There are so many unique things to explore in Panama. The Panama Canal is considered by many to be the greatest engineering feat of the last century and the perfect example of human initiative and courage. So what better time to visit Panama Canal and 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.
Canal Via Cruise Ship
To visit Panama Canal, I chose to transverse the entire length via my Norwegian Cruise Line vessel. 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 thing I saw on the Panama Canal passage.
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 and is one of the highlights when you visit Panama Canal. The lake itself is a man-made, forming the water passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, allowing ships to pass from both directions.
A new, wider lane of locks is currently under construction and is due to open in 2016.
If you have extra time to spend here, check out this jungle experience in Panama.
More about the Panama Canal here.
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. She has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe.