The lynchpin of Central America, the country of Panama may be tiny but it punches above its weight in terms of attractions, in terms of beaches, ecotourism, adventures (remember what we told you about whale spotting?), shopping, and history. Its most popular, however, is what makes it unique in the world: the mighty canal that connects the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea.
This remarkable feat of engineering is marking its second century of existence (as of 2014) with another mega-project: a widening to accommodate the largest “supermax” cargo ships plying the seven seas, slated to be finished in April 2016.
Visiting the canal and its locks is an unforgettable experience. Following are some key facts on how to do it:
– How do I get there?
The canal zone is an hour’s drive from Panama City, and in addition to hiring a car or buying a tour excursion, you can get yourself out here most cheaply by public bus from the big bus terminal at Albrook Mall – easy peasy! However you get out here, we’d recommend before you go downloading a great practical tool: the interactive Panama Canal tourist circuit.
– What is there to visit?
Of the various points of interest along the canal, the top choices are the Miraflores and Agua Clara visitor centres. Touring the first takes around two hours, including time on its observation decks – designed to show off to maximum effect the passage of the medium-size to titanic ships and the operations of the Miraflores Locks, raising and lowering the ships to pass from one section of the canal to the other.
The latter, located on the canal’s Caribbean/Atlantic end, offers impressive panoramic Panama views, and it’s also the choice for the best look at the widening project currently going on (not to mention there’s a good café here where the peckish can snag a reasonably priced bite to eat).
The basic schedule of ship transits through the canal is northward until 9:30 am, southward as of 2:25 pm.
– Is there an admission to the visitors centres?
Yes, but there’s a significant discount with a valid student ID – 10 balboas instead of 15.
That’s your plan for visiting “The Big Ditch” for one of the experiences of a lifetime. Check it out soon!
Photo | Marquicio Pagola