The two most famous canals in the world are the Suez Canal and the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean cutting North and South America in two. It was one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken and has successfully greatly reduced shipping time to travel between the two major oceans.

The Panama Canal is nothing short of a miracle of engineering and there are many things one probably doesn't know about this incredible canal. But Panama isn't all about the canal, it is also one of the places one can actually afford to enjoy world-class tropical beaches.

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History of The Panama Canal And Why It's So Impressive

There were many attempts or plans to build the canal for hundreds of years from as early as 1534. In 1788 Thomas Jefferson (then Minister to France) suggested that the Spanish should build the canal seeing they control Central America.

France built the Suez Canal and they began work on the Panama Canal in 1881 in earnest, but they gave up because of a lack of investor's confidence due to the seemingly insurmountable engineering difficulties and high worker mortality in the disease-ridden tropical jungle.

The dense jungle was alive with venomous snakes, insects, and spides, but the worst challenges were yellow fever, malaria, and the tropical rainy season. These were responsible for taking the lives of thousands of workers, with over 200 workers lost a month in 1884.

  • Length: 51 Miles or 82 Kilometers

The United States took over the project on May 4, 1904, and successfully completed it in 1914. America continued to control the canal and the surrounding Panama Canal Zone until 1977 when the US handed it back to Panama after the signing of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties. Today it is considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

Canal Locks at either end lift the ships up 26 meters or 85 feet above sea level to the artificial Gatun Lake.

  • Elevation Of the Locks: 85 Feet or 26 Meters Above Sea Level
  • Gatun Lake: Created To Reduce The Amount of Excavation Work Needed

The construction of the Panama Canal didn't end in 1914. Recently the third set of a wider lane of locks was constructed to allow the transit of a larger new generation of New Panamax ships.

  • New Locks: Built Between 2007 and 2016
  • Traffic In 1914: Around 1,000 Ships In 1914
  • Traffic In 2008: 14,702 Vessels
  • Duration: In 2017 It Took Ships An Average of 11.38 Hours To Pass Between The Canal's Two Locks

The Panama Canal is arguably the most famous attraction in the whole country and is a must-see for anyone visiting the southern Central American nation.

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Agua Clara Visitor Center

There are a couple of visitor centers for tourists to see and learn about this mighty feat of engineering and a vital artery of global trade.

At the Atlantic side of the Canal in Colón at the Agua Clara Visitor Center, one can see where the brand new and much larger locks are housed.

This visitor center offers unparalleled views of the canal and the surroundings. The contrast of the views generates mixed feelings, on the one side one will see the famous Gatun Lake with the cargo ships transiting every day. On the other side, one will see the expansion works and see the work of thousands of people.

At the visitor center's projection room one will learn about the history that marked the Canal's first century. The exhibition goes on with plans for the canal in the near and distant future. There are exhibits that will amaze anyone here.

But that's not all, walk through the ecological path with a variety of tropical plants and species that call the area of the Canal watershed home.

Other activities to do near this visitor center is to go canoeing on the Chagres River and visit the indigenous Emberá community in the Panama Canal watershed.

  • Opening Hours: From Tuesday through Sunday 8:00 a.m To 2:45 p.m.

Prices:

  • Locals and Residents: From $1.50 to $3.00
  • Non-Residents: From $5.00 to $10.00

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Miraflores Visitor Center

At the Miraflores visitor center watch an IMAX documentary of the incredible history of the canal - narrated by Morgan Freeman. Sit and watch as the mighty cargo ships transit the canal just meters away.

The Miraflores Visitor Center is a place where one can live a unique Panama Canal experience. One will learn all about the canal while seeing how the ships transit through its mighty locks.

The visitor center has three levels for observing the Canal and seeing how the ships and the locks operate. It is also the ideal place to take pictures of this marvel of engineering.

One can also see the center's exhibition halls that portray the Canal's history, biodiversity, and functioning as well as its international importance.

  • Opening Hours: From Tuesday through Sunday 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
  • Duration: The Tour Lasts Approx. 1.5 Hours

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Prices:

  • Locals and Residents: From $1.50 to $3.00
  • Non-Residents: From $5.00 to $10.00

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