Sights and sites visited by a single man exploring the world at human speed.
Front Page Articles World About Me Cause FAQ/Contact Other Sites
You are not logged in to access all the features. Login or Register - First time here? There's a special page for you!

In this section...

 Articles Search 
 Articles by Date 
 Articles by Keyword 
 Articles by Location 
Share this page

Canal of Panama
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-11-02 17:14:35 | Miraflores, Panama, Panama
Keywords: architecture, boat, canal, water
You cannot visit Panama City without visiting the Canal located right next to the city. Especially since this year marks its 100th anniversary since its opening on August 15, 1913. It's also the last year before the opening of its new bigger locks that will accommodate even larger ships.


When the Spaniards arrived in early 1500 on the Caribbean coast of current Panama they were indicated by the natives a route to take to reach the other ocean (which they reached in 1513). That's how they were able to establish Panama Viejo, the first location of the city and the first Spanish settlement on the Pacific coast.

It was used by the Spaniards for centuries to transport the gold from the New World to Spain. This transit route quickly proved itself invaluable for the commerce around the world. As long as the boats weren't too big the natural route was sufficient.

Ship leaving the Miraflores locks... 16 metres higher.

France and United States

With the industrialization of the 19th century, the boats got way too big to use this natural way. In 1881, strong with the success of the Suez canal construction, France began digging the canal but after 20 years of hard work plagued by technical challenges, financial problems and high mortality rate the abandoned the project.

In 1903, Panama declared its independence from Colombia and immediately signed an agreement with the US to complete the canal. Work resumed in 1904 to be completed 10 years later. But the help of the Americans came with a very high price tag: total control over the canal and its surroundings. The country of Panama was literally divided in two parts with a central band belonging to the US.

The Americans were treating the Panamanians worst (in their own country!) than they were treating the afro-Americans on US mainland. The Panama flag was forbidden within the Canal Zone. That led to many manifestations including a very violent one in 1964, which really sparked the strong sovereignty movement in Panama. The parameter around the Canal Zone was enforced by high fences with barbwires. It was often associated to the Berlin wall.

In 1977, treaties were signed to install dual control over the Canal until total transfer to Panama government on December 31st, 1999.

Since Panama took over, they turned it into a major tourist attraction, building a very nice visitors centre right at the Miraflores lock. They have a nice exhibit on site that is complemented by another museum on the history of the Canal in town.

Visitors centre, with observation deck, museum and cinema.


There are currently three locks raising the boats a total of 26 meters above sea level to cross over the Gatun lake until the other side. On the Pacific side, a set of two locks do the job and only one on the Atlantic side. The current expansion is done by building new locks West of the current ones. They are building only one lock at each end which will ease transit. The project is over 80% completed.

To reduce the impact on the nature along the canal sometimes narrow stretches they now adopted new traffic rules making the boats transit from Pacific to Atlantic in the morning and the other way around in the afternoon.

A full transit of the 77 kilometres of the canal takes 8 to 10 hours. Usually, the big boats (who have priority since the toll is fixed by weight) have to wait one or two days before their turn. The toll for large boats is currently between US$300 000 and US$400 000, depending on their weight. But that's little price to pay to not have to go through Tierra Del Fuego at the Southern tip of South America... that would cost them 20 to 30 days of extra navigation time.

This marvel of engineering is not a UNESCO site, and it's not even on the tentative list! Its political history might be amongst the reasons why. In the last decade or so, I suspect the Canal expansion with possible environmental concerns were also an issue.

Related posts:
Ouro Preto
Modern Ensemble of Pampulha
Cathedral of León
Historic centre of Tlacotalpan
Historic Centre of Puebla


In order to leave your comment, you need to be logged in.
Please go to the Log-in / Registration page.
Front Page
Edit Profile
Terms of Services
Privacy Policy
Articles Search
Articles by Date
Articles by Keyword
Articles by Location
Before this trip
This trip so far
This trip - next stops
About Me
Support Me
Heritage sites
Support Cause
Site Map
Other Sites
© 2019,