The Panama Canal

Miraflores Locks Main

The Panama Canal represents an amazing feat of human accomplishment. Perhaps most amazing to these eyes is the fact that completed more than 90 years ago, the “technology” behind the workings of the Panama Canal hasn’t changed. The canal extends nearly 50 miles from the Caribbean at Colon to the Pacific at Panama City. If you;re up on your Latin American or canal history you probably know that the French, under the stewardship of Suez Canal kingpin Count Ferdinand de Lesseps, began construction of the Panama Canal in 1880. But climate, disease and mismanagement spelt doom for the two attempts at completing the canal.

In 1904, after Panama had declared its independence from Colombia the United States purchased the rights of the failed French company for $40 million. Ten years later the Panama Canal opened for business. For those interested in trivia or statistics here are a few to swallow:

  • It takes 8 to 10 hours for an average ship to transit the canal
  • Locks (water elevators) raise ships from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake (about 80 feet above sea level) as they cross the Continental Divide
  • There are three sets of locks each 110 feet wide and 1,000 feet long
  • Commercial ships pay $30,000 to pass through the canal (based on weight)
  • Massive cruise ships pay $150,000 or more per transit
  • The lowest fee ever asses was thirty-six Richard Halliburton who swam through it in 1928
  • The fastest transit through the canal took two hours and 41 minutes by the US Navy hydrofoil, the Pegasus, in June 1979. I couldn’t find out why or where it was going.

I made my way to Miraflores Locks which is perhaps the the easiest and best way to see the canal. A four story museum and observation deck tell the story of the canal and give visitors a birds eye view. Unfortunately, my timing didn’t allow me to see a ship pass through the locks. Just another reason to go back.

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click to enlarge photos

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Photos: (1) Panama Canal Miraflores Locks from observation deck at Miraflores discovery center; (2) Canal locks looking forward Pacific Ocean; (3) Miraflores locks water elevator overview; (4) Miraflores locks looking forward Gatun Lake and the Panamanian jungle

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