One of the modern wonders of the world, a vast feat in human construction, and the only canal of its kind, the Panama Canal is 80 kilometres of engineering marvel from Panama City on the Pacific side, to Colón on the Atlantic side. The ultimate continental shortcut has stood strong for more than 100 years (since 1914), and sees more than 14,000 ships each year! Entrepreneurs and visionaries, all ambitious as ever, finally saw the completion of the expansion of the locks on 26th June 2016, costing more than £3 billion.
One of the top cruise destinations in the world, and easily on par with the Pyramids of Giza or Great Wall of China, the Panama Canal is a learning experience as much as an adventure holiday. It’s best to visit after the rain, from November to April, and if you want to do it right, make sure you’re up early to snag the best on-board spots to see what the Panama Canal has to offer. It’s a great way to top off your Southern America exploration, and it’s just as worthwhile to enjoy the experience on its own. Plenty of lines offer the opportunity, including Holland America, Norwegian and Celebrity.
Check out just a few of the highlights on a Panama Canal cruise:
The Canal itself is the highlight when you’re cruising that way, and you should definitely soak up all you can of the history, and what’s going on there right now. Initially kicked off by the French in the 1880s, they hit a fair few snags and really just weren’t prepared for South America, and so instigator and sponsor Ferdinand De Lesseps called it off. The U.S. picked up where De Lesseps had left off, in 1904, providing over $50 million in funding, and completing Panama Canal in 1914.
Despite various debates over the years about who should own the waterways, and who should get paid, the Canal is now overseen by Panama Canal Authority. Not that it matters, because cruising through Panama Canal’s three sets of double-locks (Miraflores and Pedro Miguel on the Pacific side, and Gatún on the Atlantic side) is an incredible experience. It’s just as incredible to travel across the vast artificial lake, between the locks, created by the Gatún Dam, as well as the Culebra Cut which is a staggering 14 km journey cut through the Isthmian Mountains.
The entirety of South America will give you the opportunity to experience a world like no other, and Costa Rica is a prime example boasting incredible wildlife, scenery, views, and culture. Though it’s not on the canal, it is on the way (with a great number of cruises). Puntarenas (on the West coast) is just a short trip from Poas volcano, and its crater filled with incredibly blue water. It’s just as thrilling to visit La Paz Waterfall Gardens, or walk through the cloud forest at Villa Blanca!
On the East coast of Costa Rica, you can explore Puerto Limon, and at Tortuguero National Park you can get up close and personal with all the unique wildlife, including monkeys, exotic birds, alligators, and green tortoises. The more adventurous of you might try white-water rafting on the Revantazon River, or take a trip on Central America’s first aerial tramway at heights of up to 100ft (with spectacular views).
If you’re an adventurer deep down at heart, the idea of exploring ruins and cities in South America is a dream come true, and Guatemala offers you the opportunity. The post-colonial city of Antigua is found not far from Puerto Quetzal, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its ruins and surviving architecture. On the West coast of Guatemala, the port also provides access to working coffee plantations, Lake Atitlan, and the Pacaya Volcano.
Of course, the adventure doesn’t stop there. Wherever you’re travelling from or to, whether that’s the Caribbean, the United States, or somewhere else in South America, there is so much to do and see…so much more than can be written about in a piece that gives you just a glimpse of the Panama Canal. Check out unforgettable Panama Cruise Deals on our “Destinations” page and make sure to read some of our other travel guides to prepare you for your adventure of a lifetime!