Visiting the Panama Canal

Today I want to take you with me in our adventure visiting the Panama Canal.  We not only went to one set of the Panama Canal Locks, but two of them, which was an awesome experience and included getting a bit lost too, so keep reading so you can skip that part of the experience.  Also, make sure to check out the video towards the end of the post.


A Little History on the Panama Canal

visiting the panama canal

The Panama Canal is the saga of human ingenuity and courage that dates back to the early 16th century when the Spaniards arrived in the Isthmus.  Since then, the idea of building a route that would link the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans came up.

The first firm effort to build an all-water route through Panama began with the French in 1880, but financial problems and tropical diseases ruined the initiative.  When Panama consolidated its independence in 1903, it agreed with the US on the construction of the Canal that would end on August 15, 1914.

The United States kept control of the Panama Canal until December 31, 1999, when Panama assumed the full operation, administration, maintenance, modernization and expansion of the Canal.


How Does it Work?

The Panama Canal works as a marine shortcut to save distance time and costs in the transportation of all types of goods.  The route, with a length of approximately 80 kilometers, connects the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans a the narrowest point of the Isthmus of Panama and the American continent.

The interoceanic way operates through a system of lock complexes, each one with two lanes, which serve as water lifts that raise vessels to the level of Gatun Lake, 27 meters above the sea, to allow the crossing by the central mountain range, and then lower them to sea level on the other side of the Isthmus.

The water that is used to raise and lower the ships in each set of locks comes from Gatun Lake by gravity and is poured into the locks through a system of main culverts, which extend below the chambers of the locks from the sidewalls and center walls.


The Expanded Canal (Another set of Locks)

On September 2007 Panama initiated the construction of the expanded Canal, and it was inaugurated on June 26, 2016.  This expansion doubles the capacity of the interoceanic way to meet the growing demand of the world’s trade.

The expansion entailed the construction of two new lock complexes on the Pacific and Atlantic sides.  Each complex features three chambers, nine water-saving basins, and rolling gates.  

The technology of how these new locks function is totally different from the traditional and original set of locks.  

That is why visiting the Panama Canal should consist of stopping both:

  • Miraflores Locks (where you can observe the old set of locks, still fully functioning)
  • Agua Claras Locks (to experience the new basin technology of the Panama Canal Expansion)

We did that, and with lack of planning got some hiccups that I want to make sure you don’t have, so please keep reading.


visiting the panama canal


visiting the panama canal

What do you need to know before visiting the Panama Canal

One thing that would have come to bite me in the rear, was that I didn’t realize they have tightened the schedule of the boats entering into the Miraflores Locks, which is the closest one to Panama city.

In order to see boats passing you need to be at the locks by 8 am, however, this is great because you can then watch the IMAX movie which is amazing and narrated by Morgan Freeman.  This movie will give you a completely new perspective on the construction and expansion of the Panama Canal.  Take it from a Panamanian.

You can get there by Uber or taxi if you are not renting a car or are on a tour.  I was pleased to see there were taxis at the exit waiting to transport people. 

This is at the Miraflores Locks.

visiting the panama canal


We got to the locks by 8:30 am, and literally just missed the boat that was just going through.  So we check the museum, watch the movie and decided to go to Agua Clara Locks, about 1 hour away in the next province from Panama: Colon.

I just entered Agua Claras in my handy GPS and there we went.


Apparently, there is a town in the middle of nowhere in Colon called Aguas Claras…. and 90 minutes into the drive something was telling me that we weren’t going the right way because we kept getting further from the water which made no sense.

So, I decided to question my GPS and enter it again with the Gatun name (which was the original old locks viewpoint), and there it was… Now we had another hour to go.


Locally we weren’t too much into the dangerous side of Colon, which could have happened as Colon isn’t a place where you want to be lost.

Finally, we arrived at Agua Clara Locks.


Visiting the Panama Canal

When you go to Panama please make sure you make visiting the Panama Canal a priority in your schedule.  This is for sure a wonder of the world, and it has a huge place in my heart, not only because I’m from Panama, but because my daddy used to work there.

We have proven the world that Panamanians can too be responsible for such majestic operation, and it makes me so proud to call my self Panamanian.

When you go and visit the Panama Canal, allow enough time to see the IMAX movie as I mentioned above is pretty good.

Another thing you can do is have dinner at the restaurant in Miraflores and watch the boats go by while you are eating, as you either has to go super early in the morning or after 4 pm.

It takes about 45 minutes for a boat to go through the locks.

There is also a nice museum and a cute gift shop for souvenirs.

Without getting lost, going to Agua Clara is 1 hour from Miraflores (it took us 2.5 hours because of our detour), and from Agua Clara back to Panama City via the North Highway is like 70 minutes, so not bad at all.a

In Summary

I hope you enjoyed this article and I can’t wait to hear about your experience when you go visiting the Panama Canal.


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