Panama Canal Transit
Passengers aboard a ship crossing the Panama Canal will have the opportunity to see one of the modern wonders of the world in operation.
Day 1 Panama Canal Transit
On August 15, 1914 the SS Ancon made the first official ocean-to-ocean transit through the Panama Canal. This event, that soon proved to have changed the world forever, was possible thanks to the labor of more than 75,000 men and women who worked for 10 years facing unprecedented challenges. Since 1914, more than 900,000 vessels have transited through the waterway bringing commerce, cultures and people from all corners of the world closer together.
The Panama Canal is 80 kilometers long from deep water in the Pacific Ocean to deep water in the Caribbean Sea. It was cut through the lowest and one of the narrowest saddles of the long mountainous Isthmus that joins North and South America. The original elevation was 95 meters above sea level where it crosses the Continental Divide.
Our Panama Canal transit tour starts with an early morning pick up at your hotel in Panama City and a 15 minute drive to the Port of Balboa in the Pacific side of the canal. Once aboard the ship you will be invited to have breakfast on one of the three decks as the ship departs from port. You will first sail under the bridge of the Americas, which soars over 100 meters above sea level and reunites the land divided during construction of the canal forming another link in the Panamerican Highway.
Northbound on the Panama Canal, the first stop is at the Miraflores locks, which are the tallest in the locks system due to the extreme tidal variation of the Pacific Ocean. The ship will be raised 17 meters above sea level in two steps and enter Miraflores Lake, which is almost 2 kilometers long. A transition from salt water in the Pacific Ocean to fresh water in the locks chambers and lake take place here.
Next the ship is raised in one step, this time an additional 9 meters, at the Pedro Miguel locks. At this point the ship will be sailing in Gatun Lake at 26 meters above sea level and entering Gaillard Cut, the narrowest section of the Panama Canal. The 13.7-kilometer long portion of the waterway was carved through rock and shale and it is flanked by the backbones of the Continental Dive. The original width of Gaillard cut was 92 meters and was increased to 152 meters in the early 1970s. In order to accommodate to the demands of today’s transit needs, the Panama Canal Authority recently completed the monumental task of widening the cut to 192 meters in straight sections and up to 222 meters in curves. This will allow the unrestricted two-way traffic of Panama vessels, the largest ships that use the Panama Canal.
Gaillard cut opens up into Gatun Lake where the Chagres River flows into the waterway near the town of Gamboa, site of the Panama Canal’s dredging division. The Chagres River has the distinction of being the only river in the world that flows into two oceans and it is the main source of fresh water, which guarantees the operation of the waterway.
Lunch is served aboard the ship while you enjoy views of the giant cranes and dredging equipment near Gamboa, ships traveling southbound carrying cargo or passengers and the islands that dot Gatun lake. Half way through the voyage in Gatun Lake you will pass by Barro Colorado Island where the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has been carrying out research on rainforest biodiversity since soon after this area was flooded and the lake was formed. Gatun lake covers an area of 423 square kilometers and the islands in it are actually the tops of hills and mountains that were not flooded. Gatun lake was once the largerst man-made lake in the world. Just before reaching the Gatun locks on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal you will see Gatun Dam. The locks at Gatun will lower the ship 26 meters to sea level in three steps and the ship will continue along a channel to the Port of Cristobal. You will disembark here and board a coach bus that will take you back to Balboa on a 1:30-hour comfortable ride. In Balboa your Ancon Expeditions of Panama driver will be waiting to take you back to your hotel. The ocean-to-ocean Panama Canal transits are available one Saturday each
Note:Actual timing of each transit is scheduled by the Panama Canal Commission 24 hours in advance and times of departure and arrival may vary. Occasionally, the Canal transit is run in reverse, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Canal transits are offered only on Saturdays. Full transits are available one Saturday each month. Partial Panama Canal Transits are offered on Saturdays when there isn’t a full transit.
What to Expect
Duration 1 days
Match the trip’s intensity to your ability and motivation.
Easy walking, with opportunities for low-key physical activity.
Energetic exploration with optional day hikes, leisurely cycling, or light canoeing.
Day-long active excursions and options for demanding activity in varied environments.
Strenuous hiking or other intense activity that may be at high altitude or over rough terrain.
Multi-day trekking and other activities requiring endurance or strength. Steep trails. No technical expertise necessary.