Ahh - the Panama Canal. I've done a lot of cool things while traveling, but this, hands down, has got to be one of the COOLEST things I've ever done. If you're visiting Panama, your def gonna wanna put this on your bucket list!
The Panama Canal is a waterway that connects the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. It is made up of a sequence of (ginormous) locks that work like an elevator. This facilitates the transit of ships and boats through (so no, ships don't just cruise on through at speed like they would on the ocean). Once a ship enters the canal, the water is raised and the locks raises the ships above sea level. Then the ship can pass through to the next part of the canal and so forth. The ship eventually is lowered to sea level and then goes on its merry way. (This is a gross oversimplification of the highly sophisticated engineering that is the Panama Canal, but that's not what this blog post is about :-))
Ok - on to the tips for visiting.
Before you go, here are some tips that will help make your visit there easier and more enjoyable:
1. Grab a cab or Uber to the Miraflores Locks - that's where all the action is.
That is also where the visitor's center is. When you arrive, you can purchase your ticket (they were ~$20 when I went). You also can explore the museum there or get a snack while you wait for the ship to get in. And it’s only ~20 mins with no traffic from Panama City. Try not to leave around rush hour as Panama City traffic can be a beast around 5pm.
2. Plan to arrive when a ship is scheduled to pass through.
Don’t just show up. There are several places online where you can look up the full schedule (for example, here) or sites that show you a live stream of ships passing through the canal (for example, here). If you're lucky, like I was, you can see multiple ships go through during one visit! There are typically ships that arrive around 1pm, so get there early for the show!
3. Plan to spend a couple of hours there.
It takes a while for the ship to pass through the Miraflores locks. It is a slow process with the water going up and down and the locks raising and lowering the ship. It might also get hot, but there are a couple floors of balconies (covered) where visitors typically gather. Make some friends and make it an event!
4. Schedule in advance if you want to walk over the canal to get a tour of the Miraflores Locks Control Tower.
All the magic of the canal is controlled in that building, which you can see from the balcony across the canal where you watch the ships. There is a tour that you can schedule with TripAdvisor here. Unfortunately I didn't get to visit the control tower, but regretted that I didn't even know this was an option when I went.
Fun fact: Marc Anthony showed up when I was there! Him and his entourage crossed over the locks on foot and visited the control center! I'm a Marc Anthony super fan and I wish I was able to meet him.
5. Take a time lapse of a ship crossing as a souvenir.
This is one of the coolest things I've ever seen and I recommend taking a time-lapse instead of video because it can take a while for the ship to cross. It is something you won't want to forget, so bring a tripod and make sure your phone for video camera is charged up!
Here are two of the time-lapse videos I took - I'm still so fascinated by the whole process.
If you've been to the Panama Canal, please comment and let me know how your experience was. And if you haven't been and then decided to go, I would love to hear about your experience!
Until the next adventure,
About this page
This "Travel" page is a space for me to share my stories from both national and international travel adventures