Get an accommidating hotel near Panama City Airport that will keep you close to the Panama Canal, close to the Panama City Airport and all of the other attractions around Panama City.
Panama Canal InformationDistance from Panama City Airport: 35.2km
The Panama Canal is approximately 80 kilometers long between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This waterway was cut through one of narrowest saddles of the isthmus that joins North and South America.
The Canal uses a system of locks -compartments with entrance and exit gates. The locks function as water lifts: they raise ships from sea level (the Pacific or the Atlantic) to the level of Gatun Lake (26 meters above sea level); ships then sail the channel through the Continental Divide.
Each set of locks bears the name of the townsite where it was built: Gatun (on the Atlantic side), and Pedro Miguel and Miraflores (on the Pacific side).
The lock chambers or steps are 33.53 meters wide by 304.8 meters long. The maximum dimensions of ships that can transit the Canal are: 32.3 meters in beam; draft -their depth reach- 12 meters in Tropical Fresh Water; and 294.1 meters long (depending on the type of ship).
The water used to raise and lower vessels in each set of locks comes from Gatun Lake by gravity; it comes into the locks through a system of main culverts that extend under the lock chambers from the sidewalls and the center wall.
The narrowest portion of the Canal is Culebra Cut, which extends from the north end of Pedro Miguel Locks to the south edge of Gatun Lake at Gamboa. This segment, approximately 13.7 kilometers long, is carved through the rock and shale of the Continental Divide. At this point of the canal, where the engineers cut their way through shale and bedrock to cross the Continental Divide. Its name (‘Culebra’ Cut), is from the Spanish word for ‘snake’; the canal curved like one until it was widened.
Ships from all parts of the world transit daily through the Panama Canal. Some 13 to 14 thousand vessels use the Canal every year. In fact, commercial transportation activities through the Canal represent approximately 5% of the world trade.
The Canal has a work force of approximately 9 thousand employees and operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, providing transit service to vessels of all nations without discrimination.
Electric-powered ‘mules’ cabled to the ships provide precise directional control, with clearances as low as six inches between the ships and the walls of the locks.
A typical passage through the canal by a cargo ship takes around nine hours. 14,011 vessels passed through the canal in 2005, with a total capacity of 278.8 million tons, making an average of almost 40 vessels per day.
Panama Canal Sites
Operating since 1914 and considered one of the wonders of the world, this fifty-mile waterway transports ships by raising them from sea level to more than 85 feet via a series of gravity-powered locks.
Miraflores Locks Visitor CenterDistance from Panama City Airport: 34.3km
30 minutes from Panama City
exhibition halls are open 9am to 5pm. The ticket office closes at 4pm.
Modern elevators and stairs are both available
“The Panama Canal is a unique experience which can’t be reproduced anywhere else in the world. See 5,000,000-ton vessels rise and drop more than 50 feet as they make their way over Panama from one ocean to another, and learn about the history and future of this marvel of modern engineering.” There is an educational museum and a theater inside. There is a restaurant that opens at noon. The best time to view large ships transiting the canal at this point is by 10:00AM. The large vessels move through by appointment and use the morning time slots. There are viewing platforms and a bi-lingual narrator is sometimes available to give details involved in getting ships through the canal. The exhibition halls and short film presentation are excellent.
EXHIBITION HALL 1: Canal History. It portrays the background, technological innovations, and sanitary initiatives that went hand in hand with the construction of the Canal. This exhibition hall honors the hundreds of men and women who made this achievement possible.
EXHIBITION HALL 2: Water: Source of Life. It emphasizes the importance of water, conservation of the environment, protection of the Canal Watershed, and the diversity of fauna and flora. It underscores the ACP’s commitment to the sustainable management of this resource and the interoceanic region.
EXHIBITION HALL 3: The Canal in Action. This exhibition hall depicts in an entertaining manner how the Canal operates and allows visitors the experience of being inside a navigation simulator and one of the lock culverts.
EXHIBITION HALL 4: The Canal of the World. This hall provides information on the importance of the Canal to world trade, describes the trade routes it serves and the main commodities, identifies its main users, and allows visitors to get acquainted with the different types of vessels that transit the waterway. In addition, it presents some of the criteria studied to guarantee the future competitiveness of the Canal and benefits to the Republic of Panama.
Gatun LakeDistance from Panama City Airport: 91.8km
After Lake Mead, this is the world’s largest man-made lake. Gatun Lake forms the central part of the Panama Canal.
Gatun Locks Visitor CenterDistance from Panama City Airport: 88.0km
48 miles from Panama City
Gatun Locks, at the Caribbean end of the canal, is the canal’s largest and busiest. There is a wider time frame for observing ships as they move through the locks at Gatun than at Miraflores because there are two sets of locks that ships pass through at this Atlantic terminus, and only one set at Miraflores (resulting in “one way traffic” there).
Though you must climb several flights of stairs, the visitors’ grandstand at Gatun is large and comfortable. On arrival at the locks, there will be the option of short audiovisual presentations on the history of the canal and the mechanics of its operation.
When our train from Panama City arrived at Colon, we found no taxi drivers willing to take us on a simple one-way trip to the locks; they’d much prefer we hire them for several hours or a full day. I’d met two other Americans on the train, and the three of us negotiated a set price of U.S. $40 for a trip to and from the locks with the driver waiting with us for two hours or so. (It’s a 20-25 minute drive each way.)