So everyone has heard about the Panama Canal in one way or another. If you haven't then you've been living under a rock, but regardless, if you're coming to Panama it is one of those must sees. Even if you're not an engineering buff or into the tourist attractions like the Great Wall of China or other man-made marvels you still need to just do it and mark it off the bucket list. Now, for some specific facts for those really detail oriented...
... The Panama Canal is approximately 80 kilometers long between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Built in one of the narrowest areas of the continent, the interoceanic highway links North America with South America. The Canal uses a system of locks with entry and exit doors. The locks function as water elevators: ships rise from sea level (either Pacific or Atlantic) to the level of Gatun Lake (26 meters above sea level); Then, ships navigate through the channel of the Canal, in the Central Cordillera of Panama. It is deemed as one of the greatest engineering feats in the world.
There are many ways to experience the canal, so we thought we might just give you the scoop on the best ways and break it down for you from the easy paced to the high adrenaline.
Visitor Center Miraflores
Located on the east side of the Miraflores locks, the Miraflores Visitor Center is the ideal place to observe Canal operations. It has large balconies from where visitors can see when the gates open and close as ships begin or end their transit through the Canal. Sometimes, you can catch cruise ships passing by the locks and see all the passengers cheering and greeting! Four exhibition halls, organized by theme, constitute the heart of the Miraflores Visitor Center. The exhibits are dedicated to the history of the Canal, the importance of water as a source of life, its operation, its role in world trade and the progress of the expansion of the road. The Center has a large fully equipped theater, three observation terraces, two refreshments, a restaurant with panoramic views, a souvenir shop and a hall for special events.
This one ranks on the easy paced level. If you don’t want to spend all day or just want to hop in take a photo op and say you’ve seen it then this is the way to go. Prices have increased on the visitor center entrance, up to $30 per person.
Boat transit schedule in the morning until 10:10 am.
Transit in the afternoon from 1:30 pm.
Monkey Island Jungle Safari
This option is fun because you may get to cruise right next to the huge ships that are transiting the Canal. If you are a nature lover and prefer to experience things more closely, this excursion is recommended to get to know the Canal in a more entertaining way. With Highlife Panama, chill with some drinks in hand on your personal safari boat. Throughout the tour, we may have encounters with howler monkeys, cariblancos and marmosets, as well as reptiles and birds. Through Highlife Panama, wake up at your leisure and head to the Panama Canal for a day of fun. This option is great if you’re looking for a different way to experience the canal by really getting into it, literally!
Tour by Helicopter
Probably the most adrenaline pumped of the options and definitely the best views. Embark on an exciting helicopter ride from Panama City to the Panama Canal. With Highlife, you can take to the skies for the ultimate city and canal tour in your private helicopter. Flying at 800 feet you will reach an optimal view of the canal lock system. What better way to just take everything in? You can see all the small rivers that make up the Canal. Don't forget to take your camera. Then back to Panama City. You will be able to see the Canal through its window during the rest of the trip. The return flight will be at a higher height so you can get a wider and more expansive vision. It will be the helicopter ride of your life... don't forget to take your camera! Price per person starting at $150 per person.
Full Boat Tour
The complete transit of the Panama Canal goes from the Pacific to the Atlantic side of the Canal. After boarding the ship, you will travel to the Miraflores locks. These locks will lift your boat 60 feet (18 m) in two steps. The ship continues through Miraflores Lake, an artificial freshwater lake, before reaching the Pedro Miguel locks. Here your boat rises again through the locks, although this time it is only 30 feet (9 m) and in one step. After passing through Gatun Lake, you will cross the Gatun locks. These are the finals and largest in the Panama Canal. You will lift your boat 85 feet (26 m) in three steps and are just over 1 mile (1.5 km) in length. On this tour, you will experience the Panama Canal in a way that most travelers do not. You will enjoy a close-up look at barges, cruises, locks and much more. This excursion only runs once a month. It leaves at 6:00 am. The duration of the tour depends on where you stay. If you stay in Panama City, this tour lasts about 8 hours; if it locates in Gamboa, it persists around 8.5 hours; and if you stay at Playa Bonita, it takes approximately 8.5 hours.