In the early 1500s one of the biggest problems involved in trade between Asia, Peru, Ecuador and southern America was the problem of the ships having to travel 14,000 miles around Cape Horn, rather than being able to cut directly through the isthmus better known as Panama.
Plans were put forward to the King Charles V in 1524 who approved them, and various others were approved right up to 1880 when it was finally commissioned. This route would not only speed up the time it took for stock to be transported from one port to another, but it would also reduce the amount of crime and violence that sailors experienced (their ships were often attacked in attempts to steal the goods).
The classic engineering designs that were used for the three sets of locks that the Panama Canal includes still exist and are still used to this very day by various large ships and freighters in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It’s also possible to sail down the Panama canal in a private boat on holiday, or on a cruise ship and many people enjoy seeing this part of the world from a leisurely cruise down this man made canal.
Today it stands at 41 miles in length, cutting through Panama from the Atlantic ocean to the north-west, diagonally down to the Pacific ocean in the south-east. It serves around 14000 ships which sail through it annually; the same number of miles that these ships would have had to travel before the canal existed, on a route around Cape Horn.
Like many projects conceived of in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, construction of the Panama Canal was interrupted by wars that were waged between many countries to try and gain control. The first plans were drawn up in 1529 under Charles V’s reign as this kind of venture was well worth the benefits in trade and the reduction in crime that it would provide.
Actual construction of a canal through Panama did not begin until 1880 when Frenchman Ferdinand Marie de Lesseps (who had previously designed and built the Suez canal) was assigned the role of project leader. Unfortunately de Lesseps’ efforts failed due to landslides and disease such as yellow fever which swept the construction workers. In the early 20th century the USA took over the project, were successful and the Panama Canal was eventually finished and ready for opening by 1914.
The construction of the Panama Canal is thought, in total, to have taken 27500 workmen’s lives. The route through the Panama Canal is less than half that original journey, at just 6000 miles through three sets of locks (soon to become five when the upcoming expansion plans are put in place).
How to Get There:
Panama has its own airport, also known as Tocumen International Airport (PTY) so flying into the country internationally is simple.
Tocumen International is near the southern end of the Panama Canal, so once you’ve landed you will be traveling up the canal towards its southern end that opens onto the Pacific Ocean. Of course, you may not want to have to travel back up the canal to Tocumen again, so you can then take a flight from smaller northern airport known as ‘Marcos A Gelabert’, although this airport is smaller, and you may need to catch a connecting flight.
Where to Stay:
There are several hotels near Tocumen International Airport as it is located just to the east of Panama City; the most busy and well populated area of Panama. One such hotel is the luxury Intercontinental Miramar Panama hotel, right in the city center, where rooms start at around $240 per night. Here guests will find a spa, restaurant, gym with fitness instructors and marina with yachts available for renting.
For a mid range hotel try the Crowne Plaza Panama, where rooms start at around $190 per night, or if you are on a lower budget then the Veracruz Hotel where rooms start at $62 per night.