighs. The average is around $150,000, while the most expensive one to date was close to one million dollars.
How to Visit
There are several ways to visit the Panama Canal when you’re in Panama.
Taxi – This is the easiest and cheapest way to visit. You can get a taxi from your hotel in Panama City, or an Uber for about $10-$15 one way, to Miraflores Locks. There’s wi-fi at the visitor’s center so you can get on it to call an Uber to take you back when you’re done. Without traffic, it’s only about 15 minutes away from the city.
Tour – Tours will run you about $80 and will last for around six hours. The advantage is you’ll be able to see more than just the Panama Canal (jungle tour combinations are popular) and you’ll have a tour guide. However, if you just want to go to the locks and come back, you’ll be better off getting a taxi.
Cruise Ship – Many cruise ships are now offering tours that go right through the Panama Canal. If you’re really curious how the locks work, this is the best way to get up close and in the middle of the action.
Read more: What to Do in Panama’s Charming Casco Viejo
Tips for Visiting
If you really want to spend time at the locks, you can stay overnight at the Holiday Inn Panama Canal. It’s just a few minutes away so you can watch the boats go in and out in the morning and at night.
There are three different locks in the Panama Canal, but these are the two you can visit.
These are by Colon, which is on the east/Caribbean side of the Panama Canal. There was recently an expansion with a visitor’s center and observation deck added. It’s much less crowded than the popular Miraflores Locks, so you’ll have a better viewing spot for the ships.
Cost – $15 for non-residents
Hours – 8 AM to 4 PM
This is the most popular place to visit and where you’d want to get your taxi to if you’re staying in Panama City. They have a visitor’s center so you can learn all about the history of the locks. You can also get pretty close on the observation deck to watch the ships come through.
Cost – $15 for non-residents
Hours – 8 AM to 6 PM
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