The 4 main ways to see the Panama Canal

Welcome to Panama, a country known for its vibrant culture, lush rainforests, and, of course, the world-famous Panama Canal. If you’re planning a trip to Panama, one of the must-see attractions is undoubtedly the Panama Canal, an engineering marvel that has been facilitating international trade since 1914. In this tourist guide, we’ll take you through the four main ways to see the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal – Puente Centenario

A trip to Panama is incomplete without visiting the Panama Canal, one of the engineering marvels of the modern world. The canal is a significant landmark, connecting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and shortening the journey between them by thousands of miles. Visiting the canal is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that offers tourists an opportunity to witness the sheer size and engineering of this historic structure. In this tourist guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about planning a visit to the Panama Canal.

100 Years Panama Canal

100 Years Panama Canal

The History of the Panama Canal

The idea of constructing a canal across Panama was first proposed in the early 16th century by Spanish explorers. From By August 15, 1914 the Panama Canal was officially opened by the passing of the SS Ancon. At the time, no single effort in American history had exacted such a price in dollars or in human life. The American expenditures from 1904 to 1914 totaled $352,000,000, far more than the cost of anything built by the United States Government up to that time. Together the French and American expenditures totaled $639,000,000. It took 34 years from the initial effort in 1880 to actually open the Canal in 1914. It is estimated that over 80,000 persons took part in the construction and that over 30,000 lives were lost in both French and American efforts. In the Year 2014 we celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the Panama Canal.

For those interested to read more I highly recommend this book available here at Amazon: The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough.

Container cargo ship in the Miraflores Locks.

How Does the Panama Canal Work?

The Panama Canal is an artificial waterway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, cutting across the narrowest part of the isthmus of Panama in Central America. The canal is 50 miles (80 km) long and allows ships to bypass the long and dangerous route around the southern tip of South America.

The canal works by using a system of locks that raise and lower ships from sea level to the elevation of the canal, which is about 85 feet (26 meters) above sea level. The canal has three sets of locks, each with two lanes for ships to pass through.

When a ship enters the canal, it is guided by a pilot boat and pulled by electric locomotives through the locks. The locks are filled with water from the adjacent lakes, which is then drained to lower the ship to the next level. The entire process takes about 8-10 hours to complete.

The canal can accommodate a variety of ships, from small boats to large cargo vessels and even some of the world’s largest cruise ships. Ships pay a toll based on their size and cargo, which is used to fund the operation and maintenance of the canal.

Overall, the Panama Canal is a remarkable feat of engineering that has facilitated global trade and transportation for over a century.

Cruise ship in the Miraflores Locks


 Tips for Visiting the Panama Canal

Here are some tips that will help you make the most of your visit to the Panama Canal:

  • Wear comfortable clothes and shoes: The canal’s climate is hot and humid, so dress comfortably and wear comfortable shoes.
  • Visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon: The canal is less crowded in the early morning or late afternoon, so plan your visit accordingly.
  • Bring a camera: The canal offers plenty of photo opportunities, so don’t forget to bring a camera.
  • Plan ahead: Make sure to plan your visit in advance, especially if you’re taking a boat tour or visiting during peak season.
  • Check out also this page here for Real Time Panama Canal Cruise Ships Location GPS Map with information on what ships are where in the Panama Canal at this very moment. This will help you to plan your visit to the locks and info on what ships are to arrive next.
  • And this page here for the real time Panama Canal weather radar so you see what weather comes your way.

FAQs about the Panama Canal

Q: How long does it take for a ship to transit the Panama Canal? A: It takes approximately 8 to 10 hours for a ship to transit the entire canal.

Q: How much does it cost to visit the Panama Canal? A: The entrance fee to the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center is about $20 for adults, and boat tours range from $100 to $200 per person, depending on the duration and type of tour.

Q: Should I bring food and drinks to the canal? A: There are also several cafes and restaurants at the Miraflores Locks Visitor Center and other nearby areas.

Q: Is it safe to visit the Panama Canal? A: Yes, the Panama Canal is safe to visit. However, like any tourist destination, it’s essential to take standard safety precautions, such as being aware of your surroundings and not carrying valuables.

The 4 main ways to see the Panama Canal

1. Miraflores Visitor Center
The Miraflores Visitor Center is a great place to learn about the history and operation of the Panama Canal. Located on the Pacific side of the canal, the center features a museum, a movie theater, and a large observation deck where you can watch ships as they pass through the Miraflores Locks. The observation deck also has a restaurant where you can enjoy a meal while taking in the stunning views of the canal. There is also a hop on hop off bus in Panama City that stops at the Miraflores Locks. For more details please see this page here. The Miraflores Visitor Center has an IMAX theater that shows the film ‘Panama Canal in 3D a Land Divided a World United’ narrated by Morgan Freeman.

Hop on hop off bus at the Miraflores Visitors Center

miraflores visitor center

miraflores locks

Imax at the Miraflores visitor center

2. Aguas Claras Locks Visitor Center
The Aguas Claras Locks Visitor Center is located on the Atlantic side of the canal and provides a unique perspective on the canal’s operation. The center features a museum, a movie theater, and an observation deck where you can watch ships pass through the locks. The center also has a restaurant and gift shop, making it a great place to spend an afternoon. Below I will post a google map with the location of the Miraflores Locks.

The New Panama Canal Expansion Observation Center

The new Aguas Claras Locks during the construction time

3. Train ride from Panama to Colon
For a truly unique experience, take a train ride from Panama City to Colon. The train follows the path of the canal and offers stunning views of the surrounding rainforest and the canal itself. Along the way, you’ll pass through several small towns and see the canal from a different perspective than you would at the visitor centers. For rates and time table please see this page here.

Panama Canal Railways

4. Panama Canal Cruise complete or partial
Finally, one of the most popular ways to see the Panama Canal is on a cruise. There are many different cruise options available, from partial transits that take you through a section of the canal to full transits that take you from one ocean to the other. On a cruise, you’ll have the opportunity to see the canal from the water and watch as your ship passes through the locks. See this page here for more information. Of couse bessides the local small tourist boats there are also many huge international Cruise Ships that frequent the Panama Canal.

Panama Canal Cruise

And then there is also the Panama Canal Museum
The Panama Canal Museum is a must-visit attraction that offers a glimpse into the history and construction of the canal. The museum has exhibits, artifacts, and documents that showcase the canal’s evolution and its impact on the world. The museum is located in the old part of Panama City in El Casci Viejo, Plaza Cathedral. There is also a Panama Canal museum website to learn more see here.

Plus there is yet another way to visit the Panama Canal in virtual form see this page here for the Live Webcams from the Panama Canal. And some official videos here at this Youtube chanel

Cruise ship in the Gatun Locks.

A visit to the Panama Canal is a must-do activity when visiting Panama. The canal’s history, engineering marvels, and significance make it a unique destination that offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience. With this comprehensive tourist guide, you now have all the information you need to plan your trip to the Panama Canal successfully. Don’t forget to wear comfortable clothes and shoes, bring a camera, and plan your visit in advance to make the most of your time at this world-famous canal. Whether you choose to visit the Miraflores or Aguas Claras visitor centers, take a train ride, or go on a cruise, you’re sure to be amazed by this incredible feat of human ingenuity.

Google map with the location of the Miraflores Locks in Panama City.

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