Happy 100th Anniversary, Panama Canal!

Good morning, Panama Canal!

Good morning, Panama Canal!

The Panama Canal is considered by many to be the greatest engineering feat of the last century and perfect example of human initiative and courage.   So what better time to explore this technological wonder than during the year of its 100th Anniversary?

The project took ten years to finish and cost a great deal in blood and treasure.  The purpose of the canal was to create a shorter route between the Atlantic and the Pacific, rather than go around Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America.  The new 48-mile route shortened the distance by 7,000 miles.

The project to connect the two oceans was first started by the French in 1881, but it was abandoned when malaria and yellow fever claimed 220,000 lives and combined with the astronomical costs, became an impossible burden for the French to sustain.  Fifteen years later, the project was resumed by the United States, and the task was completed ten years later.  Much of the canal was constructed during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), who considered this project the most important accomplishment of his administration.

The canal was opened on August 15, 1914 and established an expanded route for global commerce.  The shortcut consists of a series of two-lane locks that lift the vessels from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake which sits in the middle of the canal transit. Once a ship moves past the Gatun Lake, another set of locks lowers it back down to sea level so that it can continue its passage to the ocean.

I chose to transverse the entire length on a cruise ship.  We entered the mouth of the canal from the Port of Balboa on the Pacific side and exited through the Port of Colon and into the Caribbean Sea on the Atlantic side.

A surreal panorama of dawn breaking on Panama City was the first the first thing I saw on the Panama Canal passage.

a-Panama Canal1_PattiMorrow_luggageandlipstick

Small but powerful tugs abound near the locks to assist the vessels into the locks, if needed.


The Miraflores Locks is perhaps the most famous due to its proximity to Panama City.  Tourists and residents in the city can take a short drive to see the locks processing a ship without having to actually board a ship.


The water used for the Miraflores (and all the other) Locks is poured by gravity from Gatun Lake using a culvert system from the side and center walls.



I enjoyed various views of the canal from the balcony of my cabin.



But when it came to viewing the locks, I had a more expansive panoramic view from the top deck, while standing on a chair with friend Cindy.


Passing through the large Gatun Lake presented more stunning vistas with its abundance of small, uninhabited, thickly forested islands.  The lake itself is a man-made, forming the water passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, allowing ships to pass from both directions.


The entire transit took approximately 12 hours.  The Panama Canal has been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

A new, wider lane of locks is currently under construction and is due to open in 2016.


  1. Yes, totally fascinating to pass through. When we went through the Canal, there were school children watching the cruise ships pass through the locks.
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  2. We were in Panama last July and were able to spend a day each at both the Miraflores and Gatun locks. Watching the ships transit the canals was absolutely mesmerizing and we’d love to one day take a cruise through the canal to see it from a passenger’s point of view!
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    • luggageandlipstick says:

      It’s quite a marvel to be able to cut through from the Pacific to the Atlantic within one day, and see the diversity of sights along the way.

  3. Thanks for taking me through the Panama Canal with you! It looks like a tight squeeze for a cruise ship. BTW, I needed to use my finger for the math problem. If you’re missing the canal, check it out via webcam at my website http://www.webcamtraveler.com .

    • luggageandlipstick says:

      It is a tight squeeze, and some of the larger cargo ships can’t do it either. That’s why they’re building a new set of locks to accommodate the larger vessels.

  4. What an amazing view at dawn, and Gatan Lake looks spectacular too! I can’t believe how tight some of those locks look – it seems as if the ship can barely fit through. I can see why they’re working on some wider ones haha.
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  5. Never really got the allure of going through the canal till I read your piece. It also resonated as San Francisco and San Diego have made a lot out of celebrations related to the opening of the Panama Canal. It really changed the world.
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  6. Wow, this looks an amazing trip! I’d love to visit and must add it to my list for 2015/16! :)
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  7. Gatun Lake looks amazing !!

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