The Panama Canalby david daly on 02/29/12
Panama City has come a long way in the last decade. The city skyline encompasses an endless view of gleaming skyscrapers with 30 more towers currently under construction. Tocumen International Airport, just 15 miles from the city, is the largest and busiest airport in Central America and home to Panamas Copa airlines which offers nonstop service to dozens of cities throughout the western hemisphere. The fury of expansion and construction is palpable throughout the city and is a direct result of its proximity to the Eighth Wonder of the World: The Panama Canal.
The Panama Canal is a 51 mile manmade waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It was completed by the US government in 1914 after almost 35 years of construction nightmares and turned over to Panamanian control in 1999. The canal features a series of locks that lift ships nearly 100 feet above sea level to pass through the manmade Gatun Lake before being lowered nearly 100 feet back to sea level. A passage typically takes between 8-10 hours and almost 15,000 ships make this journey every year. The canal has established Panama as a transportation and financial hub for the Americas and investment in the future of the canal is essential to Panamas economy. The people of Panama showed their overwhelming support for expanding the canal in a national referendum in 2006. Nearly 80% of voters approved a $5.25 billion expansion project to increase the maximum ship size and capacity within the canal which is scheduled to be completed in 2014.
No visit to Panama City is complete without a visit to the canal. The easiest way to view the impressive operation is to visit the Miraflores Locks at the edge of the city. From here, visitors pay just $5 for an up-close view of enormous cargo ships as they are raised or lowered through the locks. A guide announces the details of each ship’s cargo and specifications to the crowd as it passes through. The Miraflores locks are a stop on the double-decker tourist bus which is a great option for a solo traveler to see the entire city at $22 for a 24-hour pass. A taxi ride to the Locks is about $20 round trip. There are also weekend boat excursions through the canal with half crossings (6 hours) and full crossings (10 hours) available.