The Panama Canal is one of the largest and indeed the longest man made structure in the world. For many hundreds of years, since the 1500s, sailors and engineers had wanted to build a canal on this route, but construction didn’t begin until 1880. The purpose of the Panama Canal is to provide a shorter and safer route from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean (and vice versa). Before the canal was built ships had to travel 14000 miles around Cape Horn, as opposed to the 6000 miles that the Panama Canal occupies.
Construction on the Panama Canal ended in 1914 when it was opened and to this day it provides an incredibly important shipping route for freighters and large ships in Southern America. There are three sets of locks along the Panama Canal, each of which demonstrate classic engineering designs. There is currently an expansion programme in progress at the Panama Canal which proposes two new sets of locks, plus the deepening of the Culebra Cut and the widening and deepening of Gatun Lake. These efforts are expected to be complete by 2014, with construction having started at the end of 2006.
As you can probably tell, the Panama Canal is located in Panama, a republic located on the isthmus connecting Northern America to Southern America. The climate here is tropical due to its location close to the earth’s equator, and given that Panama is surrounded by the sea and coastlines, much of the culture here is geared toward beach tourism for European visitors. This also means that despite the official language being Spanish, many people here speak English too. The coffee trade is also very successful here, meaning that many of the coffee shops and restaurants sell top quality drinks.
The construction of the Panama Canal has, unfortunately, not come without great tragedy. By the time it was ready to be opened in 1914 it was estimated that 21,900 workers lost their lives in total. This was largely due to the extensive spread of yellow fever and malaria, but also because of the landslides that the building of the canal brought with it.
Today, of course, the Panama Canal is entirely safe and visitors can travel down it in a matter of hours in anything as small as a yacht, up to anything as big as a cargo ship.
How to Get There:
Visitors to the Panama Canal can either fly to Tocumen International Airport (also known as Panama Airport: PTY) easily from other countries and continents. The Marcos A Gelabert International Airport is also located at the bottom (southern) part of the canal, so a journey can be taken from there, to the north of Panama also, although this airport is considerably smaller and many airlines may not fly to this port directly. From each airport it is easy to rent a car or motorcycle to travel to the canal, or alternatively jump in a taxi to get to the docking ports.
Where to Stay:
Four star Hotel Bocas del Toro is located not far from the Marcos A Gelabert airport, so this may be your best choice if you have had a long and tiring flight. Rooms at this hotel start at $126 and go right up to $270 for rooms with an ocean-view balcony. For a budget stay, you can always try the Centroamericano hotel in Panama zone 3, where a room for one night will cost between $44 and $60. This one is a little further away from the Panama Canal, but it is also closer to the Tocumen main airport in the city.
Of course, once you arrive at the Panama Canal itself the best and only way to travel is by boat or yacht. Getting to the canal’s docks, however, will require either a rental car, motorcycle/scooter, a taxi or one of the many buses that serve the republic. The best port to arrive at for tourists is the Pacific Port.