The Panamá Canal (Spanish: Canal de Panamá) is a 48-mile (77 km) ship canal in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean (via the Caribbean Sea) to the Pacific Ocean. The canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. There are locks at each end to lift ships up to Gatun Lake, an artificial lake created to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal, 26 metres (85 ft) above sea level. The current locks are 33.5 metres (110 ft) wide. A third, wider lane of locks is currently under construction and is due to open in 2016.
Panamá Canal – The History
France began work on the canal in 1881, but had to stop because of engineering problems and high mortality due to disease. The United States took over the project in 1904, and took a decade to complete the canal, which was officially opened on August 15, 1914. One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal shortcut greatly reduced the time for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, enabling them to avoid the lengthy, hazardous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America via the Drake Passage or Strait of Magellan. The shorter, faster, and safer route to the U.S. West Coast and to nations in and around the Pacific Ocean allowed those places to become more integrated with the world economy.
During construction, ownership of the territory that the Panama Canal now passes through was first Colombian, then French, and then American. The US continued to control the canal and surrounding Panama Canal Zone until the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties provided for handover to Panama. After a period of joint American–Panamanian control, the canal was taken over by the Panamanian government in 1999, and is now managed and operated by the Panama Canal Authority, a Panamanian government agency.
On average, it takes a ship 8 to 10 hours to pass through the canal. While moving through it, a system of locks raises each ship 85 feet above sea level. Ship captains aren’t allowed to transit the canal on their own; instead, a specially trained canal pilot takes navigational control of each vessel to guide it through the waterway. In 2010, the 1 millionth vessel crossed the canal since it first opened in 1914.
Cruise Ship Excursions
Cruise ship excursions include:
- Gamboa Aerial Tram (Colon, Panama)
- Scarlet Macaw Sanctuary
- Boat Tour and Country Drive (Puntarenas, Costa Rica),
- Original Canopy Tour, Jungle Horseback Ride, and Crocodile Boat Tour (Puntarenas, Costa Rica)
- Fishing at Gatun Lake (Panama Canal)
- Aqua-bus Amphibious City Tour (Colon, Panama)
- Rain-forest Nature Hike and Gatun Locks (Colon, Panama)
For more information on booking cruises and Panama Canal excursions in detail, visit our agent directory to retain an experienced, globally certified travel professional.
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